Gorgeous 5.5-inch display; Powerful processor; Snappy camera; Improved S Pen; Very long battery life
No LTE yet; Pricey; Size makes it a bit unwieldy
Samsung's Galaxy Note II for T-Mobile offers a gorgeous 5.5-inch display, innovative pen features and killer firepower, but you'll pay more versus other carriers.
The smartphone game has gone from pocket-friendly devices to phones that'll stretch your denim. And the leader of the phablet pack is Samsung's Galaxy Note II. With a massive 5.5-inch display, this phone makes quite the impression. But Samsung does a lot with this size, including enhanced S Pen functionality, quad-core power and a battery that can last all day. But at $369 on T-Mobile's HSPA+42 4G network, is the Note II worth the cost?
Editors' Note: Portions of this review were taken from our other reviews of the Galaxy Note II.
Designfirst Galaxy Note (5.8 x 3.27 x 0.38 inches, 6.5 ounces), but it's narrower and 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.
The Galaxy Note II bears a striking resemblance to the Samsung's smaller flagship phone, the Galaxy S III. The Note II features the same rounded corners and physical home button, flanked on either side by capacitive buttons for Menu and Back.
T-Mobile, like Sprint, offers the Galaxy Note II in two colors: Titanium Gray, the color our device sported, and Marble White. The Note II's polycarbonate body felt solid (although somewhat slick), and you can pop off the back cover to access the SIM card, battery and microSD card slot.
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.
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 218 lux for the Note II, versus 165 lux for the Note and 213 lux for the Galaxy S III. The average smartphone display easily trumps that, with a brightness of 300 lux, while the iPhone 5's 4-inch display measured a searing 525 lux.
Like the display, the Note II's back-mounted speaker also manages to outclass the Galaxy S III. When listening to the Radiohead's "Reckoner" on both devices, the Note II delivered louder and richer tones. The speaker even managed to maintain its accuracy when we placed it on a desk, and didn't become muffled when we held the phone in our hand.
OS and Interface
The notification menu, for instance, now features a brightness control slider in addition to shortcuts for toggling Wi-Fi, GPS, screen rotation and more. Another huge plus: there's a dedicated number row above the letters on Samsung's touch keyboard, which means 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.
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
Like the Galaxy S III, the Note II includes a bunch of clever motion-sensitive gestures, from Direct Call (dialing a contact displayed on screen by bringing the phone up to your ear) to double-tapping the top of the phone to go to the top of a list (like your inbox). A slick new feature called Quick Glance displays alerts when you wave your hand over the camera with the screen off, but it only shows the number of missed calls and emails and your battery life status.
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.
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.)
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.
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 bundled Paper Artist app on our Note II lets us import photos to create sketches, and we found SignDoc Mobile (for signing documents) and Draw Mania under the Best S Pen Apps section of the Samsung Apps store.
There are other pen apps 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.
Naturally, the Galaxy Note II proved a tough match for its Android competitors, notching a 4,416 on the CPU Benchmark test. Samsung's Flagship Galaxy S III with its 1.5-GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 2GB of RAM scored a 4,214 on the same test. HTC's One X, which also packs an S4 processor but just 1GB of RAM, however, managed a surprising 4,885, while the quad-core-equipped LG Optimus G rang up a score of 5,706. The Note II did, however, easily clear the category average of 2,949.
When it came to the An3DBench graphics test, the Note II ran roughshod over the competition, pulling down a score of 7,652. The LG Optimus G came in more than 300 points lower with its score of 7,350. HTC's One X managed a score of 7,138 and Samsung's Galaxy S III registered a score of 6,994. Both of those scores were lower than the category average of 7,151.
During our real-world testing, the Note II was a dream. We were easily able to play the zombie shooter game "Dead Trigger" and open several other apps without encountering and lag or slowdown. We even fired off shot after shot using the Note II's camera app and never noticed a hint of lag.
While it's not LTE-fast, the Note II pulled down relatively impressive data speeds on T-Mobile's HSPA+42 network. On Speedtest.net, we recorded an average download speed of 5.2 Mbps and an average upload speed of 1.3 Mbps. Those speeds are far better than the 0.40 Mbps down and 0.35 Mbps down we recorded on the Sprint version of the Note II. Still, the Galaxy Note II running on AT&T's LTE network registered 22.5 Mbps down and 12.9 Mbps up, respectively.
Websites loaded quickly on the T-Mobile Galaxy Note II, but were slightly quicker on the AT&T version. The T-Mobile Galaxy Note II loaded CNN.com's mobile site in an average 5.3 seconds and NYTimes.com's mobile site in 4.5 seconds. The image-intensive mobile version of ESPN.com loaded in 6.3 seconds. By comparison, AT&T's Galaxy Note II loaded CNN.com's mobile site in 2.1 seconds and NYTimes.com's mobile site in 2.7 seconds.
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. Unlike the unlocked version of the Note II, T-Mobile'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 and Samsung Apps and recommends apps based on those you (and other Galaxy Note II users) have already installed.
Beyond the Samsung and T-Mobile specific offerings, the Galaxy Note II comes loaded with Flipboard, a social networking and news magazine; Polaris Office 4.0; EA's Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Zynga's Games app store.
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
We made a call over T-Mobile's voice network in New York City and were impressed with the quality. A call made to a friend's landline was clear and static-free. The other caller told us that our voice came through cleanly, but that the sound of taxis driving by and chatter was, unfortunately, just as audible.
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.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing via T-Mobile's network HSPA+42 4G network with the display set to 40 percent, the Note II lasted an incredible 10 hours and 12 minutes. That runtime almost doubles the Android category average of 5:58 and beats the Galaxy Note III (6:55) by nearly three hours, and the iPhone 5 by more than two. T-Mobile's Note II also beat out the Sprint's Note II (9:51), as well as AT&T's Note II (9:27). However, the AT&T version uses 4G LTE, which sucks down more power.
Pricing and Value
If you opt for the no-contract Note II, you can take advantage of a $70 monthly plan that gets you unlimited voice, text and 5GB of 4G data. Pass your 5GB limit, however, and you'll see your data speeds throttled. Stretched out over two years, that would cost you $1,680 per month. Throw the $649 cost of the phone on top of that and you're looking at a total price of $2,329. That's a modest savings over the contract version of the phone.
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|Operating System||Android 4.1|
|Networks||850 MHz;900 MHz;1800 MHz;1900 MHz;UMTS: Band I (2100);UMTS: Band IV (AWS);Band II (1900)|
|CPU||1.6-GHz quad-core Exynos processor|
|Memory Expansion Type||microSD Card|
|Display (main)||5.5-inch Super AMOLED (1280 x 720)|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth 4.0 LE|
|Front Camera Resolution||1.9MP|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP|
|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|
|Audio formats supported||AMR|
|Audio formats supported||OGG|
|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)|