The Samsung Galaxy Note has been available outside of the United States for a bit of time. It made its US debut at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, where we were able to get a first hands-on look at the tablet. Tablet may not be the right word for it however. It is meant to be used as a smartphone, albeit the largest smartphone we've used aside from the latest HTC Titan, which is not as slim as the Note.
Smartphone, however, doesn't quite get it right though. A small tablet with voice call capability is much more on target for the Note. It is a very cool device however, not because it sports a relatively offbeat size (the late, unlamented Dell Streak was very close). It's cool because it combines Samsung's rightfully well-praised Super AMOLED display with a very sensitive capacitive screen stylus.
For those of us who go back to the early days of the Palm Pilot and Compaq iPAQ devices circa 1998 - 2000, we do not necessarily have fond memories of using a stylus with sluggish response times, although back in 2000 these were state of the art devices. Microsoft has also long delivered stylus support as part of its perennially unsuccessful attempts to put tablet computers into the mainstream. Microsoft-based tablets never caught on, and finally died with the Slate, although HP has gamely made an effort to continue putting a Slate out there
Stylus-based input hasn't caught on in the consumer world, and as long as it
doesn't catch on there the odds of it catching on in the enterprise remain slim. In great part, this is due to Apple and Steve Jobs, who never met a stylus he didn't believe should be destroyed on site. He's famously known for deriding the use of a stylus and with Apple iPads and iPhones so dominant in the enterprise, it isn't surprising that there has not been a more dynamic return to their use.
It is a rare case of Steve Jobs simply being wrong. The best way to prove that statement is to be able to demonstrate why he was wrong. And the Galaxy Note is a welcome addition to the tablet/smartphone arena specifically because it accomplishes exactly this. It demonstrates in a very strong way how useful a stylus really is. "Stylus" in fact isn't really the right word to describe the device.
Of course, today's stylus is not simply a piece of metal with a slightly rounded tip. It is an active piece of mobile hardware in its own right, with its own abilities to control a device and react with a capacitive-screen device. In particular, companies such as N-trig deliver devices now that can easily replicate the feel of an actual pen on paper, complete with the ability to create different levels of pressure, and different ways the device feels on the screen (it can be roller-ball smooth or even fountain pen "scratchy" in fact). A "digital pen" is a more accurate description.
Considering what these digital pens are now capable of, it becomes a real question if Apple will change its course and put its own special imprint on such a device. It is in Apple's absence here that the Samsung Galaxy Note becomes a very welcome addition to the available collection of tablets and smartphones in the United States.
It isn't clear at this point if the Galaxy Note would stand up to the rigor of full time business and enterprise use, but it certainly delivers an exciting experience on the consumer side. Aside from the digital pen, which Samsung refers to as the S-Pen, the Galaxy Note itself feels like cutting edge technology - though we admit we are ignoring that it runs Gingerbread (Android 2.3) and not Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4). But that will change. In combination with the pen and its excellent display, it offers an entirely new experience for the mobile user. This is important because capturing the soul of the consumer is critical to the digital pen becoming in demand in the enterprise.
Businesses such as field inspection companies, and the mobile vendors that cater to these areas of field service, already know the value of digital pens and the ability to capture hand written notes, diagrams and ad hoc sketches in the field. If the idea of an active pen catches on with the workforce (through BYOD) we can expect enterprises to begin thinking about how digital pens and tablets can work together to increase workforce productivity.
With Apple still on the sidelines or on the fence, Samsung has a clear cut opportunity to take the lead here. We greatly prefer to see Apple challenged rather than left to its own devices - the Note accomplishes this. Along those lines we hope to see the Note line expanded and moved up the ladder of Samsung's top of the line mobile devices.
Down the road, when Windows 8 tablets begin to arrive we can expect Microsoft to give the stylus another shot, although this time around it will be through state of the art capacitive devices. Microsoft understands the value of pen-based capture, and this time around it may have the right hardware at its disposal to drive enterprise acceptance.
Until then, the Samsung Galaxy Note has a niche to itself - and an opportunity to expand that niche into a serious enterprise tablet play.