To the hard-working journalist, there’s something seductive in the promise of devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, just as there has been since the Apple Newton – a notebook that isn’t a notebook, one that can do other things and unite the free people of Middle-Earth, and so on. No one has really been able to crack the code, however.
So I decided to take the sample Note 5 provided to Network World by Samsung to CTIA’s Super Mobility 2015 conference in Las Vegas last week – I would use it, as much as possible, to the exclusion of my regular phone and my laptop, even for my own entertainment while traveling. I would wear the S Pen stylus down to a nubbin, and take as full advantage as possible of its manifold capabilities. Has Samsung finally done it?
Broadly speaking, my experience with the Galaxy Note 5 has been much as it would have been with any other top-of-the-line Android handset – it’s great for taking care of the basics like email and social media, handles audio recording with aplomb, and its camera is more than adequate for my limited photography skills. Even its outlandish size hasn’t been an issue, and I’m one of those people who would be really interested in a flagship phone that you could use with one hand.
But that’s largely all it is – the S Pen is great, but the handwriting experience still isn’t quite the paper replacement I could have hoped for. The default “Action Memo” app that opens when you pop out the S Pen works infinitely better than I had expected, though I haven’t played around with digital stylus writing for years. My handwriting is clearly identifiable, for better or for worse, and the physical experience of writing is reasonably close to the real thing.
The problem is screen size and a lack of a default “ruled paper” background – you can fit a couple sentences on there, but then have to scroll down with your fingertips to get more room to write, which doesn’t really work for lengthy note-taking. I’m sure there are ways to fix it – the Air Command menu that pops up when the S Pen is detached is customizable, so I substituted the Squid app (formerly Papyrus) into one of the quick-access slots, giving me ruled “paper” but cutting me off from the extensive degree of integration into Samsung’s ecosystem that the default app has.
I even used the S Pen in lieu of a finger with the swipe-typing feature on SwiftKey – it worked fine, but didn’t really provide much of a speed advantage over simply using a finger. My regular old paper notebooks didn’t have that feature, but handled a lot better.
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