Samsung Galaxy Note II First Impressions

Aaron Baker
Writer from  Dallas, TX
| October 3, 2012

Samsung is at it again with the Galaxy Note II, a device that's even bigger and better than before.  Bringing some features from the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet to the smartphone series, the Samsung Galaxy Note II and its revised S Pen are sure to please fans of the oversized smartphone series.  And the design has changed as well; this time around, the phone closely resembles the Galaxy S III, with the telltale physical home button and capacitive buttons on each side.  The international version is available now through online retailers like Negri Electronics, with US availability on Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular later in the year.

Does the Galaxy Note II cement Samsung's lead in the tabletphone space?  My first thoughts:

  • I've long been a fan of the Exynos processor in Android devices; since the Galaxy S II, they've offered a fantastic experience that's nearly lag-free.  That tradition continues with the 1.6 GHz quad-core CPU, but the combination of it along with Android 4.1 makes for a turbocharged experience that every user will appreciate.  Better yet, the same CPU is coming to the LTE-equipped US versions.  No swapping out quad-core Exynos CPUs for Snapdragon S4.  Finally!

  • Galaxy Note II swaps out a 5.3-inch display for a gargantuan 5.5-inch Super AMOLED HD display (without PenTile!), but the device is a bit easier to hold in the hand due to a narrower and taller build.  It's still large by all counts - the Apple iPhone 5 fits into the display of the phone - but it's slightly more manageable with one hand.
  • It's great to see Android 4.1 and TouchWiz getting along so nicely, and thanks to Jelly Bean's improvements by way of "Project Butter," day-to-day performance has been fantastic.  Everything loads with ease thanks to the software improvements and quad-core processor, and Samsung's custom UI works very well with the mobile OS.  You get benefits like Google Now and enhanced notifications, along with TouchWiz favorites like notification bar shortcuts and bonus software goodies.

  • On that note (pun intended), Note II comes with a host of software improvements - some of which are present in the Galaxy S III, but some of which are new to the Galaxy Note II.  Chief among them are improved S Pen features like the ability to quickly access apps with Quick Command, Page Buddy (which opens up a dedicated homescreen for S Pen-related apps).  You'll also notice familiar favorites like S Beam, Buddy Photo Share, and Smart Stay.

  • It's still too early to give a full battery life report, but so far, it has been nothing short of amazing for an Android device.  I really enjoy the feature combination on the Galaxy S III (and carried it as my personal device for just under four months), but the biggest issue to date has been battery life.  Even with a 2,100 mAh battery, the combination of a large HD display and 4G LTE required me to charge at least once throughout the day.  In contrast, the Note II's 3,100 mAh battery has easily chugged through the day, even with what I consider to be heavy use.  I removed the phone from the charger at 1:33 PM yesterday, and with heavy use including multiple calls, text messaging, emailing, an hour playing music at the gym, YouTube use, browsing the web, taking pictures, and more, Note II was sitting pretty at 46 percent when I plugged it in at 12:45 AM.  Today, I removed the phone from the office charger at 8:33 AM, and at 3:29 PM - roughly seven hours later - the phone is at 75 percent.  Using this logic, a light to moderate use day could net 28 hours on a single charge.
  • It's important to note that the international Galaxy Note II I'm working with is not on AT&T's 4G LTE (instead, it's on HSPA+), so expect overall longevity to take a dip when the carrier-branded US variants hit the market.  But for a road warrior that spends a serious chunk of his life in hotel rooms, meetings, and airplanes, the improved battery life is a tremendous benefit to me.

There's no doubt that Samsung is turning the Android world - and the smartphone industry itself - upside down.  If social media buzz combined with worldwide sales figures provide any indication, Samsung has been exceptionally successful in getting a fan base to congregate around a product series that's not related to the iPhone.  They've become the flag bearer of sorts for Android, and when one realizes where the manufacturer was with its original Galaxy S series two short years ago, the feat is even more impressive. 

Like the original, Galaxy Note II's size is going to be something that many will overcome.  But regardless of whether you need the screen real estate or not, this could be an excellent option due to the near-perfect blend of features.  In essence, I view the Galaxy Note II as a refined Galaxy S III of sorts - a supercharged version of an already excellent device.  The Note II brings a few key benefits that smartphone junkies are sure to like: 4G LTE (on US versions) combined with a quad-core Exynos processor, a non-PenTile HD display, improved S Pen features, and a giant battery that so far, is on the same playing field as the Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX.  Combine that with availability across multiple carriers, and you have a great formula for sales success.


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