Samsung Galaxy Note II User Review

The Samsung Galaxy Note II is the upgraded successor to the very popular Samsung “phablet”. The 5.5″ Android smartphone with the S Pen stylus even sold over 3 million devices worldwide in the short one month since launch.

After Samsung launched the Samsung Galaxy Note II in Malaysia, I got my hands on a review unit for a week’s use and even did my earlier unboxing video. Check it out here.

Having used the phone as my primary device for a solid week, I am truly impressed with another successful “phablet” from Samsung. It may seem like a giant monstrosity in your hands, but the features and functions that Samsung has included in this far outweighs the uncomfort you might feel towards the size.

 

Hardware Overview

In case you missed all the blogposts and notes, firstly check out my unboxing video of the Samsung Galaxy Note II.

Here’s a quick overview of the Samsung Galaxy Note II:-

  • 5.5″ HD Super AMOLED display (1280 X 720)
  • 1.6 GHz quad core Exynos processor
  • 16 GB internal memory + 2GB RAM (with expandable microSD slot up to 64GB)
  • Available in 2 colours; Marble White and Titanium Gray
  • Powered by Android OS 4.1 Jelly Bean (with Samsung TouchWiz UI)
  • 8 megapixel rear camera, 1.9 megapixel front facing camera
  • 9.4 mm thin, weighing only 180 grams
  • Li-Ion 3,100 mAh battery

For more information on the features, full specs and more pictures, go to the official Samsung Malaysia Product Page for the Samsung Galaxy Note II here.

I can’t lie.. the phone is huge. I have been using the HTC One X as my primary phone, with a 4.7″ screen. That size is just comfortable for my daily use. Holding this 5.5″ screen in my hand feels uncomfortable for awhile. I got used to it after a day, but it’s only after I switched back to my HTC One X’ 4.7″ screen and occassionally fiddling with Hubby’s 3.5″ iPhone 4 that I noticed how ginormous this Samsung Galaxy Note II is.

Comparatively to the previous Samsung Galaxy Note (one) though, this Note 2 is just a hair bigger and has rounder corners. What Samsung has done is increased the screen size, but reduced the bezel to maintain the device’s size.

However, I have rather long fingers, so I can just about stretch my thumbs easily from edge to edge of the screen. In the week using the phone, I had some issues here and there, which is mostly for on screen keyboard typing. I’ll get to that later.

To be honest, the Samsung Galaxy Note II looks very much like an oversized Samsung Galaxy S III (read my review here). The build quality is as plasticky as any other Samsung devices.

The backplate is removable, revealing the battery compartment as well as where your micro SIM (yep, most phones have switched to microSIM nowadays) and the microSD card slot (up to 64GB).

The S Pen in the back bottom left of the device is much improved. It’s thicker and feels more solid in the hand. It’s easier to slide it out of the slot and place it back. It snaps in quite solidly, so no major worries about losing it.

When the S Pen is dislodged, the screen prompts a shortcut screen for S Pen apps. There’s also an icon at the notification bar, alerting you that the S Pen is removed. Chances are, you really won’t miss it.

The function button on the S Pen now has a more pronounced groove, so it’s easier for you to feel it than before. The tip of the S Pen stylus is also improved. Handwriting recognition is better and all in all just feels much smoother to “write” (or glide) on screen.

 

Software Overview

The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is the first Samsung device to run the latest Android OS 4.1 Jelly Bean right out the box. As per any Samsung device, they have added their skin / theme / user interface of Samsung TouchWiz on top of the vanilla Android OS.

As soon as I popped in my micro SIM and powered on the device, I got an OTA (Over The Air) update. Coolz!

With the new Samsung devices, majority of your software updates will likely be OTA, meaning without having to plug in to your computer, using some desktop softwares to upgrade your phone. Another step towards a wireless and cloud enabled living.

Easy or Basic Mode Homescreen

The new Samsung TouchWiz interface allows you to select between two modes for your homescreen. You can use the Easy Mode (for beginners to Android OS) and Basic (for those who’s already familiar and more advanced).

