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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Jelly Bean and TouchWiz do the Tango

TouchWiz. In the minds of Android faithful, that name conjures up cringe worthy images of Motorola’s sometimes-horrid Motoblur and with good reason. This UI has gone through some tough times since its inception but the latest iteration with its Nature UX backbone finally feels mature and ready for prime time. It also looks great and offers several user-friendly tweaks that make navigation through Jelly Bean much easier. In some markets Samsung and wireless carriers have begun pushing out an 4.1.2 OTA update for the Note II but this review is done with the standard 4.1 software.

At its heart, TouchWiz is a proprietary Samsung user interface which wraps around Google’s Jelly Bean OS like a tailored glove. It isn’t intrusive or obnoxious and in many ways Samsung has actually improved upon Google’s carefully crafted environment without taking a scorched earth approach. Instead of replacing great features with pointless fluff, they’ve augmented Jelly Bean’s already impressive list of attributes while building in additional functionality. Sure, there are some faux pas here and there but for the most part, Samsung has very much retained the core Android 4.1 experience.

While the lock screen’s water effects may be a bit kitschy for some, the Note II’s main Home screen can deliver a wealth of information if set up correctly. In addition to the main section, there is a quartet of other pages which can be loaded with your most-used apps and widgets. Meanwhile, notifications and settings can be seen at the top bar or expanded upon by dragging a finger vertically down the screen.

The swipe-down information screen holds a wealth of handy items like the ability to toggle on or off power saving features, wireless connectivity, screen rotation and a number of other features without having to drill down into the somewhat complicated Settings section. For those of you that want to fine tune your experience even more, the gear-shaped icon in the upper right corner brings up Android’s full list of options.

Below the Screen Brightness slider is an area which shows primary background tasks (like ongoing connections or media playback) along with a space depicting high and low level system notifications such as incoming email messages or Facebook updates. Touching upon any of the items will open up the associated application or swipe to the right and the notifications can be cleared one at a time.

Holding down the Note II’s Home button for three seconds will bring up a multitasking screen which can be used to browse between running applications. Once again, swiping to the right will remove an application from the list. Be aware that within Android, applications multiply faster than ticks on a junkyard dog so visit this area frequently to avoid system slowdowns. There is also a built in task manager for control over individual processes, applications can be deleted or system resources managed.

Apps and Widgets on the Note II can be moved onto the five primary pages with a straightforward drag and drop method. Above and beyond this basic function, the height and width of Widgets can also be modified as they are brought forward into the useable zones. The actual onboard Widget selection is somewhat limited but there are plenty of additional ones available online. Just waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of the Note II’s ginormous screen.

Interacting with this massive cell phone is nearly impossible without two hands but Samsung has included an option that switches some user interfaces (the keyboard and number buttons) to either left or right justification. This makes it possible to input text or dial a number without reaching too far across the overly large screen. Unfortunately, the feature doesn’t extend to the home screen so mistaken touches will still be a regular occurrence when browsing through apps.

When taken as a whole, TouchWiz is a straightforward addition to Jelly Bean and throughout my testing, it never showed a hint of instability. However, there are some underlying issues that start and end with the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”. Some applications which work perfectly well under Google’s stock ecosystem have been supplemented (but luckily not completely replaced) with generic Samsung apps that just don’t work all that well.

One example of this bewildering move away from functioning programs is S Voice, a Siri-like app that needs some serious work before it can be considered a bona fide competitor against Apple’s option. Luckily, Google Now delivers markedly better functionality without any unnecessary frills. Samsung also preloaded their GPS Navigator which proves to be lesson in frustration when trying to get straightforward directions so we recommend sticking with Google’s excellent Maps or Navigation instead.

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