Samsung Galaxy Note II Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: December 16, 2012
Product Name: Galaxy Note II
Part Number: N7100
Warranty: 1 Year
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The Little Stylus that Could: S Pen & S Apps

Samsung’s Wacom-powered S Pen is neatly tucked into the Note II’s chassis and uses a high definition on-screen digitizer for input recognition. When removed, the onboard software automatically switches over to pen mode while the Home screen brings up a stylus-centric landing page, populated with supporting applications. An experience as seamless as this is hard to come by these days.

The stylus itself is brilliant in its battery-free simplicity, features a mind boggling degree of accuracy and will feel right at home in large and small hands alike. Unfortunately, it won’t be registered by the touch-sensitive Back or Menu buttons so you’ll need to perform a delicate juggling act every now and then.

Most phone manufacturers have struggled to differentiate their offerings from the competition’s and Samsung thinks their S Pen is enough to win people over. Will it? That’s debatable in my eyes. The S Pen is far from a pointless gimmick as far as text input is concerned but, as with the original Note, its everyday uses are rather curtailed due to the limited selection of apps that natively support stylus features.

Throughout the first few weeks of ownership, you’ll likely use the S Pen and use it a lot but after the novelty wears off, it becomes something of a forgotten relic. This is mostly due to the Note II’s excellent voice recognition rather than any major issues with the versatile pen input options. Sure, the S Pen comes in handy for professionals –I used it extensively on business trips for deficiency annotations during construction site visits- and Samsung’s handwriting recognition is stellar but yanking out the stylus for text messaging doesn’t always suit an on-the-go lifestyle.

With that being said, Samsung sure makes the S Pen easy to use. From app selection to browsing to gaming, every element of the TouchWiz UI can be controlled by the stylus in some way or another, making it an intuitive input method. Much of this simplicity comes from the admittedly sparse selection of pre-installed apps on the Note II which have native support for the S Pen.

Samsung’s original Note was initially released without much to recommend S Pen use but Premium Suite’s launch earlier this year turned things around. Its enhanced functionality has been ported en masse onto the Note II. However, this generation’s seamless application of stylus input has helped make some of these apps worthwhile even though they still focus upon two primary uses: notes through S Note and a day calendar program called S Planner.

Once the S Pen is removed from its cradle, a number of predefined templates can be selected, none of which is particularly useful. Luckily, creating your own note or calendar item is relatively straightforward even though the clunky interface can be infuriating. S Note itself has a number of separate sub-programs which allow for the creation of sketches, simple memos, calendar events or other handy items.

Regardless of which program you are using, the S Pen input can easily switch between stylus input and a standard keyboard with the touch of a button. This comes becomes invaluable when the otherwise uncanny handwriting recognition fails to differentiate between letters, numbers and symbols….which happened to me every now and then. More importantly, the pen works just as well within third party applications like Polaris Office so you won’t have to put up with Samsung’s somewhat lackluster software stack for every conceivable function.

While every one of Samsung’s apps allows for text input and freehand sketching, Idea Note seems to be the most versatile. It includes options for voice to text, keyboard writing, picture import functions and geolocation tags without becoming cluttered with unnecessary buttons. Hitting the Add Picture icon actually enables the rear camera for quickly adding annotations to a live photo or importing some of your past creations.

There are some inclusions here that are filler and provide very little substance (Paper Artist comes to mind immediately) but for the most part, Samsung seems to be moving in the right direction with their stylus focused application stack. Some may argue that additional resources should be put into developing S Pen focused apps but I have to disagree. With the digitizer’s software allowing for lightning quick transitions between stylus and traditional onscreen writing methods, any program can take advantage of the S Pen.

Samsung’s somewhat lackluster pre-installed programs can (and should) be supplemented by excellent third party software which may not offer native pen support but they come alive when used in conjunction with the S Pen. A good example of this is the aforementioned Polaris Office or AutoCAD WS, which both take on a whole new dimension when using the Note II’s tools.

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