Samsung Galaxy Note II Review

Samsung Galaxy Note II Review

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Sponsored by Nuffnang

Over the past few days we have had the opportunity to use the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Thanks to our friends at Nuffnang for making this available to us here at Techin5.

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Design/Hardware

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Just when we thought the original Galaxy Note was big, Samsung have come at us with an ever bigger device! Coming in at 5.5-inches from corner to corner, this device is truly formidable if you are accustomed to the compact size of a Blackberry or an iPhone.  Although it is quite big, it is incredibly thin, and as a result it’s not very difficult to hold in the palm of your hand (depending on your hand size of course, but generally speaking its pretty easy to hold in one hand). Of course, to get our thoughts on the original Galaxy Note, check out our review here. With 5.5-inches of screen, you’re looking at the phone becoming a little harder to fit in your jeans (especially those slim fit jeans), so if this is going to be your future phone of choice – keep that in mind. Of course, it’ll seamlessly fit in your work pants or track pants so it’s not an entire lose-lose with the size here. One Thing we did notice about the design is that rather than feeling like an upgraded Note, it feels like they took the Galaxy S3’s design and converted it to become a Note II. What do we mean by that? Well it’s simple, it feels like you’re holding a Galaxy S3, with different dimensions because of the build quality, which isn’t necessarily bad, but we’re not the biggest fans of the S3 design. Nevertheless it seems Samsung has made a conscious decision to keep this design and build quality and may continue to do so in the future (probably due to lowers costs, lower weight, etc). And due to the size and dimensions, it feels cheaper than the actual S3, but that doesn’t seem to have deterred people from snapping these devices up.

As for the inside of the phone, it’s a whole new story and quite the opposite of a cheap build. The Note II’s specs are nothing to smirk at, and it seems quite well powered as well with 1.6 GHz quad-core Exynos processor, 2GB of RAM, up to 64GB of storage (though Australia only sells the 16GB variant), a microSD card slot (with up to 64GB of more space), Bluetooth 4.0, Samsung’s GLONASS, and oddly enough a Barterer  It also comes with LTE (4G) which is important for those of you who require the very top speeds. All that is also crammed in a 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4 mm body, making it more powerful and thinner than the original Note! Weight wise, it may have gained a few grams, tipping the scale at 183 grams or 5 grams heavier than it’s predecessor, though given the screen size increase – it’s fair.

Display

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The GNII has a beautifully large and vivid 5.5-inch HD  ‘Super AMOLED display’, and it is the cornerstone of this models success. Size does matter, and in this age of smartphones with a wide array of functions, it is clear that Samsung appreciates the need for a screen that supports the modern level of functionality in a phone. Strangely, while the original Note has a resolution of 1280 x 800, the new Note II loses some pixels and actually is now packing a resolution of 1280 x 720! According to Samsung, the reason for this was that they shifted to a 16:9 Ratio Aspect, and they also got rid of the Pentile display which plagued the previous model. Samsung believe that those two fixes would give users a better experience when using the Note II. Of course, that means that the PPI of the display has also dropped to 267 from 284, however the use of the HD Display means that viewing experience is much better on the Note II than it was on the original Note, though we still feel the screens on the Galaxy S3 or even the Lumia 920 are superior to the Note II’s.

The AMOLED display really helps bring out the blacks on screen and colors are bright and vibrant (though occasionally over saturated depending on what you’re viewing on the screen). It won’t make us recommend you to not buy the phone, but you should be aware that the screen is still Samsung tinkering around with the best way to set up a display. Watching movies on it however is a thrilling experience due to the size, and any issues are soon forgotten when you realize the advantages of having such a large display. 

Camera

The GNII boasts an 8 megapixel camera autofocus camera, with LED flash. The front facing camera is also a hefty and decent 1.9 megapixels, making it ideal for Skype conferences on this model. The shutter speed of the camera is decent and the ability of the camera to capture pictures on the go is likely to be one of the best we have reviewed yet. Also, considering the size of the screen, it is easy to take photos and get a good idea of the final product. The Large screen makes it ideal to take in more of the image so you can get a better understanding of your environment by being able to see it on a larger screen. Notable functions include the best face function –which proved handy but was not overly necessary as the camera picked up the correct ‘face’ pretty well on the first shot. (To see some other shots from the Galaxy Note II, check out our Instagram page).

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Flinders

Images are quite sharp on this model, and it healthily beats out the original Note in the quality department. It’s obvious to us that Samsung have borrowed a lot more than the build from the Galaxy S3, and for once that’s a good thing because we thoroughly enjoyed the S3’s camera. The Macro mode on this camera is also surprisingly better than we though and it manages to capture the entire image without adding too much noise. Saturation is still an issue for the camera, but some people prefer brighter and vivid images over more ‘natural’ looking photos. Low Light photos have also improved, since the original Note was pitiful in low light. The Note II’s LED Flash works wonders here without making images too bright, however it’s still no Lumia 920 when it comes to low light photos, so do be aware of that fact. As we have mentioned before, the autofocus was incredibly quick, no less helped by that powerful processor pushing it around, and added to the picture quality we were pleased that it has been improved from the original.

