Strong graphics and performance; Large display with sharp details and bright colors; Fast camera; Improved S Pen
Size can be somewhat overwhelming; Slow 3G speeds; A tad pricey
With a bigger screen, faster processor and sharper S Pen, the only thing that can hold back the Galaxy Note II is Sprint's 3G-only network.
Flying in the teeth of critics, Samsung set out to prove with the Galaxy Note II that you don't have to sacrifice a gigantic screen to achieve a slim, attractive form factor in a phone. As it turns out, Samsung was right. The Galaxy Note II features an even larger 5.5-inch display in a chassis thinner than the original, along with a quad-core processor and an updated S Pen. Will Sprint's lack of 4G LTE prove to be this $299 superphone's Achille's Heel?
Editors' Note: Portions of this review were taken from our other reviews of the Galaxy Note II.
Although cyclopean in size compared to other smartphones, the 5.9 x 3.2 x 0.37-inch, 6.4-ounce Galaxy Note II actually boasts a smaller footprint than the original. Although slightly taller than the first Galaxy Note (5.8 x 3.27 x 0.38 inches, 6.5 ounces), the Note II is narrower and a thinner. We also appreciated that Samsung moved the power button further down on the right side, which helped make the Note II feel less awkward to use with one hand.
Still, the Note II makes even large 4.7-inch phones like the Galaxy S III seem puny by comparison. Unless you've got extra-long fingers, you'll be happy that Samsung thought to include "one-handed operation" settings. For example, you can check a box that tells the Note II to shift the dialpad to the right when you're making a call. We still had to stretch our thumb awkwardly across the display to open the phone app, however.
Unfortunately, although the Galaxy Note II boasts a brighter screen than either the original Note or the Galaxy S III, it's significantly dimmer than the competition. Using our light meter, we measured 211 lux for the Note II, versus 165 lux for the Note and 213 lux for the Galaxy S III. The average smartphone display, by contrast, features a brightness of 298 lux, while the iPhone 5's 4-inch display measured a searing 525 lux.
Software and Interface
The Galaxy Note II runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with a healthy dose of additional features courtesy of the TouchWiz interface, giving you access to stellar Jelly Bean features such as Google Now and offline voice typing, as well as bold new additions to Google's OS from Samsung.
The Note II includes seven customizable home screens, with the time and weather widget front and center. Touch the Google search box and you'll be brought to Google Now, which learns from your searches to present handy info at a glance. For example, Google Now can show you how long it's going to take you to get home based on the traffic, the latest score from your favorite teams and whether your plane is on time.
Other notable features include Popup Video for watching clips while you use other apps, and you can now resize the window. There's also a new Popup Browser option that enables Note II users to view a Web page (say, in an email) without leaving the Email app.
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.
MultitaskingFacebook). 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 helps you get started with the S Pen by automatically launching an 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.)
Like the Note 10.1, the S Note app itself is smart enough to create crisp shapes from your sketches and even look up formulas. In addition, handwriting recognition has improved. You can choose from a Palm Pilot-like window on the bottom of the screen or let the Note II translate on the fly. Annoyingly, the S Note app often doesn't insert a space between words, so we mostly stuck with handwritten notes. At least palm rejection is no longer an issue.
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 SingnDoc 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
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.
Unsurprisingly, in benchmark testing the Galaxy Note II's quad-core processor crushes the puny dual-core Android competition. On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the Note II scored 4,104, more than 1,200 points higher than the smartphone average and only 100 points less than the Galaxy S III. The original Note, by contrast, scored a lowly 2,206 - although the HTC One X's dual-core S4 chip scored a higher 4,885.
On the An3DBench app, which measures graphics performance, the Note II notched a score of 7,742. This beats the original Note by more than 700 points, as well as the Galaxy S III (6,994), One X (7,138) and the category average (7,139).
It would be a waste of the Note II's gorgeous 5.5-inch Super AMOLED screen if you couldn't use it to blast hordes of the walking dead, but thankfully the phone doesn't disappoint when it comes to playing the latest 3D games. When we fired up "Dead Trigger," a zombie-shooting title, the Note II delivered smooth performance even with apps running in the background and tabs open in the browser.
In addition to the standard Web browser seen on Samsung's Galaxy S III, the Galaxy Note II includes a popup browser that can be used to view Web pages while within other apps like Gmail. The popup browser can be expanded to full screen mode, but can't be used to download files. We were disappointed to discover, however, that unlike the unlocked version of the Note II, Sprint's model doesn't ship with Chrome preinstalled - although a trip to the Play Store quickly remedied that situation.
Apps and Content
Samsung also includes two app stores of its own app stores. Samsung Apps functions as an alternative to the Play Store, but requires a separate Samsung account. S Suggest, on the other hand, simply aggregates the best apps from Google Play, Samsung Apps and Sprint Zone (Sprint's app store), and recommends apps based on those you (and other Galaxy Note II users) have already installed.
Besides Sprint Zone and Samsung's plethora of apps, third-party applications include Flipboard, a social networking and news magazine, and Polaris Office 4.0.
Camera and Camcorder
Like the S III, the Galaxy Note II also includes a bevy of camera settings you can tweak and multiple shooting modes, including Panorama. There's also Share Shot, for broadcasting pictures via Wi-Fi to nearby Galaxy devices with the same feature. Buddy Photo Share continues to recognize friends and family in the frame to quickly connect with them via email, phone and social networks.
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.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Impressively, Samsung upgraded the Note II with a 3,100 mAh battery, up from 2,100 mAh on the original Note. As a result, the Note II outlasts most smartphones on the market and should you give enough juice to last a full day on a charge.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing via Sprint's 3G network), the device lasted an astounding 9 hours and 51 minutes. That runtime almost doubles the Android category average of 5:58 and beats the Galaxy Note III (6:55) by nearly three hours hour, and the iPhone 5 by more than two. Of course, when Sprint finally makes the upgrade to 4G LTE, users can expect a battery life on par with the Galaxy Note II on AT&T, which lasted 9 hours and 27 minutes on our test.
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|Operating System||Android 4.1|
|Networks||GSM/Edge/GPRS: 850, 900, 1800, 1900; 3G: CDMA EV_DOrA, 800, 850, 1900; 4G LTE: 100Mbps/ 50Mbps,1900|
|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|
|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+|
|Audio formats supported||AMR-NB|
|Audio formats supported||WAV|
|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)|