I used the Easy Mode, although I am very familiar with Android, just to see how Samsung has made it so easy for first time smartphone users, or Android users get used to navigating the phone.

(L-R) There are 7 homescreens for you to include all your widgets and shortcuts; Samsung’s widget for shortcuts to most used Settings; Samsung’s widget for shortcuts to your Favourite Contacts; Samsung’s widget for shortcuts to your Favourite Apps

   

App and Widget drawer is nice and clean with a side swipe scroll. Widgets, can be included by pressing and holding to select, then dragging into the respective homescreen to place them. Widgets are resizeable as you wish.

Samsung on-screen Keyboard

For almost a couple of years now since I discovered Swiftkey X, I have not used any default on-screen keyboard for my touchscreen Android phones. I have heard and read great improvements to the default keyboards for Samsung and Google Android.

It’s nicely spaced for such a large 5.5″ screen, so two thumb typing should be perfect for most of you. Unlike smaller 3.5″ devices, there’s plenty of space for comfortably typing.

Unfortunately though, the predictive text for Samsung is not very accurate. Multiple times I encountered multiple error in prediction and correction for a fast typist like myself, was not very accurate. There were also multiple times where I accidentally pressed the keys at the sides (eg, 1, q, 0, p, “Back”, “Sym” and “Next”) when I reach across the screen for single hand typing.

Eventually, it got too frustrating for me, having to constantly go back and correct my typing before I can send a message, that I went back to my trusted Swiftkey X.

Happy to be back on SwiftKey X…

Default Samsung Internet Browser

Samsung has improved their default browser quite a bit. There are multiple features that you would find in star browsers like Chrome for Android. Like “Incognito Browsing” (for browsing without caching or tracking), “Desktop Site View” (for browsing on full desktop site, rather than mobile site), “Tab Browsing” (so you can manage multiple open tabs simultaneously) and many more.

  

It is a rather good browser, I must say. However, I do sometime switch between the default browser and Chrome for Android browser. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note II’s Killer Features

Other than the standard features and functions of the Android smartphone, Samsung has spent a lot of effort incorporating some great killer features to the Samsung Galaxy Note II. Some of which are new features, some are improvements from other Android devices, and some are just plan amazing stuff that only their S Pen stylus can do.

Check this video here for some of my favourites…

In this video, I cover some of my favourite killer features for the Samsung Galaxy Note II – such as enhanced S Pen usage, Air View, Quick Command, Easy Clip, Multi Window and more.

 

Improved S Pen usability and S Note

The biggest draw to the Galaxy Note 2 “Phablet” other than it’s size that sits comfortably between a phone and a tablet, is the availability of an intuitive and functional S Pen stylus.

Here are more videos of usage of the S Pen.

Pull it out of its slot and the phone intelligently recognises this and opens up a quick homescreen showing you S Pen shortcut apps.

As you can see at the top bar, where the Notification window is, it also notifies you that your “S Pen has been detached”.

The biggest real estate in this S Pen Shortcut screen is of course, the S Note widget. Here, you can view all your Notes saved in the library, as well as create a new note.

 

Everything is improved here with S Note – Handwriting recognition, Productivity Tools (eg, Shape Match, Handwriting to Text, Formula Match, etc). In case you don’t quite know how to use the S Pen with S Note for note taking, idea scribbling, etc, check out my videos for S Pen on the older Galaxy Note here and here, which is applicable to the newer Note 2.

Air View

Air View is Samsung’s new feature using the improved S Pen stylus.

Basically, it’s a hover action with your S Pen for you to view more details on selected apps without having to tap and open them.

For example…

  • You can hover over a Photo Album in Gallery to view thumbnails of the pictures in the album, without having to open them.
  • In S Planner / Calendar app, in the monthly view, you can hover your S Pen over the day to view the details of the appointments for the day, without having to click on the day view in the calendar itself.
  • When you’re watching a video, you can hover the S Pen over the timeline in the video to see the other scenes in the video before you choose to skip ahead.

To see this in action, go back and watch the video up top.

And you thought that S Pen stylus is only for scribbling and handwriting, eh?

