Ahhh, the Samsung Galaxy Note II. The successor to the gargantuan of a device that defied mobile logic and gave birth to the mobile moniker “phablet” — bigger than a phone, smaller than a tablet. I was extremely excited to try out this white Yeti which I was able to score from Samsung and Sprint. This was my first Galaxy Note, so naturally I was curious to see just how much size really matters. So, without further ado, here’s my take on the Samsung Galaxy Note II on Sprint.
It’s obvious from the second you take the Galaxy Note II out of the box that you’ve got yourself something big. At 80.5 x 151.1 x 9.4 mm (5.95 x 3.17 x 0.37 in), the Galaxy Note II is as large as they come. Despite its size, the Note II maintains that sleek curved design we’re used to seeing from Samsung. In fact, everything about the Note II wreaks Samsung design.
The design of the Note II is extremely similar to that of the Galaxy S III. From rounded edges, to button and port placement, Samsung has found a design model that works, and like the saying goes: “if it ain’t broke…”
You’ll find the power button on the right side and the volume rocker on the left. Both rest within a luxurious looking chrome border.
On the top of the device you will find a microphone and 3.5mm headset jack, while a second mic, as well as the microUSB port and S-Pen/housing, are located at the bottom.
The front of the device features 5.5-inches of tough Corning Gorilla Glass 2, which houses and protects the display elements. At the top of the screen you’ll find the phone’s ear piece, LED indicator, proximity/light sensor and 1.9MP front facing camera. At the bottom rests an elongated hardware home button which is sandwiched between two capactive buttons (menu and back).
The back of the phone consists of a shiny, glossy plastic covering similar to what’s found on the Galaxy S III. The backing is easily removable using a convenient slot located on the upper left (looking at the back) of the casing. On the back, you’ll also find an 8MP camera, LED flash, speaker, and your typical company branding.
Under the Hood
Under the hood you’ll find a powerful 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos processor along with a whopping 2GB of RAM. You can bet your milliAmps you’re going to need a lot of battery power to keep this beast going. That’s why the Galaxy Note II comes equipped with a beefy 3100mAh battery.
The Sprint Galaxy Note II comes with 16GB internal memory which can be expanded by 64GB thanks to a microSD slot (long live the microSD!).
Everything about the Note II is big and nowhere is this more prevalent than in its large 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED 1280 x 720 display.
While the display resolution on the Note II dropped a bit from the original, the display is much crisper thanks to Samsung’s decision to finally abandon the Pentile Matrix layout. It’s no LCD2 but you’ll be more than happy with the clarity and color.
The Samsung Galaxy Note II features both an 8MP rear camera and a 1.9MP front-facing camera. You’re not going to use the front-facing camera for anything other than video-chat and checking your hair so as usual we’ll focus on the rear camera for the review.
The camera on the Samsung Galaxy Note follows in the footsteps of the Galaxy S III with a hardware/software combo well capable of capturing those special moments. It certainly isn’t the best camera in the business, but it’s more than sufficient for a smartphone camera.
I did find it a bit more awkward to snap photos and take video due to the size of the device and when it came to one-handed use, it was not ideal.
I know what you’re thinking: “when or why would you want to take pictures or video one-handed?” Well, for example, I received the Galaxy Note II at the Samsung event in NYC, an event in which they had a musical guest. Trying to hold the Galaxy Note II up above the crowd in order to snap a photo of the performer on stage was quite tiring. While I won’t be trying to paparazzi over a crowd often, it is something to think about.
As with the Samsung Galaxy S III, the burst-shot mode and panorama remain my favorite camera modes to snap pictures in.
Burst Shot Mode
The Samsung Galaxy Note II records up to 1080p and takes amazing video when there’s an abundance of light. Low-light video… not so much.
Here’s a short vid clip..
