Samsung Galaxy Note: The Next Big Thing?

AT&T hopes hybrid device with 5.3-inch screen will entice
AT&T and Samsung are testing the waters for a new category of device come Feb. 14: the phablet. The Galaxy Note--part smartphone, part tablet--bridges the gap between phones and slate-style mobile computers with its large 5.3-inch display. Will consumers fall for this thing?

The Galaxy Note was first announced by Samsung last year, but AT&T went to bat with it at CES earlier this month. The Note is one of the first in a wave of smartphones that can access AT&T's burgeoning LTE 4G network. Pre-orders start Feb. 5, and AT&T will start delivering it on Feb. 17. It reaches actual store shelves on Feb. 19.

The Note will cost $299.99 with a new two-year contract, which starts at about $60 per month ($40 for voice, $20 for data).

If you think this is just another Samsung Galaxy-branded smartphone, you'd be wrong.

To date, Samsung's largest handset shipped with a 4.6-inch screen. Its smallest tablet had a 7.0-inch screen. The Note falls in the middle with a 5.3-inch screen. It's either a huge smartphone or a tiny tablet, depending on how you look at it. I've been playing with one for about a week now and can tell you that it feels absolutely enormous. It is 5.8 inches long and 3.25 inches wide. Most competing models measure 5.0 x 2.7 inches. The extra dimensions of the Note are truly noticeable.

[ Want to see more top products from CES 2012? See CES 2012 Gadget Wrap-Up: Cool To Crazy. ]

The size of the display is obviously the key selling point of this device--and here's why it's key: the Note is a good smartphone for budget-conscious shoppers. It has all the benefits of a smartphone (portability, decent battery life, connectivity) but has an advantage when it comes to productivity thanks to the large display and larger on-screen elements.

Sure, the Note will cost $300 and require people to spend $60 per month, but a device such as this can be used to replace both a smartphone and a tablet. Most smartphones sell for about $200 and unsubsidized tablets go for between $400 and $800 depending on the device. Those unsubsidized devices will need Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot to reach the Internet. The math is pretty obvious if you don't really require a full-sized tablet, but want a larger-than-average smartphone.

The other stand-out feature? It ships with a stylus and note-taking software from Samsung.

Tons of Tablets
Tons of Tablets
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Samsung is emphasizing the Note more as a tablet--because of its large screen size--than as a phone. The Note will come with Samsung's S Pen software and a stylus for writing on the screen. Samsung says the pen can be used for "accurate sketching and artwork, and instantly capturing ideas freely before they float away." The Note also has S Memo, a multimedia application "designed to record all forms of user-created content," according to Samsung. This content includes pictures, voice recordings, typed text, handwritten notes, or drawings. Each can be captured and converted to a 'memo', "to be edited, annotated and shared as desired."

Another big difference in this device: the screen is so big it comes with split-screen functionality. You can have two applications open at once, with each usable on half the screen. Samsung notes this functionality is available to most of the native Android 2.3 Gingerbread applications.

It is clear that Samsung is serious about the smartphone and tablet market and is here to stay. With such a broad range of devices available, Samsung offers more choice than some of its competitors combined.

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