Smartphone? Tablet? Thoughts on Samsung’s New GALAXY Note

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There’s a new mobile device making waves in the mobile waters — it’s a 5-inch smartphone (the largest yet) from Samsung: the GALAXY Note. It’s either a really big smartphone or a really small tablet, and Samsung is calling it the “The ultimate on-the-go mobile device.”

Technically the Note is a phone, but the large screen makes it act like a tablet. The device even comes with a stylus (er, “S Pen”). Seemingly, you can use the S Pen to write notes, trace images from websites, draw things, and share photos, web sites, maps, etc., with custom text and drawings.

The folks at Mashable didn’t think it was particularly useful as a note-taking device, and they weren’t keen on the stylus. But the videos for the Note’s capabilities show that it provides unprecedented customization and sharing abilities, and the large screen/small pointer combo provides some fun new functions you can’t get on a small screen with a pair of thumbs.

But frankly, this phone is simply too big to be useful. The Note probably has exceeded the practical size limit for a phone — it won’t fit easily in your hand and it’s not very portable. Check out this parody, where the author uses the Note to lift weights and watch TV. And this BGR review is particularly irate at the Note’s poor usability and iPhone copycat design. We hope Samsung’s designers pay more attention to human factors going forward.

In any case, this device presents a problem for mobile marketers. Do you target it with a mobile website or a desktop site?

As we’ve said before, you should design differently for tablets and phones. Tablet users can easily navigate a desktop site on their large screens, and a mobile site is usually too simple for tablets — it won’t provide an optimal experience or hold attention for long.

But for this big smartphone, we say mobile design is the way to go. The 5-inch screen is still much smaller than most tablet screens — even the Kindle Fire’s 7-inch screen. The mobile design will be easily navigable (users can even leave the stylus behind, for real on-the-go usability) and will provide a better experience than pinching and zooming on a desktop site. And, hopefully, the Note will be the end of the tablet-smartphone fusion device.