Samsung Galaxy Note FE review

A middle class gadget review*

Getting a smartphone or tablet with a stylus has always been a dream of mine. I gave it a try, writing on a Galaxy Note phone once and I was pleasantly surprise of how delightful it is. Ever since then I made it my mission that my next secondary smartphone will be a Galaxy Note (an iPhone will always be my number one). At the time of writing, the latest Samsung Galaxy Note model is the Galaxy Note 8 which is way beyond my budget. The next best thing, the Galaxy Note FE however is priced much-much more cheaper at slightly over 2,000 ringgit which is what I decided to buy instead.

Galaxy Note FE or Fan Edition is basically a refurbished version of the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 with slightly smaller battery and multiple safety features. It has exactly the same design, form factor, stylus and all the great features of the Note 7 but at a hugely discounted price. As a (former) flagship Samsung phone, the Note FE comes with a deluge of accessories including a fast charger, USB-A to USB-C adapter, micro-USB to USB-C adapter, fast charger, earphones and a Note FE Clear View case.

Out of the box and turned on, you couldn’t help by admire the huge 5.7” Super AMOLED screen. The phone is sandwiched between a Gorilla Glass 5 but no matter how tough they claim the glass is, using a case is highly recommended if you value your brand new expensive phone. The home button doubles as a fingerprint sensor although you can also unlock the phone using the iris scanner feature. The S-Pen stylus is tucked in at the bottom of the phone. Unlike the previous Samsung Note version, you can’t insert this stylus wrong-side in and damage it. Like all recent Samsung flagship, the FE also has IP68 certification which makes the phone dust proof and waterproof up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes.

The Note FE provides a hybrid dual SIM tray which means you have 1 slot for a nano-SIM and a hybrid slot for another nano-SIM card and a micro SD card. I only used the single SIM card tray and utilized the other one for a micro SD card. Although the internal storage is a generous 64GB, I plan to use the micro SD card to store all my captured photos and videos amongst other stuff. Samsung uses their very own Exynos 8890 octa-core processor which promises a blazing fast performance, coupled with the huge 4GB RAM.

Now on to the software. Out of the box it features Android 7.1.1 Nougat. There’s rumors that it will receive 8.0 Oreo but I didn’t get any further than 7.1.1 for the duration of my use. To be honest, I’ve never been a fan os Samsung TouchWiz UI in the past. However they have much improved the software over the years and now it is actually pretty decent. Using resource-intensive apps or games flies by mostly without a glitch. One thing that still frustrates me to this day is the occasional time when an Android app closes itself for no particular reason. If it’s an entry-level Android phone with minimum RAM, I could understand but this Note FE has a fricking 4GB of RAM so no excuses. Although not all Android apps act that way but it’s still numerous and happens almost every day so it’s pretty annoying in the end.

Let’s go to the main reason I bought the Note FE in the first place - the stylus or S-Pen. As expected, the stylus works beautifully on the touch screen. I like the way the menu appears every time I took out the pen and how I can quickly scribble anywhere on the screen, apart from the dedicated apps. Writing is a pleasure and really precise. I was pretty excited to use the S-Pen at first since it’s kind of a novelty but over time, I started to use the pen less and less until I rarely take it out of the slot again and just use my fingers for everything. One reason is the screen protector or tempered glass.

Since the more recent Samsung flagship phones features an infinity edge display which curves to the sides, finding a tempered glass that fits snugly on the screen is a real challenge. The first tempered glass that I got from a Samsung reseller covers much of the screen but not entirely so there’s a little border or space between the tempered glass and the screen which incidentally put another frame on the phone. What I mean is when you’re attempting to draw or write on the screen, you tend to limit your sketch to within the borders of the tempered glass thus limiting the real estate of your drawing. The same goes when I’m typing on the screen, the smaller frame of the tempered glass created a little border in between the virtual keyboard. This becomes problematic whenever I’m tapping on certain letters that sit right at the edge of the tempered glass where I tend to mistype or unintentionally tap another letter. This problem became annoying enough that I got rid of that expensive tempered glass and got myself another one which covers the entire screen ride to the edges.

