15/03/2012 14:04 | By David Phelan, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Samsung Galaxy Note review

Is it a big phone or a small tablet? Either way, the Samsung Galaxy Note is nippy and a pleasure to use.

Samsung Galaxy Note is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets (© Samsung)

What is it?
The smallest tablet, or the biggest phone, you can easily use - that's right, it's a phablet

What's great?
Superb screen, handy stylus and speedy processor all make this a pleasure to use.

What's not?
It really is very big - many will feel it's a step too far, and everyone looks foolish using it as a phone.

The bottom line:
Size is everything, and your attitude to how much screen you need will determine if the Note is right for you. The display is inviting, the stylus usable and the fast processor means it's satisfying to use. But it is big.

Once you've seen the 5.3-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy Note, you realise that other phones are tiddlers. Even the HTC Sensation XL, with its puny 4.7-inch screen, can't compare. The surprising thing is that, unlike the Dell Streak (the first 5.3-inch screen phone) this one is slim and light enough to feel manageable - just.

The screen is not only big, it's very high-resolution, and it's AMOLED, the extra-vivid, brightly coloured display technology that Samsung does especially well. It can be hard to read AMOLED in bright sunlight, but in other lighting situations it's deeply impressive.

The late Steve Jobs said that a tablet with a stylus was a failure before it started. But that hasn't stopped Samsung from including the S-Pen with the Note. Jobs may have been referring to resistive touchscreens - the cheaper, pressure-sensitive screen type that is rare now. Higher-end touchscreens are now more common, but are incompatible with most styluses. Most of the ones that do work have big rubbery nibs as more exact ones can fall between the screen's sensors.

The Note has a special display with an extra layer of sensitivity to address this, and the Note's stylus is precise and has a tiny, firm nib. Unlike the stylus on the HTC Flyer, which has a series of specific uses, this one works everywhere your finger will. The stylus is slim but highly usable.

The display is high-resolution (1280x800 pixels) which means it has a density of 285 pixels per inch. This doesn't match that of the iPhone 4S or the new third-generation iPad but it's pretty smart and looks pin-sharp and colourful. Video playback is exceptional, with the high resolution making the screen completely immersive.

Samsung has put its physical home button on the front of this screen. This means that, unlike most tablets or phones, you can wake the screen from a tap on this button rather than reaching up to the power switch further up. This is good.

On the other hand, this tablet suffers from the same problem that the HTC Flyer launched with: it's a tablet with phone software. It uses the Gingerbread, not Honeycomb, version of Android. As the Note is a phone as well, it's not the issue it was for HTC's Flyer and a forthcoming Ice Cream Sandwich update - the Android software designed for both phone and tablet - will address any issues.

As it is, it's very usable, especially when you think of it as a big phone with tablet pretensions. Samsung populates the screens before you start, with handy widgets like weather, calendar, email and news. They are pretty good, but they certainly dominate the screens, and can make you feel there's no space for your own favourites - though obviously it's a simple matter to delete Samsung's choices.

One of the key apps is Samsung's S Memo which uses the supplied stylus so you can scribble text, doodle and sketch, even adding voice recordings and images. It's a simple but highly effective app which makes the most of the Note's capabilities and justifies the stylus.

It's a fast phablet, thanks to the 1.4GHz dual-core chip. It also boasts the highest pixel resolution of any tablet: at 8MP it outguns the new iPad, for instance. Images are decent but not outstanding. The battery life quoted by Samsung seems high - you'll need to recharge this on a daily basis. Battery-wise it's more like a phone than a tablet.

There's no getting away from it, this phone/tablet hybrid is big. If you don't want a gargantuan screen or pocket-stretching dimensions, look elsewhere. As a tablet, you may feel it's a little on the small size, of course. But if the 5.3in display appeals, Samsung makes the Note work spectacularly, from the exceptional resolution to the way video looks. The stylus is successful, though for most apps and features you can manage without it. As a cross between large and small goes, it works well.

Samsung Galaxy Note is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets

Essential info:
Camera: 8MP with LED Flash
Video: 1080p@30fps
Display: Super AMOLED capacitive LCD touchscreen, 800 x 1280 pixels, 5.3-inches
Dimensions: 146.9mm x 83mm x 9.7mm
Internal memory: 16GB or 32GB storage, 1GB RAM
Card slot: MicroSD up to 32GB
Colour: Black, white also available
Weight: 178g
Touchscreen: Yes
Audio playback: 3.5mm ear jack and speaker
Processor: 1.4 GHz dual-core processor
Operating system: Android Gingerbread 2.3.5
Battery life: 13h 30m talk time (3G)
Keyboard: virtual