Samsung Galaxy Note II Review
Touchscreen phones have been around for a while now. Nokia had a couple before the iPhone came out, but they all had a stylus that was made extinct when Apple’s phone came out and reinvented the entire touchscreen scene.
Apparently though, a lot of folks miss having a stylus around, and when Samsung introduced it along with their Galaxy Note ‘phablet‘ last year, it quickly became one of most popular devices around. The Note itself was considered very large last year, boasting a 5.3 inch screen to doodle a sketch or scribble down a quick reminder on, and it was quite the gamble for Samsung, at a time when most Android phones maxed out at a 4.3 inch screen, and the iPhone still stuck to a comfortable 3.5 inch size.
I still dont quite know why the original Galaxy Note did that well. Perhaps it was the intense marketing, or the top notch specs it boasted at the time, or the fact that most people just really wanted the best of both words with a phone-tablet in their hands, but eventually there were 10 million units sold in about a year. It did so well that Samsung released a successor, and that’s were the Galaxy Note II comes in.
The Samsung Galaxy Note II features a new longer, more ergonomic S Pen Stylus that has a couple new tricks, a larger 5.5 inch screen that’s in a narrower, thinner formfactor, and boasts a quad core processor and 2 GB of RAM underneath. Is that enough for a sequel? Well, let’s find out.
The Retail Package:-
With the Galaxy Note II, you have the usual bunch of in-box contents.
You have the stylus and 3100 mAh battery hidden inside the phone, along with the usual stereo wired headset, charging cable and manuals. More info over in our Samsung Galaxy Note II Unboxing post.
It’s funny how noone really notices a 5.5 inch phone nowadays, in the wild. That’s mostly because a lot of manufacturers have released phones with ever-increasing display sizes this year, testing the limits of what an average human can carry and use with one hand, or slip into his/her pocket.
The Galaxy Note II features a larger screen than it’s predecessor but weighs the same at 183 grams. It’s not as wide either, measuring 151 x 80.5 x 9.4 mm so it’s easier to use in the hand. It’s still hard to use it in one hand, mind you, but Samsung’s managed to slim it down, throwing in the rounded corners and curves of the Galaxy S III. As a result, it’s more comfortable to handle than the Note.
Those curves are very obviously taken from the SGS3, which shares a lot of design similarity with the Galaxy Note 2, except for the stylus at the bottom right.
As if that wasnt enough, even the build quality is exactly the same, with the same plastics that were used for the SGS3, with the white or gradient blue color and all. It’s a bit slippery to hold though, especially since the phone is quite large, so a textured surface would have been nice.
At the front you have the massive 5.5 inch 16:9 ratio Super AMOLED HD display, which is the largest ever to be stuck into a phone. It’s 1280×720 (267 ppi) resolution is less than the 1280×800 (285 ppi) resolution of the original Galaxy Note but you cant really see a difference with the naked eye.
In comparison, with the Original Note, the screen is much brighter, and the colors are much cleaner, while still being saturated with the whites no longer having that annoying blue-ish tint. Even outdoors, the screen is visible thanks to the low screen reflectance, and you get the nice wide viewing angles of an AMOLED screen to boot.
I’ll admit, the screen is probably one of the best OLED screens I’ve seen. And while the screen is an impressive behemoth, the fact that Samsung has managed to fit a bigger screen in a more compact body is commendable, with the surrounding bezel being significantly slimmer.
Above the screen, you have the centrally located earpiece, with a front facing camera, proximity sensor and ambient light sensor alongside.
Below the screen, you have the hardware home button, flanked on either side with the Android menu key and back key. I really wish Samsung would move to an HTC-like set of software keys with a recent apps key instead of having to press and hold the menu key, but some folks prefer this implementation. Just like the SGS3, double pressing the home key brings up S-Voice, and hence to get Google Now to pop-up, you need to hold down the menu virtual key.
At the back you have the same ol’ paper thin battery cover as on the SGS3, with the microSD card slot and microSIM card slots underneath, as well as a removable battery.
Also at the back, is the stylus nicely tucked in tight into the silo. It’s a tight fit at first and takes a bit of effort to whip out, but gradually it becomes easier.
The Note II will detect when you remove the stylus and even beep & vibrate to alert you if you walk away without inserting the stylus back in.
The S Pen Stylus itself is now much longer and thicker, and as a result feels a lot more ergonomic.
There’s a button towards the point that’s easy to press, and overall it just feels a lot more solid and easier to use compared to the thin, flexible little S Pen stylus of the original Galaxy Note.
On the left side of the Galaxy Note, you have the lone volume rocker key. It’s easy to find and use, so no complaints as such.
