Do You Need to Use the Pen for the Samsung Galaxy Note?

By John Lister

The Galaxy Note III enhances the pen options.
i Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Galaxy Note range from Samsung includes "full-size" tablet computers and three smartphones which have screens larger than five inches in diameter. As the screens are so large, the smartphones (Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note II and Galaxy Note 3) are sometimes categorized as a hybrid of smartphone and tablet. In addition to the screen size, one of the main selling points of the phones is the inclusion of a stylus pen, known as an S Pen. Although the pen is not required for any core functionality, and you can use the phones without the pen, some functions are much easier to use with the pen.

Pen Technology

The S Pen has three main advantages over using your finger. The first is that it is smaller and thus allows more precise controls. The second is that it has a built-in Shift key, which triggers specific modes without requiring you to press an onscreen button. The third is that the pen's tip is pressure-sensitive, meaning that the input takes into account how hard you press the pen, not just where you move it. This can, for example, allow you to distinguish between drawing a thin line and a thick line.

Pen Tools

You do not need to use the S Pen to operate core features on Galaxy Note models, all of which operate with normal finger gestures. Instead the pen is used for features you would not normally expect to find on an ordinary smartphone, such as handwriting recognition or adding hand-drawn notes on to existing images. The pen also makes some applications such as painting and drawing tools considerably easier to use than if you had to rely on your finger.

Air Command

The S Pen included with the Galaxy Note III includes a new hardware feature called Air Command. This involves a sensor on the pen which can detect when the pen tip is close to the screen but not yet touching it. When this happens, the phone automatically displays a special menu of key applications which you can scroll through by moving the pen in the air above the screen. While it's convenient to use, Air Command does not add any new functionality; you can still access all the applications through the standard touchscreen menus.

Replacement Pens

If you lose your S Pen, you can buy replacements manufactured by Samsung. Alternatively, you can buy independently-made models that have different shaped or sized tips for different styles of control. Although the Galaxy Note runs the open Android system, you should still check carefully for compatibility before buying a third-party pen. Note that third-party pens will not work with the Air Command feature.

Use Without Pen

You certainly can use the Galaxy Note without using the S Pen, but whether you want to is another matter. Some of the most publicized features and applications on the device will either be unavailable or difficult to use accurately without the pen. If you have no intention of using the pen, the Galaxy Note may lose some of its advantages against other phones.