This is a big one! Quite literally as it turns out as Samsung continues to push the limits of what we consider an acceptable size for a smartphone. The Note II or GT-N7100 polishes off most of the shortcomings of the Note N7000 along with a little flavour from the Galaxy S III and a sprinkle of Jelly Bean to top it all off. This phone or tablet or phablet, whatever u want to call it, actually looks a lot like a stretched out S III and for the most part, it is just that. Now, given the S III wasn’t all that popular when it came to aesthetics, was it wise for Samsung to model its new flagship around it? Let’s find out what new tricks the phablet has learnt over the course of a year.
Design and Build
While the Note II does resemble the S III in appearance, the feel and finish of the phone is completely different and miles ahead. Despite its plastic chassis and fake chrome trim, it really feels like a premium device and dare we say, is easily one of the best-built phones in the market today. The brushed metal-like finish around the screen and on the back is coated with some sort of lacquer, so despite a glossy finish, it won’t attract scratches. The chrome trim along the sides, however, looks like it would wear off in time. The front is completely dominated by the massive 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED slab that’s also protected by Gorilla Glass 2.
Very well built
The sides feature the power/sleep button and the volume rocker while the microUSB ports is placed at the bottom followed by the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. The S Pen stylus docks in around the back, besides the speaker grill. Lifting up the cover, we are greeted by the chunky 3100mAh battery along with the microSIM slot and the hot-swappable microSD card slot. At 183g, the Note II is heavier than its predecessor, but thanks to the wider screen, Samsung has managed to slim it down to 9.4mm in depth from 9.7mm.
The chrome trim may wear off after sometime
We were highly impressed with the build and finish of the Note II, which is much better than the S III and does not feel cheap or plasticky, so kudos to Samsung for rectifying this. It is, however, not the most comfortable phone to walk around with. While it may just about fit in your pants pocket, for tasks like trying to sit down, you’ll have no choice but to remove the phone before doing so. Perhaps, that’s why most Note users simply hold it in their hands and don’t bother slipping it in their pants.
We’ve heard horror stories about Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface and have even told some ourselves; however, we’d like to report that those are a thing of the past now. Samsung’s slightly tweaked Nature UX from the S III and Jelly Bean make a perfect couple as the experience is just as good as stock Jelly Bean, thanks to improvements from Samsung. The only time we probably noticed some lag (and that too very minor) was while scrolling through widgets. The gallery has gotten a slight upgrade as well and you can now view your photos in funky different ways, the coolest of which is a 3D spiralling view. All the features from the S III make a comeback like S Voice, Direct Call, etc.
TouchWiz does not suck anymore
The S Pen works based on Wacom’s inductive technology so you never need batteries for it. It’s also gotten a lot more sensitive to finer inputs so you can draw with a lot more precision, similar to the Note 10.1. The software is also a lot better this time in recognising your handwriting even if you write badly. We tried deliberately writing lazily and it managed to decipher the word correctly about 95 percent of the time, which is very good. You can use this while typing out a message, chatting or simply taking down notes. Holding down the button on the pen puts the pen in crop mode. You then simply crop out portions of the screen, which gets saved to the clipboard so you can paste it in a message. Pulling out the pen automatically opens up a new S Note window. You’re also presented with a special homescreen with a widget that lets you directly open up different S Note templates. There’s a floating tab that sits along the edge of the screen (which can be repositioned to any of the four edges) and gives you access to apps that can work in split screen mode. Just like the Note 10.1, you can have two apps running simultaneously in portrait mode. This actually works a lot better than it did in the Note 10.1 and there’s absolutely no hint of lag when interacting with both the apps. We couldn’t find a way to manually add apps that we wanted to the list though. Apps optimised for the S Pen include S Note, S Planner and a cool app called Paper Artist, which makes for some really cool Instagram pics. One more cool feature of the S Pen is Air View. Once enabled, you get a little mouse pointer on the screen when you hover the pen over it. You can use this feature for scrolling through webpages, read tooltips over icons and links, etc.
S Pen features are pretty cool
Another reason why everything runs buttery smooth is because of the mighty quad-core Exynos SoC onboard. It’s the same one as in the S III, only now it runs at 1.6GHz instead of 1.4GHz. This gives it the extra oomph needed for the split screen functionality without even skipping a beat. This reflects very well in the benchmarks as well, as we got a high score of 64MFLOPS in single-threaded test of Linpack while the multi-thread test gave a score of 190MFLOPS. AnTuTu delivered similar performance, posting a score of 13440, the highest we’ve come across so far.
