Review by Andrew Kameka on Tuesday November 06, 2012.
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Samsung Galaxy Note II
The Samsung Galaxy Note II is actually slimmer and thinner than its predecessor. Despite increasing the screen size to 5.5 inches, the phone's dimensions are 80.5mm x 151.1mm x 9.4mm (3.14in x 5.94in x 0.37in). That's slightly smaller than the original Galaxy Note, but the latest Note does not compress enough to be mistaken as anything but a juggernaut. Next to a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the Galaxy Note II looks larger than normal; next to a Motorola DROID RAZR M, it looks larger than life.
One-handed operation is doable but cumbersome on the Galaxy Note II. When someone attempts to reach a thumb across the screen, he or she will inevitably hit the back or menu button unless the user always remembers to arch and tilt in a delicate dance. Surprisingly, the 180g (6.35oz) phone is not heavy, which makes handling it much easier. Though the size of the phone may be daunting to some, the weight of it most certainly is not. The thin profile and light frame also make it easier for the phone to fit into jeans pockets or a purse comfortably.
There's a reason for all that size: a big screen and a purposeful attempt to be both phone and tablet. In the same way that the original Galaxy Note felt like a larger Galaxy S II, the latest Galaxy Note feels like an extension of the Galaxy S III's design. The phone has a large 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED screen with a thin bezel that floats smoothly from edge to edge. Consumers often complain about AMOLED screens having a bluish tint, but the Galaxy Note II display doesn't suffer from that problem. The screen has an HD 1,280 x 720 resolution that showcases colors and text cleanly - cleaner than the Galaxy S III, actually - and with the right amount of intensity. Simply put, photos, videos, and text all look great on the Galaxy Note II.
An iPhone 4S with case layered over the Samsung Galaxy Note II
Samsung also continues its design philosophy on using physical home, back, and menu buttons rather than the virtual button layout that Google has suggested manufacturers adopt. The corners of the device curve smoothly, and a hard silver-colored rim accents the edges of a glossy plastic finish that's available in Marble white or Titanium gray. The key differentiator, and what may be the best ally in justifying the handset's dimensions, is the S Pen housed in the bottom-right corner of the Galaxy Note II. The S Pen is a special stylus that enables several software features and enables handwriting and drawing that makes the Galaxy Note II so unique. The pressure-sensitive Wacom digitizer is incredibly light and easy to handle when used with the larger Galaxy Note II screen. It then safely tucks back into the rear of the device when the device is no longer necessary.
The Galaxy Note II has a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16 to 64GB of internal storage to handle your daily activities. A microSD slot adds even more memory by providing the option of supporting an additional 64GB of storage. It's hard to imagine an event in which someone might run out of storage space when the phone supports so many more storage options compared to other devices.
Though NVIDIA and Qualcomm have worked with developers to boost the graphic quality of games targeting their processor and GPU, Samsung's self-produced Exynos chips don't have that bonus, so graphics are good but not as impressive for some marquee games like Riptide. For other games that have not been targeted for Tegra or Snapdragon, Exynos more than holds its own. The quad-core processor makes up for the lack of tailored games by being quick, a feat that that's also evident in regular usage of the TouchWiz-infused Android 4.1 Jelly Bean software. The Galaxy Note II does well switching from app to app and completing tasks, though there's noticeable lag when pressing the home button or rotating between portrait and landscape views. The original Galaxy Note was panned for having constant lag courtesy of its outdated software, but the new Galaxy Note II is quite fast. Stuttering is hardly ever an issue, and the animations and transitions afforded by Android 4.1 go a long a way in improving the perceived speed of normal activities.
Samsung Galaxy Note II
When comparing spec sheets, the Galaxy Note II can stand tall with any device. It has all of the requisite sensors and codecs necessary for gaming or media enjoyment, and it includes a bevy of gimmicky but handy software options. The one thing that few devices have, and even fewer do well, is the S Pen. The digital stylus device enables unique use cases for pressure-sensitive drawing or intricate note taking. The bundled S Note application can mix photos with handwritten notes that can provide clarity on an idea or aid memory. Creative types can capture ideas in notes that combine text, voice recordings, photo, or handwritten notes. Whether mapping out a proposed layout for an apartment or taking notes in a meeting, the tablet-like screen and S Pen prove to be a good combination.
Samsung Galaxy Note II
The S Pen also holds its weight in standard applications. The S Pen can trigger actions just as a finger would, and the tip is more precise. The default keyboard is large and has plenty of room for two-finger tapping, but the S Pen can work with Swype to glide from letter to letter and instantly recognize words from gestures. The handwriting and input technology are incredibly responsive and fluid, though the handwriting to text conversion tool struggles to distinguish between punctuation like commas, periods, and apostrophes. The pen also has a clever AirView feature that can hover over items to reveal Mouse Over effects on the web, larger thumbnails in the gallery, or a preview of the action when seeking a specific time in a video file.
Samsung Galaxy Note II
Recent Samsung phones in North America have mostly relied on Qualcomm's Snapdragon chipsets in order to maintain compliance with 4G networks, but Samsung has equipped the Galaxy Note II with an Exynos chip capable of meeting all networking needs. The Galaxy Note II supports 4G LTE on AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, and HSPA+ speeds on T-Mobile. Performance will vary by market, so the presence of LTE and strength of the network in your local area will determine data speeds and reliability. T-Mobile's variant of the Galaxy Note II performed well in the New York City area, reaching average speeds of 2 to 6 Mbps downloads and 1 to 2 Mbps uploads.
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.