The New Power User's Smartphone

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Pre-2007, when mobile power users wanted a device, their options fell between the Communicator form factor, or the touchscreen plus stylus form factor (which I shall call the “Pocket PC” form factor). The former were almost exclusively a Nokia terrain – laptop-like form factor with a small external display, a huge internal one, and a full QWERTY keyboard. The latter were initially from Ericsson (later Sony Ericsson) and Palm. The most powerful devices were almost always to be found in these two camps. The Communicator was undisputed king, but many power users who didn’t want one settled for the Pocket PC form factor.

Nokia E90 Communicator

Of course, both camps were ruled by Symbian. Windows Mobile manufacturers later stepped into the touchscreen plus stylus camp, and flooded it with a number of devices. Unfortunately, despite the number of manufacturers churning out that form, Windows Mobile never became a serious contender to Symbian in the smartphone space.

In the Symbian camp, I owned the 9210, 9500 and E90 Communicators. Nokia tried to pass off the E75 as one but it didn’t stick. I also owned the Ericsson R380s, Sony Ericsson P800, P990i, and P1i. I had a brief stint with Palm with the Palm 700P. On the Windows Mobile side, I owned the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, HTC/Sprint, Samsung i780, and HTC Touch Pro2.

Sony Ericsson P800

RIP Communicator
The Communicator was usually the largest, most powerful and most versatile smartphone in the market for almost a decade. In that light, Nokia hasn’t produced a true Communicator device in years. The E7 was marketed as one, but it was neither the most powerful nor the most versatile smartphone on the market. Perhaps it is just time to lay the Communicator to rest. There appears to be a new king of the hill, and it cares nothing for a laptop format, or for hardware QWERTY keyboards, and isn’t coming from the Finns.

During the era of the Communicator, power users who didn’t want one usually picked up a Pocket PC form factor device. In this new dispensation of the touchscreen, that form factor appears to have risen to the top spot that Communicators used to occupy. A mobile ice age has come and gone, and the Communicator is extinct. For some years now, there has been no device that made power users drool – a device that stood head and shoulders above the crowd in terms of specs and functionality. Thankfully, such a device is now here.

Long Live The Note
Today, mobile power users are lusting after one device that towers above others. People who miss Nokia’s Communicators, Sony Ericsson’s P-series, and the Windows Mobile Pocket PCs of old, are drooping over Samsung’s Galaxy Notes. What is there for a power user not to geek over? Powerful processors, the largest displays on smartphones and high-tech styli make the Notes exactly what the doctor ordered for that class of users.

Samsung Galaxy Note II

I belong in that class. Handwriting recognition, scribbling and drawing are natural and intuitive ways to interact with text. I loved my Sony Ericsson P-series devices to bits for these attributes. I cannot begin to imagine what improvements technology has brought to this form factor. Yes; I know all the specs, but I don’t do specs. I get my grubby hands on them and try them out.

Oh yes; just like the Communicators and Pocket PC form factors were niche, so also will the Notes be niche devices. They will never sell as much as the iPhone, or the Galaxy S series. But people who want to squeeze out the most from their smartphones and people who want one super-converged device between mobile and proper PC computing will want one. They will likely buy one too.

Mobilists and mobilettes, we have the new ultimate jack of all trades, Samsung’s Notes.


  1. Excellent piece!

    One thing that keeps bothering me is the size of these devices. With each new iteration comes a little increase in the physical sizes in terms of length and width, even if thinner. What will be the optimal size or maximum size before we are so sure that larger display is no longer better?

    Maybe this will eventually kick up a trend where we would become more comfortable carrying our mobile devices in a small pouch the way women carry their handbags as fashion accessories to the point that if you don’t have one with you, even when a pocketable phone is in your trousers pocket, you will be feeling uncomfortable.

  2. Yes Mr. Mo, you are spot on! The Galaxy Note brand is now the true successor to the throne of the multitasking behemoths like Nokia’s Communicators of yore. This is one area where the tech world and Apple should laud Samsung for being truly innovative. At least, no one can accuse Sammy of ‘slavishly copying’ iPhone here.

    Imagine that late Steve Jobs was cynical when asked about the future of stylus-driven smartphones:
    ‘If you see a stylus, they blew it’.
    Now, Steve must be regretting his arrogant statement (like many wrong others he made) in the grave now. The Galaxy Note simply blew limitations away in a positive way. I own the first Note and I’m happy with it, while looking ahead to snap up the Note 2 when it arrives.

    In my office, iPhone users drool over my Note; before I got the Note, they (2 of them) used to boast about the supremacy of iPhone. Now, they are silenced. Of course, the Note being a niche device, iPhone (even latest iPhone 5) is no match! The success of Samsung in the risk they took with the Note has spurred LG to also release a similar one (LG Optimus VU/Intuition), though not yet a match for the Note. I learnt HTC is planning one. I won’t be surprised if Apple considers to out theirs in the future. And the pleasant thing I love also about the Note is that it’s comfortable to make calls with just like any smartphone. Yet it’s a glorious mini-tablet when it comes to browsing, media playing and games. I can work on Word, PDF, Powerpoint files and send smoothly as email attachments! It’s a mini mobile office. And wait, I am an artist! Thus the Note is also my mobile art studio as I can sketch inspirations anywhere I am. And in the church, I take sermon notes directly on my Note as if writing on a notebook. With the new Note 2, the possibilities are even more exciting.

  3. I couldn’t agree more on this post and bold declaration. The Samsung Note is Da’ Beast. And I’m drooling hopelessly after it!

    @Harry Echemco

    “One thing that keeps bothering me is the size of these devices. With each new iteration comes a little increase in the physical sizes in terms of length and width, even if thinner. What will be the optimal size or maximum size before we are so sure that larger display is no longer better?”

    Just to note that the Note II is thinner and narrower (less width) compared to the Original Note. Though longer! And that’s a great thing considering an increased Battery capacity and a more Widescreen display; 16:9. The display aspect ration y the way is the same with the Galaxy S III and iPhone 5.

  4. Very informed piece. Couldn’t have said it better. I remember always wanting to own the Nokia communicators back then. They were my kind of form factors. But couldn’t afford any then. Was more intrigued when I met my wife back in the days using a Nokia communicator. I said to myself then”Kai, if she can buy this, then I must get mine”. However, that was when touch screens started gaining prominence and attraction. I chose to go with it then especially as the communicator prices refused to come down. Then we had tablets. Too big for me. I needed something in between the smartphones and the tablets. Something in the class of my always loved Nokia communicator. Then Samsung brought to life my dreams. The Note. It had all the checks ticked for me. I do not only enjoy more but could also do and achieve more with the Samsung galaxy Note.

    Just when I thought that was it, the Note2 came out and blew my mind. I had concluded never to upgrade from my Note till the end of 2013. I had to eat my words. The Note2 is too compelling. The things you can achieve with that stylus are magical. For example I do use an Internet banking platform which website is not optimised for Mobile. You need to hover the mouse on certain links to open them. This could only be done on desktops. But with the stylus on Note2, i can now achieve this. The 2gig ram and 3100mah battery set this as a contender for the future. It will continue to deliver exceeding speed and long battery life. This is one to own definitely.

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