Samsung Galaxy Note with Ice Cream Sandwich Hands-On

With Samsung’s announcement that they’re bringing Ice Cream Sandwich to the Galaxy Note, fans of the tablet-phone hybrid should be thrilled to finally get their hands on Android 4.0′s numerous helpful features. Still, as Android skins become increasingly ubiquitous, it begs the question – how much of Ice Cream Sandwich will the Galaxy Note leave intact? We went hands-on with the Galaxy Note to see for ourselves.

You can’t get Android 4.0 on the Galaxy Note in an over-the-air update, but Samsung makes the process mercifully easy. An official FAQ describes how to update the phone using Samsung’s Kies media application, which can be downloaded for free. Just follow the instructions in the FAQ (complete with pictures) to get Ice Cream Sandwich up and running.

So, what Ice Cream Sandwich features made it on to the Galaxy Note? Thankfully, almost all of them. From adjustable widgets to multitasking, Note users can take advantage of Android 4.0′s best enhancements.

Recent Apps

While the Galaxy Note won’t be getting soft-touch keys for Back, Home and Recent Apps (it has its own physical buttons), that doesn’t mean Note users won’t benefit from the same functionality. The Note’s upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich has left intact its ability to open a list of recently used apps by long-pressing the Home button. Users can close applications simply by swiping them to the side with their fingers.

No Soft-Touch Virtual Buttons

The move to Ice Cream Sandwich has also left intact the functionality of the Note’s physical buttons. Rather than popping open the recent apps menu like it does on other device, the menu button still opens a list of options for each app (such as Settings, Help and Send Feedback).

The home button (obviously) returns users to their main home screen, and – as mentioned above – can be used to open a list of recently used apps. The back button remains unchanged, as does the Search button – a decision we appreciated, given that new phones featuring Android 4.0 lamentably lack a dedicated Search button altogether.

Notifications Menu

Note users now have access to Android 4.0′s handy drop-down notifications menu, complete with the ability to dismiss notifications with a swipe of the finger and change their settings right from the home screen.

Resizable Widgets

Widgets can now also be resized by long-pressing on them and then dragging the corner toward the yellow grid lines.

Face Unlock

Anyone who wants to make their phone a little more secure (or just can’t be bothered to use their fingers to unlock their phone) should be pleased by the addition of Face Unlock. Sadly, that’s just about the only new unlock option – Ice Cream Sandwich’s handy new Lock Screen, which lets you open the camera without having to first unlock the phone, isn’t implemented on the Galaxy Note.

Android Beam

Sharing-minded uses will appreciate the inclusion of Android Beam, which leverages the Galaxy Note’s built-in NFC chip to share data such as YouTube videos, contact information, and other nuggets of information. Numerous apps have begun to incorporate Ice Cream Sandwich’s NFC functionality as well, making this a useful addition for Galaxy Note users.

Updated Browser

The Galaxy Note’s native browser greatly benefits from the update to Ice Cream Sandwich. Users can now view Web pages in desktop mode with a press of a button (which is especially handy, given that the Note’s 5-inch display seems designed to view pages to their fullest extent), as well as save pages for offline reading. What’s more, anyone who uses Chrome on their computer can sync their bookmarks to their Galaxy Note.

Chrome for Android

Of course, Galaxy Note users don’t have to settle for the stock browser any longer; they can switch to Chrome for Android. Google’s recently-graduated-from-beta mobile browser delivers improved tab switching, easier file downloading and a host of other cool features.

Set Your Own Data Limits

Frugal Galaxy Note users can also use Ice Cream Sandwich to set data limits – meaning they can listen to Pandora to their heart’s content, without worrying about getting hammered by overage fees or having their data throttled.

Quick Response Texts

One of our favorite features of Ice Cream Sandwich, Quick Response Texts, allows users to send a text message when declining a call. This will prove handy for anyone who’s driving or in a situation where answering a call is a bad idea.

Premium Suite

The move to Ice Cream Sandwich also brings new support for the Note’s stylus. Premium Suite includes a brand new S-Note productivity tools, which can translate handwritten math equations into easy-to-read formulas, answer handwritten questions using the Internet, and clean up hand-drawn shapes. A new widget allows users to access all of the different features of S Memo (type, draw, write, add photo or dictate using voice) right from the home screen with one touch. My Story App lets users write digital letters or cards (available for download from Samsung Apps).

Of all the tools bundled in Premium Suite, S Note proved the most impressive. The app recognized a huge number of mathematical symbols including the symbol for sum and exponents. Tapping on the Search button opened the browser of our choice and found the answer to our equation on WolframAlpha.com (S Note uses this Web site to answer all of its queries). The app’s ability to convert hand-drawn shapes into cleaner versions was similarly intuitive, although less immediately useful.

The app also allows users to write questions directly into the application and then search for the answer on WolframAlpha.com by tapping the Search button. We found that S Note was very good at recognizing our handwriting, but it didn’t automatically create a new space when we finished writing on the current line, forcing us to tap the Space button frequently.

S Note also allows users to import and annotate PDFs and images, which can prove incredibly useful if you need to take notes on a presentation or map on the fly.

