Mobiles & Tablets

Samsung Galaxy Note II Review

Sabyasachi Biswas October 31 | Updated on November 06, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Note II   -  BUSINESS LINE

Samsung Galaxy Note II showing the multi-window feature   -  BUSINESS LINE

Samsung Galaxy Note II's S Pen - woring with the Air View feature   -  BUSINESS LINE

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When the first Galaxy Note was launched a year back, my first reaction was “Phablet? Who is going to buy that big a phone?” But the curiosity to check out a device that brought together the best of a smartphone and a tablet overwhelmed the scepticism; I ended up joining the huge crowd at a mobile store to have a hands-on experience. And any doubts about the size of the phone being a problem were cleared by the sales figures.

In the year that followed, all of us got caught up with super smartphones and slates, amid the likes of iPhones, Galaxys, Galaxy Tabs, iPads and forgot all about hybrid devices. And within a year (which is enough time for technology to change drastically) Samsung came out with a sequel to the Note – the Note II. And after looking at the first product shots, the usual scepticism kicked in, and I asked “Who’s going to buy a humongous phone that looks like a bigger Galaxy SIII?”

It was not until the Note II got officially launched in Hyderabad, where I got my first hands-on experience with the device that I realised that phablets (or at least this particular phablet) are back. It’s been a week since I have been playing (and sometimes working) around with the Galaxy Note II, and here’s how it fares.

Looks – Noted

Well, like I said, it does look a bit like a bigger Galaxy SIII when you look at it the first time. After a while, the difference is obvious. So I’ll start with the build – the review unit we received was in a metallic grey colour, with just the right amount of gloss and metal finish look to give it a very premium look. The most noticeable thing about the design is certainly the Corning Gorilla Glass 2-secured HD Super AMOLED screen, measuring a whopping 5.5 inches. A chrome bezel runs around the screen and the curved edges (which are not as curved as the Galaxy S III).

The top portion of the fascia contains the Samsung badge, sensors, notification light and the front 2MP camera. The bottom part contains one physical Home button and two capacitive buttons for Options and Back operations. Although the smartphone is big, the physical controls (volume rocker on the left and lock/power on the right) are easily accessible. The new S Pen is lodged at the bottom, next to the micro-USB slot.

The form factor is like the S III – not unibody. The rear plastic hatch opens up to reveal the massive 3100mAh battery and the micro-SD and micro-SIM slots.

Tech – Noted

If one compares the specs of the Note and Note II, there aren’t many differences. But the few differences that are present make a world of difference. For instance, the first Note had a Dual-core 1.4GHz processor. The Note II contains a Quad-core 1.6GHz processor. A Quad-core processor essentially means that processes are twice as fast and multi-tasking is a breeze, without worrying about the core melting down.

Also, the Note II has a RAM upgrade from 1GB to 2GB. Again, a bigger RAM is meant to make usage smooth and lag-free, which it was at all times. The GPU is still the Mali 400, which also powers the Galaxy S III and the previous Note. The Note II comes in three storage memory options of 16, 32 and 64 GB, with an option to expand up to 64GB externally.

Performance – Noted

Using the Note II is definitely a very sweet experience – sweeter than using phones that run previous versions of Android. Just as I experienced it before on a Galaxy Nexus, the operation on the Galaxy Note II was extremely smooth. More than that, the TouchWiz UI was really fast – I think that’s why the good folks at Android call it Project Butter. Moreover, with Jelly Bean, the Note II comes with Google Now, and the same ‘smart’ features that were added on to the S III, like Smart Stay, S Beam, AllShare, Direct call and all other motion and proximity related features that make it a good smartphone.

What really makes the Note II different from the S III is the new S Pen. Slide it out of the slot and the Note II shows the tablet part of the phablet. If you remember the features that we liked on the Galaxy Note 800, then there’s good news – they’re all here in this one too. The new S Note can support a plethora of templates and is a good productivity tool for those who like to sketch their own plans out, literally and figuratively.

Along with the S Note app, the Note II also features split screen app functionality which kind of defines the phablet’s intrinsic fun and work character. I could doodle while watching a video on YouTube. And to my surprise, the Note II hardly ever showed any signs of slowing down with that kind of multi-tasking.

While using a PC, we’re all well accustomed to using software or websites that let you see a preview of what’s inside a folder if you just hover the cursor over it. For example, on YouTube I can preview frames of the video I am watching by just hovering the cursor over the seek bar. Now imagine that feature on your smartphone – I’m talking about the new S Pen’s AirView feature. The new S Pen is designed in such a way that if you just hover the tip of the S Pen over the screen (without actually letting it touch the screen) it shows previews of emails, texts, photos inside an album, video previews while playing videos and such. I found this feature very useful as it made opening every mail or text or album redundant.

The S Pen can also be used to make calls, find addresses, send emails et cetera. After launching the quick command app (I just had to draw a vertical line on any screen and it was launched) one can write commands. For instance, if I wrote @Akshay Raunak, it would launch the mail app and go into compose mode with Akshay Raunak already on the recipient list. I could also customise the commands and link them to launch various apps and features.

The 8MP camera, however, didn’t quite impress. Yes, the photos were good outdoors, but indoors, the brighter-than-before LED flash didn’t help much. Photos were grainy and sometimes the Auto mode didn’t quite get the right exposure.

Endurance – Noted

As the battery has been upgraded from 2,500 mAh to 3,100 mAh, the Note II’s battery life has increased dramatically. With constant WhatsApping, surfing, listening to music and everything that one would do with a smartphone on a normal work day, I got around 14 hours of juice while using only over a Wi-Fi network. When I used 3G while on the road and Wi-Fi at work, I got nearly 11 hours, which in my opinion is quite respectable for a phone that is packed with battery-draining specs and a huge screen.

We note

The Note II cannot be called a phone. You might call it a phablet, but in all essence it is quite an entertaining and productive communication device. Before you decide to strike the Note II off your wishlist or shopping list for its sheer size, you should also consider that it packs as many features as its size would justify. And with an enormous battery, it is definitely one of the longest lasting phones around.

Love – enormous battery, better S Pen features

Hate – plasticky build, average camera

Rs 41,790

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

Published on October 30, 2012

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