At the top, you have the lone 3.5mm audio jack and a tiny pinhole for the extra microphone used for noise cancellation.
On the right side, you have the lone power/screenlock key which is a little smaller than it should be in my opinion.
At the bottom, you have the microUSB port, the inlet for the S Pen, and a tiny pinhole for the microphone.
All in all it’s a design that you’ll either love or hate. Just like the Galaxy S III.
The Galaxy Note II features the same Exynos 4412 processor, used on the International Samsung Galaxy S III. Except this time around it’s clocked at a quicker 1.6 Ghz instead, which means it’s even quicker.
Along with that, you have 2GB of RAM, 16 GB of internal memory out of which 10 GB is available to the user (there are 32GB and 64GB versions available in some markets) and as we mentioned earlier, a nice little microSD card slot, which can come in pretty darn useful.
You also have the usual connectivity options such as Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, Wifi, Wifi Direct, LTE, 42 Mbits downloads, DLNA, and an FM Radio with RDS. The microUSB port supports MHL which means you have HDMI Video-Out as well.
My favourite thing about the Samsung Galaxy Note II, is that it runs Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean right out of the box.
It’s one of very few devices out there that run this, latest version of Android, which brings a whole bunch of new functionality to Android such as Google Now, which acts as a nice little stalker/personal-assistant that comes in very handy once it learns your schedule, or generally more about you. There’s also project butter which keeps the whole interface at a super smooth 60 fps thanks to the quad-core processor underneath.
Samsung’s TouchWiz UI on top takes good advantage of the added screen real estate on the 5.5 inch display, especially with the default apps like the gallery, or YouTube app where it has categories listed on the left side, with content shown on the right side. There’s also the multi-windows mode which splits the screen into areas of your choosing so that you can run two apps at once. Better for productivity I guess? Only a few apps are supported in this mode, so I never really found it very useful at all.
Apart from that, there’s good ol’ S Voice once again, Samsung’s Siri clone for their phones. Google Voice in Jelly Bean is much more capable in my opinion, so I stuck with using that instead.
If you’ve seen or used the Samsung Galaxy S III, you’ll find all of the Nature UX features and Samsung Apps here, such as Video PopUp Play, Smart Stay or the infamous AllShare Cast media sharing functionality.
I’ll try to focus on apps that use the Stylus in this review, but if you want more details on those features, check out our Samsung Galaxy S III Review.
Coming to the S Note app, you now have more templates to choose from than before, including a formula section where you can scribble down a complicated formula and use the app (which uses Wolfram Alpha) to calculate the answer for you. It’s also worth noting that Handwriting recognition has improved massively, mostly thanks to the thicker, longer, more ergonomic and generally improved S Pen Stylus, which has a lot of new technology inside..
There’s almost no lag at all when you write on words or phrases on the screen, and you can handwrite in standard text messages, emails or anything that had text input. Also worth mentioning that typing the ol’ fashioned way with the onscreen keyboard is pretty easy. If you prefer to use the Galaxy Note one handed, you have the option of sliding the keyboard over to one side to make it easier for you to type right handed, or left handed. A brilliant minor touch in my opinion.
Ofcourse things get even better in landscape, though it’s a bit large.
The S Pen also has neat new features like, if you remove it during a phone call, S-Note pops up so that you can quickly write down a note or address from the caller. Can be handy in certain scenarios. There’s also a new ‘Air View’ feature that shows you previews of albums, videos, emails, etc by just hovering the pen over it. You can also hover it over buttons to see a pop-up label telling you what it does.
In the S Planner calendar app, you can even use Air View to make your appointments pop-up to reach them easier. Useful if you have a crowded schedule like I do, heh.
You can also use the S Pen to select and copy or edit content. There’s a new ‘Easy Clip’ feature that lets you outline what’s on the screen, crop it out and send it via email, edit it in S Note, or just keep it in clipboard to use later.
This feature comes in very useful in the web browser which has been optimized quite a bit in Jelly Bean. It’s fast, smooth and has no lag at all, which makes the browser a joy to use on the Galaxy Note II. There’s not Adobe Flash support unfortunately, but you can always sideload and install it. Or if you’re not happy with the stock browser, download and install Chrome.
Coming to media, the TouchWiz/NatureUX music player is pretty much what you expect, sorting music by artists, albums, playlists, etc and various sound modes and equalizer presets available.
There’s also the ‘Music Square’ feature which automatically creates a playlist of music based on your chosen mood.
