Monday, March 19, 2012

Meet TIM

For the past four weeks or so I've been the owner of a Samsung Galaxy Note. The Galaxy Note is my first Android phone (my first smart-phone being the underwhelming Nokia N86, running a Symbian OS).

I really love this phone, which my wife named TIM: That Infernal Machine.

I know my new phone is a new and exciting toy, but there is so much I can do with this thing that I find myself using it at every available opportunity. Twitter, Facebook, email, news, games, and the occasional phone call. I use it to check the train schedule, jot down ideas, read books, watch videos and translate words. There isn't time left for old-world activities, like having a face-to-face conversation (unless Skype is involved).

I bought the Galaxy Note for a few reasons, but mainly because I wanted a smart-phone and a tablet, but couldn't afford both. The Samsung Galaxy Note provides both the portability of a phone and a 5.3in screen, just big enough to enjoy the web and video.

While doing extensive research about this phone prior to buying it, I found that many were concerned about the portability issue. Compared to the Galaxy SII, the Note is gigantic. But I have not found size to be a problem. It fits into my pants pocket without a problem, even when sitting. It's true that I can feel it in my pocket more than I would a standard-sized phone, but it is still not uncomfortable. It's also very thin. There are, however, two downsides to owning a phone this large:
  1. It's difficult to operate with one hand. If I only have the use of one hand and I need to reach across the screen, it does take quite a bit of stretching. This can be annoying, but it usually isn't a problem.
  2. Holding the phone to my ear makes me look a little silly. Also, because the phone is wide, it isn't comfortable to hold up to my ear for too long. This is where a bluetooth headset may come in handy.
Samsung Galaxy Note compared to the Samsung Galaxy SII
Having a phone this big attracts a lot of questions, especially from owners of other smart-phones. I travel a lot on the train and every day at least one person asks me about it. Usually they want to know if its size is a problem. More often than not they are considering buying either the Note or Galaxy SII (the SIII was recently announced).

The screen on this phone is fantastic. The images are crisp and clear, and the size of the screen makes watching video a pleasure - much clearer and easier to view than a smaller smart-phone screen. Reports of the latest iPad are that its screen can't be beat, but you would look pretty silly trying to stuff an iPad into your pocket.

There are three keyboards from which to choose, as well as the pen input. I thought that I would use the pen a lot more than I do. I justified the cost of this device by saying that I would use the pen for note-taking in meetings etc. But I found that pen and paper is still the more efficient (and less nerdy) method. However, the Note is great when documenting hardware - I can snap a photo and annotate directly on the image using the pen. That's a nifty trick.

However much I praise the Samsung Galaxy Note, my very first impressions were less than positive. From the moment I unboxed it I had nothing but trouble. Firstly, the device had not been updated with the latest software patches, resulting in a crash every time the device went to sleep. After trying a bunch of solutions (including attempting to.download the latest software myself, and installing an app that prevents the Note from going into sleep mode - a ridiculous solution) I was forced to send it back to the factory for repair. The device was returned to me with the Android Rocket theme installed, which seemed to solve the problem.

Then, the Note refused to recognize the external SD card. Thankfully this was the SD card manufacturer's issue, not Samsung's. The retailer was very good about exchanging it for a new card (I even scored an SD card-to-USB adapter for my trouble).

To top it off, I kept getting incessant notifications that Google Talk couldn't connect. This error somehow prevented me from downloading apps from the Google Market. After days of extensive research and trying all sorts of options (short of performing a hard reset) I found an obscure post on an Android user forum that suggested clearing the Google Services Framework cache and forcing that service to close. After a restart, I didn't experience the Google Talk or Google Market issue again.

These problems were exasperating and I kept asking myself how a device as expensive as this doesn't "just work“. However, in a weird sort of way, I enjoyed solving the problems because this is my first Android device and it shows that if a newbie can fix the thing, it can't be so bad after all. But it really was frustrating. 

For the past few weeks my Samsung Galaxy Note has been working wonderfully - smooth, fast, flawless. This little machine is so powerful that, for most things, I don't even need my desktop computer. But it has a gravitational force that sucks me in every time, without fail. It's just so good.

The initial frustration over the teething problems has all but faded. I have grown accustomed to greeting TIM every morning with a smile as he wakes me up with a rooster-crow alarm - yes, another reason why my wife calls him TIM. At the end of the day it's difficult to put TIM back in his box. But I know that the next time I unplug TIM from his charger, a whole universe of mobile joy awaits.

This blog was almost entirely written on the Samsung Galaxy Note, somewhere between Beit Shemesh and Rechovot, using the Android Blogger App.

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