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AT&T Galaxy Note ICS Update Review: First Impressions



The Samsung Galaxy Note ICS update finally arrived bringing Android 4.0.4 to the popular device and updating the Samsung S-Pen apps that use the Galaxy Note’s stylus.

The Galaxy Note Android 4.0 update delivers noticeable subtle improvements and snappy performance after installing and restarting the device.

This update is exciting for users that use the Galaxy Note S-Pen on a daily basis.

Read: T-Mobile Galaxy Note Appears on T-Mobile Website

Samsung Galaxy Note users anxiously awaited this update since we first saw a preview video of the new apps Samsung would include.

AT&T Galaxy Note ICS Features

Thanks to Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay users won’t notice a huge change. Samsung opts for minor visual changes like the new Settings menu layout and the way notifications slide out when pressing the clear button.

Tapping the Menu button on the bottom of the phone brings up a new menu that lists the options instead of showing a grid with a more button for the items that don’t fit. That’s a subtle but welcome change.

The Settings items shows a slightly different list of items. For example, there’s now a setting for NFC under the wireless settings. The NFC function lets users Beam things like browser pages, contact info, pictures and more. Both devices must use the Android Beam feature and NFC for this to work, so I couldn’t test it out since I don’t own another NFC cable Android device.

One-handed Operation Mode

The One-handed Operation mode will help Samsung Galaxy Note users. When engaged it changes the layout of apps like the Phone app or the Calculator app by moving the buttons closer to the left or right side of the phone. The large 5.3 inch display can make tapping the buttons on the opposite side of the screen daunting especially for small handed users.

one-handed operation on calculator

Many people who prefer smaller screen sizes complain that larger display make it impossible to use with only one hand. This feature makes that a moot point.

I tried to set up the Face Detect feature that lets the user hold the phone up to see their face to unlock the phone. It didn’t work too well and I don’t trust it, so I’m turning it off. I don’t want some dude who looks like me, or someone using my profile picture getting access to my phone.

It’s too soon to give an update on how the battery life improves or degrades with Ice Cream Sandwich. My Note gives me about 6-8 hours of usage before I need to charge it. After only two hours of heavy, almost constant usage, the phone registers 70 percent battery left. So it looks like battery life will still haunt me.

S Note

With the updated version of S Note, users can now import a PDF file and annotate it. That’s a great feature if someone receives a document that needs a signature or editing. A colleague asked me to edit his Ph. D. dissertation, so I imported it into S Note and did the edits on the phone.

S Note Templates

Users will get access to new templates that look really nice. They include sevens kinds of notes:

  • Simple Notes
  • Idea Notes
  • Travel Notes
  • Diary Notes
  • Meeting Notes
  • Recipes
  • Magazine

The Idea Note feature lets the user record their note taking or drawing. This might let a user show someone how to draw something for a tutorial in art. In Meeting Notes the user can attach contacts, agenda items, and links to calendar entries.

S Memo integrates Wolfram Alpha for recognizing equations that the user draws. Draw an algebra equation and the app recognizes it and solves it using Wolfram Alpha. If a user does a lot of organization charts or drawing, the new shape feature that smooths out rough shapes like boxes will help make notes look nicer.

S Memo

S Memo now gives access to a Widget for the home screen so users can quickly launch S Memo into on of five modes. Just press and hold the Home Screen and then choose to add the a Widget. Look for the S Memo Direct widget and drag it to the screen where it should stay.

S Memo Home Screen Widget.jpg

After that the user can tap one of the five S Memo types in the widget and it starts up the app in that mode. The buttons from left to right give access to the following modes:

  • Text Mode – type with the keyboard
  • S Pen Mode – draw with the S Pen or a finger
  • Picture Mode – import or take a picture
  • Recording Mode – record audio as you take notes
  • Search Mode – searches the memos
I wonder why Samsung didn’t just combine the S Note and S Memo apps into a single app for this release. They seem a bit redundant.

My Story

My Story doesn’t come with the ICS update, but users can download from the Google Play Store for free. Samsung made it for the Galaxy Note that Note owners can use to send home made cards and letters.

My story app

Download the app and it will install Samsung Push Services when it first starts up. Users must register with their name and phone number so that the app can send cards and letters to other users. It’s pretty useless unless the user knows other My Story users. I wouldn’t even bother downloading unless you know other Galaxy Note users. Even then, you can find better apps for this purpose, including the S Note app.

What You Don’t Get

I wish that Note users could use some of the cool new features baked into the Samsung Galaxy S III like S-Voice. We do get basic Android Beam ability, but no S-Beam either. Note users also don’t get Smart Stay On, the feature that keeps the screen bright while the user looks at the phone, thanks to the facial recognition.

