It wasn’t all that long ago that a 4.3-inch screen on smartphone was considered too large by many. Now, there are multiple 4-inch and larger phones on every carrier. Even Google’s flagship device exceeds the 4.3-inch mark — the Galaxy Nexus comes in at a 4.65. The Samsung Galaxy Note has sought to raise the bar with a 5.3-inch screen. AT&T dubbed the Galaxy Note a “superphone”, while socially the name “phablet” seems to be growing in popularity. Regardless of what you want to call it, the Galaxy Note is finally here.HardwareIt’s easy to look at the specs and scoff at a device with a 5.3-inch screen. In no way is this phone meant to be held and used with the same hand, which causes problems when you’re walking down the street trying to check your email. In many ways, the phone resembles a Samsung Galaxy S2 that has been stretched out a bit. What makes the phone usable at this size is the thinness and the weight.At just over 6 ounces, and just a hair thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus at its thickest point, the GNote is plenty comfortable to hold and use. This is a staggering difference form other devices that have used this screen size, like the bulky Dell Streak. The Note also has an almost non-existent bezel, which makes it easier to get at the screen if you are still trying to one-hand the beast. More so then any other Samsung smartphone, the phone has a very solid feel to it, and completes the very enjoyable experience when holding the phone.If you’re going to have an enormous screen, it had better be a great one. The 285 ppi Super AMOLED screen on the Galaxy Note does not disappoint. While the phone has the same 800×1280 resolution of the Galaxy Nexus, it does this without a pentile display. Typical of Samsung screens, the Galaxy Note has very vibrant colors and very deep blacks. The screen is covered with Gorilla Glass, though the increased size of the screen will actually decrease the effectiveness of that protection. As demonstrated in the past by Corning, the larger a pane of Gorilla glass is, the more vulnerable the center of the panel will be to impact damage.The AT&T version of the Galaxy Note has the added power of LTE, which will automatically give the gift of less battery life than its European brother. The 2500MaH battery in the Galaxy Note is certainly bigger then what we see in most phones today, but you’ll need every bit of it to get 16 hours of use out of the huge device on LTE. Even under stress, with everything running and the screen brightness all the way up, the Note lasted between 8 and 9 hours. Used conservatively, or used primarily on WiFi, this battery is more than a days worth of fun. Even streaming movies or generating a WiFi hotspot, you’ll still get through a 5 hour trip.The Galaxy Note sports an 8MP camera in the back and a 2MP camera in the front. Coupled with Samsung’s software, the phone takes great photos without the flash. The flash on the Galaxy Note tended to wash out pictures if you were shooting something up close, and isn’t powerful enough to be very useful for much else. It makes a very good phone camera, easily comparable to a cheap point and shoot. The front facing camera, in cooperation with the microphone system on the Galaxy Note, make video chatting or mobile Google+ hangouts a great experience.Oh, and this version of the Samsung Galaxy Note has a NFC chip and an antennae, but for some reason AT&T has seen fit to disable it for you.The S-PenThese days there’s no room in the smartphone world for a stylus. That GNote is not a Palm Treo, and that writing device it includes is not a stylus. The S-Pen taps into Wacom technology to allow it to be significantly more accurate than a stylus. The S-Pen isn’t quite as feature-packed as a pen found with a Wacom board, but offers many of the same comforts for any familiar with this technology.It’s easy to look at the little plastic stick that slides out of the Note as a stylus, but you’d be missing out on quite a lot. For starters, Samsung has baked the ability to take screenshots and the ability to take notes just by pushing the button on the side of the S-Pen and tapping the screen. When you decide to use the S-Pen for drawing or note taking, the screen can detect 128 different pressure levels, and uses that to help draw on the screen.You certainly could use this like a stylus. Samsung has baked the S-Pen functionality into the entire device, allowing you to use it to navigate the OS, type on the keyboard, any just about anything else. As an avid Swype user, I found the S-Pen great for writing longer messages using the Swype keyboard. In fact, anytime that you would normally use the phone and leave it a horrible smudgy, fingerprinted mess the S-Pen does a great job. While this is not the most common use, it will probably increase your Fruit Ninja score dramatically.The S-Pen can even be accompanied by the S-Pen Holder, a separate accessory sold by Samsung that puts an S-Pen in a larger, pen shaped casing. This way if you’re taking long notes or just really into having to go look for your stylus you can have that more comfortable feel. The S-Pen holder keeps the button on the side, making it look more like a Wacom pen, but still doesn’t add any other features.The S-Pen SDK is now in version 1.5, and allows developers to write drawing utilities into their apps. Personally, I’d