For the second #Testmodo4GEE challenge, I’ve been asked to test out Samsung’s “S Pen” (as good a name as any, I guess, though not that inspiring!) and the various Samsung “Air Command” apps that leverage the S Pen, as well as some of the other pre-loaded Samsung apps/bloatware such as My Magazine, S Note, Easy Clip and Multi-Window.
The S Pen is a stylus that fits nicely into the bottom right-hand corner of the phone. It’s made of black plastic with a nice, fake, silver, grooved-metal (probably plastic) piece at the top which gives it some grip when you need to extract the stylus from the holding slot with your nails/fingertips. It’s quite a nice little stylus and despite my absent-minded chewing of the top, it seems pretty sturdy. Why some tablet manufacturers can’t manage to fit their styli into their tablets (which are often huge beasts of a device), I don’t know (ahem, Surface Pro anyone?!) I think Samsung have done quite a nice job slotting this into the phone although a spare stylus in the box would have been a nice idea (but they did see fit to include spare nibs and a nib extraction tool) in the box.
On extracting the stylus, you get some nice haptic feedback and a little “swooshing” noise and a little pen icon appears at the top of the phone in the status bar. This icon, quite handily, stays there even when the phone is put into standby and turned on again, so it reminds you that the stylus is out and should remind you to put it back in again at some point, hopefully preventing loss of the stylus.
If the phone was already unlocked at the time when you withdraw the stylus, the Air Command pop-up menu appears automagically.
The Air Command pop-up is a semi-circular list of 5 apps and the act of hovering the stylus over each of them tells you what they are (which is pretty clever). This hovering of the stylus over apps/icons is used to good effect in many programs to pop up a little tooltip to tell you what that function is. I found this quite useful on occasion when an icon’s function was not obvious.
The Air Command apps, from left to right, are Action Memo, Scrap Booker, Screen Write, S Finder and Pen Window. If you accidentally close this menu, you can bring it back up again by pressing the grey button on the side of the stylus and pointing the stylus at a blank area of the desktop screen. Pressing the button again closes the Air Command menu.
If you hover over one of your app folders, the folder is exploded slightly so you can see which apps are inside. This is pretty cool except the icons don’t spread out quite enough to make it obvious what’s inside and I suppose you could just touch the folder to open it anyway.
So what do all these wonderful apps do or are they just a waste of time and memory? Read on…
This presents you with a yellow Post-It Note-style blank space within which you can write with the stylus. There are a number of icons at the top for selecting pen colour, erasing, changing the background colour and so on. The most useful icon here is the Link To Action icon. This allows you to do something with whatever note you’ve scribbled on-screen. Pressing it causes a rectangle to automatically appear around the writing along with some further icon selections for actions you can take such as Phone, Contacts, Messaging, Email, Browser, Map and Task. It’s quite a neat way to take down someone’s name and number and add it to your contacts and the phone does a good job of interpreting even the most dodgy “chicken-scratch” writing! It’s arguable whether it would just be faster to go into Contacts and manually type in the name and number rather than scrawling it however.
This lets you grab a section of whatever is on-screen and insert it into a OneNote/Evernote-style app along with some hand-written notes and typed tags. While the selection tool seems to grab more than you’ve highlighted, the app cleverly tries to translate to text anything it can from the selected area. This content can be shared via a multitude of apps and either as a scrapbook file (.scc) or as an image and text. In the example I grabbed an image from the EE website, added a hand-written note and a tag called EE.
This is an annotation/highlighting app that grabs a screenshot of the current screen and allows you to use various pen styles to add comments or highlight parts of the image and then share this. I can see this being useful to highlight locations or a route on a map for yourself or to share with someone.
As its’ name implies, S Finder is a search utility which cleverly looks for content on your device based on any keywords you type in, when the content was created, the type of content and any tags you may have saved (for example tags created in the Scrap Booker app). It also allows you to use various internet search engines if you want to look online instead. In this example I’ve highlighted (using the Screen Writer app) that I searched for the word “test” in the last 7 days of content and you can see it turned up a tag called “test” along with 1 Scrapbook item where the tag was contained. Of course you can just use it to search for apps on your device too.
Pen Window allows you to draw on a section of screen and then pops up a selection of apps that you can drop into that window. This allows for the placement of various apps side by side. The choice of apps is somewhat limited and it’s unclear how you add to them (initially you can see Calculator, Clock, Youtube, Phone, Contacts, ChatON, Hangouts, Internet and Whatsapp). Here I have Internet in the background (so I can get these windows into landscape mode – see my comment below) and then I’ve opened Clock and Phone using Pen Window. Useful? Hmmm….
One somewhat frustrating thing with all of these Air Command apps is that they want to work in portrait mode. If you want to force them into landscape mode, you must first open an app that can work in landscape mode, e.g. Internet, rotate the phone into landscape position and then open one of the apps from the Air Command menu. Not a big deal but if you did want to have two apps open side-by-side, it would make sense to be able to do this as easily in landscape as you can in portrait.
