Samsung Galaxy Notes: The rebirth of the stylus

Samsung Galaxy Notes: The rebirth of the stylus

Summary: Samsung now has two tablets that accept input from an included stylus. We'll have to see if buyers want them.


Samsung is heavily promoting its Galaxy Note line of tablets at the MWC this week. That's right, with the addition of the 10.1-inch version of the note to the existing 5-inch "phablet", the Galaxy Note is now a de facto product line. What sets the Notes apart from the Android tablet bunch is the inclusion of a stylus and some apps that turn the tablets into a digital pad. The stylus is back, according to Samsung.

See also CNET: Mobile World Congress 2012

The Galaxy Notes are not the first Android tablets to sport a stylus for digital note-taking, that honor falls to the HTC Flyer released last year. The Flyer was followed by the HTC Jetstream, a 10.1-inch version of the Flyer, and then the ThinkPad Tablet by Lenovo. The inclusion of a stylus seems to be an effort to differentiate these tablets from the pack of Android tablets with touch input only, and it remains to be seen how popular they will be with the buying public.


I am a pen-toting tablet user going way back, as I depended on a Tablet PC years ago when working as a consultant in the field. I used the tablet with a pen for eight hours a day, every day, taking tens of thousands of pages of handwritten notes as part of my job.

You would think my history with a pen tablet would make me an instant fan of the Galaxy Notes and the other Android slates with styli, but in fact it makes me wonder if these things will catch on with the public. What made the Tablet PC with pen input so valuable in my past work was the searchable handwriting that let me find any note easily.

The act of taking handwritten notes is not a technological challenge, but making that handwriting searchable certainly is. Think of all the pages of notes you've inked on paper over the years, and how hard it is to find things written a long time ago. That's the situation these new Android tablets with pens face, and I'm not sure how much value that brings to the table.

Having a stylus does set these new tablets apart from the crowd, so it certainly differentiates them from the bunch. We'll have to see if buyers find enough value in the stylus, though.

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Samsung, Tablets

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  • Bringing back the pen...

    For tablets, it may indeed make some sense considering the loose leaf paradigm.

    Meanwhile, for phones, it is like bringing back floppies for PCs. It simply belongs to the past, for times where nothing better existed. Capacitive screens freed us all from the incovenient input method that was the stylus for small screen devices. Are they that desperate to differentiate their new phone?

    Not for me. Sorry. Been there. Don't want to go back.
    • Bringing back the pen indeed.

      [quote]Capacitive screens freed us all from the incovenient input method that was the stylus for small screen devices.[/quote]

      Stylus also freed us all from having imprecise input of fat fingers and dirty fingerprings on small screen devices.
      Take Note's digitizer for example, it has 250 pressure levels and palm rejection for easy note taking. None of these can be found on any iDevice and everyday I enjoy my Note very, very much.
      • Making stuff up

        If you are going to speak definitively about a subject, you should at least try to know what you are talking about. The digitizer on the Note is NOT pressure sensitive. The pressure sensitivity comes from the stylus. BIG difference.
    • A few facts from the (proud?) owner of a Note.

      I know your message is quite old, so I guess you've perhaps had time to reconsider your early judgement.

      The "pen" (or stylus or whatever) on the Note is (in my opinion) NOT a step backward and cannot be compared by anyone in his right mind to floppies on a PC (yep, old enough to remember these, even cassettes on the Amstrads).

      First, the Note can be used without the pen (unlike the devices you may think of) and that thanks to its huge screen, so huge that some reviewers don't really know whether it's phone or a tablet. (It might be a problem in itself as at first sight, potential customers might think "A Jack of all trades, a master of none" (as we used to say when I lived in Britain).

      On the Note, though, it's a different story altogether as you ONLY really want (yes, I say want and not NEED) to use the pen when taking hand written notes, draw or the like... Is being able to draw on a smartphone/could-almost-be-a-tablet really a step backwards?

      Secondly, NO, not everybody has been freed from "inconvenient" input methods thanks to touch screens. My last phone (previous to the Note, which I just recently bought) was a Nokia N97 mini which has a physical keyboard hidden underneath the "moveable" screen when not in use. It is though a touch screen as well. Judging by the success of the N97 mini when it came out, I can only assume that I was not the only one not to have been "freed"...

      Don't get me wrong. The Note is NOT the best thing ever since sliced bread. For a start, the headphones coming with it are simply dreadful, it has problems recognizing some SD cards.

      Yet, your point being about the pen, I thought I'd talk about this instead.

      Sorry if there are a few mistakes, English is not my mother tongue.
  • For those who care to know...

