Review: Samsung Galaxy Note II for T-Mobile USA
The Note II stays in familiar territory when it comes to media consumption. The bare-bones music and video playback apps are on board and can be used with most sideloaded content. The Note II is also loaded with the the Google Play Store and associated apps for music, video, books, magazines, and apps. They all work well. Music, in particular sounded very good through my favorite headphones, and video looks fantastic on the Note II's huge display.
The Note II also comes with Samsung's Media Hub and Music Hub. The Media Hub is an alternative place through which to purchase and/or rent movies and television shows. It works fine, but requires a Samsung user account. The same goes for the Music Hub for making music purchases. Neither has the breadth of content that the Google Play Store does.
The Note II includes an 8-megapixel shooter. It does not have a dedicated camera button, but the camera can be launched via the lock screen shortcut. It loads quickly.
The layout of the camera controls is typical for a Samsung smartphone. There is a control strip down each side; the viewfinder is positioned between them. The settings strip - which is fully customizable - offers access to features such as the flash, exposure controls, scenes, shooting modes, and so on.
Once you've spent a moment familiarizing yourself with the controls and perhaps even customized them to your own liking, the camera is a breeze to use. It focuses and shoots photos quickly. You can choose to use touch-to-focus if there is something in particular you want to be in focus. It's also kind of awesome having such a large screen to use as the viewfinder.
The images I captured with the Note II were quite good. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was able to get some great shots of my eldest daughter playing soccer. There is a bright orange tree in the photos that just pops with color.
For the most part, images were sharp, colorful, and well exposed. Otherwise, I was pleased with the results. It certainly captures photos worth sharing via your favorite social networks.
Video also looks great. Some of the samples from Saturday's soccer game attest to how well the Note II does. Video was rich with color, properly exposed, and in focus. It even worked well in really low-light situations, such as the Halloween party that I attended over the weekend. My guess is you'll be pleased with the results, too.
The Note II's gallery application is very close to the stock Android 4.0 gallery app. The basic view includes a mish-mash of photos from all your accounts in one epically huge grid. Using the tools at the top of the page, you can shift the view to specific folders or collections of photos (camera roll, Google+, Flickr, etc).
The Note II has the same photo-editing features that most Android 4.0 smartphones do. Images can be cropped and rotated easily. Also, more intensive edits (straightening the image, killing red-eye, correcting exposure/color) are handled by the Samsung-enhanced gallery app, as well. The gallery app lets users share images quickly and easily via dozens of avenues.
The Note II comes with a typical mix of Google, Samsung, and T-Mobile apps. Stand-outs include Flipboard and Paper Artist (a really cool scribbling app that takes advantage of the S Pen). You can't delete most of the pre-installed apps, but you can at least hide those you don't use. Either way, there's plenty of on-board storage for your own apps.
The Note II's Bluetooth radio worked flawlessly. It paired and connected with every device I have sitting on my desk. Phone calls did not sound that good when routed through a headset, nor did music sound all that good when played back through stereo headphones.
The Note II ships with the age-old Android browser. The application itself is fine for browsing the web and does a good job of rendering web sites. The Note II worked very well on T-Mobile's cellular network. On HSPA+, loading web sites was quick and painless. It even managed to deliver solid performance in a room full of Samsung party-goers.
The web browser performed just fine on the AT&T version, even over AT&T's 3G network. No problems there at all.
There's a white digital clock on the lock screen. It is big enough to be seen at an arm's length. I wish it were customizable in the way that LG's recent smartphones are, but it is stuck as-is. There are a multitude of clock widgets available for the home screen.
The T-Mobile Note II has but Google Maps for navigation. The GPS radio worked really well. It pinpointed me quickly, though accuracy varied between 25 and about 500 feet. I didn't have any trouble routing directions between points, though.