“Why get an iPad mini when you can have this?” Daniela Capistrano asked me after only 24 hours of playing with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. After only a few days with the Note 2, it’s easy to see why she’d ask. The iPad mini won’t come close to matching the content creation capabilities of the smaller Galaxy Note 2. In fact, the Galaxy Note II can teach tablets, like the Microsoft Surface, a thing or two.
|The Good||The Ugly|
|Superior performance||Heats up under intensive use|
|Huge HD display (5.5-inch)||Huge HD display (5.5-inch)|
|S-Pen works flawlessly||Needs more S-Pen apps|
|Impressive Gallery app||Cheap build material|
|Long battery life|
Look & Feel
Take one look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and you might dismiss it because of its size. Huge and proud, but it’s far from useless. In fact, the bigger size seems to empower usage more than hinder it.
The 5.5-inch HD display shows beautifully vivid videos and pictures. It slides comfortably in your pocket without weighing down your jacket or jeans. The sides are tapered and a glossy finish coats the entire phone. All in all, it’s just as beautiful as the Galaxy S3. Expect to turn heads and get many questions and compliments if you buy the Note 2.
Power & Performance
An Exynos 4412 Quad chipset with four Cortex-A9 CPU cores and 2GBs of RAM doesn’t have to mean anything to you. Just know that these are specs that make the Note 2 one of the most powerful smartphones on the market. Coupled with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), there isn’t much this smartphone can’t do.
It’s very responsive. There is no lag, stuttering or flickering while navigating the phone. Apps start-up as soon as you tap them. Pictures and videos show with phenomenal clarity. If 11-12GBs of storage isn’t enough, a microSD slot under the batter cover accepts up to 64GB cards. Plus, the Note 2 can go a full day on one charge with no problem.
The Phone Experience
How well does it work as a phone?
With Sprint, call quality on the Galaxy Note 2 is excellent! Callers always sound loud and clear, reception is decent, in some cases picking up a signal where my iPhone could not. Most importantly, I didn’t feel embarrassed while using the Galaxy Note 2 while out and about. You might consider using bluetooth earpiece for conveniency.
Lights, Camera, Action
Front-facing cameras are always mediocre and the Note 2 is no exception, but its 8MP rear camera is exceptional. A variety of features and filters are packed into the camera and to make rich and detailed pictures.
Shooting modes like Best Photo and Burst Shot show off the rapid speed of the camera shutter. There’s also a decent low light setting, but it won’t turn your Note 2 into a Nokia Lumia 920. Live filters are also included in the camera options, but won’t replace Instagram anytime soon.
Video recording at 1080p results in picture perfect movies that can be viewed in the Note 2′s popup-video player. While watching a video, you can press a button to turn the video into a floating window. Additionally, windows can now be resized and repositioned. It’s an extension of “pop-up play” featured in the Samsung Galaxy SIII review.
Mentioning the S-Pen will cause some people to smirk or chuckle because it’s a stylus. A few minutes using the S-Pen will effectively wipe away all smirks.
The S-Pen isn’t just a stylus. It extends the functionality of a stylus. It’s what a stylus should be. You don’t just tap your screen all day with the S-Pen.
- Easy Clip: Instantly outline and crop anything on the screen and save, share or paste into select apps.
- Airview: Hover over emails, images, videos, and calendar entries to get more details without having to open the contents. It also gives you title description for unrecognizable icons in various applications.
- Quick Command: Swiping up on the screen with the S-Pen button pressed down activates Quick Command, which are shortcuts to common actions like sending an email, performing a web search, opening maps, or making a call. Sounds simple, but it takes the same amount of time to do the same actions by going directly to the respective app.
My favorite feature of the S-Pen is using airview to scroll up and down webpages. It’s a neat workaround to the endless swiping syndrome.
You can also simply write with the S-Pen. Handwriting recognition on the Note 2 is an incredible innovation brought over from Samsung’s Galaxy Note tablets. It’s by no means perfect and the experience is inconsistent in apps like Quick Command. It’s still very convenient to use for jotting down notes while taking a phone call, among other things. I was impressed with Samsung’s use of S-Pen on the Note 10.1 tablet and I’m still impressed with it on the Note 2.
S-Pen is much closer to a computer mouse than a stylus.
Samsung also extends the “popup” concept to the browser and S-Note app. Tapping a link will give you the option to open the link in your browser of choice or in a separate, pop-up window much like the video player.
Multi-window displays two apps at the same time. Samsung did a miserable job implementing this feature on the Galaxy Note Tab, but have improved it greatly on the Note 2.
You can now move the bar that splits the apps anywhere you want or swap app positions with a tap. There’s also a button to switch the position of the apps. Unfortunately, this feature only works with a limited amount of apps, but this can be fixed if your Note 2 is rooted.
Aside from having Swype integration, the keyboard on the Note 2 is amazing for two reasons. The first reason is for the extra row of numbers at the top of the keyboard. Second is the option for one-handed keyboard operation. When enabled, the keyboard shrinks and can be moved to the left or right of the screen for one-handed typing. One-handed use is awkward, especially when reaching halfway across the screen, but it’s not impossible.
The Galaxy Note 2 features a host of connectivity options from wifi-direct to NFC, but S-Beam is a standout feature. Utilizing NFC, S-Beam lets you put two Galaxy Note II’s back-to-back to transfer media from one device to another. It takes a few seconds for the transfer to begin, but S-Beam is a quick way to transfer files without any wires or extra services.
Samsung also included a fun and clever app called Paper Artist. It’s full of creative filters to apply to images. The twist is that you can move your finger over the picture to reveal another filter within your originally selected filter (see below).
Currently, the battery on my Galaxy Note is at 5% after 1 day, 18 hours and 42 minutes of tweeting, emailing, facebooking, taking pictures, recording videos, using gps for maps, and sending photos via S-beam. Wifi was off and the screen brightness set to 50%.
This is beyond impressive and surpasses all of my current devices in battery life. I expected the screen and 4G to quickly kill the battery.
Rating: 8/10 Stars
At first, I was confused about why people called the original Galaxy Note a “phablet” (phone/tablet). Now, I get it. It describes the extended functionality of the Galaxy Note. It’s really not a phablet – which sounds awful – but the experience with it meets a combination of needs provided by smartphones and tablets.
I think this is largely due to its massive display, long-lasting performance, innovative S-Pen, and Samsung’s software additions that allow users to do more.
It does have some minor quirks. The user manual doesn’t cover much. The 16GB version only shows 10-11GBs of space available. Organizing icons on Android is cumbersome and carriers add too many irrelevant apps that can’t be removed. Most importantly, the Galaxy Note 2 is expensive. Depending on the carrier you choose, this phone will set you back $300-400 with a new 2-year contract.
All in all, Daniela and I both give it 8 out of 10 stars. Samsung did a great job making the size of Note 2 a benefit rather than annoyance. It’s a phone I’d recommend for students, journalists, reporters, or anyone who has to jot down a lot of notes on the fly.
Disclosure: Thank you to the Samsung Mobile team for providing the handsets used in this review.