What to Know Before Updating

Read all about the updates if you’re still waiting by going over to Samsung update page. Here are a few important considerations to think about  before applying the update quoted from the update page:

  • Home screens: Items that have been added to the home screen, such as home screens that have been added/removed, applications, widgets, and wallpaper (if the current wallpaper is not supported by ICS) are reset to default. Lock screen images will be preserved.
  • Application Menu: The application menu sorting, folders and home keys will be reset. Downloaded applications will be preserved.
  • Contact Groups: All Contacts and Contact groups will remain. However. contacts within the contact groups will be removed.
  • Email: Email accounts that were added as a Social Hub or Samsung premium account will be removed.
  • Music: Music playlists and settings (Equalizer, Sound effect, Music menu) will be reset during the update.
  • Bluetooth: Paired bluetooth devices will be removed during the reset.

What do you like best about Android 4.0 for the Galaxy Note on AT&T.



  1. Clark

    07/10/2012 at 4:21 pm

    I am one of the lucky ones who got it early yesterday afternoon. I can say that battery life is still the same (sigh). I’ve used the phone in a normal way daily unplugging it from the charger at 5am and still getting only 30% after 12 hours of my normal use. I also noticed that the signal strength seems weaker than before. I got a few drop calls today which seems strange since I never got one before.

  2. Bigmouth

    07/10/2012 at 5:48 pm

    I can’t update. Kies prompts me to upgrade the firmware, but every time I try, I get caught in a loop where it asks me to upgrade the firmware again.

    Just infuriating.

    • Kiki

      07/10/2012 at 7:11 pm

      I’m having the same problem. The update is finally here and I still can’t get it.

    • Joseph

      07/10/2012 at 7:30 pm

      Hey @Bigmouth I had the same issue. I found out that my KiesVersion.txt file located inside of the Samsung\Kies directory did not have write permissions. I edited the file adding the updated version number ( and everything worked out fine. Maybe give that a try?

  3. RG

    07/11/2012 at 1:28 pm

    I got my ICS update yesterday. Not major changes in terms of Stock UI, I thought they will atleast have lock screen with direct access to camera, mail, phone and sms like other ICS has, but was disappointed

  4. bmeeks

    07/11/2012 at 2:18 pm

    Updated last night phone is excellent love the new features but cell signal has went into the toilet what is going on here ive heard other phones like nexus are having same issues from ics update come on google please fix.

  5. Let Down

    07/11/2012 at 8:48 pm

    Honestly, I am feel truly let down. None of the changes were worth the wait. NFC does not work… It makes noises when I try sending something to another NFC enabled phone, but that phone never actually receives anything. The UI is basically the same. Cell phone reception went down tremendously. Samsung had so long to make this thing work smoothly and yet it still feels like a beta version. Guess I will just go ahead and root it! Not worth waiting for.

  6. heejus

    07/11/2012 at 8:49 pm

    love everything. except it’s making my phone freeze sometimes and it never froze before the update…=[

  7. Steve Everett

    07/11/2012 at 11:41 pm

    I just got the ICM update on my Galaxy Note phone but can’t get pdf’s to import into S Note app. When I try to import I get a popup asking me if I want to open using iAnnotate Lite or Polaris Office. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

    • Cody

      08/09/2012 at 3:11 pm

      Yes, downloads adobe reader.

  8. Cody P.

    07/11/2012 at 11:41 pm

    I got Lies updated to the lay s st version but when I try to update the firmware, it starts the download and then goes to 100% then I get a message that says, unable to update firmware, this is an unknown error. Help? Debugging is turned off, restarted computer and phone. Frustrating.

  9. CalebMcl

    07/12/2012 at 8:32 pm

    I have been waiting on this update since I got the note, I tried to get the update and after a hour and a half no progress what so ever, I love my note to much to brick it because of a f***** up samsung update.

    • T

      07/16/2012 at 8:24 pm

      It’s not Samsung, it’s your carrier…

  10. DT

    07/13/2012 at 9:34 am

    SO far the ICS update has introduced some strange quirks. Emails that I delete or have marked “read” continue to pop up as unread…some of them are 3 weeks old. When texting, the phone sometimes switches t theo lock screen, then on unlock the camera is launched. Cell signal took a dramatic drop. Besides that Im not seeing much of a difference. There are a few apps I can now use that I couldnt on Honeycomb which is nice. To be honest I was expecting more however my Note still kicks iphone all over the place.