The IN5 on the Samsung Galaxy Note II

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This smartphone is thin, lightweight and has a very large and vivid screen. It’s ideal for those that like their entertainment, or those that want to work on their projects/presentations along with the S-Pen.

It certainly fits into the category  of a ‘phablet’ (phone + tablet) and has features that match the best of both worlds. For people wanting to use Facebook  take notes, photos, use graphic/visually intensive phone functions and write emails – the Galaxy Note II meets the mark on those uses and we would consider the phone a high performer. The tradeoff with this phone is that it really is quite large compared to other smart phones on the market and it would be a slight challenge to carry around without attracting attention (which may be a good thing depending on the user). Obviously Performance matters for people, and the Note II was one of the better performers we’ve ever come across thanks to its mighty processor.  Quad-Core may seems excessive for most people, but Android is quite the heavy OS and it probably is needed for those of you want to push the phone to it’s limits.

TouchWiz still exists, and we feel Samsung really needs to kill it, or at least evolve it to look more like stock Jelly Bean. While the Note II does make a mighty 1.6GHz Quad-Core processor, TouchWiz really does let it down in some regards. While TouchWiz is certainly evolving, we feel not fast enough and that’s what brings the score down a little for us (and no we’re not in the business of rooting the phone in review units). We didn’t necessarily find any lag or slowdowns either, and everything was generally butter smooth.

In our routine tests, we start out with Quadrant where the Note II pushed out a healthy 5630. A big increase over the original Note’s 3719, and this is on top of of the fact we had very many programs open on the Note. It’s worth noting that the Note II was easily in the top 10% of all Android devices out there, showing that it’s not just a pretty screen.

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Nenamark’s score showed us a decent 57.4 fps, beating out the Samsung Galaxy S3 by a narrow margin as well, making this the king of all current phones in Nenamark, for now!

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Vellamo is one of our favorite tests, as it allows us to give a good idea of the phone’s page rendering, Javascript execution, user experience, networking, especially against other devices. The original Note scored just a shade under 1000, and the Note II again dominated it’s predecessor, as well as the list with a score of 1894. As you can see on the list, the One X+ and the S3 fall behind the Note II in this regard as well – so clearly you’re dealing with a powerful phone!

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What about HSDPA+ Speeds you might be asking? Well, outside of 4G areas we managed a very healthy 12,237 kbps, or 12.2 mbps in the downloads. It’s worth noting that all our tests are taken on Telstra’s network Next G & LTE)  for standardization. These speeds are quite impressive outside of a 4G regions (because we don’t live in a 4G area).

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The Set-Up and getting the most common apps (from a Casual Users Point of view)

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The Galaxy Note II  proved relatively simple to setup out of the box, and we recommend that new users have their wireless network information ready to go – to avoid any delays in connecting to the internet (or possibly getting everything set up). In terms of the email setup – some people may not know what a ‘pop’ or ‘imap’ address is, however with a little bit of trial and error, the simplest of users should be able to sync their emails. Facebook you ask? The process we used was pretty straightforward – we went to the Facebook website using the Android browser and clicked the Android software download link, after which the process pretty much worked itself out. The application came up on one of the screens, and was found by browsing the different screens on the phone (swiping your finger in a horizontal manner across the screen). Of course, coming from an iPhone, the different screens were a little confusing at first but again, with some trial and error, most users should be able to work out their phones at the end of the day.

Size and Ergonomics

From the outset, we should state the obvious and say that the phone has a huge High Definition screen coming in at 5.5-inches in diameter.

This size is a welcome addition to current market of smartphones, as the functions on these smartphones demand a large viewing platform.  As a bonus, the phone is only 9.4mm in thickness. It is fair to say that the phone is not exactly compact, however, it is a necessary compromise considering the functional capabilities of the phone –which would come close (but not meet) that of a larger apple type tablet, or even an Android tablet.

Battery

A Lithium Ion 3 Battery  (3,100mAh) powers the massive phone (or phablet). With minimal to moderate use, the phone easily lasted 24 hours with a fair amount of remaining battery. That’s quite exceptional, and it doesn’t obviously hurt that it’s got a large battery in it. However, by modern smartphone standards, the battery life was pretty incredible. If you’re looking for a phone that goes the entire day without needed one (or two) charges, this is the phone you’ve been looking for. Of course, you have to deal with the rather large display but the fact such a large display lasts so long takes some doing, and Samsung have come through well. Video watching, as can be expected will end up draining the battery much quicker than anticipated (especially if 3G/4G is running constantly along with wi-fi), though it’s still better than most smartphones we’ve tried. Samsung claims you get up to 16 hours of Talk time on 3G, so you know you’re looking at some pretty good battery life!