love to use the S-Pen for gestures or to take notes in an RSS app, and Samsung makes that a possibility. This falls pretty closely in line with what Google has in mind, especially now that pen support is being added to Android 4.0. The S-Pen isn’t the first Android pen, but it manages to succeed in every single place that HTC’s Scribe pen failed when it first came out.SoftwareI gladly waited in line for the Galaxy Nexus on launch day. I have always been a strong supporter of the stock experience for Android. In my opinion, TouchWiz has typically taken more away from the Android experience than it has given in the past, made worse by how much time passes before TouchWiz devices are updated to the next version. I expected to lament the lack of all of the features of Android 4.0 that I would be missing. There’s no Chrome for Android, the 2.3 versions of the Google Apps feel crippled, and no Face Unlock! Despite the lack of Ice Cream Sandwich, the Galaxy Note version of TouchWiz has been modified both to support the huge screen and the resolution that comes with it, and the experience was surprisingly enjoyable.Everything on the Galaxy note is very fast. Some tasks are faster on the Note than they are on the Galaxy Nexus, such as launching certain apps. In no way does TouchWiz slow the Note down, even with the TouchWiz Launcher and widgets left on the desktop. Gone are the days where Social Hub and Media Hub are pushing you to feed them data, replaced by a fairly simple UI with a handful of Samsung apps pre-loaded to offer help to new users. AT&T adds four apps to the device, including a QR code reader and a Latitude-ish “Family Map” app. AT&T and Samsung assure us that an update to Android 4.0 is on the way “soon”, and with recent announcements like the ICS Galaxy Tab on the way it’s possible the update really will be here sometime this spring.It’s not all great, the added screen size causes some usability problems with a handful of apps. Able Remote, a Google TV remote, for example, fails to take advantage of the entire screen, and squishes into the center of the screen instead. Even apps that come with the phone don’t really behave correctly. The Samsung TouchWiz keyboard, for example, takes up as much as half of the screen when trying to use it. The same goes for the pre-loaded version of Swype. The stock Android 2.3 keyboard, which is also installed on the device, takes up far less space than the TouchWiz keyboard and yet is no less accurate in using it.AT&TAs expected by a mostly empty 4GLTE network, the Note is capable of amazingly fast download and upload speeds. The Note averaged 35MB down in most speed tests, and while that is far from what should be expected once the network actually starts being used, it’s one of the few perks of being an early adopter on a budding network. Like the Skyrocked 4G, the Galaxy Note always displays that the phone is connected to 4G, even when it is not connected to LTE. The icon changes slightly to either include or remove the LTE icon, but even when you are connected to GPRS, the phone will assure you it is on a 4G network.What do you get to do with all of that crazy fast speed? Not video chat. Even when connected to LTE, AT&T has disabled the ability to video chat on anything other than WiFi using Google Talk. Amusingly, Google allows AT&T to block the use of video chat over LTE, but you can still connect to a Google + Hangout no matter what network you are on.It’s more than a little frustrating to see the Galaxy Note being intentionally limited by AT&T, with no real explanation as to why things like video chat or NFC are controlled by the carrier. Before you get excited about the possibility of the infamous Android hacker community activating these features, it’s worth pointing out that the Samsung Galaxy S2 on AT&T still doesn’t have total access to NFC. Galaxy Note users will be at the Mercy of AT&T to enable these features, if they ever decide to do so.Final ThoughtsThis is not a phone for everyone. If you rely on the ability to use your phone with one hand, you’ll have problems with the Galaxy Note. The Note is a great multimedia device, and as long as you can get over the strange looks as you hold a sushi tray-sized device to your face to make a phone call, you’re probably interested in the Note. As long as the phone gets Android 4.0 shortly, and as long as AT&T doesn’t continue to disable NFC into that update, the Galaxy Note will be a very powerful phone to compete with for quite awhile. At $299 on a new contract, it looks like AT&T is joining Verizon Wireless with the “top shelf” devices being $100 more, but compared to the Galaxy Nexus I would say that the phone is very much worth it.For further reading check out our comparison of the Galaxy Note, Samsung’s Galaxy Player, and the iPod touch.Samsung Galaxy Note – stylus siloSamsung Galaxy Note – stylus siloSamsung Galaxy Note – HUGESamsung Galaxy Note – rear – batterySamsung Galaxy Note – front – onSamsung Galaxy Note – product shot with stylus 002Samsung Galaxy Note – product shot with stylusSamsung Galaxy Note – backSamsung Galaxy Note – controlsSamsung Galaxy Note – auto correctSamsung Galaxy Note – speedtestSamsung Galaxy Note – wifiSamsung Galaxy Note – soft keyboard 002Samsung Galaxy Note – soft keyboardSamsung Galaxy NoteThis loaner device was provided to us by AT&T.