Things went quite smoothly at first with the full screen tempered glass. Tapping and drawing on the screen were smooth for once instead of being interrupted by the glass edge. However, the full screen tempered glass started to detach itself from the screen gradually over time and before you know it, the edges started to peel off from the screen much to my chagrin. The perfectionist in me know that I couldn’t close one eye to this problem so I peel it off again and bought another tempered glass which once again covers 80% of the screen like the first time. Immediately after installing this tempered glass however, I noticed a little pocket of air round the edges of the glass. I asked the phone accessories kiosk girl if that’s normal and she said it is for Samsung phones with edge display but I know she’s bullshitting because my first pricey tempered glass was nothing like that. Still, as annoyed as I was, I’ve decided to let it go and move on. At least this last tempered glass is cheap unlike the eye-watering 45 ringgit I paid for the original one. I don’t know how other Samsung flagship users deal with this predicament, do they use a special kind of tempered glass that I don’t know of? Do they skip (gasp) any screen protection altogether? Either way, the last option is simply out of the question because I couldn’t bear living with the knowledge that my precious smartphone screen could be scratched permanently at any second.
Sample photo
Sample photo indoors
Sample photo low light

During launch, the Note FE boasts one of the best camera on a smartphone. 2 years later, it is still has a respectably good camera. If you compare a Samsung and an Apple, I would say it fares somewhere between an iPhone 6+ or an iPhone 7 camera. The 12MP optically stabilized shooter takes consistently beautiful pictures every time and the 4K enabled video recording is up to par amongst its flagship peers. Sadly, the Note 7 or FE came out before dual camera era so no portrait mode photos for you. The best they could come up is this average-looking “lens blur” effect on your photos which looks nothing as good as a portrait mode on an iPhone or a Pixel.
Sample photo overcast day
Sample photo with lens blur effect

Battery life on the Note FE is pretty decent. The 3,200mAh battery could last a whole day up until early in the evening with moderately heavy use. Fast charging could boost the battery level from 20% to 100% in about 80 minutes. One thing that actually blew me away is believe it or not - wireless charging. I never give it much thought before since they never had those on iPhones until recently so when I first got my hand on a wireless charger and use it, it changed my entire outlook on smartphones. It’s stupendously convenient to just place your phone on a charging pad and leave it to charge without scrambling for cables or plugging the lead into the phone. I know it may not sound like a big deal to some but it is to me. I liked wireless charging so much, I bought two more chargers so that I can conveniently charge my Note FE in my bedroom, the living room and the office. Overkill I know but I could never look at wired charging the same again after that.

As a summary, there’s so much to like about the Note FE. I love the exquisite build and design, the stylus and the camera. The always-on display allows me to take a glance at the time, date, weather, battery life and notifications icon without even unlocking the screen. The USB-C port makes the Note FE somewhat future proof to at least 3 to 4 more years and Qi wireless charging is godsend. That said the little Android-related bugs like apps closing and the trouble I had about choosing a screen protector are some of the downside of owning this phone. If you’re looking for a beautiful and powerful Samsung flagship phone with stylus at an incredibly affordable price then look no further than the Galaxy Note FE. They’re going for as low as 1,900 ringgit online right now. As for me though, I came to the realization that this phone is too big and too heavy to be my second or backup phone which I usually use for running or doing outdoor activities. Which is why I’ve decided to let it go for a much smaller phone after just two months, with a very heavy heart of course. If money is no object, I would have kept it but it is an object for which I need to get the smaller phone which was the Google Pixel phone. I’ll miss the Note FE phone for sure but in the future, if I felt like getting a stylus-equipped phone, I’d probably get one of those Samsung tablets with S-Pen (why didn’t I think of that before?).

  • Build quality
  • Stylus
  • Wireless & fast charging
  • USB-C port
  • Always on display
  • Large screen
  • Powerful processor & huge RAM
  • Water & dust proof
  • Good camera with OIS
  • Fingerprint & iris scanner
  • Headphone jack
  • Affordable
  • Buggy Android software
  • Slow software update
  • Limited screen protection
  • No portrait mode
  • Fragile

*A middle-class review is where one talks passionately about his gadget like it’s the most precious thing in the wold. Compared to a tech-blogger review where one reviews the gadget objectively and impartially but dispassionately.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B review

Getting a Raspberry Pi computer has been on my wishlist for quite some time now, ever since it got out I think. But then while the computer is not prohibitively expensive, they are not dirt cheap either and as always I’ve got other priorities that I have to spend my money for. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when my wife got me a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B as my birthday present last year (thank you darling!).