    The Samsung Galaxy S Phone (I own one) works quite well with a stylus (you can order them on Amazon):

    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • Here, let me fix that for you

      The iPhone (I own one) works quite well with a stylus (you can order them on Amazon):

      (Funny that the pic used on your link is of an iPhone. And was it really necessary to obfuscate your link?!?)
  • Looking forward to the return

    I would love my stylus back, but on a non-spyware OS that I believe Android to be.
  • Are they deaf?

    Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, there were devices named Palm Pilots and iPaqs. They're extinct now.

    Meanwhile, there are two runaway success stories in the same segments: the iPhone and the iPad.

    The public has spoken. The product managers aren't listening.
    Robert Hahn
    • Seriously?

      Sounds like another Steve Jobs sheep comment. If stylus and digital inking weren't popular why are there so many capacitive styluses on the market and note taking apps in iTunes for digital inking? Just because Apple and Steve Jobs were too short sighted to put a digitizer in their device doesnt mean it's not a valid addition to a digital device. I read a comment a while back that says it all only Steve Jobs could turn a drawback into a feature. I just got rid of an iPhone in favor of the note and don't regret my decision for one second, in fact I will be replacing my iPad with an android tablet soon that supports pen input as a backup to my Asus ep121. As you can see I'm not a die hard fan of any OS or company, I buy the best product on the market at the time that meets my needs the best. I truly believe the reason pen input hasn't taken off as much in the mobile computing arena is because it hasn't been advertised much along with not much support in the way of apps that ale advantage of them. Samsung is changing both of these with the note, and ICS having pen support built in will help. But please don't dismiss something because you personally don't see value in it or understand its usefulness to others.
      • Re: Seriously

        Thanks inked75:
        "Sounds like another Steve Jobs sheep comment.....please don't dismiss something because you personally don't see value in it or understand its usefulness to others."
        I am ready to shelve my Omnia II and Axim x50v for a Note. If only I can install all of my reading programs and spreadsheets to the Android OS!
        I never understood how the i-Fanboys could use any of the fine pixeled apps with their booger-fingers.
      • Yes. Seriously.

        My perspective is that of somebody trying to juggle features and cost to sell the most widgets. If I lose your business and sell 100 million widgets while the guy who got your business sold a half-million widgets because he spent his parts budget on a digitizer while I picked some other feature, then I did my job.

        You are free to sing the praises of the guy who met your needs. But please understand: I don't care about him. My job was to beat him.

        We had two generations of stylus-based mobile devices. They were a big hit when they first came out. But is there any doubt that they've been nearly obliterated by devices that have no styli? I say the public has spoken. You may want one, but I wouldn't put one in my product.
        Robert Hahn
    • deaf and blind

      they're seriously blind and dumb to see the advantages of the stylus.. there are artists who like to paint and draw.. there are designers and architects who like to illustrate their ideas how about the police and reporters jotting on their notepads.. musicians taking down their musical ideas... the list goes on and on... until we can get the mark harmon's to smack them on back of their heads back to reality, we will have to wait awhile before somebody finally catches on.. hopefully soon ;-)
    • Are they deaf?

      Has the public really poken? We buy what's available. And Palm screwed up. The Palm went away because they never moved forward with apps, touch screen, etc. ... the platform never advanced. They stopped where blackberry started. It isn't for everyone but for work, taking notes, etc. a stylus makes sense. people write faster than they type, use their own shorthand and can abbreviate without autocorrects, and draw pictures.
      • Let's find out!

        [ul][i]Has the public really spoken?[/i][/ul]I think so, but let's give the Samsung people credit for making sure.

        As the author says, all these vendors are angling for some advantage that will help them sell phones. Maybe it's a stylus. Maybe it's voice recognition. Maybe it's a 41-megapixel camera, or a built-in Leatherman tool. You can't put them all on the same phone or the thing will cost $700 to build. So you have to make choices.

        One thing this model-proliferation exercise will do is answer these kinds of questions. Which features really have an impact on phone sales, and which ones sound good but don't sell any phones? By this time next year, the stylus phones will either be a big deal offered by everybody, or something you can only get on line from a specialty supplier.
        Robert Hahn
    • Was there ever a true choice?

      The public has spoken...yes, they have, but what did they speak about? They chose multi-touch over single touch. They chose using their fingers to using a stylus. They gained from the exchange and Apple made a deserved fortune.

      But, the Galaxy Note is not a Palm Pilot, nor is it a Windows Mobile PDA. Both of those were virtually impossible to use with your finger. They were designed for the stylus alone. The Galaxy Note will operate just like any other Android Phone. When calling, sending simple texts, reading email, browsing, reading books, or watching videos, no stylus is needed and I doubt that those in this discussion with a Note ever use a stylus for those things.

