Monday, June 18, 2012

My Galaxy Note was a great tablet.

I used to have an iPhone (actually, the original, the 3G, the 3GS, and the iPhone 4), and while I loved it (them), it was getting increasingly hard to use it for long periods of time.  It's not that it's a bad device - it's just that it's so... small.

On top of that, at one point I was carrying around a tablet, a phone, and a computer.  If I wanted to use data on the tablet, I was turning on WiFi on the tablet, then I was enabling WiFi tethering on the phone, which was wearing down its battery, so I'd have to plug it into the computer, which wore down that battery, so I had to disconnect everything again as soon as I was done.  It seemed maybe a *tad* excessive, so I wanted to simplify.  Unfortunately, nothing really seemed to do the trick.  All of the phone screens last year were either big and low resolution (like the popular but ultimately inferior Galaxy S2) or small and high resolution (like the iPhone 4).

Then the Galaxy Note came along, and everything changed.  It had the same resolution as most laptop computers (1280x800 WXGA, which I'm sure will seem rather quaint in 4 or 5 years - though, sidenote: I bought a laptop with 1280x800 resolution back in 2001... eleven years later and the dominant screen resolution has improved to an impressive [drum roll] 1280x800!!).

It seemed to have a big enough screen to read and make most things easy to see.  The built-in browser handled pretty much all webpages easily, and it even had Flash support.  It was like having a full-featured tiny computer in my pocket.  I could even connect a Bluetooth keyboard to write longer emails.  On top of all of this, it had a nice little pressure-sensitive pen that I could use to create quick sketches - great for when I didn't want to create technical diagrams in Visio or pull out my Wacom or try scanning pen & paper drawings.  Most of all, the Nook app (by far my most-used app - I use it a LOT to replace a whole big stack of books and magazines) looked great.

All in all, the iPhone was still better at quite a few things.  Simplicity and stability are two of them.  My iPhone hardly ever crashed, and even when it did, I could usually pin it on something obvious.  It had more apps, and better ones overall.  But where it really counted for a power user (big screen, high resolution, and ability to read / work quickly), the Note was a superior device.  Most people use phones for email and browsing at this point; I only talk on the thing about 2% of the time I'm using it, so the large size wasn't a deterrent there (though I still do sometimes get odd looks from my wife).

I was so excited that I paid a premium to get a European version when they first came out overseas.  Despite my concerns over trading from iOS to Android, I was pretty satisfied.  My Galaxy Note was a great phone / tablet hybrid.  I could use it for phone-things, and I could use it for tablet-things, and while it was a little large for the former and a little small for the latter, it got the job done.  I was only carrying one device.  Android 2.3 worked well, and was pretty easy on the battery.  Since a lot of tablets had been released running Android 2.3, most apps seemed to use the screen resolution to detect whether my device was a phone or a tablet, and most of them showed me a nice big UI to take full advantage of the WXGA resolution and big screen.  My company's MS Exchange server worked perfectly fine with it; I had no problems sending or receiving emails, though calendar appointments still could use some work.

Even better, Samsung had announced an Android 4.0 update to be released early in 2012 (which means "middle of 2012 if you're lucky" in release-talk).  Android 4.0 promised many features that would make it the best and most completely awesome smartphone operating system in history, though to this day I'm not entirely sure what any of them are.  I assumed it had something to do with square buttons being better than rounded ones.

As promised (after the expected months of delays), Samsung released an Android 4.0 update for the phone. Totally unexpectedly, the whole thing just got shitty.  I'm not sure about the internals of Android 4.0, but it seems to me that apps can directly detect if you're using a phone or a tablet, and the Galaxy Note seems to report that it is in fact a phone, running at approximately 300x200 resolution.  For example, this is what the Nook app looks like now:

Other great features include:
  • Stopping the delivery of my MS Exchange email randomly and without notification (the great news is all I have to do is delete the whole thing and then re-create it again)
  • Depleting my battery within 8 hours of taking the phone off of the charger, even under minor use
  • No more support for at least 2 apps I was using regularly
  • The removal of silly and pointless buttons like "back" and "forward" in the browser
  • Searching in Google Maps (you would think its principal feature?) now has to be done by clicking a button
  • Most of the time the camera locks up when it's opened
  • Square buttons

My Galaxy Note was a great tablet.  Now it's a halfway decent cartoonishly big phone.