Hands-on with the second-generation Samsung “phablet”.
When Samsung first launched the original massive Galaxy Note last year which sported a 5.3-inch screen, my first question was “What the hell were they thinking?!” It was too large for a smartphone and too small for a tablet so it didn’t fall into any of those categories. Adding more to this already taboo product was that Samsung highly promoted the S-Pen which was the stylus for the device which went away as soon Steve Jobs claimed, “if you see a stylus, they blew it.”
Despite the Note’s enormous size, the phablet gained a huge fan base of users who found the phone to be very practical as it effectively eliminated the need for having to carry around a phone and a tablet. The S-Pen was actually one of the Note’s greatest selling points as Samsung lead a successful marketing campaign that sold millions of units to artists, tech enthusiasts, and road warriors alike.
The Galaxy Note II has gone through somewhat of a redesign and an upgrade with more powerful hardware. The Note II closely resembles the Galaxy S3 and now sports a quad-core Exynos processor, double the RAM, an even LARGER display and an updated S-Pen with more functions. Is this enough to replace your smart phone and your tablet? Let’s find out!
Build and Design
There’s not other way to say it, but this phone is blatantly huge. Saying that the Galaxy Note II is just an oversized Galaxy S3 is not too far from the truth as it follows Samsung phrase of being “designed for humans” with the round corners and high gloss surfaces. Take the Galaxy S3 and tack on .7-inches of on screen real estate and you will get the Note II. The Note II is 3.16-inches wide, 5.95-inches tall and 0.37-inches deep, which is thinner than its predecessor. The Note II weighs at 6.4 ounces, which is about the same as the original.
If you don’t like the build of the Galaxy S3, then you are most likely not going to like the build of the Note II’s glossy plastic, which is what the exterior is comprised of. People have criticized this on the S3 as a “cheap plastic build” and are no different on the larger form factor.
On the plus side, much like the Galaxy S3, then Note II is actually well built and crafted and is a very durable and solid device. It is more flexible than the iPhone 5 and much more resilient to scratches and dings then most other smartphone competitors.
From the front, you have your sensors, 1.9 megapixel camera and a physical home button along with the menu and back capacitive buttons. One thing that you have to keep in mind is that if you get the Verizon version of the Note II, there is a HIDEOUS Verizon logo smacked right on the Home button. This is a very bad decision and poor placement on the part of both Samsung and Verizon. However, if you have the international, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile versions of the phone, you will be fine. What’s new on the Note II over the original Note is that on the front, you’ll find a notification LED light (thank you!).
On the top, you will find a 3.5mm headphone jack, volume and power buttons to the side, S-Pen holder and micro-USB charging port with MHL capabilities at the bottom, and finally the 8-megapixel camera with LED flash at the rear of the phone. When you pop off the battery cover, you’ll find a 3100-mAh battery, microSD slot and a slot for a micro-sim (seems so far only Apple has adopted the nano-sim).
I’m about 5″8′ with the measurements of my jeans are 33 waist, 29 length, weigh 165lbs and the Note II fits in my front pockets. It does fit fine in my back pocket and sticks out, but the device is light and thin enough to be unnoticeable. I’ve sat on it numerous times because I’ve forgotten about it, but thanks to the durable build of the phone, the phone manages to survive. The phone is great to use to text, send email, surf the web, and run apps on, but it does feel awkward to use as a phone when holding it to your face. If you don’t want to look as goofy, invest in a Bluetooth headset!
The biggest reason why people probably wouldn’t want this product would be for it’s large size. And funny enough, the biggest reason why people would want the Galaxy Note II is for it’s large size! It’s just a matter of personal preference and how you use the product. Some people will also still need to have a phone and tablet combination, but for those who are looking for something in the middle, the Galaxy Note II is hands down the best solution.
The Galaxy Note II’s 5.5-inch HD AMOLED display features a 1280×720 resolution screen with 267ppi at 16:0 ratio, which is .2-inches larger than the original Note. For a better comparison, the iPhone 5 features a 4-inch screen with 1136×640 at 326ppi. The Note II has a very large screen, which makes the Galaxy S3 seem small, and the iPhone 5 look tiny. The 16:9 ratio is perfect for HD video playback and with an HD AMOLED screen; the colors are very vibrant making reading text and watching movies a great experience.
I tested HD YouTube videos, HD Movies, and eBooks on the Note II against the iPad Mini and the iPhone 5 which held its own thanks to the screen and functionality.
Although the pixels per inch are less (and not as sharp) than what is found on the iPhone 5 or even the iPhone 4, the larger screen makes up for it when you want to read, type and write with the S-Pen.
