When Samsung unveiled the sequel to its successful “phablet,” the Galaxy Note, all eyes were on how the Korean manufacturer would improve upon the original. Sure, the category had been defined and dominated, but what was next for this segment? The Note was able to impress; what would its successor do to live up to the expectations? Now that the phone’s out, let’s check it out.
If you loved how the Galaxy S III looks in real life—photos don’t really do it justice, and it doesn’t feel as “cheap” as others make it out to be—then you should also love the look of the Note II. After all, it’s just a super-sized version of the S III as far as appearance is concerned. From the minimal bezels to the lone Home button at the bottom of the handset, it looks like Samsung just blew up the design for the S III. Of course, there’s the slot along the back for the stylus.
The plastic material has a glossy finish and is bounded by chrome. Some say that this feels cheap. To be fair, it does, especially when you compare to the tight aluminum or polycarbonate around some of the handsets fielded by Samsung’s competitors. Still, once you get to hold the Note II, it’s actually pretty nice on the touch and the grip is surprisingly alright despite the size. Plus, the proportions of the Note II are better for single-hand use compared to its predecessor.
The Note II isn’t only bigger than the S III—it’s also more powerful. The international version is powered by a 1.6GHz quad-core CPU that’s bundled with 2GB of RAM, Mali-400MP graphics, and the heavily praised Exynos quad chipset. The inside is where the handset really shines, and you have to experience its power firsthand so that any misgivings you have about the cheap feel will just be blown away.
It’s a spec sheet that’s worthy of the top tier of top tiers, and the benchmarks speak for themselves. The Note II will be able to handle anything you throw at it, from widgets to HD videos to HD games. Plus, it comes with a large 3100mAh battery to handle these tasks longer than many other smartphones.
Of course, the performance isn’t anything to brag about if there’s no good software to take advantage of it. As per standard Samsung fare, the Note II ships with TouchWiz as the default launcher. While a direct lift from the S III’s, it’s pretty fluid and looks even nice on the Note II. Everything is just responsive. Then again, it’s a tired interface and certainly could use more tweaks—which is why many turn to rooting or using custom launchers so they don’t have to use TouchWiz.
The Note II also packs an 8MP camera at the rear, and it’s practically the same one that’s been heavily praised on the Galaxy S III. There’s standard editing and settings for the user, along with decent 1080p video recording. The Exynos processor only helps make the process seem so effortless for the Note II.
For the Note II, Samsung has redesigned and optimized the S Pen, and that is really the feature around which many of the highlights of the Note shine. Using S Memo, for example, is infinitely better on the Note II (compared to the S III) thanks to the larger screen and the stylus. Samsung has made the Note II smarter when it comes to using the S Pen, and the whole experience of interacting with apps just becomes more fluid and intuitive thanks to all the optimizations. Because of this, drawing and handwriting recognition are much improved. Of course, there are relatively few apps that can take advantage of this fact, but there are many people who can surely find many good uses for the stylus on the Note II.
Let’s face it, while the smartphone segment’s top tier is crowded with contenders like the S III, iPhone 5, and the HTC One X (or now the One X+), there’s really no offering from any manufacturer that can put up a fight against the Galaxy Note II. Heck, there wasn’t even one that could rival the original Note. While it’s not an overwhelming sequel, it sure is a huge upgrade over the original Note.
You’d have to go straight into the 7-inch tablet category to find the next decent contender that you can pit against the Note II, but as far as phablets go, there is nothing that comes close to it. It’s a perfect handset for a variety of applications—a handy business telephone like RingCentral, a stylish personal phone, a portable media powerhouse, or a shrunken-down tablet slash super-sized smartphone that gives you the best of both worlds.