Regular readers of this weekly column know that I typically recap interesting Google Android news from the prior week. Occasionally, I make an exception to cover one specific Android item, and today, I’m doing just that. Why? I ordered a Galaxy Note 2 from overseas on Sunday morning and it should arrive within the week.
The new phone cost me a pretty penny – £449.98 ($727 US) delivered from the UK to the U.S. – but I tend to buy unlocked devices off contract. I have an invitation to a Samsung press event in late October, which is likely to be the U.S. launch of the Galaxy Note 2 and if I were to buy one at full price from a US carrier, it would likely cost nearly as much anyway.
I certainly don’t need another smartphone — I currently use a Galaxy Nexus with a $45 a month Straight Talk SIM — but the idea of a device with a mix of phone and tablet form factors is intriguing to me. The original Galaxy Note did as well, but I didn’t feel it was enough of a change from my Galaxy Nexus to spend the money. This time around, I feel differently in terms of the form factor, hardware and Samsung’s updated TouchWiz software with more functionality for the included digital pen.
In fact, after watching this video demonstration, it hit me that Samsung is really blending mobile and desktop use-cases like never before and I decided to take the plunge:
A few examples from the demo illustrate what I’m talking about:
The new S-Pen and dual digitizer add a new hover view, similar to functionality provided by a mouse cursor on traditional computers. I originally thought this was gimmicky, but the video shows some smart uses. Hover over a calendar event and you get the details without the phone opening a completely new screen, for example.
The new multitasking feature that shows two apps on the screen at the same time reduces home button presses and app switching. Until recently, our smartphones and tablets have been single app at a time devices; that changes on the Galaxy Note 2 and previously, the Galaxy Note 10.1. Granted, only certain apps support this feature for now. Still, I see productivity potential here.
Related to the two apps on a screen simultaneously is the dock-like app launcher around the 2:07 mark in the video. There’s no need to tap a hardware button and scroll through pages of apps — our traditional smartphone user interface — when you can customize a floating dock and tap or drag an app for usage.
I like that Samsung slimmed the width as compared to the original Galaxy Note. I found that device a smidge too wide for my hand. And the S-Pen was to small for me to use comfortably; the new one is longer and has a more ergonomic design. Along with these changes that further bridge the gap between desktop and mobile computing, the hardware on the Galaxy Note 2 is impressive; possibly the best for any Android phone at the moment.
The 1.6 GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos chip paired with 2 GB of memory ought to make this device blazing fast and it should be helped by the performance improvements found in Android 4.1. The 5.5-inch display uses a 16:9 aspect ratio, making the Galaxy Note 2 look like an oversized Galaxy S III. Gone is the PenTile display in 1280 x 720 found on my Galaxy Nexus (which I find quite good); the Note 2 uses an HD Super AMOLED screen in the same resolution. Pixel density is down by comparison, but I suspect the lack of PenTile will offset any clarity loss. And while I’m fine with the 5 megapixel camera found on my Galaxy Nexus, I’m looking forward to the 8 megapixel sensor and improved camera software in the Galaxy Note 2.
I’ll very likely keep my Galaxy Nexus, mainly because it gets software updates directly from Google as soon as they’re ready. Heck, I kept, and still have, my old Nexus One, purchased in January of 2010 for the same reason. It’s possible however, that a 5.5-inch phone that doubles as a pseudo-tablet could replace my Nexus 7 tablet. That’s one of the many questions I’ll be looking to answer for myself as I review the new Galaxy Note 2. Stay tuned for a video look at the device when it arrives, which of course will be followed up by a full review!