Performance

Sadly, Ice Cream Sandwich doesn’t offer a performance boost for the Galaxy Note. On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the Note notched a score of 2,203 – just three points shy of its original score on Android 2.3.

Similarly, the Note achieved an almost identical score in An3DBench on Ice Cream Sandwich as it did on Gingerbread, turning in 6,903 versus the 7,028.

What’s Missing

Only a few features of Android 4.0 didn’t make the migration onto the Galaxy Note. Most obviously, Samsung elected to keep its own TouchWiz Android skin –  although we found that we wished we had Ice Cream Sandwich’s more attractive user interface instead. 

Also missing was the option to create silly faces and backgrounds when using video chat. Still, this wasn’t a terrible loss.

Finally, Samsung decided not to include the People App in lieu of its own Social Hub application, which allows users to view of all their email, texts and other messages in a single inbox; sync their contacts and social networks; and manage their calendars across multiple accounts.

Final Impressions

Overall, we were very pleased by the Galaxy Note’s upgrade to Android 4.0. Almost all of the best features of Ice Cream Sandwich made it on to the Note, and the new productivity tools included in Premium Suite – particularly S Note – make the stylus an even greater asset for the phone/tablet hybrid.



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  1. Thomas Hobbs Says:

    Updating to ICS has so far ben impossible. KIES keeps timing out (have tried over 50 times in the last 48 hours). Is tere any other upgrade options available?

  2. David Eitelbach Says:

    According to Samsung’s website, the update will be available only through the Samsung Kies application.

  3. ryan Says:

    you have to update your samsung kies first then connect your usb cable and your fone and it will automatically update.i just did just now and successfully did it.my android version now is 4.0.3.

  4. Super Frustrated Says:

    My phone keeps crashing since the change. It freezes up and I have to wait
    for it to shut down. I have to keep force closing
    my Camera and Camera 360. >:

  5. William Gary Says:

    Same here. Tried numerous times. Got a partial download and a lock up. Called AT&T and Samsung. Had a partial download and a lock up. Hung on partial download. Would not shut off. Pulled battery and replaced to start over. Would not reboot. Sent back to Samsung for repairs. Ugh….

  6. John Says:

    It will not work thru Kies, Kies will tell you that the device I717 is not able to be upgraded, you will need to download the http://www.hotfile.com/dl/162779447/3bb6230/I717UCLF6_I717ATTLF6_ATT.zip.html and install thru odin. Shear genius.

  7. Richard Weed Says:

    “mercifully easy”
    Poppycock. Update fail repeatedly. Either hangs or times out.
    Impossible.

  8. Michael Says:

    I have LG Optimus with 2.2 Froyo and it has quick response texts it is an old feature.

  9. Steve Says:

    No problem up grading 4.0

  10. Stan Kossen Says:

    I began years ago on Tandy and then later on “IBM compatible” machines until I finally coverted to Apple, having been the more-than-satisfied owner of a MacPro, an iMac, an iPod, two iPads, and two Apple tv boxes. I have recently ordered the 13 ” Air with a 500 gigs SSD.

    As a curious sort of bloke, and I am not even English, I decided to acquire the Samsung 5.3 ” Phablet with Android.

    Folks, I have given Android a fair chance for more than three months.

    My conclusions? Android is okay. IOS, however, by comparison is excellent.

    There are so many subtle differences in Apple’s IOS that make it more efficient and intuitive than is Android.

    My Samsung Note also locked up after the upgrade to ICS. I worked out that problem, and now I cannot reconnect to Kies.

    Yes, my fellow geeks, I know that their are solutions to every problem, but I never found them so challenging as they are with the Droid. Sorry, Droid lovers, but that’s the way I see it. I cannot wait to get my hands on an iPhone!

  11. Pepper Ginder Says:

    I only decided to comment after reading the “Droid” bashing at the end. Why on earth do people come on an Andriod based site to sing the praises of ios? ugh, so enjoy your “iwhatever” and go to an apple site to talk about it, most of the people here could not care less about how great you find it to be.

  12. sairabh Says:

    its nice really, smooth interface and fast response,i am impreased,just follow this – setting->about phone->softwere update->update..
    i did it in same way, no need of kies n all it worked for me,but 3g or wifi is required……….!!!!

  13. Captain Bordello Says:

    I gave up on IOS when the iPhone 5 came out without micro SD support. I am heartily sick of Apples lock down attitude (and I spent $10,00 on Apple gear last year).

    I bought an Galaxy note 1, and the day after I bought it, it upgraded itself to ICS. I also bought a Galaxy Tab2 7inch to replace my iPad. I bought the plug on keyboard to go with the Tab.

    I love the Note (and the Tab2) – so far its doing all that I asked of it. Runs smooth, good screens, long battery life, and I can put both the Note and the Tab in a jacket pocket.

    The deal breaker was the Micro SD card. I can keep movies on one card for my work flights, work flies on another for when I am working, and photos of my travels on another.

    I cant really comment on pre ICS – both of mine are on ICS – the Note on 4.04 and the Tab on 4.0.3. Happy with both…..

    Apple – get lost.

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