  11. RON

    07/15/2012 at 8:15 am

    Done the upgrade on my note 717 to ICS. Everything seemed to work OK, after I reloaded some of my data, etc; Reset my bluetooth for both the FORD Sync, and my Scala Rider Helmet headset. Everything went smooth; however now when streaming Pandora radio to my Scala Rider motorcycle bluetooth, it will play (1) song, then the media box within bluetooth settings drops out!! If I recheck “media” it comes back on, but will not work for more than a couple of minutes! What a pita!! Have tried everything, nothing seems to keep the media portion of the bluetooth connected. Software glitch in ICS? HELP or any ideas.

  12. rammon1477

    07/16/2012 at 2:07 am

    I am completely happy with it except that the US. Versio. Does not have Pop Ip Play feature does. Please give some feedback maybe i have to change some settkng or something

  13. Steve

    07/16/2012 at 9:04 am

    Upgraded last Friday, and while my phone signal seems about the same as before, here are the quirks that I am noting:

    1. Most clock widgets, even those that came with the phone, will not update with the phone’s clock, but stay on the time obtained when they were installed. Lock screen clock does update however.

    2. All weather widgets either fail to read the date, fail to update, or fail to install. Frustrating. Weather apps do run in app mode.

    3. So far, uninstalling a program using Task Manger or Google Play, doesn’t work.

    Curious that – apart from some references to clocks being killed by a task manager (which I don’t separately run) – these aren’t being commented on by other ICS upgraders.

  14. T

    07/16/2012 at 8:22 pm

    I’m super dissapointed… I don’t know how they take SO LONG to release these, and then the released version is covered in glitches. I should have been smart and waited a few more months for these schmohawks to FIGURE IT OUT!

    1) Phone is now laggier

    2) Phone has crashed on me several times

    3) Agenda widget is brutally slow and choppy (didn’t used to be on gingerbread)

    4) Bluetooth connectivity is no better than it was (very glitchy for me)

    Overall I’m pretty dissapointed with this. I was waiting for the official release because I didn’t want to flash, but obviously leaving the fate of my phone in the hands of retarded carriers (Ahem – TELUS) was a big mistake. I’ve already had enough of this, and am flashing my phone tomorrow. Might lose the S-Note, but will gain a lot more (Notably a QUALITY OS THAT WORKS)

    If you’re on Gingerbread I would advise against doing the update… it just brings too much frustrating BS with it. Better yet, learn how to flash a custom rom and unleash your phone from these crappy carriers.

    • jennifer

      07/19/2012 at 4:43 pm

      i agree with the fact that ics made my galaxy note super laggy and how it crashes on me ALOT and it never was like this when i had gingerbread…

  15. humper

    07/21/2012 at 9:49 am

    i do not get a pop up update when i connect to kies air on the lap top or the phone

    • Romas

      07/25/2012 at 7:15 pm

      You have to connect with USB to your computer and have KIES installed on it. Then it will work.

  16. Stacey

    07/30/2012 at 8:51 pm

    I am sorry I ever upgraded to ICS. My phone is super slow and my music will not connect to my GM Bluetooth as it did before, which is really a bummer. Any suggestions. The s pen I can’t figure out the new addition, everytime I try to import something it gives me a message something like the “document restored after application closed”. What does that mean?? Anyway wish I could go back to gingerbread because this freezes up all the time. Any advice about the Bluetooth or s note appreciated. Thx

  17. Rick Cobb

    08/09/2012 at 2:31 pm

    Slow, slow, slow. I’m very disappointed. I think if I could get a virgin version that had not been hacked by AT&T and Samsung it might be nice!

    • Cody

      08/09/2012 at 2:57 pm

      Do what I done, I posted on the 11th of July about my issue. I have fixed it myself, I dsold my piece of junk Note and bought the Galaxy s3. This will do me till iPhone 5 comes out and I will never go back to android. I should have never traded my iPhone 4S for the Note to begin with. Samsung is far behind iPhone. They have cool looking phones but that does you no good when they don’t work. How can ICS work on s3 and not Note??????

  18. ToneLoc24

    08/09/2012 at 11:09 pm

    I updated to ICS on my at&t galaxy note with no problems at all and havent had any issuses with it what so ever. My phone still runs as smooth as the day i got it. Its still not quite as smooth as my iphone but i can deal with it for the bigger display. I was disappointed i couldnt update over the air with connecting to my computer but it wasnt to much of a

    • ToneLoc24

      08/09/2012 at 11:10 pm

      without connecting to my computer*

  19. jinlia

    08/22/2013 at 1:55 pm

    I just recently upgraded to ICS4.1.2 and found S memo does not work anymore, S notes is sloooow! Phone crashes almost all the time.

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