The Pi that I got was the latest Pi 3 Model B with Broadcom QuadCore 1.2GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. It is a barebone unit which is basically a small motherboard with all the components soldered to it. Amazingly it has got most of the ports and components of a full-fledged computer like USB 2 ports (4 of them), full-size Ethernet port, composite video and audio output jack, HDMI port, MicroSD card slot, Wi-FI and also Bluetooth connections. All of that on a single board the size of a credit card.

iFlix on Raspberry Pi

 Low-voltage power warning

Out of the box you will get the Raspberry Pi board and nothing else. The casing is sold separately and I got mine for 15 ringgit from Lazada. Sure you can use the Pi exposed as it is but for safety and longer life-span I would recommend putting it in a case. To power the Pi, I use my iPad charger brick together with a regular micro USB cable. The recommended power supply voltage is 5.1V which exactly what the iPad charger supplies. Any lower you might not get the Pi to turn on. At first I used a cheap 5 ringgit micro USB cable to power the Pi but it was not long before I got intermittent power offs and a low-voltage warning on the screen. Apparently you need a quality micro USB cable to connect the power supply to the Pi and after replacing the cable with one original Motorola micro USB cable (from my phone), it works beautifully.

 Netflix on Raspberry Pi

Other peripherals that you need include a full-sized HDMI cable, a keyboard and mouse - at least for the initial setup. You can use a virtual keyboard later on but a wireless mouse would prove to be really convenient. An ethernet cable if you don't plan to connect to Wi-Fi or you just want a faster network connection. The minimum memory card size is 8GB so I would recommend something bigger than that.

So what operating system should you use with the Raspberry Pi? Before getting the Pi, I read somewhere that they will be making a special version of Windows 10 for the Raspberry Pi. After further reading however, I found it this special version Windows 10 IOT Core is nothing like the regular desktop Windows version that you and I are used to. It is actually an operating system designed for embedded systems not unlike point of sale (POS) devices and kiosks. That means it has no graphical user interface like Windows 7, 8 or 10 and you can’t definitely install regular x86 or x64 programs on it.

That leaves us with the next best thing, nay make that the best thing of course since Raspbian is the official and most popular operating system for all models of Raspberry Pis ever made. And the easiest way to install Raspbian OS on your microSD card is to download NOOBS (new out of the box software) and run the OS installation from there. After booting with NOOBS, you get a selection of Linux operating systems to choose from like Pidora, LibreELEC, OSMC, Risc OS and Arch Linux apart from the popular Raspbian OS. From there on, the installation process should be pretty straightforward, even for beginners.

Raspbian OS comes preinstalled with a fair selection of open source soft software in several categories like programming, office, Internet and games. The default browser is Chromium which is the open source version of Google Chrome. First thing I noticed about streaming videos with Chromium is the video is pretty laggy and not as smooth as they usually are. So I searched around for a fix and found a few solutions for the video performance problem. To make your YouTube stream smoother, install this h254ify Chromium extension and if that doesn’t work follow this instruction. To make Netflix and similar video streaming sites work on Raspbian, follow the steps on this article. You might also want to increase the GPU memory from the standard 128MB to 256MB but not more than that cause else your Raspberry Pi might run erratically.

 GoMovies on Raspberry Pi

 Spotify on Raspberry Pi

How does the Pi performs overall? After going through the various fixes above, I find the performance average for a computer but exceptional considering its size and price. YouTube video runs pretty smoothly. I got Netflix and iFlix working albeit at below par quality. Other video streaming sites like GoMovies is on and off. Video playback from Kodi or external media is okay. Music streaming like Spotify and other audio streaming sites work seamlessly since they require less processing power. I did not attempt to install or play any games on the Pi although I suspect they should work alright for less-intensive graphic games like Minecraft which is pre-installed. For a media centre computer, the Raspberry Pi could be better. For every other purpose like programming, education or hobbyist, it should be perfect.

