Review: Samsung Galaxy Note II for Sprint
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 played through my favorite headphones, and video looked 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.
In general, I was pleased with the images I captured with the Note II. The 8-megapixel sensor knows how to handle itself and manages to get all the variables — focus, exposure, color — accurate most of the time. See some of the sample photos from San Francisco's Market Street. Plenty of detail is visible and the exposure/white balance perfectly represents what it looked like that day. You'll be more than happy to share the images with your various social networks.
Video also looks great. Again, all of the elements are captured correctly. When shooting in 1080p HD, I noticed a little bit of stuttery motion, especially if you move the phone around too much while shooting. If you're careful when recording, though, the results are much improved. In general, it does a good job.
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 Sprint 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 Sprint Zone is on board for those interested in downloading Sprint branded and recommended apps/services. It is a miniature App Store into itself, and also serves as an account management tool.
The Note II's Bluetooth radio worked flawlessly. It paired and connected with every device I have sitting on my desk. Phone calls sounded quite good when routed to a Bluetooth headset. I have no complaints about stereo music, either.
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. It was very slow on Sprint's cellular network, though. Loading web sites via EVDO 3G was an exercise in patience, as it often took longer than 30 seconds per page. Page loading times were nice and quick over Wi-Fi, though.
There's a white digital clock on the lock screen. It is big enough to be seen at an arm's length, but it cannot be customized at all. There are a multitude of clock widgets available for the home screen.
The Sprint Note II has but Google Maps for navigation. The GPS radio worked really well. It pinpointed me quickly and accurately (often to within 10 feet). I didn't have any trouble routing directions between points.