There’s even the AllShare Play feature which lets you share the songs you’re currently playing with other supported Samsung phones. Or you can also share music with people around you the old fashioned way, via the loudspeaker. The lone speaker at the back is pretty darn loud, and much stronger than the one on the original Galaxy Note.
The Image Gallery, as I mentioned earlier, makes good use of the larger screen, with easy access to all folders on the left and the images on the right. Ofcourse, you can also preview the folder’s contents using Air View with the S Pen Stylus.
You can also choose to view your pictures in a 3D Spiral, or in a Timeline. Being a Galaxy Note, you can also edit and annotate individual pictures as well.
And then lastly, there’s the video player which can playback almost any format you throw at it, including DivX/Xvid videos upto 1080p.
You have an 8 Megapixel camera at the back of the Galaxy Note II, with the same Nature UX camera interface as the SGS3.
Android 4.x brings things like Zero Shutter Lag and a Burst Shot mode, when coupled with the quick focusing and speed of the quad-core processor, means the Note is pretty set for imaging. There’s also 12 effects to choose from, with HDR, features like Panorama, Smile Recognition, and Best Shot, along with various scene modes as well.
Pictures turned out pretty good. There was a good amount of detail and sharpness, with a decent dynamic range to back it up. Colors looked a bit saturated but that’s probably just to make them more appealing. The noise reduction algorithm isnt overly ambitious either, which helps.
Here’s a couple camera image samples from the Samsung Galaxy Note II, to give you a better idea:
Coming to video, you can record at upto 1080p HD resolution at a solid 30 frames per second.
Results are similar to images, with saturated colors, and plenty of detail. There’s continuous auto-focus, touch-to-focus and a whole bunch of other modes to tinker with. I noticed that audio in videos were a bit of a disappointment, with voices drowned out in the background noise even though there are two microphones onboard for noise cancellation.
Here’s a couple camera video samples from the Samsung Galaxy Note II, to give you a better idea:
The Call Quality:-
The Galaxy Note II had pretty good call quality as well. The volume out of the earpiece is strong and clear, with voices coming in clean and folks on the other end of the call heard us loud and clear as well.
The Dual Microphones really do help with the noise cancellation here. I’ll admit, I did feel like a bit of a douche with a huge slab of plastic against my face when on a call, but eh, you get over that feeling very quickly.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, the loudspeaker is really loud, and great to use for calls.
The Battery Life:-
The 3100 mAh battery inside the Galaxy Note II is the second largest I’ve heard of in a phone, with the 3300 mAh battery of the RAZR MAXX taking top spot.
The fact that the battery is removable adds a lot of brownie points to the Galaxy Note. Samsung havent released any official talk times yet, but in my usage it very easily last an entire day under some very heavy usage.
The Video Overview:-
Because I’m sure I missed something or the other, here’s a detailed video overview of the Samsung Galaxy Note II. Just to give you a better idea:
I’ll be honest. Chances are, if you’re even remotely interested in the Samsung Galaxy S III, you know the drawbacks of it’s huge size and know how to deal with it. It’s not for one-handed operation (though there are typing enhancements to help with it), and you cant really slip it into a pair of skinny jeans, but the advantage you get is that huge screen.
It’s more portable than the original note (though not by a lot), is much more powerful, has a larger screen, and brings a ton of new functionality with it and a new, better S Pen Stylus, with a bigger battery to boot. If you’re deciding between the original Galaxy Note and the new Galaxy Note II, trust me, you should go with this.
Features like Air View and Pop-up Note can help, but if you’re really thinking about this one, chances are you know certain scenarios where it’d come in handy to have a stylus around. Maybe you’re designer, or a business person who likes to scribble down notes.
Even as a phone, it’s hard to fault it over it’s massive size. You have a great screen, good camera, very strong loudspeaker, good call quality and a removable battery and expandable memory to boot. And the latest version of Android (Jelly Bean). In comparison the ‘very Samsung‘ build quality and below average audio recording in video seem like very minor issues.
Definitely recommended, if you know scenarios where it’d come in handy for ya. If you’re just looking for a large phone and wont use the stylus, the Galaxy S III, or HTC One X might be more suited for ya.
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- Biggest screen on a phone to date
- HD Super AMOLED Display is pretty great
- S Pen Stylus has a lot of functionality with it
- Great Battery Life
- Quad Core Processor means it’s really quick
- Android 4.1 Jelly Bean right out of the box
- Above average camera
- Good call quality
- Strong Loudspeaker
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- Plastic-ky build quality
- Bit Pricey
- Below average Sound Recording in Video
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If you really want that stylus, there’s no actual competition to the Galaxy Note II, apart from the very square-ish LG Optimus Vu which pales in comparison.