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Hands-On: Samsung Galaxy Note II

Article Comments  9  

Sep 11, 2012, 11:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Samsung Galaxy Note II doesn't have any U.S. carriers yet, but Phone Scoop spent some time with it anyway. Here are our initial impressions of Samung's latest phablet.

The Galaxy Note II is superior to the original Note in just about every way possible. Samsung's second take on the phone that birthed the "phablet" phenomenon is basically a Galaxy S III on steroids.

Where the original Note was somewhat utilitarian in its design, the Note II borrows the design of the GS3 and ramps it up a bit. It's an attractive, well-made phone that feels better to hold and use. The GS3 comes in white and blue. The Note II comes in white and a titanium color that has a pattern to it sort of like brushed metal. I can't decide which color I like better; they both look good. The quality of the plastics is identical to that of the GS3. It's excellent for a Samsung phone, but other manufacturers have created plastics that feel less cheap. The Note 2 is a solid phone, and the build quality is quite good.

Family Photos  

You can't escape the fact that the Note II is still a humongous phone. The display has been bumped from 5.3 inches to 5.5 inches, but Samsung changed the aspect ratio of the Note II. Where the original Note has 1280 x 800 pixels, the Note II has 1280 x 720 pixels. It now has an aspect ratio of 16:9, which matches today's TVs and computer monitors. Lest you bemoan the fact that this actually reduces the resolution of the display, it creates a benefit in one significant dimension: width.

The Note II is taller than the original Note, but it is also about 3mm narrower thanks to the altered display. This makes all the difference in the world in terms of comfort in the hand. I thought the original Note was too wide and awkward to hold — and I have big hands. The Note II is far more comfortable to hold and use in one hand. It's still bigger than most every other phone out there, but it is a definite improvement over the original.

White Note 2  

The overall weight and feel of the phone is good. It's heavy, but falls just shy of being too heavy. Thanks to the GS3-inspired design, it is smooth, and the plastics have a pleasant texture. The Note II will easily slip in and out of pants pockets, despite the size, thanks to the slimmer profile and smooth materials.

The display itself is gorgeous. I was impressed with it. It's bright, colorful, and still sharp despite the downgraded resolution. The display uses newer technology when compared to the original Note, and the difference was apparent when I held the devices side-by-side. The Note 2's display is much better.

The button placement is identical to that of the GS3, with the volume toggle on the left and the power/lock button on the right. I had no trouble finding or using them. The 3.5mm headset jack is on top and the microUSB port is on the bottom.

Titanium Note 2  

Another significant change offered by the Note II is an improve S Pen (a.k.a, stylus). The stylus is stored in the bottom of the Note II. When you pull it out, the Note II vibrates with feedback, letting you know that the S Pen has been removed. In fact, the Note 2 is smart enough to notice when the S Pen hasn't been put back in the phone. If you take it out, use it for a while, then leave it somewhere and walk away, the Note II will remind you to replace the S Pen. The S Pen itself is a tiny bit thicker, which makes it easier to hold, and the button on the S Pen works better. It is easier to find and has better travel and feedback.

The S Pen has a new hovering feature that is pretty cool. When you hold the S Pen just over the display (without touching it), you can call up cool actions, such as previewing the subject/header of an email, or accessing an options menu. The hover feature works in apps such as email, messaging, the browser, and of course S Note. Samsung told us that it will add the hover feature to more apps over time.

Aside from the presence of the S Pen features, the user interface of the Note II is identical to the GS3. It is running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and has the latest build of TouchWiz on top. The one benefit the Note II provides is that it fits more apps across the display, so you can stick more content on each home screen panel.

The Note II uses a new quad-core processor from Samsung, with each core rated at 1.6GHz. It's amazingly fast. In the time I spent with the Note II, I found it to be breathtakingly quick at performing every action.

Samsung said that the Note II is definitely coming to the U.S., but it wouldn't specify which carriers will sell it. One Samsung representative indicated that U.S. carriers will be announced by mid-October and the device should be in stores shortly thereafter. Given the way Samsung brought the GS3 to all the U.S. carriers at about the same time, it wouldn't surprise me if all four major carriers sell the Note II, also (but that's just me speculating). One thing is certain, the Note II will have the exact same design across carriers, just as the GS3. Samsung is not going to customize the hardware for the U.S. It is a global device, and that's that.

Will U.S. consumers want it? It's a really nice phone, and makes improvements over the original in pretty much every capacity. It will all come to down to preferences about the size. Do you want a phone as big as the Note II?

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.


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Sep 11, 2012, 1:38 PM

I have a Galaxy Note - The Original

This is an original phone. It created a category ( with apologies to the Dell Streak ) How will a company that likes to claim that ideas were stolen compete with an original idea? 😁
They will try to get it banned.
This will be Samsungs and Androids flagship phone and will compete heavily against Iphone5 and Nokia 920. I will definitely check this one out.

Sep 12, 2012, 8:57 AM

Minor correction to Eric Zeman's article

Zeman wrote:

One thing is certain, the Note II will have the exact same design across carriers, just as the GS3. Samsung is not going to customize the hardware for the U.S. It is a global device, and that's that.

This is simply incorrect, as far as the GS3 is concerned. The international versions of the GS3 have a quad-core Exynos SoC, while the North American versions (at least, the VZN, Sprint and ATT versions) have QUALCOMM Snapdragon S4 (MSM8960) SoCs.

Externally, the phones are identical, but they have different inner beauty...
Well, as you quoted, the context is a paragraph talking about "design".

Sep 12, 2012, 8:32 AM

It'll sell well

The original Note already did really well, and built up a fan-base and a reputation. The GS3 also sold record numbers. This is like a love-child between the two, so it ought to be pretty popular.

My GF is really excited to ditch her HTC One S (really pathetic little phone with a shoddy antennae and buggy personality....a shame considering how good the One X is supposed to be) for this as soon as it comes out. She'll definitely put that S-Pen to good use.

Assuming T-Mobile gets it the same time everyone else does, of course :d
That Samsung will do a simultaneous release across ALL carriers as they did with the Galaxy S III
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