Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Rogers was kind enough to lend me a Samsung Galaxy Note II to review for a few days. I was interested to see what had changed since the original Note made waves a year ago at CES 2012, where it was one of the bigger stories in technology.
An unlikely success story, the Samsung Galaxy Note grabbed that void between smartphones and tablets with a unique product that was a little bit of both but also offered a whole new paradigm for mobile devices.
When the first Galaxy Note came out, I found myself wanting one badly and then realizing that it was just too darn big and unwieldy to be a viable mobile device, at least for me. Samsung sold 10 million units of the original Galaxy Note in nine months, so there's definitely a market for this type of device.
The Note II sold 5 million units as of November 2012 which qualifies it as a successful product for Samsung and one that is generally free of huge patent pitfalls since no one else really makes a pen-based phablet.
The Galaxy Note II is still big, Samsung is still pushing the S Pen as a solution for jotting down notes but now with greater sensitivity and precision thanks to WACOM technology baked in.
Available in Canada from Rogers, TELUS, Bell, SaskTel, WIND, Mobilicity and Videotron with LTE connectivity being carrier-dependent. The Note II features Android's 4.1 Jelly Bean OS, an 8MP digital camera that captures 1080p HD videos, a 1.9MP front-facing camera for voice chat and expandable memory up to 64GB with microSD card plus a big, honkin' 3100mAh battery.
The screen is now 5.5-inches, still super AMOLED and stunning and Samsung’s Exynos 1.6 GHz quad core processor with 2 GB of RAM is the current crown jewel in the Korean behemoth’s mobile arsenal (a similar chip powers the newest Chromebook notebook and the Nexus 10).
In terms of design, the newer Note has abandoned the blocky and squarish shape of the previous version and it now looks very similar to the Samsung Galaxy S III with more sensual nature inspired curves.
It actually looks like a blown-up version of the 4.7-inch Galaxy S III, even the placement of the speaker vent, camera and light sensor as well as the single tactile home button are identical.
While light and reasonably thin for its size, the Samsung Galaxy Note II is still a challenge to manage with one hand and while I have fairly large mitts, it takes some practice to successfully thumb around single-handedly.
The one aspect of the Galaxy Note II that’s easy to get used to and which is hard to live without once you’ve tried it is the screen size. Everything is supersized and easier on the eyes than most smartphones.
There are many benefits to a screen of this size. Aside from the obvious reasons such as photos and videos looking great and reading mail, eBooks or websites isn’t as taxing as dealing with smaller screens.
Use the Note or Note II as a GPS navigator with a vehicle mount and everything is larger, clearer and easy to read. The Note II also becomes a viable carputer, taking care of not just navigation but Internet access (mobile hotspot) and entertainment (music) as well as communications through a Bluetooth hands-free device.
In terms of functionality, the Note II will cruise right next to many of the top smartphones in the market right now and at times even felt quicker than the Galaxy S III when loading games or more complex apps.
The benefits of a larger 5.5-inch screen for media consumption and even creation (such as sketching, writing notes, managing email) are quickly evident and most users will need to decide if this larger touch screen and experience is worth toting a larger device.
This is really is more like a smaller tablet in terms of performance and capabilities but seems limited to run a blown-up version of a phone OS.
In terms of fit and finish, the Note II is very similar to the original Note but feels slightly less robust. I don’t see a device of this size getting any thinner without compromising structural rigidity.
The Note II evolves the concept of the 'tweener' device and is more tablet than smartphone at this point (a marked improvement over the original Note).
By refining the best parts of the original Galaxy Note and improving the areas where it lacked, the Note II is tough to beat in terms of features, functionality and size. It will be interesting to see if any other manufacturers will go after Samsung’s dominant phablet position in 2013.
Rating: 4 out of 5