Samsung Galaxy Note: Is It a Phone or a Tablet?

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Pre-orders have begun at AT&T for the Samsung Galaxy Note. The device is either a very large smartphone, or a diminutive tablet. Either way, it faces some significant challenges trying to inspire buyers.

The Galaxy Note is a 5.3-inch device that straddles the line between smartphones and tablets. It weighs 6.45 ounces, has 16GB of internal storage (expandable to 32GB with SD memory card), and is built on the latest version of the Gingerbread release of Android.

The Galaxy Note is a massive device that straddles between smartphone and tablet.
The Samsung Galaxy Note has two major issues in my mind: size and price. First, it is too unwieldy to be a great smartphone, and too small to be a worthwhile tablet. As smartphones continue to grow to grotesque proportions, the Galaxy Note may not actually seem all that unusual. Devices like the Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX, or the HTC Titan 2 also force you to choose your wardrobe based on which clothing has pockets capable of holding them.

There are reports that Steve Jobs was adamant that the iPhone should remain at the comfortable 3.5 inch display it already has, and that users should be able to use and navigate a smartphone using one hand. Displays larger than four inches are too big for most hands to be able to reach across to tap or swipe the opposite side using the thumb from the hand holding the device. Size is a matter of personal preference, but I lean toward siding with Jobs on this one.

There are times when it would be nice to have a little more screen real estate, but that tradeoff makes the smartphone less functional as a phone in my opinion. For many users, larger smartphones are too cumbersome for their primary purpose -- being a phone.

If you consider the Galaxy Note to be a small tablet rather than a large smartphone, it faces the opposite challenges. At 5.3 inches, the display is actually very small for a tablet. The 7-inch tablet seems to fill a niche position that some users prefer, but the larger 10-inch tablets are still dominant, and Dell’s attempt at a 5-inch tablet fizzled and flopped. It is difficult for a 5-inch device to provide the functionality that users expect from a tablet.

Then, there is the matter of price. The Galaxy Note is being offered for $300, subsidized by the obligatory two-year contract, and required data plan. As a smartphone, $300 seems to be “the new black”, but the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket is only $200, and Samsung Infuse 4G is a mere $50 with two-year contract, and both are fairly massive 4.5-inch Android devices as well.

On the other end of the spectrum, AT&T offers tablets like the 10.1-inch Acer Iconia Tab A501 for only $330 with a two-year contract. Tacking on the minimum $20 per month data plan adds $480 to the cost of buying a tablet under contract -- making the Galaxy Note a $780 tablet purchase. For $500 you could buy a Wi-Fi model of the iPad 2 without a contract.

They say variety is the spice of life. For people who want something more tablet-like, but lack the budget to get both a smartphone and a tablet, perhaps the Galaxy Note is the right device. Personally, I think it is too big to be a smartphone, and too small to be a tablet.

Are you planning to get one? If so, what features or capabilities do you find compelling, and will you use it as a smartphone, tablet, or both?

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