 YouTube streaming

Would I recommend the Raspberry Pi? Yes if you’re prepare to tinker around with the settings or you’ve got a specific project in mind. There are literally hundreds of things you can do with the Raspberry Pi like a photo booth, a home surveillance system, a DIY arcade video game, a wearable camera and Internet Radio streaming box among others. If you just want a working digital media player or set-top box than you better get a regular Apple TV or Android boxes with built-in Chromecast. They are much more superior in quality, ease of use and less complicated to set up.

Samsung Gear S2 Classic review

When I sold my Apple watch a few years ago, I wasn’t planning on buying another smartwatch. I thought my next smartwatch would be another Apple watch and since I cannot afford that yet, I will make do with a regular wristwatch. And then after a while, I started to miss the one thing that sets smartwatches apart - notifications. Many times, I would get messages or notifications on my phone while I’m driving or riding my bike but I could not immediately look at them for obvious reasons. With a smartwatch, I could quickly take a glance and read my notifications especially for important ones. That’s when I decide I’ve got to have a smartwatch, even the cheap Android or Samsung ones.

Now Android Wear-based smartwatches are not exactly cheap. They start from 800 ringgit onwards, even for secondhand ones. Then after much research and review, I finally decided on the Tizen based Samsung Gear S2 Classic smartwatch, a second hand unit of course.

While the new one would cost 800 ringgit or more, this second unit was only 550 ringgit. I really like how it looked like a classic round watch with very little hint of it being a smartwatch (apart from the watch face that is). To be honest, I preferred the classic round watch design than the rounded rectangle of some other smartwatches, including the Apple Watch. If Apple started making a round smartwatch in the future, I would be tempted to consider them again.

The S2 classic features a pair of genuine leather bands to make it look more premium than its counterpart. It reminded me of the old Moto 360 albeit this one is narrower in width just like a regular wrist watch. In fact, you can actually swap the attached bands with any other regular bands on the market. Surrounding the watch face is a rotary bezel which doubles as screen dial for the watch interface. It helps you to switch between menus and select options. Other than that, you can swipe the watch face on all four sides to navigate the UI. Although not as numerous as Android Wear, there’s a fairly large selection of apps and watch faces on the Samsung Gear apps store. I particularly enjoyed picking amongst the hundred watch faces on the store.

The S2 classic is rated IP68 so it should be safe if submerged in up to 1.5 meters deep in water. The attached bands got a bit wrinkled after a while and yet I could not find another replacement that looks quite as good (or affordable) to buy. The watch connects to my iPhone via bluetooth although sometimes I will have a hard time making the connection and they don’t easily reconnect if I move my phone far enough from the watch. In short I don’t get auto reconnect feature that I usually get with my Apple Watch. A lot of time, I’ll just wear the watch without the bluetooth connection. Disappointing experience but not totally surprised though because of Apple’s walled garden. The battery last about 2 days with normal use, nearly a week if you totally disconnect from your phone. I like the wireless charging dock and how you can place your watch snuggly around it while it charges.

As I’m using an iPhone, the S2 Classic functions are severely limited to mostly notifications and some basic exercise functions. This is much expected of any smartwatch that connects to an iPhone other than the Apple watch whether they’re Tizen or Android Wear. One noticeable thing that the S2 Classic lacks is a built-in GPS. The watch needs to have your smartphone connected to use navigation or location tracking features. I tried running using the built-in exercise menu but the mileage and cadence were simply wayward. The S-Health apps were good to track my foot steps and remind me of my daily targets. There’s a rudimentary optical heart rate sensor included under the watch to measure your heart rate but other than that, I could not fully utilize all other smart functions like voice navigation or browsing the photo gallery.

Despite all the drawbacks, I use my S2 Classic mainly for reading notifications and I don’t have much qualms about the Tizen on iOS limited capabilities. As long as I could tell the time, date and have a quick glance on the notifications while I’m riding my bike or driving, that’s good enough. If I wanted a fully functional smartwatch with all the bell and whistles, I would have stuck with the Apple Watch or switch to an Android phone.

Would I recommend the Samsung Gear S2 Classic smartwatch? Totally if you’re using an Android phone. For iPhone users only if you really don’t like rectangle watches or don’t mind missing out on many of the major features. The S2 Classic like its namesake is really a classic smartwatch from Samsung. Others may have tried to imitate it but none have yet to succeed in making a smartwatch that looks more like a classic wristwatch than a smartwatch.