I’ve been waiting since June to upgrade my phone, and because (for some unknown reason), Apple decided to move the launch of the iPhone to September/October, I had a while to wait. In the mean time, we got the Google Nexus 7 Tablet (which I reviewed here). This gave me my first taste of Android and anything other than iOS.
When the iPhone 5 was launched, other than the bigger screen, I wasn’t much impressed with the upgrade, and the thought of moving to Android became a great possibility. This all culminated in ordering the Samsung Galaxy Note II which arrived earlier this week in the UK. I have spent most of the week with it now, so here is my review.
The obvious feature of the Galaxy Note II is the shear size. I remember looking at the first Note in the store and thinking what a ridiculous size it was. The Galaxy Note II has a bigger Super AMOLED screen of 0.22 inches, taking it to 5.55 inches (1280 x 720), which really earns it the nickname of Phablet. Not only has the screen grown, although not the overall size (the Note was 146.85 mm tall by 82.95mm wide and 9.65 thick. The Note 2 is 151.1 mm tall by 80.5 mm wide and 9.4 mm thick So slightly taller but thinner and less wide), but the redesigned S Pen has also gained some girth and length. This gives the S Pen a better feel in the hand, and makes it less like a Nintendo DS stylus and more like a small pen.
As you can see, the new S Pen is about half a cm wide and is of a triangular shape, fitting in the hand nicely. Inside, the Galaxy Note II is powered by a 1.6 Exynos quad core processor and 2 Gb of RAM. This makes the device speed along keeping up with any phone on the market. To run that power house, the Galaxy Note II has a 3,100mAh battery which not only keeps the phone running happily through the day, but also run the incredible hardware. I charge the phone in the morning and spent the rest of the day playing with it trying out as many features as I could. I went to bed, read the user manual and then left the phone on as my bedside clock. I’m not sure exactly what time it turned off, but I know it was running low at 4am, which gives it close to 20 hours running time (I will do a further, more in-depth test along with full bench test scores in a later post).
The back shows the 8 MP camera (same as the Note and Galaxy S III) whilst the front has a slightly smaller 1.8MP camera (same as GS III, Note had a 2 MP). The camera’s allow for video calls, and have modes like Smile, beauty, multishot, face detection, Share shot (where you can share the photo’s with friends via WiFi Direct), Panorama, Buddy Share (which will detect the faces of those in the picture and share the photo with them automatically), HDR, Smile shot (which will only take the photo when everyone is smiling and looking at the camera) and Low light shot. This means that any other photo app on the Play store is close to obsolete. There are also numerous filters you also find on the GS III (like Vintage, solarise and Blue, green and yellow filters). You can also record full 1080p video and shoot photo’s at the same time (although bear in mind the Note II’s screen is only 720p resolution). Finally, the front of the phone has a proximity sensor, ambient light sensor and a LED.
Finally, the Galaxy Note II has all the connection abilities you would expect of an Android phone, such as 3G, WiFi, NFC and S Beam, Bluetooth 4 and is 4G/LTE ready.
Samsung released Galaxy Note II with Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean right out of the box (although not all the features are activated, as mentioned here). With the addition of Project Butter, and the huge processor, this allows for a very smooth and seamless user experience. The addition of Samsung’s proprietary TouchWiz launcher on their Nature theme, similar to the Galaxy S III, makes for a pleasant and useful user experience. I originally had GoLauncher running but found that TouchWiz, with the addition of S Pen apps, made for as good a user experience without the bulk of another app.
The Galaxy Note II comes loaded with special apps designed to be used with the S Pen such as S Note, S Planner and S Suggest (an App from Samsung which will suggest S Pen specific apps). S Note allows you to create different kinds of notes using the S Pen to write and draw on the screen. You can even write mathematical formula and it will recognise the functions and translate it into typed formulae. Similarly with shapes, you can draw a rough square and it will print a square on the screen. You can even record the notes you are drawing with your voice, essentially allowing you to create a screen cast (there is also the function to record anything on screen, but it appears that this hasn’t been ‘switched on’ out of the box. I hope it will soon be turned on by a firmware update, like the multi app feature the other day).
S Planner is a great functioning calendar app which allows you to write directly on the calendar with the S Pen any notes you want to remember but don’t need to be added to the even.
You can also use the S Pen for handwriting recognition. I was surprised how accurate the recognition was without being taught. When I had tried the Note 1 in the shop, the handwriting recognition had been a little hit and miss. Whether this was because it was running Gingerbread and not Jelly Bean, I don’t know, but I’ve been impressed with the tests I have done so far on the Note 2. The screen also has a digitizer which allows it to recognise different pressure coming from the S Pen. This isn’t so importing in writing, but when using it in things such as S Note or Paper Artist, an app that allows you to add certain effects to photos or just paint with broad strokes.
The S Pen also has a new feature called Air View. This allows you to see a preview of albums or videos by hovering the S Pen over it without having to open the album or play the film to see if it’s the one you want. A useful feature to have if your device is full of files, folders and videos.
This feature can also be used with text, showing a preview of texts and emails. The S Pen can also help you clip notes from the screen (like a screen shot, but you decide where to clip). This allows you to save specific pars of a screen, like a picture, comment or article, and send it via message, email or just save it for later reference.
Another great feature added with the S Pen is S Pen Keeper. This will stop you from loosing your S Pen. If the S Pen should be removed (the phone knows), and you walk away from it, the phone will detect it has not been put back in the slot and send you a notification. This feature must be enabled, via settings, along with bluetooth and the screen switched off. You don’t have to go far before you are reminded.
The rest of the software is standard for Android and Samsung. The music and video player are the same as on the GS III and are perfectly workable (although if you don’t like it, there are plenty on the Play store to download). Being a Samsung, it has AllShare which allows you to stream movies, pictures and video to any other AllShare capable device. I have a Samsung Blu-Ray and FreeView box, so will be able to stream anything on my device to watch on the big screen. To get it there, you can either use Samsung’s Kies Software (available for Mac and PC) and either attach it via USB or use wi-fi to sync with you computer. Kies will allow you to import an iTunes library (although not any DRM content) to upload to the phone. There are also many alternatives on the Play store, but Kies worked well for me. To listen to your music, Samsung has provided a pair of headphones with an inline remote to listen to them. The headphones also double as the aerial for the radio. The headphones are very good quality and are close to noise cancelling, allowing you to enjoy your music more.
Many people, me included originally, have made fun of the size of this phone. The simple fact is, the size has advantages and disadvantages depending on you point of view. The advantage is, clearly, more room to enjoy the web, photo’s and games. The down size is maybe transport. It’s big, and will take up most of your pocket, but it won’t make it feel weighed down or crowded. I chose this handset over Samsung’s flagship device Galaxy S III because with the extra screen space, my hands won’t be so cramped and hurt as much. The added bonus of having a stylus which has many great features is great. The shear power in this handset as well as the inclusion of 4G makes this device very future proof. It’s thin, light and extremely powerful and a great upgrade from it’s predecessor.
- Beautiful screen
- 4G ready
- Feature packed
- Good integration with the S Pen
- S Pen Keeper saves you from losing the pen
- Big battery
- Expandable memory
- Not all features turned on out of the box (eg: currently no screen recording).
- Currently limited S Pen apps on Play store.
- Loss of screen resolution from Note 1