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Tech Savvy: Oh those phabulous almost tablets!

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Hey there, Tech Savvy Fans!

This week we’re back at it with another review and this week we have a two for one.

On loan from Verizon Wireless we have the Samsung Note 2 and the Samsung Note 10.1 Tablet, both running on the lightning fast 4G LTE network. This will be the first look at some of the “extra-large” phones and it was interesting to me to see them side by side since there has been so much discussion on the pros and cons of the “Phablet” (phones with a screen larger than 5 inches) and their predecessor, the Tablet.

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There has been quite a debate over the past couple of years that really began with the first touch screen devices — how big can we make them? It’s really what we are used to across most every product — if this size is good, if we make it bigger it must be better!

Well, of course, we all come to find out that in many cases having a phone with a screen the size of Texas isn’t always the best thing in the world. This is actually one area that Apple can be commended in; while their phones may not have the biggest screen out there, having the uniform size makes things much easier for developers.

There are two camps out there — those that say that there should be two distinct devices (smartphones and tablets), and those that say the best option is the hybrid of having a 7-inch “phablet” that blurs the line. The Samsung Note 2 is one example of the phablet but there are others out there and it really becomes a gray area as there are phones like the Nokia 920, the LG Optimus and others that are just as large.

Make me Phabulous!

So what are the benefits of the phablet? Let’s take a look at some of the things that make the Note 2 a shining example of a phone and also why there is appeal in having phablets. The Note 2 was, obviously, released as the second coming of the original Samsung Note. The Note received popularity as being the first widely accepted device of its size since PDAs roamed this earth. It was one of the first things that came to my mind when I picked up the Note 2 — how many similarities there were to the feel of having that Pocket PDA in my hands. At the same time, it had clearly gotten a facelift and some serious work under the hood.

Loaded with a 720p display, quad core 1.6 GHz processor and expandable memory, the hardware on this device is certainly up to most people’s daily workloads. On a device with this size screen I can’t really imagine it having anything less than 720 HD display, and photos and video looked awesome on it. The display also made gaming a lot of fun and anyone who enjoys first person shooters, scrolling games or action games will be pleased not only with the display but also with having that extra size really makes a difference with touchscreen gaming.

Because of its larger size, the battery is also a little larger than your average phone and it definitely shows. Despite having a 720 display and running on 4G LTE, the battery held up surprisingly well, lasting me my whole day and then a little bit if needed. Of course, I always found it easier to charge it overnight but it was a relief the few times I forgot to know that I wasn’t going to wake up to a dormant device. Another interesting factor in the Note 2 is the thickness, that even with its 5.5” display and the larger battery it was surprising thin- under a half inch!

The Note 2 runs on Android 4.1 Jellybean out of the box, and that means it comes with some really neat features. I’ve been talking a lot about NFC and the great things it will allow us to do, and that is a big part of what makes the Samsung devices so fun. In addition to the straightforward NFC, Android also has its Beam feature which allows you to stream content as well. Another benefit to running Android is that you can customize your device a little more than you can with an iPhone and that allows quick access to NFC and other programs like their camera. The camera app itself is really fun and allows different options like burst mode and filters that really showcase how smartphones are the new point and shoot cameras of the future.

Probably the most unique feature of both the Note 2 and the Note 10.1 Tablet is the stylus that comes with each device. It’s not your standard stylus with the little rubber bit on the end of a metal barrel, it is a high tech instrument all on its own. The stylus was designed specifically for the Note series and as one of the upgrades from the stylus from the original Note; the improved stylus has a little button you can depress while using it to unlock another set of features. The handiest of those that I found was the cut and save function where I could depress the button, trace around anything on the screen, and it would save it to my picture gallery as a screen shot of what I had circled.

Overall the Note 2 was a really cool device, it was easy to use and features like the stylus definitely put it in a league of its own. That being said there were some things that were not ideal for me personally. Here’s my short list. I’m not a big guy, so I don’t have bear paws that can wrap around steel girders. Even though the Note 2 has a screen only a half inch larger than my DNA, it felt a lot larger in my hand. It was a device that had crossed the threshold that I could not use with one hand comfortably. If you prefer two handed use, or have larger hands, you will feel right at home with the Note 2. I also prefer to carry my phone either in a pocket or in a case and the Note 2 was a little uncomfortable for that as well. When I kept it in my messenger bag when I traveled it was brilliant and right within reach. My only other real complaint is that the power button was on the side and it was raised enough that I tended to bump it with my hand or against other items in my bag and turn the screen on.

That being said I do view those few small items fairly nitpicky and it doesn’t detract from the overall excellence of the phone. I will just remind all you fans out there that you should really buy a device that suits your needs and fits your lifestyle. The Note 2 will be a perfect choice for many, but not all. If you get a chance to get to a Verizon store and can check them out I really encourage you to give it a shot.