We applaud Samsung for launching the Galaxy Note II with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) as too many manufacturers are launching their devices with older versions of Android. Of course you’ll also find the Note II to be heavily skinned with Samsung’s TouchWiz as it’s not a Nexus device. TouchWiz can be a bit busy and confusing for a number of users, but if you’re dead set on this device, you’ll learn to get used to it.
Surprisingly, the Sprint Galaxy Note II doesn’t carry much in the way of carrier bloat, unfortunately the same can’t be said of Samsung.
While you can’t uninstall much of the bloat, luckily you can disable it and hide the icons.
Since I’ve previously covered the majority of the software features found in Samsung’s latest version of TouchWiz, I’ll simply copy/paste those as well as cover what’s been added in the Note II.
Introduced with the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Multi-View allows users to run and view two applications in separate adjustable windows. Multi-View takes mobile multitasking to the next level, bringing it closer to the multi-window tasking we’re used to from a PC.
Watch the video below for a quick demonstration of Multi-View.
While auto-rotate is nice, sometimes the accelerometer can drive you nuts — rotating the view every time there’s even the smallest amount of movement. Sure, you can lock the orientation and force it to stay put, but you like that it auto-rotates, you just want it to do it smarter.
Smart Rotation takes a cue from Smart Stay by using the front-facing camera to detect the orientation of your face and rotate the screen accordingly. This is great for those times when you’re in bed reading an ebook and tend to turn on your side every once in a while.
S-Voice is Samsung’s voice-assistant Siri alternative. I haven’t personally used Siri, but I’m told that S-Voice is no Siri. You can ask S-Voice all sorts of questions and perform various tasks by using voice actions, which can sometimes be helpful. To activate S-Voice, simply double tab on the Home button and ask a question. If you’d like a list of actions you can perform, just say “What can I say?” and you’ll get a long list of results.
If you’re into talking to inanimate objects, then you’ll find S-Voice fun, but I feel it only adds to muddle up Google’s own voice-assisted software (introduced in Jelly Bean), and again, I hate having multiple programs doing the same thing. I’m going to go ahead and say Google will do a much better job, so hopefully Samsung will abandon its S-Voice project from here on out.
The Galaxy Note II comes equipped with a plethora of Motion Controls, which help cut down on the amount of taps and swipes you would normally need to perform certain tasks. Instead, you can use motion as well as certain hand gestures, which is both cool and gimmicky.
Motion Controls include:
Quick Glance – Check key information at a glance by reaching towards your device while the screen is off.
Direct Call – Direct Call motion control allows you to call a contact whose details were on screen by simply pulling the phone up to your ear.
Smart Alert – Smart Alert motion control will help remind you of those missed calls and messages by vibrating when you pick up the phone.
Tap To Top – Tap To Top motion control allows you to double tap the top of your Samsung Galaxy S III to go to the top of certain lists such as contacts, emails, and email messages.
Tilt To Zoom – Tilt To Zoom motion control allows you to tap and hold the screen at two points and then tilt the device back and forth to zoom in and out.
Pan To Move Icon – With Pan To Move Icon motion control, you can easily reposition homescreen icons by simply holding on them and tilting your phone left or right.
Pan To Browse Images – You can use Pan To Browse Images motion control to quickly and easily pan around an image by simply moving the device up, down, left and right, while zoomed in.
Shake To Update – Shake To Update motion control allows you to scan for certain devices by simply shaking your device.
Turn Over To Mute/Pause – Turn Over to Mute/Pause motion control gives you the ability to quickly mute audio or pause media by simply placing your phone face down.
Palm Swipe To Capture – Palm Swipe To Capture motion control is a neat way to quickly take a screenshot by simply swiping your palm across the screen.
Palm Touch To Mute/Pause – Palm Touch To Mute/Pause is similar to Turn Over Mute/Pause motion control, as it’s a quick way to mute/pause audio and media; only with this method, you cover the screen with your palm.