So that’s the Air Command menu. What about the rest?
S Note is Samsung’s take on OneNote and Evernote.
There are a number of template designs to choose from blank pages through to baby diaries! Random…
Once you’ve selected your template you can then choose to insert various things such as voice memos, images, videos, charts and clip art.
Of course you can also add hand-written notes or typed text.
Once finished the note can be shared as an S Note file, an image file, a PDF or as text only via a plethora of apps or exported to Google Drive or My Files. Pages can also be tagged, indexed and printer. One thing this app has over OneNote is that you can’t handwrite in the Android version of OneNote. That’s a real shame.
This is a tool to allow cropping of images from any page. Simply press and hold the button on the S Pen while drawing around the object you wish to crop. You will then be presented with various sharing options and additional cropping tools. Pretty quick and easy to use and could prove useful. Normally you’d probably end up taking a screen-shot just to potentially capture a small area.
Samsung recently made a fair bit of hoo-hah about this app. It’s basically Flipboard for Samsung devices and it’s developed in conjunction with them. It’s accessed by pressing the home button briefly. You can choose from 3 overall channels to display, News, Personal and Social and within each of those you can choose sources but there’s minimal configuration or option to add additional unlisted sources.
It works very well but note you can only read in portrait but photos can be viewed in landscape.
Oddly, at times the app takes you into Flipboard and you have to sign into this the first time this happens.
The app can be opened by a single press of the Home button although you can switch this off. I’m not too sure I would use this over Flipboard as I can’t see any obvious benefit to doing so.
Multi-Window can be switched on and off from the setting drop-down at the top of the screen. Once it’s running, it can also be temporarily switched off and on by holding down the back button (which is useful if seeing it at the side of the screen bugs you!)
Switching it on causes a small arrow to appear to the left or right of the screen over the top of any app you have running (you can drag this to the left or right depending on your preference). Touching the arrow causes a small tool-bar to pop out from the side and this shows a bunch of apps which you can use in multi-window mode and you can scroll up and down through these. Selecting one of the apps causes it to appear on-screen. If you then go back into the toolbar and select a second app, that will also appear on-screen alongside or above/below the first app. If you wish to choose which half of the screen the second app appears in you can drag it from the toolbar rather than clicking on it.
You can also add and remove apps from this list by touching the arrow at the bottom of the tool-bar and selecting Edit, or, you can create new window combos by selecting Create (you need to have two apps open in multi-window mode first). This latter feature is useful if you regularly like to have two apps open on-screen at the same time in order to copy and paste between the two.
It’s nice that this works in both portrait and landscape mode and is somewhat easier to use than Pen Window. You can easily resize the windows by grabbing the blue window-edge and dragging it across. Touching the blue dot in the middle of the blue window-edge pops up options to Switch application, Switch window, Drag and drop content or to close the app.
Switch application pops up quite a nice concertina-style view of running apps you can flip through and switch into the current window.
Drag and drop allows you to select images or paragraphs of text from the highlighted window and drag and drop over to the other app window. In the example I’ve cut some text and graphics from Gizmodo’s website to an S Note page.
It’s a pretty clever app, I think it just requires a bit of thought on useful combinations of apps to have up on-screen at the same time.
A final note on S Pen
I found it to be a culture shift in terms of how you use your phone moving from a regular touch-screen to one where you’re encouraged to use a stylus. I found myself using it more and more even if it was sometimes just to hear that little “swoosh” noise as I took the S Pen out! I like that the S Pen gives you functionality that you just don’t get with other phones and an example of that is shown here. I use the Touchdown email client and quite often you can’t read the full subject line of an email until you open it. With S Pen, it seems that hovering over the subject causes the whole subject line to be popped up. This is even more useful when in portrait mode.
It’s nifty little tricks like this that have sold me on using the S Pen.
EE 4G Speed
As I didn’t manage to test the Samsung Group Play functionality (which is only useful if you have friends that have a Samsung phone) I didn’t really get to utilise the EE 4G network much on this challenge. I did however manage to compare the signal strength and download speed of Vodafone 4G and EE 4G at different spots throughout my house (in North-West London), which typically has a very poor signal strength. This isn’t a very scientific test since I was using two different phones so antenna size could have played a part in this but I thought the results were interesting anyway. The first pic is the EE network on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the second pic is Vodafone on a Nokia Lumia 925. Make of this what you will – to my mind EE looks a lot better although the signal strength was pretty poor on both networks. If I manage to get the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 unlocked I’ll try the Vodafone sim in there to see if there’s any difference from the EE sim and I’ll post the results on my blog
Here’s a pic of me looking pleased with my new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 courtesy of Gizmodo and EE #TestModo4GEE
See the link to the edited Gizmodo article here: