Epic battery life; Good pen performance; Strong graphics and performance; Blistering 4G LTE speed; Large display with sharp details and bright colors; Fast camera
Size can be somewhat overwhelming; Pricey; Multitasking features not available in U.S.
With its bigger screen, better pen features quad-core CPU and epic battery life, the Galaxy Note II raises the bar for large-screen smartphones.
Does bigger necessarily mean better? Samsung seems to think so. The second iteration of the polarizing Samsung Galaxy Note increases the display size to 5.5-inches from an already massive 5.3-inches. However the Note II has grown in other ways including a powerful quad-core processor and an improved S Pen. But is the supersized phablet worth its $299 price tag?
DesignSamsung Galaxy S III and comes in Titanium Gray on AT&T. We really like the way the subtle striations along the rear panel catch the light and add some depth. Other prominent rear panel features include an 8 megapixel camera lined in chrome, an LED flash, a pair of speakers and logos for AT&T and the Galaxy Note II printed in white.
Measuring 5.9 x 3.2 x 0.37 inches, the Galaxy Note II has grown up, not out. It's taller than the original Galaxy Note (5.8 x 3.27 x 0.38 inches), but manages to be thinner and narrower. The new dimensions enabled us to operate the phone one-handed, unlike the wide 5.5 x 3.6 x 0.33-inch LG Intuition. Both versions of the Note weigh in at 6.4 ounces which is significantly heavier than the 5.93 ounce Intuition.
Display and Audio
The high-definition trailer of "Iron Man 3" was gorgeous, displaying aquamarine skies and obsidian nights. The army of Iron Man suits gleamed in red and gold laden splendor. We could even see the mix of highlights and downlights in Tony' Stark's perfectly coiffed hair. We were also impressed at the level of sharpness that allowed us to make out the minutest details of Rhodes' medal.
The brightness left a lot to be desired. The Note II's 231 lux display brightness failed to match the Android phone category average (302 lux) and the Note (240 lux). The Intuition is by far the brightest at 471 lux.
Audio from the Note II's twin speakers were also impressive. As we listened to Kanye West's "Mercy," we noticed that the Note II is one of the few phones to deliver true bass. At maximum volume, our small test room was filled with loud, deep sound.
Software and Interface
The notification menu now features a brightness control slider in addition to shortcuts for toggling Wi-Fi, GPS, Screen rotation and more. The dedicated number row above the letters on Samsung's touch keyboard is another big addition. Now you don't have to switch back and forth between letters and numbers to type things like addresses and passwords.
The lock screen on the Note II not only lets you customize shortcuts to different apps, but also displays a news ticker at the bottom of the screen. You can even scribble a quick note by double tapping the screen with the S Pen while holding down its button.
S Voice hasn't changed since we reviewed the Galaxy S III. It's functional, but Apple's Siri is just smarter. When we asked S Voice for a five-day forecast, we got just the current conditions. You're probably better off using Google Voice Search. It's not as feature-rich, but it's faster and less prone to network errors.
Motions and Sharing
As you might expect, the Note II borrows all of the sharing features from the S III, including S Beam for sharing photos, videos and other files between two Galaxy devices with a tap.
Although the Note II lets you switch between apps by long-pressing the home button to see the recent app menu, we were disappointed to find that the split-screen functionality of the unlocked version of the Note II isn't supported on the U.S. versions of the phone.
Update: The improved multitasking feature should be rolling out to U.S. handsets soon.Facebook). Once you drag a second app over to the right, you'll see a split-screen showing both apps running at once.
In the future, we'd like to see apps interact with each other in this mode. For example, it would be great to be able to drag and drop a photo from the Gallery into an outgoing email or Facebook post. But overall, Samsung has done an admirable job taking full advantage of the Note II's big screen.
Samsung automatically launches a special home screen when you take the stylus out of its slot that displays your most recent notes and templates for starting a new one. (You can turn this setting off.)
Samsung has found clever new ways to leverage pen input beyond digital ink. The Air View feature lets you hover the S Pen over content to preview it, whether it's the first sentence of an email or photos in the Gallery app. We especially like how you can skim through a video in the timeline via Air View. However we discovered that Air View doesn't work with Gmail.
After a while, we actually enjoyed navigating the Note II with a pen, though sometimes we had to repeat our taps. We also wish the pen worked with the back and menu buttons beneath the screen; you have to use your finger.
So what about pen-enabled apps? The collection is growing, but there's not a ton to write home about. The bundles Paper Artist app on our Note II lets us import photos to create sketches, and we found SignnDoc Mobile (for signing documents) and Draw Mania under the Best S Pen Apps section of the Samsung Apps store.
The fact that these were the only two choices listed is pretty sad, but there are others available in the Google Play store. TouchRetouch, for example, helps remove unwanted objects for photos. There's also Zen Brush and Omni Sketch for aspiring artists, iAnnotate PDF for annotating PDFs and Touchnote Postcards for sending personalized postcards.
