The success of the first-generation Samsung Galaxy Note proves two things: 1) People really like big-screen phones; 2) The stylus isn't dead after all. Introduced in October 2011, the original Galaxy Note had something in common with most Adam Sandler movies--namely, critics hated it, but the common folk loved it.
Samsung certainly got the last laugh. The company estimates it has sold 10 million Galaxy Notes worldwide--not too shabby for a 5.3-inch phone that reviewers derided for a number of reasons. The phone was too big to fit in your pocket, they said. Its stylus was an unnecessary appendage in the era of touchscreens. And the Note's cheap, plastic casing was subpar for an expensive handset.
While these gripes had merit, the phone's pros obviously outweighed its cons. For reading and Web browsing, a larger display is almost always better. The behemoth Galaxy Note was big enough to replace two devices--a 4-inch smartphone and a 7-inch tablet like the Amazon Kindle Fire. The Note, weirdo that it was, had established a new product category: phone-plus-tablet, or "phablet."
It appears the phablet may have a bright future too. ABI Research estimates that annual phablet shipments will top 208 million in 2015. "The larger screen sizes make a significant difference to the user's experience when compared to conventional-sized touchscreens between 3.5 to 4 inches," said ABI Research senior analyst Joshua Flood in a May statement.
This isn't to say, however, the Samsung Galaxy Note is the ideal phablet. In fact, the verdict is still out on the long-term viability of the device's S Pen stylus, which young tablet users consider a "completely unnecessary" and "outdated" peripheral on Samsung's new Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet.
CouponCodes4u.com recently polled about 2,000 Americans aged 21 to 35, and 53% of respondents said they wouldn't buy a tablet that came with a stylus. It's possible, however, that a pen makes more sense on a smaller screen, where buttons, letters, and numbers are smaller and hence easier to tab with a pen than a fingertip.
Wednesday, Samsung launched its second-generation Galaxy Note, which features a slightly wider, 5.55-inch AMOLED screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, a 1.6-GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos CPU (the U.S. version will likely have a dual-core chip that works better with 4G LTE networks), 2.GB of RAM, and Android 4.1.
Click through the slideshow below to see the best apps for the Galaxy Note or Galaxy Note II and the S Pen stylus.
One of the initial gripes about the Galaxy Note was that it didn't come with enough apps that took advantage of the S Pen. Samsung has hopefully changed that perception with its Premium Suite upgrade, a collection of apps that put the stylus to good use. The Suite comes with seven templates for a variety of everyday uses, including writing a diary or jotting down notes. You can record each step of your drawings and play them back, and use the phablet as a whiteboard to create diagrams, flowcharts, and so on. Premium Suite lets you annotate and save PDF files as well.
Soonr Scribble lets you annotate and share documents in more than 35 file formats, including PDF and Microsoft Office Word (.doc), PowerPoint (.ppt), and Excel (.xls). This free app saves your notes, proposals, expense reports, and other mobile files to the Soonr cloud service. The S Pen makes it easy to highlight text, write comments in margins, and insert arrows where necessary. Another cool feature is Soonr's rendering technology that lets you view more than 40 different file types without having to download the document. Soonr supports more than 800 mobile devices running iOS, Android, and BlackBerry OS.
Autodesk's SketchBook Mobile is a great app for the S Pen. Priced at only $1.99, this paint and drawing program has an impressive toolkit of brushes, tools, and effects. You can duplicate and add layers, import photos from the Galaxy Note's camera, and export your sketches in several formats. The latest version supports pen pressure sensitivity too.
S Memo comes with the Galaxy Note, and it's one of the best pen-oriented apps for the device. You can jot down memos with different pen tips and colors, and add photos to your memos and edit them inside the app. In addition, you can annotate a map to, say, help a friend find a restaurant where you're meeting for lunch. When a memo is ready to send, you can deliver it via text or email.
Being a phablet, the Galaxy Note is handy for apps that might normally work best on larger mobile devices. Square Card Reader, for instance, is a good match for the Galaxy Note, which has a screen that's large enough for processing transactions, and a stylus for your customers to digitally sign their receipts. Square's free credit card reader attaches to the top of the phone. The app is free as well--but Square's credit card processing service is not. Users pay either a flat month rate of $275, or a 2.75% charge per swipe.
Catch is another idea manager that's well-suited to the Galaxy Note. You can create notes with text, voice, and images whether you're online or off, and add multiple images and voice memos to a single note. Catch can scan barcodes too--handy for remembering gift ideas. It automatically backs up notes across your Android devices, and to Catch.com's cloud service.
Want to work collaboratively? You can create a shared space in Catch and invite friends and colleagues to add their notes and ideas. The free version comes with three spaces (private or shared), and lets you save 70 MB of new content each month to Catch's cloud service. Pro and Premier plans are available as well.
Flipboard, a clever mashup of social media and journalism, is a magazine-style app that displays articles, updates, and photos shared by your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other social nets. The genius of Flipboard is its intuitive layout, which you "flip" through like the pages of a magazine. Ideally suited for a tablet, it works well on the Galaxy Note's 5-plus-inch screen as well. The free app includes daily staff picks--interesting articles, photos, and blogs that are worth checking out. Flipboard also shares content from Instagram, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, and other services.
Adobe Reader is a handy app for viewing, sharing, and annotating PDF documents. You can post comments with the Add Text tool, and insert "sticky notes" anywhere in the PDF. The freehand drawing feature is useful for marking up documents, as are the highlight, strikethrough, and underline tools. The Galaxy Note's stylus is particularly useful for filling in and signing PDF forms. The free Adobe Reader works with a variety of PDF file types, including password-protected documents.
The not-so-ancient art of fruit slicing and dicing is better with a stylus. Fruit Ninja ($1.22, or free with ads) is a great way to kill time during flight delays, cab rides, and painfully dull conference sessions. Sure, a finger makes an acceptable Samurai sword, but true masters prefer the slashing sensation of the S Pen.
Evernote's Skitch may seem like a goofy annotation app for, say, drawing mustaches on headshots of your friends. But it has more practical applications too, particularly when used with the S Pen and Evernote's popular note-taking app.
Bad with names? Try this Evernote-recommended trick: Take a photo of people you meet; use Skitch (and the S Pen) to annotate each photo with the appropriate name; and save the images to Evernote. Voila! You'll never forget a name again.