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Galaxy Note and S Pen: Can a tweener smartphone-tablet succeed?

Analysts say stylus could help 5.3-in. Samsung device avoid problems that forced Dell to kill two Streak models

February 1, 2012 05:42 AM ET

Computerworld - The 5.3-in. Samsung Galaxy Note, set to be available for AT&T's LTE network on Feb. 19, is called a smartphone, but its touchscreen and integrated S Pen stylus for drawing and taking notes elevates the device into a somewhat different category.

The Galaxy Note smartphone
The Galaxy Note smartphone and S Pen stylus (Image: Samsung)

Priced at $299.99 with a two-year agreement, Galaxy Note runs Android 2.3. The manufacturer's Samsung Norway Facebook page has confirmed an Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade will arrive soon thereafter, though a company spokeswoman in the U.S. Tuesday wouldn't say when the new OS will be available for the Galaxy Note in this country.

The Galaxy Note form factor faces an unknown future based on how similar products have done so far.

For instance, Dell couldn't make it with its 5-in. and 7-in. Streak touchscreen tablets, though neither used a stylus for input.

Both Streak models were withdrawn in 2011 after an auspicious start in mid-2010.

On the other hand, a Sprint spokesman said that carrier is pleased with sales of its 7-in. HTC Evo View 4G and HTC Scribe digital pen since they were introduced in mid-2011.

The spokesman did note that there's no discernable way to know just how popular the digital pen input capability is for Evo View users. Sprint currently sells the View tablet for just $250 after rebates and with a two-year agreement. It charges $50 extra for the Scribe pen, making the price of the combined offering the same as the upcoming Galaxy Note with an integrated S Pen.

Analysts offered a variety of opinions about the Galaxy Note and about the importance of the S Pen to its future success.

Some compare the S Pen to the Palm Pilot's small integrated stylus that worked well with the small 1996-era PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant. Users could tap the screen with the stylus to open various functions.

Other analysts said the S Pen appears to be much more sophisticated than the Palm Pilot stylus. For example some noted that the Samsung pen can be turned into an artist's brush, with different widths and shapes that show up well on the Galaxy Note's high resolution (1280 x 800) screen.

Samsung draws attention to the S Pen stylus and its functionality in its marketing materials, though it is hard to determine what Samsung believes is the Galaxy Note's strongest selling feature.

The Galaxy Note also has an HD-quality video camera that has shot video footage slated to be shown in a television ad during Sunday's Super Bowl, Samsung said.

Analysts said Samsung has a difficult task convincing users of the value of the S Pen stylus.

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