Days of a laggy and stuttery Android experience are gone since the release of the Samsung Galaxy S3 with the Jellybean 4.1 operating system. The Galaxy Note II has an even more powerful processor as it sports a 1.6 quad-core Exynos processor making it one of the most powerful smartphones on the market to date. If you thought the Galaxy S3 was a smooth-snappy experience, then you will be very pleased with how fast the Note II is. Using the Quadrant benchmark, the Galaxy S3 scored 5050 and the Note II scored 6055.
One of the best selling points of the Note II is that it has the ability to run multiple apps on a split screen such as viewing a movie along with a pop up web browser. In fact you are able to resize the windows using a finger pinch between the apps taking advantage of the large display. There is absolutely no lag and stuttering when doing this with Popup Video, Notes and Email so you can truly multitask unlike the iPhone and other smartphones that stop the app and switch to another one. What does this mean? Lets say you have a live video stream coming and you need to take notes on it. Well guess what? It’s absolutely to have the video running and you can pull up the note-taking app to take notes while it plays! Keep in mind that as of this writing, this feature, for third-party apps is available only on Sprint and the international version of the phone. An update for other carriers will be out shortly.
Another multitasking feature that the Note II offers is the Multi-Windows mode. What this does is that you can pull up a list of apps of your choice (by long pressing the Back button) that are currently running such as Gmail, Maps, Chrome, YouTube, etc. and KEEP THEM RUNNING while you switch in between the apps. So basically I can have a YouTube video running while I’m sending an email while looking for directions on how to get to the nearest Burger King. I’ve been using this feature for a full week without any lags and issues.
Intense games and applications on the Note II run like a dream. No lag, no slowdowns, no stuttering, none of that. NOVA 3, Dungeon Defenders, Dead Trigger and Modern Combat ran as smooth as butter, even smoother than the iPhone 5. Also, playing games on a larger screen enhances the experience on top of the fast processing capabilities.
The S-Pen on the Galaxy Note series has revived the stylus. The Stylus itself is perfectly sized where it’s not too small to be functional and uncomfortable to use but is portable enough to carry around. Depending on the apps you use and how you work, the S-Pen really makes a difference on your productivity.
The Galaxy Note II’s S-Pen has been redesigned from the original and is more comfortable to use than its predecessor. With the S-Pen you can scroll up and down, zoom in and out, move side to side, open up a new memo to write on, cut and paste, highlight text, lasso objects, take screen shots, and even more. There are a ton of things you can do with the S-pen – Oh yeah, you can write with it too.
Writing with the S-Pen feels very natural. The more I used it, the more features I discovered, as there are a variety of shortcuts and gestures you can do. When a keyboard pops up to input text, you can use the S-Pen to tap letters on the keyboard, or handwrite them directly into apps and even virtually flop over photos to write on the back of them. Speaking of handwriting. I have really lazy penmanship, which is sort of a mix of scribbling, print, and cursive, which the S-Pen understood perfectly.
After using the S-Pen for a week I had a tough time going back to using the QWERTY keyboards with my fingers. Will the S-Pen bring PDAs back to using the Stylus? No, because the S-Pen is just so well integrated with the Note II thanks to the design and size of the unit. I don’t see how it will be as effective on a smaller device. Samsung has put a lot of thought on integrating the S-Pen with the Galaxy Note II and the possibilities are endless on what you can do with it.
The camera quality of the Galaxy Note II is identical to that found on the Galaxy S3 which is a good thing. The Note II takes fantastic photos and videos as they come out sharp and detailed. The Samsung Camera app comes with HDR capability, photo filters and a Best Face option, which detects faces in a group pose and takes a few seconds worth of photos for each. You can go back once the group shot is taken and switch out a face for another from the same person, from just before the pic was taken in case someone closes their eyes or doesn’t look as happy.
If you’re coming from an iPhone, you will definitely appreciate how fast the camera focuses and takes pictures without sacrificing quality. When it comes down to lowlight photos, Apple still has the upper hand but not by much in comparison to Samsung.
Battery life for the phone is excellent. I’ve used the phone heavily for an entire day making calls, taking photos, checking Facebook and Twitter, watched YouTube videos and didn’t even charge the phone when I went to bed. The next day, I still had 62% left on my phone!
The Samsung Galaxy Note II is just loaded with features. If I were to describe every single one of them this review would be a full-length novel. Samsung has done a fantastic job in making use of the S-Pen stylus and integrating it with the operating system enabling the user to become even more productive with a smart phone.
As mentioned earlier in the review, the large size might steer people away, or it may be the reason why people will buy the Note II. Some people will argue that 5.5-inches is too large for a phone and too small for a tablet but I personally think Samsung has hit the sweet spot for road warriors who want to just carry one device as their daily driver. If you need anything bigger than that, then you are better off sitting down somewhere with a laptop to do whatever you need to do.
Personally, if the Note II had better Mac integration, I would dump the iPhone and iPad Mini that I use in a heartbeat. There is just so much you can do with this super-gadget and Samsung has come up with a winner here.