Quick Command

Using the S Pen stylus again, you press the grooved button on the stylus and swipe up on any screen on the phone. This brings up the Quick Command for stylus enabled shortcuts.

  • “?” followed by any text; immediately opens up the browser to search (via Google Search, of course) the text you wrote
  • “@” followed by name; opens up the “Mail” app and inputs the email address of the name of the persons’ name you wrote
  • “!” followed by location name; opens up Google Maps to show you the map location of the location name you wrote
  • “#” followed by name or number; opens up the phone keypad, with the name or number you wrote to dial
  • “~” followed by name; opens up the “Messaging” app, with the person’s name in the “To:” field where you can easily continue to write your message

This is a very handy feature in itself. However, in my week long use of the device, as much as I told myself to give this a try, thinking it would make a lot of my web searches and messaging actions much simpler, I never got to use it.

Personally, this feature came off more of a novelty, rather than productivity tool for me. But that’s just for me. It might be different for you.

This is also showcased in my video above.

Easy Clip

Easy Clip is a function that allows you to crop images of any size using the S Pen stylus. Just hold the groove button down and proceed to outline the image, of any size and shape to copy to the clipboard.

This comes handy for some of you who prefer to crop images or take screenshots of images, and not the full window.

Here’s an image of a pair of shoes that I cropped to test

Check out the video (up top) again for a video demo of this function.

Multi Window

With a giant screen on a “phablet” like this, you’d want to multitask and open multiple windows simultaneously. Like with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 that supports 2 windows open side by side, you can now do this also with the Samsung Galaxy Note II.

All you need to do is long press / press and hold the “Back” button on the phone. You can long press / press and hold the ear tab and move them around to any corner of the screen as you wish.

 This pops up an ear tab showing you all apps that supports the “Multi Window” function. Tap on any of these apps and it will open up the app in full screen. The ear tab will still be there, but collapsed.

Select the second app to open, by tapping and dragging the app from the ear tab to the top or bottom of the screen.

 

The small arrow between both windows allow you to resize the window accordingly. The two hovering icons also allow you to switch the order of the windows as you wish. As you can see above, I swapped them around. The other hovering icon, allows you to select the window you want to turn into full screen mode.

To cancel the Multi Window function, just long press / press and hold the “Back” button again.

This demo was also covered in my video.

 

Camera and Photo Quality

Samsung cameras have always been awesome. They even released a camera, running on a smartphone Android OS!

In previous devices, like the Samsung Galaxy S III, the camera functions have been much improved with zero shutter speed, Best Photo function (take a burst of multiple shots and the camera will suggest the best one) and low light support (take pictures in dark conditions) and much more.

With the Galaxy Note 2, the camera functions have been improved some more.

Photo Gallery

The default Photo Gallery now syncs and shows you other photo albums and pictures in one Gallery view. This includes your Facebook and Picasa albums and photos.

 

There are also several options to view your pictures.

  

Camera Effects

If you’re one of those who enjoys adding filters and effects to the pictures you take, Samsung Galaxy Note 2’s got you covered.

Here’s some pictures I took of my Aussie kangaroo toy over my balcony, showcasing all the different effects you can add to your photos.

Click to enlarge

Paper Sketch

Paper Sketch is an additional app from Samsung that allows you to add more effects to your pictures, making them look like it’s hand drawn or sketched.

Here are some pictures of the same kangaroo, in different effects.

Click to enlarge

Best Face

If you’re familiar with Galaxy S3’s Best Photo, where the camera takes a burst shot of multiple pictures and intelligently selects the best picture of the batch for you. This time round, Samsung has taken that to an unbelievable level with “Best Face” function.

Once selected in the Camera function menu, “Best Face” takes a burst of 5 pictures. It then shows you the best picture of the bunch, with the faces of the subjects highlighted in boxes. You can select to change the face of a select subject only, and replace only their face in the picture.

I didn’t get to take a video to showcase this, so check out the video here by Samsung.

Basically, it’s almost instant Photoshop! You can choose to change individual people’s face, and stitch the picture to one complete picture. This works very well with group pictures, when someone is blinking or laughing too hard or looking away. You just replace their face with a better shot of the bunch and replace just their face.

