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Galaxy Note SC-05D

There have been a number of reviews for the Galaxy Note around the web already, but few reviews in English about the Japanese model available from Docomo thus far.

Here's what you need to know:
1. SIM and Unlocking?  Yes, Docomo will unlock it for you - but the range of frequencies is limited.  Specifically, it won't work with eMobile SIMs.
    The device supports only the small Micro-SIM cards (same size as those the iPhone 4 and up take), but it won't take a Docomo FOMA SIM even if you cut it.
2. What about WiFi Only use?  It works fine with WiFi only.  There is no booby-trap to prevent its use without an active SIM card. (Obviously you won't be able to make phone calls without using a VOIP app like 050+ or Skype, though).
3. Camera Quality
Nothing special to see here.  The photos it takes look great on the screen, but that's because the screen is small compared to a computer.  This can't touch Sony's cameras.
There is a low res. front-facing camera for video chat.
4. Saifu Keitai/Felica/Mobile Suica?  In a word - No.  This phone has the International NFC standard instead.  Amusingly, you can use it to READ your Suica cards to check the balance, etc., but you can't use it to pay for anything.  The Japanese market of the Note II has upgraded to Felica instead, though.
5. 1seg (Japanese Digital TV) - This phone does have 1seg!  And it works great.  1Seg is starting to shows its age though on this giant screen.  There is no NOTTV support.  You can of course run TV apps like UNEXT that use the data connection, though, and I highly recommend this phone if you are a fan of watching TV on the train.  Annoyingly, Hulu Japan does not yet support this phone.
6. Screen - Well it's big.  It's also got very good color.  In fact, despite the fact that the camera quality is not stellar, it's very fun to go around taking photos with this "phone".  What it doesn't have?  No veil view (privacy screen), and no 3D or anything like that.  It's justa big huge juicy screen.
7. The stylus - This probably depends on the person, but I find it very useful.  If you bring the stylus close to the screen, a mouse cursor will (or can be set to) show.  When you touch, it will "click", basically the same as touching with your finder.  Some apps recognize the pen specially, or have pressure sensitivity.  The stylus itself is a little too small and thin, and is easy to lose if you are not religious about stashing it back in the device when you're done using it.  A new stylus will set you back about 2000 yen, so be careful!  I suppose that's why the Note II has a feature to let you know when the Pen gets too far.  

1. Big giant colorful screen
2. Amazingly long battery life, despite the screen size.
3. Very fast.
4. A new take on the Stylus idea.

1. No osaifu keitai (Mobile Suica, etc.)
2. No Wireless charging (okudake juden)
3. There could be more apps taking advantage of the stylus and more built-in handwriting recognition software. (especially for Japanese).
4. Not Waterproof.

Cool Stuff:
  • Basically, Samsung has brought back the organizer idea.  With the combination of the large screen and the stylus, you can effectively use both their note apps and things like their version of Google Calendar.  I see this as going far for business use.  In a way, I feel like I am holding a fancy new model of the Sharp Zaurus.  
  • Their replace-the-back flip cover is an interesting idea (though it is difficult to open with one hand).
Included Software:
Although some people might like the "pure" android experience, included software is an important part of the experience on the Galaxy note.
  • Samsung includes different notepad packages: S Note and S Memo.
    • S Note is the more sophisticated of the two, with the ability to record audio, convert hand-drawn shapes into perfect ones, etc.
  • Swype Japanese - Lets you type Japanese, Korean, or Engilsh by "swyping"  (Japanese uses Romaji style input).
    • Skype is a very good choice for English and other similar writing systems, but ATOK (which most of the Japanese manufacturers) would have been better for Japanese.
    • That said, you can install Google Japanese Input for free, which is competitive with ATOK. 
  • Samsung Keyboard Japanese - This includes integration with Mazec (A handwriting input method system). 
    • Mazec is a separate system that can be purchased separately on Android Market, but really makes more sense with a larger screen and stylus.  
  • Samsung Keyboard and non-Japanese, which includes Korean, English, etc.)
  • There is a Japanese-English dictionary included, but nowhere near the level of those included by the Japanese makers like Sharp, etc. (Such as Genius, Wisdom, etc.).
There are some places where you can see the difference between Japanese and Korean design.  One of the biggest annoyances to my personally is that the volume control and power button are on opposite sides of the screen at about the same height.  As a result, when you grab the unit with one hand to try to change the volume (while watching  movie, etc.), you will often turn off the screen unless you are very careful.

The volume button is also entirely too easy to press by accident in general, so we often find ourselves turning the volume up or down by accident.
In fact, it's honestly difficult to use the unit much at all with one hand.  If you like to pull your phone out of your pocked, unlock it, and tap around with a single hand, you'll find that difficult, even if you have relatively large hands.  Unlike the iPad, this doesn't require two hands to hold, so you can easily hold it with one hand while you work it with the other - but using it with one hand is difficult and awkward at best.  There are some one-hand mode settings which shrink the keyboard and put it on the left or right side of the screen, etc. - but these make the keyboard smaller than it has to be when you can use both hands.  

This could be a positive or a negative, but Samsung's icons are a bit too cartoonish.  We would prefer the stock android ones.

Handwriting input is an awesome idea as long as it works well, but it would be nice if it could be used by default in some apps (like s-note), and use the regular keyboard instead for others (like SMS).

As with all Samsung handsets, they decided to put the back button on the right and the menu button on the left.  (The opposite of Sony, etc.).  This by itself is annoying, but to add insult to injust, the buttons are completely invisible when the backlight is off.  They are easy to hit by accident, and less than easy to hit on purpose.  Either way, we often find ourselves hitting the wrong one!  More to the point - Why are there buttons at all?  Android 4.0 (which this phone ships with) is supposed to use on-screen buttons.  

Overall Opinion
Whether you want this as your primary phone or not is debatable.  Everyone who has said it would be difficult or silly to hold up to your ear was wrong, however.  It works just fine as a phone.  It might be bigger than you want to carry in your jeans every day, though.  As something to add to your laptop bag, brief case, or purse, it won't be noticeably larger than any other phone.  In fact, it's pretty thin.  

If you want a phone with a big screen to watch 1seg TV or movies, this is a good bet.  If you want something to use as a organizer, this is also a good choice.  For taking notes it seems ideal, but realistically a small laptop (with a keyboard) would be much more productive in places where you can use it.

More than this particular "phone", I applaud Samsung's efforts to be creative and push boundaries.  It must have worked for them, because the Note II was just announced.  It has more fancy tricks with the stylus, and is more localized, both in hardware and software (Saifu Keitai and apparently Better Japanese input).  They've also improved the stylus lag time, made it more comfortable, and harder to lose.

By the time you read this, the Note II will be available from Docomo in retail shops, so I recommend that if you want to use it as a phone on the Docomo network, you buy the Note II.  If you want to use it with no network or via WiFi, you can probably buy the Note I used at retail shops like Janpara and Sofmap very inexpensively right now.

One last note, Docomo has announced that Android 4.1 will be made available for the Note 1, so anyone who was worried about that probably doesn't need to be.