Samsung TecTiles and Accessories
TecTiles can also be used in group settings, allowing each user to activate their own unique profiles. We created private tags specific to our device. The app also keeps a log of all your created tags for a quick, easy to access reference. included If you have a household with other NFC-capable Android phones TecTiles should work with those, too.
Taking a page from the iPad's playbook, Samsung sells an optional flip cover (in Navy or Brown, $29.99), which replaces the phone's rear cover, but incorporates a leather flap to protect the screen.
On the CPU portion of the Benchmark test, the Note II scored 4,246. That's 1,373 points more than the 4,245 Android phone category average. However the Note II paled in comparison to the LG Optimus G's (1.5-GHz quad-core Qualcomm MDM9215M APQ8064 with Adreno 320 GPU) score of 5,706. The Samsung Galaxy S III (1.5-GHz Snapdragon S4) and HTC One X (1.5-GHz Snapdragon S4) also delivered strong performances with 4,786 and 4,885 respectively.
During graphics testing, the Note II delivered a searing 7,648 topping the 7,124 smartphone category average. The S III, One X and Optimus G scored 7,272, 7,138 and 7,350. When we ran Quadrant, an overall systems test, the Note II scored 6,036, more than twice the 3015 average. The One X notched 4,901 while the S III could only muster 5,159.
4G LTE and Web Browsing
Zippy downloads and lightning fast page loads abound on AT&T's 4G LTE network. On Speedtest.net, the Samsung Galaxy Note II delivered an average download speed of 22.5 Mbps. Upload speeds were equally impressive at 12.9 Mbps. The mobile versions of CNN.com, NYTimes.com and ESPN.com loaded in 2.1, 2.7 and 3.7 seconds respectively. The desktop version of Laptopmag.com loaded in a swift 5.6 seconds.
Web browsing on the Note II is pretty similar to the S III. The default web browser is present for normal web surfing, but Samsung also included a popup browser to quickly check out links in the regular browser. The mini browser can be expanded to full screen, but it can't be used for downloading.
AT&T-branded apps include Code Scanner, FamilyMap, Locker, Navigator, Ready2Go, Smart Wi-Fi, DeviceHelp, Messages and MyAT&T. Polaris Office 4.0, YouTube, YPMobile, Paper Artist, Flipboard and ChatON are the few third-party apps featured on the Note II.
Camera and Camcorder
The most amazing feature of the Note II's camera is the new Best Faces mode, which takes a series of shots and lets you choose the best-looking mug for everyone in the frame. Magically, the Note II then combines all of the individual faces into one shot. Even when we zoomed into the finished photo, we couldn't tell that the original image had been modified.
We tested the Note II's 1080p camcorder by shooting New York City traffic. Everything from the reflections on moving vehicles to the brick work in buildings looked highly detailed, and there was no hitching. The sensitive mic picked up squeaky breaks and voices on the street.
Sprint also offers the Note II for $299.99, but customers will pay $79.99 for unlimited data and messaging with 450 anytime minutes for a grand total of $2,219.75. However that's a fair trade off for unlimited 4G service.
It seems that T-Mobile users get the short end of the stick shelling out $369.99 for the Note II. The closest comparable plan to the other carriers (unlimited everything with 5GB of high-speed data) costs $94.99 for a grand total of $2,649.75 over 2 years.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Calling landlines and mobile phones in New York and New Jersey yielded loud, crisp audio. We did get some slight echoing when we switched to speakerphone, but not enough to be distracting. Our callers reported similar call quality on their end. People that aren't in the mood to grapple with the Note II's girth can activate One-Handed mode which shrinks the keypad and shifts it to the right or left.
The Note II's massive 3,100 mAh battery lasted 9 hours and 27 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over 4G LTE). That's 3 hours and 31 minutes longer than the 5:56 Android phone category average making this the longest lasting LTE phone to date. The former title holder, the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx only notched 8:25.
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|CPU||1.6-GHz quad core|
|Memory Expansion Type||microSD Card|
|Display (main)||5.55-inch Super AMOLED (1280 x 720)|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth 4.0 LE|
|Front Camera Resolution||1.9MP|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP|
|Audio formats supported||AMR-NB|
|Audio formats supported||WAV|
|Audio formats supported||AMR|
|Audio formats supported||OGG|
|Audio formats supported||AAC+|
|Audio formats supported||MP3|
|Audio formats supported||AAC|
|Audio formats supported||MIDI|
|Audio formats supported||FLAC|
|Audio formats supported||eAAC+|
|Video formats supported||WMV|
|Video formats supported||MPEG-4|
|Video formats supported||H.264|
|Video formats supported||H.263|
|Video formats supported||Divx|
|Talk / Standby Time|
|Size||5.9 x 3.2 x .37 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|