Depending on the usage, the battery life will change – however it can be said that this phone has an overall fantastic battery life.

Connectivity:

The wi-fi proved simple and relatively self-explanatory to set up.

Obviously, the Bluetooth capabilities will differ based on the product that you connect to, so it is best to ask others on their experience with this (see the Techin5 Forums to contribute to this discussion).  The phone proved compatible with a BMW handsfree and worked well with no issues, meaning those of you with Bluetooth enabled cars should have no worries setting it up. Again, any questions with the Note II’s connectivity, then head into our forums.

The S Pen:

The S-Pen is the pen Samsung have provided in order to allow you to ‘write’ on the screen, whether it be text, draw, or write over pictures. The ‘handwriting to text’ recognition software in the phone has proved to be impressive. Even borderline handwriting was accurately converted into text, and where there was difficulty in getting the correct word –the dictionary gave similar suitable alternatives.

The S Pen was tested in a number of the s note applications.  The auto shape function was pretty accurate, but required a reasonably drawn outline for the shape to be recognised correctly. This was likely due to the fact that there are a number of shapes that can be auto-recognised.  The auto-formula function was also able to detect a number of combinations of formulas (including quadratic equations etc.). It should be noted that very good and accurate handwriting is required for accurate recognition in the auto formula function –and depending on your the compexity of the forumula –it may take a few seconds to detect the formula.

 

A brief journal of how a Corporate worker used the phone over a few days.

For this section, we decided to test the Galaxy Note II from a Corporate side point of view, and how they use their phone over the day.

Wake up.
I used the galaxy note 2 to set my morning alarm. It was also useful to have the ‘briefing’ function set out the items on the agenda for today. Conveniently, I had already put in a few important tasks in the s planner and also set the alarm to give me updates on the top stories of the day.

Getting the train
Using the Internet function, I was able to get onto the public transport website and re-check my train timetable. But I realized once I was on the train, that I could download an app for the same function (definitely using it next time).

Keeping me entertained on my journey to work
I got bored, so I got onto YouTube and watched some videos of people wakeboarding. The high definition screen came in handy here, and I before I knew it I was at the station and almost at my building. I felt quite sympathetic for the people around me struggling to see what was happening on their small smartphone screens.

Helping me get to Lunch
I was meeting a friend for lunch off a laneway somewhere. I had never been to this place before, so instead of wasting valuable lunch time, I was directed by the Google maps application to the my destination.

Booking tickets
While checking Facebook on my way back to the office, I discovered through the grapevine that Blink 182 was on tour. Without thinking about it for too long, I posted the link for the tickets on my Facebook status and got my friends interested. Tickets are about to be purchased!

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Taking notes.
On the way home I had a few ideas for developing a business. I whipped out the galaxy note 2, the s pen and the s notes apps to brainstorm. Using the auto-shape functions and the other sketching capabilities I was able to visualize a few of my ideas.  I have also realised how useful the s note app functions are for scrawling down notes and getting them recognised and converted into text –I think I will be using it for my next business meeting.

Techin5 Review Score - Samsung Galaxy Note II
Design/Hardwarewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Top end specs, let down by an average build quality. Large size may throw people off.
Displaywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Large and vivid 5.5-inch HD ‘Super AMOLED display' which is very good. Definitely a stand out screen.
Camerawww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
A much improved camera that takes sharp and detailed images, but low light photos aren't fantastic yet.
Performancewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The Galaxy Note II's 1.6GHz Exynos Quad-Core Processor is very quick and buttery smooth, for we can't learn to love TouchWiz no matter now much we try. Performance showed this to be one of the fastest phones on the market
Softwarewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
TouchWiz as we mentioned is disappointing, and while Android 4.1 does improve it over other versions - this is not the UI you were looking for. As an iPhone users, moving to Android hasn't been without its hitches either. S-Pen however is quite useful, and improved.
Battery Lifewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
One of the best batteries we've used on a phone, and it does have quite a longevity within its frame. Doesn't require a charge twice a day, and more the most impressive feature of the device
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The second version of the 'Note' is much improved and improves over the original Note in almost every way. In another year, this phone would have received a higher score - however thanks to strong competition from almost every Phone Manufacturer, the small issues in the Note II become noticeable. However, if you're looking for a phone with a large screen, this is the biggest, and you won't find a better phone in the Phablet category.

Review Score 8.10


Jubbin Grewal & Raoul D'Cruz both work at Techin5.