How I would change the Galaxy Note

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: March 19, 2012

I've been talking a lot about the Galaxy Note lately. It's nothing new, I know. But I've been hoping that, one way or another, I could get my hands on one for use as a personal device. As many of you know already, there was a breakthrough last week that made it possible to use the Note on T-Mobile and I set out to find a good deal on one. Long story short, I traded my Nexus for it on Friday and have had very few regrets.

So far, I absolutely love the Galaxy Note. I love the size, the form factor and having a decent camera on an Android device. Battery life is decent. And the performance of the phone has exceeded expectations.All of that said, the Note is far from perfect. Is it my favorite Android phone to date? You bet. But there are several things that I wish were different on it.

Here are the things I would change about the Note if I could:


Larger display with on-screen buttons

It's funny, really. I thought the one thing I would hate about the Galaxy Nexus was the fact that Google and Samsung decided to go with soft buttons instead of capacitive or physical buttons – an indication that Ice Cream Sandwich was the merging point for Android phone and tablet software. But those very soft buttons turned out to be one of my favorite things about the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich.

The Galaxy Note obviously doesn't come with Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box. It runs TouchWiz 4.0 atop Gingerbread. So it has been quite the challenge to get used to legacy Android again, especially with a heavily themed interface. But the hardest part has been getting used to using capacitive buttons again instead of the modded five-button layout I had been using with a custom ICS ROM on the Nexus.

It's not that the buttons are bad. But, for whatever reason, I forget that the buttons on the Note aren't part of the display. And, oddly enough, I find myself using the S Pen ... a lot. The bad part? I catch myself trying to tap the capacitive buttons with the S Pen all the time. Needless to say, tapping the capacitive buttons with the S Pen doesn't do anything. There are S Pen gestures for back and menu functions, but I still try to tap the actual buttons rather than gesture with the pen, especially when I want to go home instead of back or want to search something. In short, on-screen buttons and the S Pen would have been a perfect pair. Too bad the two will never meet on the Galaxy Note.


Button and port placement

I hate to keep referencing the Galaxy Nexus, but with the Nexus, the button and port placement was perfect. That's even what I told Nokia in a meeting I had with them at CES when they asked me what I did and didn't like about the Lumia 800 and Lumia 900. The only negative things I had to say about the two devices was their button and port placement, and I used the Nexus as an example of what I see as perfect.

Of course, unlike Nokia's Lumia devices, the button placement on the Note is very similar to the button layout on the Nexus. However, one disadvantage of the Note is its size. I like the size, we've already gone over that. But it definitely makes it a tad unwieldy in some situations, particularly when you try to one-hand it, which I do quite often (yes, I even type one handed on it using SwiftKey). I have found that I have to shift my grip to hit the volume buttons. The power button is in the perfect place and lines up quite well with my thumb when I hold the phone in my right hand. But the volume buttons are about an inch too high to comfortably reach with my index finger.

Also, I have always preferred the audio jack to be on the bottom of a phone rather than the top. While a headphone jack on the top works better when sliding the phone into your pocket, it gets in the way when you're actually holding the device. And, personally, when I'm listening to music on my phone and the audio jack is on the bottom, I just slip the phone into my jeans pocket upside down.


The ability to make the display dimmer

Just last week I was complaining about how poorly mobile displays fare outside and in extremely bright conditions. I like to work from my porch and neither my MacBook or Transformer Prime perform too well outside and are extremely difficult to see. Every phone I have had to date has been the same exact way ... until the Note.

I'm not complaining about how bright the display can get, though. I like that and I like being able to see my display with relative ease outdoors. What I am complaining about, however, is how bright the display is on its most dim setting. If I manually turn the display brightness all the way down, it's still far too bright to comfortably look at in a dark (or pitch black) room. It's like staring into the sun. The worst part is that this unnecessarily sucks up more juice.

Luckily, I have found a few fixes. There is a mod available to alter the kernel and framework to allow for dimmer display settings. And there are applications in the Play Store, like Screen Filter, that can help do the very same thing without rooting and modding. But this is something that should never have been an issue to begin with.


Stock Android 4.0 with S Pen support

Many of you know that I am an Android purist and I'm not very fond of custom interfaces. I will say that TouchWiz isn't so bad and that I can stand it in doses. But after two days and having spent over three months with the Ice Cream Sandwich reference device, I miss stock Android and Ice Cream Sandwich like you wouldn't believe.

Most of all, I miss the stock Android browser and Chrome for Android and all of their seamless bookmark and tab sync options. But I also miss the task switcher, the quick access to Settings in the notification shade and simply the look and feel of ICS. For the record, the stock software on the Note isn't terrible. I can deal with it for the time being. But Ice Cream Sandwich would significantly better and I will love this phone so much more once it gets ICS – officially or unofficially, it doesn't matter as long as there is S Pen support.


None of this is to say the Note is a bad phone. It isn't, it's a great phone. And I'm enjoying it more than pretty much any Android phone I've used to date. But, like every other phone out there, it has its own set of flaws. No phone is perfect and despite being a different beast, the Note is not an exception.

Tell me, readers. What would you change about the Galaxy Note? And if you don't have the Note, tell me what you would change about the phone you do have in the comments below!

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