Samsung Galaxy Note II Review
In a smartphone market that’s expanding at a breakneck pace and offers a wide variety of choices, Samsung’s Galaxy Note II is somewhat unique. For the longest time, companies were offering phones which sacrificed performance sets in order to achieve the smallest hardware footprint possible. Now, features are literally crammed into the latest designs and screen sizes have ballooned to proportions that would have been considered ridiculous not too long ago. Where the current “standard” screen size typically hovers somewhere between 4” and 5” the Galaxy Note II bumps things up to a staggering 5.5”.
Unlike many other Android-based phones, this one isn’t meant to compete with today’s iPhones and Windows Phone 8 devices. Rather, it is carving out a unique niche which strides within the grey space between tablets and smartphones. Samsung has also included features that are uniquely designed to take advantage of the additional real estate.
The original Galaxy Note was deemed a game-changer by many pundits but the integration between its large screen, included applications and stylus S Pen never seemed totally fleshed out. In short, Samsung didn’t come to grips with the myriad of possibilities they designed into the Note. Subsequent updates and software additions improved the Note’s prospects over time but the Note II aims to do things right from day one by improving upon its predecessor in a number of ways.
With about a year separating the first and second generation Notes, a number of technological improvements have been built into the new device. By using a new Exynos 4412 processor, it doubles up on the number of cores while operating at the same nearly identical clock speeds and consuming slightly less power. 2GB of RAM should keep the Jelly Bean OS running along at a good clip as well. From screen size to storage space, nearly every one of the Note’s specifications were massaged when designing its successor, making the second iteration one of the most powerful smartphones currently available.
With its graceful lines and ergonomically perfect rounded corners, the Note II cuts striking figure despite its oversized dimensions. This sample was graced with a clear white Lucite-like finish which reduced its visual footprint, even when taking the massive 5.5” screen into account. Unfortunately, the black version does tend to look a bit slab-like by today’s minimalist standards but at least Samsung offers both color options.
The white fascia is bordered by imitation chrome “bumpers” which look great but also gave the Note II an infuriating tendency to slip out of my hands without notice. You’ll certainly want to buy a bumper case for this thing, if only to add a minor amount of gripping resistance.
The entire front is covered in a pane of second generation Gorilla Glass (seriously, what did we ever do before Corning invented this wundermaterial?) which protects against scratches and also seems to repel finger grease better than other materials I’ve used in the past. This is no idle boast as most touch-input devices end up looking like a CSI’s wet dream after I’m done with them, but not Samsung’s Note II.
The front’s bottommost portion is dominated by a large physical Home button which can also be held down to switch between a list of active programs or browse through various system settings. On this model at least, Samsung’s Home button interface is well implemented and goes about its business without any of the onscreen Home button shenanigans that marred our Nexus 7 experience.
Flanking the center-mounted Home button is a pair of capacitive areas which house Menu and Back functions. Unfortunately, when using the Note II with a single hand, reaching across the overly large screen usually resulted in one of these buttons being pressed inadvertently.
Even with Gorilla Glass imparting a feel of rigidity upon the phone, Samsung’s Note II still feels a bit on the cheap side. Some corners obviously had to be cut in order equip it with bleeding edge specifications and a great list of features. As a result there’s just too much plastic which leads to eerie creaks and groans from the expansive rear casing in colder weather, mostly emanating from the areas around the rear-facing camera / LED flash and S Pen holster. The white material is also quite prone to scratching.
Before using the Note II for the better part of a month, I detested large phones. You see, my hands aren’t the largest around and I have an unhealthy obsession with physical buttons. And Samsung’s Note II is big. Huge is actually a better word to describe this behemoth so I should have hated it…..right? Not quite.
Samsung has used the Note II’s size to make it eminently accessible on a number of levels and its deceptively slim 0.37” thickness helps out in this respect. The screen size allows for a large keyboard that cuts down on accuracy errors normally associated with touchscreen typing and the side-mounted volume and power buttons won’t be inadvertently touched by a wayward finger.
All in all, the Note II provides a surprisingly seamless experience with very few hurdles to overcome, although, for some, its mere dimensions will become a hindrance. Using a device this large with a single hand is next to impossible but Samsung did include a number of well implemented voice-activated features that will ensure hands free operation becomes second nature.
While holding a 5.5” cell phone up to your face may look somewhat ridiculous, the Note II does prompt a good amount of inquiring stares and it will start conversations with complete strangers. However, from my vantage point, Samsung may have a bit of an identity crisis going on here. They’ve created a “superphone” which rides a thin line between being too large to be a smartphone and too small to be a tablet. This tends to alienate a large portion of the smartphone market but it could also open up new venues for innovation.
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