      But, something was lost as well. I used to keep a journal on my HP iPAQ 210. I wrote most days, and I often wrote 200-300 words. Ever tried writing 200-300 words at a time on an iPhone? I feel sorry for you with you have. I tried exactly once on my HTC Trophy, just to see if I could. It was annoying at best.

      The loss of the stylus was a true loss, in a few areas, writing and drawing. There were drawing programs for Windows Mobile, and they were usable. My favorite was Doodle Pad, which allowed you to create animated gifs from your own drawings. It was fun, if more than a bit silly. I cannot stand to write more than a sentence or two on my Windows Phone 7, but I wrote lots on my iPAQ.

      James mentions the advantages of searching hand written text, but on my iPAQ, Windows Mobile converted my scribblings to text in a Word document about as fast as I could write it. Those Word documents are fully searchable. Notes taken on my PDA could be opened in Word on my desktop.

      The stylus brings all that back, but doesn't drag the bad parts of stylus PDAs in its wake. If it ever comes to Verizon, the Note may be my next phone, and yet my present experience with Android is not positive when compared to Windows Phone 7. A touch Android phone won't make me switch, but a touch phone with the added value of a stylus might.

      And, the Note 10.1 has jumped to the top of my tablet wish list. If I don't like the stylus, I won't use it, and I won't lose anything.
  • Styli never went away

    I'm typing this on a Fujitsu T580 (Core i5, 8 gigs o' RAM, SSD) that I use with a stylus everyday.

    MobileNoter has an iOS and an Android note-taking app that syncs with OneNote 2007, and one that syncs with the newer OneNote 2010. I can jot a note on my Android phone, but it's clumsy to do it without an active stylus. There's also now an Android OneNote app, I think in beta, but the MobileNoter one is more flexible right now.

    The Galaxy Note will be my next phone, MobileNoter will upload to my computer my handwritten and typed notes for indexing. I've been seriously waiting for this. I've read that all my Wacom styli will work on the Galaxy Note. Woot!
  • Samsung Galaxy Note/Journal

    This will absolutely be my next phone. The stylus is a big draw for me. It is truly an all in one device. I just got back from Malaysia and held one in my envious hands. It's a little large but I can see my productivity gains going through the roof. I presently take hand written notes in meetings and the ability to have that on my phone is incredible. Also I can read it so much better. I may give my Kindle fire to my wife as I won't need it anymore. :)

    Now the big question is ... When will Verizon get off their bureaucratic a $ $ e s and put this device on the market? :) Don't make me go to ATT you bat rastards! :)
  • rebirth of the stylus

    i tried it out at the future shop and although i like the idea as i still take notes that way but i find its plastic tip too slippery and messy i could barely write my name without making a mess of it... it skips a lot leaving jumpy skids all over it sometimes it works sometimes it wont.. you have to point it straight down all the time no writing in an angle like you do a real pen.. until they improve this, i cant buy it just yet i will wait for a few updates or newer phones and see how they improve then...
  • Fantastic

    I really am glad to see there return of the stylus ! I never liked touch screen keyboards on a smart phones at all. I found them far too small to type quickly and accurately. Auto-correct functions are often comic and enraging. I wonder how many smart phones have been destroyed in rage and despair, as they get hurled across rooms in fits frustration and disgust. When Apple first introduced the iPhone, the touch screen looked elegant under glass but yielded a miserable UI. This is still the case ,the screen is to small. Siri is a poor compromise ,who wants to be seen talking to your phone in Public ? When blue tooth first emerged the New York Times ran a humorous editorial saying people walking down the street seemingly talking to themselves were not schizophrenics, however the lines were getting blurred. I've alway found capacitive styli blunt and awkward. How can you do anything with a wired knob of foam ,except keep fingerprints off the screen ? Typing is ok , writing and drawing are awful. This also leads to the thousands of drawing and writing apps, which reduce everything to finger painting, ok for kindergarten but not for accomplishing anything. Smartphone screens have alway been too small to really use the web.

    The main criticism given the note , is that it's too big to use as a phone is neglible. Many people rely now on texting for a number of reasons. The Galaxy note is really on to something combining both phone and tablet into a small unit. It's reminiscent of my beloved Archos 5it ,still the only tablet with video in, great if you are a photographer ,as it functions as an external monitor and has all the benefits of a tablet-USB host, emailing etc. Rather than a compromises I've often settled for, the note is something I want.
  • iJot+Evernote

    For me the right combination (on the iPhone) is iJot+Evernote. iJot is by far the most fluid handwriting app available and Evernote is just great at searching notes.

    I'd love to see how iJot perform on the Galaxy Notes... Or maybe the screen is large enough not to feel claustrophobic. Otherwise, iJot is the way to go!