S-Beam takes the already awesome Android Beam and cripples it by making it locked to Samsung. Combining NFC and WiFi Direct, S-Beam allows users (Samsung Galaxy S III users) to share large files, photos, videos, as well as the usual contact info, maps, and urls by simply tapping the backs of their phones together. Unlike Android Beam, you can bump it and forget it, rather than needing to hold the devices together until the transfer is complete.
Samsung boasts fast transfer speeds but real-life tests beg to differ. Overall, S-Beam seems to be a useful and welcomed addition. It’s only plagued by its proprietary nature, making it difficult to take advantage of — unless everyone else has it.
Pop Up Play
Pop Up Play allows you to watch an onboard video while performing other tasks by simply minimizing the video into a pop-up window that can easily be moved around your screen. It’s definitely a stand out feature and one that’s sure to make your friends a bit jealous.
The Samsung Galaxy Note II has many other features, including:
Buddy Photo Share – Buddy Photo Share recognizes the faces of your friends, so it can share photos with them right away.
Share Shot – Send photos to all your party guests so everyone leaves with snapshots of the event.
AllShare Play – Share files with other devices and access those files on various devices, such as documents or multimedia files between your Galaxy Note II phone and a tablet, PC or television.
AllShare Group Cast – Share and collaborate on documents, presentations or images in real-time with multiple friends or co-workers without loading the file separately.
Smart Stay – The screen display will remain bright as long as you’re looking at the phone.
The mighty S Pen… not just your average stylus but more of a magic wand for your mobile device. The S Pen and its suite of software remains one of the defining features of the Note line and has received a bit of a boost in the Note II.
This stylus on steroids can sense 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, stores conveniently within the undercarriage of the device, and even features a clever little safety feature (which you must activate within S Pen settings) that will alert you should you begin to walk away without it.
I have to admit, it’s sometimes refreshing to simply use a stylus for everyday navigating but it’s really the host of features the S Pen carries that makes it the productive little pen that it is.
Easy Clip: feature allows you to instantly outline and crop any content on the screen in any shape to save, share or paste. Once done cropping the image, you can freely edit the cropped content through coloring, shading or their own personal handwriting.
Air View: allows you to hover with the S Pen over an email, calendar entry, image gallery or video to preview the content without having to open it or wait for screen transitions. This feature also enables you to preview Web site content without opening the full site. Air View provides a title description for unrecognizable icons in various applications.
Quick Command: the S Pen quickly activates applications and services people use most often. The command pad appears with one upward swipe on the screen with the S Pen button pressed down. You can send an email, make a call or search a location with pre-registered and customized S Pen strokes marks made on the command pad.
Idea Sketch: allows you to easily add illustrations by handwriting keywords on the S Note. It provides illustration images that match the handwritten keywords. It’s a fancy illustration match function that will allow you to express, organize and visualize ideas in a more innovative and creative way. You can even customize and add in their own illustrations library.
Popup Note: lets you open an S Note instantly as a pop-up window to jot down a quick note during a phone call, checking email or watching a video
I found the Galaxy Note II to have everything I loved about the Galaxy S III and then some. It’s by far the most productivity oriented smartphone I’ve ever used. It’s fast, it’s powerful, it’s sleek and best of all it’s available on most major carriers. However, despite it having everything I love in a smartphone, I found it to be just a tad too large for my liking.
Being my first “phablet,” I wasn’t entirely sure how I would feel once I had it in my hands, but my fears were confirmed when I found holding it to be awkward and less than comfortable on numerous occasions. If you have hands like LeBron James then the Note II should be a perfect fit, but for a 5 foot 8 inch white boy with hands like Frodo Baggins, it wasn’t quite the ideal fit.
If you’re worried about size, then I wouldn’t recommend picking up the Note II, however, if you don’t mind using a large smartphone as your everyday device, or if you’d consider yourself a power user, then the Note II is one of the finest pocket PCs available. Oh yea, and it happens to make phone calls too.