This is one area where Samsung always delivers and the Note II features the same Wolfson audio chip like the S III. This means you are assured very good audio quality right out-of-the-box. Samsung’s new skin for the music player looks slick and is functional as well. Like before, you can sort your music via albums, artists, folders, etc., and a new addition called Music Square scans all your songs in your library and then groups them according to mood, which are ‘Exciting’, ‘Joyful’, ‘Calm’ and ‘Passionate’. Let’s say if you’re in the mood for some up-tempo music and a bit of lounge as well, then you simply highlight the squares around ‘Exciting’ and a few around ‘Calm’ for a mix of both. This will work well provided you have all your songs categorised under the right genre. There are plenty of equaliser presets present as well, including a 7.1 channel surround mode. To be honest, you won’t really need any of them, since the DAC automatically produces rich and highly detailed sound.
Excellent media playback
The video player supports MP4, MKV and everything in between. Samsung has beefed up its video player with every codec under the sun and anything and everything just plays flawlessly. 1080p video just works and the new Pop up play feature works as advertised. We’re not too sure how useful it will actually be in everyday use, but it’s a good option to have. You also have the option to share the video, edit it, view it by chapters or stream the audio via Bluetooth.
The Note II is a quad-band GSM handset with quad-band 3G support and LTE. You also get dual-band Wi-Fi with hotspot capabilities and Wi-Fi Direct, GPS with A-GPS support and GLONASS, USB OTG, DLNA, external storage up to 64GB, Bluetooth 4.0, TV out via MHL and NFC, which covers all your connectivity options. Call reception has been handled pretty well and in our test call, the recipient could hear our voice well even in noisy areas like in shops or on the street. The speaker is not as loud as we would have liked. Alerts are loud but when it comes to using the speakerphone, it’s not very loud. The stock keyboard is good enough to get the job done, but for some reason we couldn’t find the option for auto complete. The word prediction works well but when you hit space, you want the rightly spelled word to appear not have to select it from the carousel everytime. This gets a little annoying. Another new feature is ‘One-handed operation’. Due to wide nature of the screen, it’s not always possible to type out a text message when using it with one hand because your thumb simply cannot stretch that far. Enabling this shrinks the keyboard, dial pad or calculator to one side of the screen so you can use it with one hand. You can position on either side depending on which hand you’re using. This only works with the stock Samsung keyboard.
Web browsing experience is pretty good
Browsing through image heavy websites didn’t pose problems of any kinds, as panning and zooming was smooth and lag free. Social networking integration has been handled extremely well and Samsung’s social tagging feature did recognise and instantly tag our subject. The lag-free experience can actually be attributed to Project Butter in Jelly Bean more than the hardware in the Note II itself.
Other features include 50GB of Dropbox storage, AllShare Play for DLNA streaming, Learning Hub, Game Hub, Readers Hub for ebooks and My Files file manager.
The Galaxy Note II comes equipped with an 8MP camera with an LED flash, just like the one in the S III. Naturally, it’s really good in macro shots under natural light. The sensor is capable of capturing really good detail as you can see in the sample pics. The complaint we had about burst mode has been fixed and now you simply hold down the shutter button to activate it, just like it should be. It’s still not able to capture moving images as well as the HTC One X, so we hope Samsung fixes that in an update as well.
Captures good detail
Very good for macros
1080p video recording at 30fps is supported and there’s good amount of image stabilisation, if you’ve got shaky hands. Slight colour banding was noticed when we moved from darker to lighter backgrounds and vice versa, but nothing to be alarmed about.
The Galaxy Note II has been “awarded” a 3100 mAh battery, which is just what the doctor ordered for a handset of this caliber. This high capacity battery allowed for a usage of over 2 days without the need for a charge at all. In our tests, the Note II proved to be simply remarkable in handling the load. Our standalone Video Loop showed that the handset could run for over 12 hours non-stop (720p video playing in loop with no connectivity activated) without breaking a sweat. In our tech2 Loop test, the handset completed the first loop – 2 hours video, 2 hours audio, 2 hours audio streaming and 1 hour talk time – quite easily and started off into the second loop completing 1 hour of video, 1 hour audio and about 1 hour of streaming and about 45 minutes of talk time, with still a little juice to spare. That puts it in the 9.5 hour of non-stop usage range. A factor that is most certainly a major USP for the Note II.
A battery that will easily last you a couple of days
Verdict and Price in India
The Samsung Galaxy Note II will set you back a whopping Rs 40,000 and while that is a lot, you are getting a whole lot more than just an Android phone. So it does offer a lot more value than the S III. The Note II is possibly the first phone to ship with Google’s latest version of Android, so there’s a big plus right there. It’s also incredibly well-built, offers excellent multimedia and productive performance; S Pen works much better, split-screen mode is pretty cool and it has a great battery life. So, should you upgrade from your existing Note to the Note II? That really depends on how often and for what purpose you use the S Pen. The improved sensitivity is really good but if you’re just looking for the better handwriting recognition, then that will be possible on the old Note too, once Samsung rolls out the update. Since most of the improvements can be achieved via software update and the Note still has powerful internals as per today’s standards, I wouldn’t recommend switching over just yet. If you are looking for the best Android, then we would certainly recommend the Note II. Other than the sometimes uncomfortable size of it, it’s hands-down one of the best smartphones in the market right now.