AMAZING!

 

Battery Life

The Galaxy Note 2 comes with a whopping 3,100 mAh battery.

To put this in perspective, the Samsung Galaxy S III comes with a 2,100 mAh and HTC’s flagship HTC One X comes with 1800 mAh. The Galaxy Note 2 has over 1,000 mAh over the S3 and 1,200 mAh over the HTC.

The battery is removable. You peel off the (flimsy) backplate of the Galaxy Note 2.

Overall, I really have to say that the Galaxy Note 2’s battery is another amazing feat! In the whole week that I’ve been using the phone, he battery managed to last me the full day; that’s throughout the work day and then some.

  

  

On average, although I didn’t get to drain the battery, it can easily last you 18 – 20 hours on average use in a day.  I seriously mean average use, not heavy use with continuous video playback or game play.

Pretty impressive, huh?

 

Pricing and Availability

The Samsung Galaxy Note II is available for sale now for the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 2,299.

You can, of course, also choose to get the phone along with a contracted date plan with any of the major telcos in the country:-

  • Maxis plans from RM 1,599 >> Click HERE
  • Celcom plans from RM 1,498 >> Click HERE
  • DiGi plans from RM 1,399 >> Click HERE

Should You Buy It?

It was unfortunate for me that I didn’t get to review the phone any longer. That short one week was not enough for all the features and functions that I’ve been meaning to test more. I had the initial plan to make all those killer features my everyday use. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance.

This means something. I was unhappy to return the phone. I really liked it. I feel that the Galaxy Note 2 can be a good device that can be used as a phone AND a tablet. If you don’t have 2 of these device, the Samsung Galaxy Note is a good in between that will serve the purpose for both.

Some of the biggest highlights that make me love the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 :-

  • You can easily take notes and scribble ideas with the S Pen stylus in meetings, discussions and everyday ideas.
  • Enhanced S Pen functions make it so easy to incorporate it for shortcuts (Quick Command), cropping images (Easy Clip), writing notes in pictures (Photo Note) and scribbling diagrams (S Note Shape Match), and so much more.
  • The camera is so good that you’d easily take great pictures and use the awesome Best Photo and Best Face functionalities.
  • The battery is so amazing, it can easily last you a full day of use.
  • The processor is powerful enough for you to multitask (Multi Window and Pop Up Play).

The only negative you have to balance is the ginornous 5.5″ screen, which is not exactly a small device. Although with so many original Galaxy Note sold in the world, a lot of you really don’t mind it.

Apple fanbois will never understand the appeal of the Samsung Galaxy Note II. The giant screen size don’t make sense to many. But once after a couple of days of getting used to the size in your hand and your pocket, and getting used to all those amazing bundled softwares and features that Samsung included with the phone, you can’t imagine living without it.

For me, when I got back to my daily HTC One X, I suddenly feel like my HTC is so teeny. Although, I missed the smaller 4.7″ screen. So, it’s (as usual) down to personal preference.

  • If you didn’t make the plunge to get the original Galaxy Note but have always been tempted, get it now!
  • If you have the original Galaxy Note and wonder if you should upgrade to the Galaxy Note 2, it’s a maybe. There might be some upgrade for your original Note, with some of these functions, so hang in there. If you have the spare change for an upgrade, then go ahead.
  • If you have previous Samsung devices like Galaxy S II or S III, then you might see that the additional functions Samsung added to the device and the use of S Pen could be tempting, then … your call. Really, I have seen some envious Galaxy S III owners playing happily with my Galaxy Note 2. 🙂

Just in case you’re not tempted enough, a gentle reminder that Samsung has sold over 3 million of this Samsung Galaxy Note II in a short one month of it being on sale!!! I can’t imagine what the sales number is today, but it’s pretty impressive for Samsung, now that it’s the #2 biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world now.

Did you get it? Will you get it? Let me know in the comment.

PS. You can always drop a comment to let me know your thoughts on this review. I spent a lot of time on this… so, please comment, like and share this with your friends and family.

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