But I Really Want a Tablet

OK, let’s flip to the other end of the spectrum. Let’s say that the phablet solution isn’t for you — you like having a separate phone and a tablet. I get it, that is my preference too, and there are a lot of people that feel the same way. Well, don’t fret. Samsung thought of that too. The Note 10.1 Tablet is the latest in the Note line from Samsung and it is the papa bear of the family. Boasting a 10.1 inch capacitive screen and also running Android 4.1. Jellybean, the Note Tablet is a veritable powerhouse of a tablet.

A quad core processor drives the tablet with full HD display and a behemoth of a battery; in testing I found the battery easily lasts for days on standby and gets ample usage on a relatively high workload. As with most tablets the Note 10.1 comes with both front and rear-facing cameras which make it great for using with video chat like Google Hangouts.

Overall it’s around a half inch thick which makes it incredibly easy to transport and fairly lightweight so you won’t feel fatigued from extended use. There are stereo speakers built into the front panel of the tablet which is different from other models and IMHO this makes for a superior audio experience. The sound comes across clear and because both speakers are facing you the audio is much more natural feeling.

Like the others in the Note series the 10.1 comes with a stylus which also features the same improvements of the Note 2. In the Note 2 the stylus wasn’t the be all, end all for me but in the tablet form it makes a lot more sense. I’m no artist, as anyone who has seen my stick people drawings understands, but when I do use apps like Paper, by 53, having a stylus makes me much more articulate. It is also useful to have because of the improvements the new model boasts, and there is a handy tutorial video that shows you all of the ways you can use the stylus with the Note 10.1.

Finally, one of the things I really love about the Note 10.1 is the dual screen capability that is built into the OS natively. Dual screens are something that many people are familiar with, I use them at work with multiple monitors, and it makes it so much easier to multitask. Often with mobile devices you find yourself wishing you have a little more space on your screen, like being able to browse through your picture gallery and sending it on an email at the same time. Or watching a video and then using the other side to take notes, the possibilities are incredible. Games are also a fun endeavor with the 10.1 as the clear display, fast processor and stylus allow you to play all the games you love and also allow you to branch out too.

At the end of the day you may think that the Note 10.1 is just another tablet for consideration in the mix but I really encourage you to get your hands on one in the store and play around. There are some unique things that the Note 10.1 incorporates that gives it an edge on the tablet front, battery life and the stylus are definitely among them.

Bottom line for the Note 2 and the Note 10.1 tablet — Samsung has made a name for itself with the Galaxy III and they have become the dominant Android device maker of late. They are familiar, easy to use devices and they have avoided many of the pitfalls that other companies have fallen into trying to create a stable line of products. The Note 2 and the 10.1 do not disappoint and if you are looking for quality, you need look no further. The Note 2 may be a bit unwieldy with its size but if you are partial to that, then it’s right up your alley. The 10.1 is everything you’d expect from a tablet and a little more and it looks nice to boot. Take some time to check these devices out if you have a chance.

IMHO

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — education is the key. This past week I attended the Tourism and Technology Summit at Grand View Lodge. It was organized by the Brainerd Chamber and was a half day conference devoted to learning more about how technology is affecting the tourism industry in our area. It was a great experience and I was fortunate enough to sit on a panel that looked at the trends of social media. My co-panelists; Frank Soukup of Grand View Lodge, Brandon Knowles of Faster Solutions and Kathy Sell with Atomic Learning are all wonderful folks and they have a wealth of knowledge about social medias and it’s always a treat to “talk shop” with them.

What became apparent to everyone in attendance is that social media, and technology in general, is changing so rapidly that if you want to play ball with the big dogs it will require more than a workshop here and there — you have to go all in. The workshops are great, don’t get me wrong, and they are 100 percent necessary if people want to hear about new things and bounce ideas off each other but the real strength in learning about new technology is how invested you are in learning it personally.

It’s not enough to read the required reading for the new devices you are using at work, you need to want to know as much as you can and really love learning about it. I have a habit of finding the manuals for tech gadgets I buy online and reading them before I even get the product. It’s easy enough with the Internet. You can look up PDFs of the manuals and, if nothing else, it gives you great insight into whether the product will do what you want it to.

Another resource you can use is Twitter to follow tech brands like TechCrunch or Mashable. They push tons of information out daily. You may not read it all but when there is something you want to know you can get the info first. My wife calls me a geek but I’m OK with that.

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Phil Seibel
I've been in the Brainerd Lakes Area for the last 6 years, currently in Baxter with my wife and two little girls. We really enjoy all the activities and places to see in the Lakes area and particularly enjoy going to the beach and walking out at the Arboretum. I grew up in western MN and went to school at the University of MN, Crookston.
(218) 855-5862
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