I have now reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Note II three separate times. I wrote a general Galaxy Note II review to cover the basics and my thoughts of the device itself – different versions aside. I did a video review of the AT&T specific features. And I wrote a review on the global version as part of the Samsung Exynos Hack Pack.
I make no bones about it, the Galaxy Note II is my favorite smartphone to date. And I'm clearly not the only one who feels that way, as last week was the second-consecutive week that the Galaxy Note II was the #1 smartphone in both charts in PhoneDog Media's Official Smartphone Rankings™.
That said, no phone is a perfect 10 out of 10. The Galaxy Note II may be the closest to perfect of any smartphone I've used. But there are tiny idiosyncrasies with the hardware and software that could be improved upon. Below I have listed the few things I would change about the Galaxy Note II to make it perfect … or near perfect.
Enable S Pen input with the pen still inserted in the phone
One of the standout features of the Galaxy Note II – and the Galaxy Note line itself – is the S Pen, or the smart, inductive stylus that unlocks a bevy of unique and creative software features. They come together to make the Note II half tablet-half smartphone and give those who use this device a truly unique experience.
Although I never thought I would actually use the S Pen all that much when I bought the original Galaxy Note, it has quickly become my go-to feature of the phone, something I use more than any other feature of the phone … err phablet.
However, shortly after I bought the original Galaxy Note, I also purchased an S Pen Holder from Samsung, which was essentially a case for the S Pen that made it look and feel like a typical fountain pen. Samsung updated the S Pen with the Galaxy Note II. It made the S Pen wider, longer and giving it one flat edge, making it a bit easier to hold on to.
That said, the S Pen Holder was rather expensive at just under $40, and I want to continue to use it considering it works just fine with the Galaxy Note II. The problem is that when the S Pen is in its designated slot on the phone, the S Pen feature is not activated. This means the S Pen Holder is effectively useless. All I want is the ability to activate the S Pen features without removing the S Pen so I can use the S Pen Holder.
Replace S Voice with Google Now
Aside from a few, short tests, I can't recall a single time I have used S Voice. And I surely haven't opened S Voice on purpose. Instead, I opt to use Google's automated and much more informative Google Now service.
Unfortunately, Samsung has made accessing S Voice fairly simple by double-pressing the Home button. Google Now, on the other hand, can be activated by long-pressing the Home button and then tapping a tab at the bottom of the Task Switcher page. It's not terribly difficult or time-consuming that way. But it's less intuitive, and it would be nice to have the ability to reconfigure the double-press to open Google Now.
For now, to avoid accidentally opening S Voice, I have disabled the double-press option and have nearly forgotten about S Voice.
The camera on the Galaxy Note II is one of the better cameras found in any smartphone. It and the Galaxy S III share effectively the same image sensor and optics, which have been rated by more than one outlet as one of the better smartphone cameras … period.
However, it's nothing particularly amazing. I still reach for the iPhone 5 when I want to take a picture because the images come with more detail and are a bit more accurate in terms of white balance, saturation, contrast, etc.
The software features of the Galaxy Note II camera stretch far and wide. And the 5.5-inch display makes for a seriously awesome viewfinder. But I would love to see this camera produce better, higher-quality images. As per usual, it's only the camera that really really bugs me about this device.
Stock Android with S Pen features
No matter how much I ask for it, it's not likely to happen. But I would love to see a stock Android version of virtually every smartphone out there. I have always preferred stock Android to the manufacturers' customized versions. And TouchWiz, in particular, has always been my least favorite – it looks very cartoon-esque and cheap.
However, Samsung has come a long way with TouchWiz Nature UX, stuffing it with valuable and even some irreplaceable features. For example, Multi-Window, Popup Browser and the various S Pen features make the Note II what it is. Without those features, it would hardly be a phablet and would be more like the DROID DNA, a "full-sized phone."
So I would love to have a mostly stock version of Android with a few Samsung features embedded. I guess, after all, this could mostly be accomplished through using a stock-like launcher replacement and third-party applications that resemble stock apps.
Additional Multi-Window and Popup Browser functionalities
Like I've touched on several times now, the multitasking features found on the Galaxy Note II put it in a class of its own. Multi-Window, which is a feature that allows the user to run two compatible applications side by side, and Popup Browser, a free-floating Internet browser, are perfect examples of true multitasking – or simultasking.
As I explained a few weeks ago, though, these features are a missed opportunity on Samsung's part. Popup Browser cannot be launched at will. Instead, the user must open a link in Popup Browser. There is no way to open a blank Popup Browser window.
And the Multi-Window is limited to the handful of applications chosen by Samsung to run half-screen. A third-party developer has enabled any application to work with Multi-Window through some code modifications. But this requires more work than I care to do – rooting, flashing a new ROM, flashing the mod and hoping everything works.
With the exception of a better camera, most of these issues could be addressed through a bit of software tweaking. And I imagine it wouldn't take too much digging on my part to find the modifications in forums around the Web. But I'm a bit burned out of modding my phones …
Tell me, folks. What would you change about the Galaxy Note II? If the Galaxy Note II is not your choice, what would you change about your favorite smartphone?