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Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Review

If the recent influx of smartphones with displays measuring over five inches is any indication, Samsung hit a chord with the Galaxy Note. Not to be outdone by the competition, Samsung is striking while the iron is hot with the release of a followup with an even bigger screen. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 improves on the “phablet” concept in nearly every respect, and honed in stylus functionality makes for a unique experience, but is the form factor here to stay? Read on for the full review.

Hardware

The Galaxy Note 2 is a monster. The phone features a 5.5-inch Super AMOLED display and measures in at 5.95 x 3.17 x 0.37 inches. Still, it somehow manages to both look and feel smaller than the original Galaxy Note. Chalk this up to Samsung’s decision to base the Note 2 on the design language of the Galaxy S3. This means rounded edges, soft curves, and an almost seamless construction. It also means we see the same materials in use, so while the phone definitely feels solid, the external casing is still comprised mostly of plastic.

Back to that Super AMOLED display, it comes in at 720p and, unlike the GS3, does not rely on Pentile technology. This equates to a pixel density of 267 pixels per inch. As you might expect from a hi-res display bordering on the size of a tablet, the result was pretty impressive. This is a nice, crisp, bright screen with bold, rich color reproduction.

The Note 2 is powered by Samsung’s quad-core Exynos 4412 processor clocked at 1.6GHz along with 2GB RAM, and interactions with the handset feel buttery smooth. You get all the trappings of a high-end device, otherwise, including an 8MP rear camera with LED flash, 1.9MP front-facing camera, NFC capabilities, and LTE capabilities depending on your network. We looked at the T-Mobile version, which obviously is not LTE-enabled. Instead, it relies on the carriers HSPA+ network.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2 certainly has everything the most hardcore smartphone fan would want, but it’s a pretty freaking huge device.

Software

Out of the box, the Galaxy Note 2 comes with Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean along with Samsung’s TouchWiz UX. This is, for all intents and purposes, the same TouchWiz we saw with the GS3 (noticing a theme?) with a few additions tailored toward stylus interaction and a larger display.

Included are features such as pop-up play (picture-in-picture mode for multi-tasking while viewing video), “easy” mode for Android beginners, and a number of other customizations including the ability to launch context-aware homescreens. This is most easily demonstrated by removing the stylus, which triggers a homescreen full of shortcuts and tools specific to Samsung’s S Pen.

If there is one drawback to the software, it’s that between all of the OS customizations, the S Pen, and additional features, the Note 2 can feel a bit overwhelming. In some cases this was frustrating (figuring out certain useful stylus gestures), while in other cases, such as holding down the menu button to launch Google Now, the discovery was a pleasant surprise.

A small but nice addition thanks to the extra screen real estate is the inclusion of a dedicated number row on the Note 2′s default software keyboard.

The S Pen

A major element of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is the included S Pen, which resides tucked away within the main body of the phone. The Note 2 would probably be fine without it, but once you start using some of the S Pen’s unique abilities you likely won’t want to interact with the device without a stylus.

It seems pretty intuitive, especially with features like AirView, which lets you to hover the S Pen over the display and still interact with the phone. AirView allows you to scroll through homescreens, web pages, or documents as well as do things you simply couldn’t do with your finger, such as previewing ahead in a video without interrupting the current playback position.

The S Pen can be used to take a screenshot, crop any part of the current screen into a new note or clipboard element, as well as perform navigational shortcuts. And because the stylus is built on Wacom technology, we can’t forget that it’s actually a great tool for taking handwritten notes or doodling in your spare time. It is responsive and pressure sensitive to allow a bit of an artist’s touch to come through.

Camera

The Galaxy Note 2′s camera sample speak for themselves, but when talking about the phone’s 8MP sensor with auto-focus, LED flash, and 1080p video capabilities perhaps it’s best to focus on some of the additional features Samsung has built into the software powering it. Samsung carries on with the additions that began with the GS3, providing modes such as Best Photo (choose the best image from a series of burst-shot photos), Best Face (similar to Best Photo, but as the name implies stitches together the photo with the best-looking headshots), and more.

Regardless of the photo mode, the results were pretty solid all around. As is the case with most smartphone cameras, for every one picture that looks simply amazing you will probably get a few for the trashcan. This is no fault of the Note 2, but simply a reminder that a lot more goes into great photography than just having great tools. But the good news is, the Galaxy Note 2 can capture some pretty nice photos (and HD video as well).

Conclusion

To answer the question from the beginning of this review, if the Galaxy Note 2 is any indication, the “phablet” is definitely here to stay. The Note 2 offers tons of functionality and deep levels of productivity in a sleek package. Sleek, however, does not mean small, and this will be a drawback for many. Features like the S Pen and its full range of interactions with the phone add to the Note 2′s charm, but f the stylus isn’t enough to justify the extra size, you might be better off picking up a Galaxy S3. The Note 2, however, makes a solid choice no matter how you slice it.

Continue reading on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 forums, see the specs, or find news and reviews.




  • phinn

    Only one thing caught my eye in this entire review (as I have no interest in a device this big):

    Non-pentile AMOLED.

  • Cubanito1967

    I want!

  • http://www.phandroid.com Quentyn Kennemer

    What a beast!

  • B2L

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this. My original Note has been quite frustrating with the gray/black crush problems with the display.

  • Arman Safari

    After I bought Galaxy Nexus i didn’t think i would go for another brand beside the Nexus. But after 10 months with GN, I must say this was the best decision i did. The Note 2 is F’n AWESOME! My friendship with Samsung Stays!

    • JustinCrouch

      seriously, I just sold my Gnex after 4 months and ordered this bad boy yesterday.

      • Max

        An awesome choice

  • C-Law

    I might just pay full Verizon pricing for this and sell the gnex. I hate to leave stock android and quick updates from Bugless Beast/cm10/aokp, but perhaps the vzw note will have some decent development. First I gotta make sure the vzw version can be unlocked like the s3

    • Mike Reid

      CM devs are pulling away from Samsung because it’s becoming too difficult when Samsung keeps so much code and documentation secret. Don’t be fooled by CM/Steve K working for Samsung. Custom ROMs may never support features like S-Pen either.

      Samsung is still my favorite, with HTC second, but the above causes me concern.

    • http://twitter.com/HowieDub Howard Weiss

      Might want to wait to see if the HTC Nexus 5 rumor is a reality. You’ll have the same quick updates like the GNex (I have this phone as well), but in a phablet. It’s supposedly based on HTC’s upcoming DIX and will have a 1080p screen (over 400ppi). Won’t have a 5.5″ screen (ONLY 5″) but if it’s based off the 6435LVW, then it will be the fastest phone based on benchmarks.

  • Jayshmay

    Stupid question, what are context aware homescreens?

  • Jayshmay

    Stupid question, what are context aware homescreens?

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

    C’mon 64GB international version!!

  • ChrisKenison

    WHAT TIME DOES THIS EVENT START TODAY. for crying out loud!

  • barondebxl

    shitty review, need more enthusiasm.

  • Morris

    The phone could be bigger

  • http://twitter.com/SpamStream lolwut

    I got mine today at T-mobile. Quite simply the finest device I have ever used.

  • http://phandroid jeff

    So will it play videos like the one in this article cause my S3 wont

  • DarrenR

    I havent read any of the review, but damn thats a gorgeous device. I will now proceed to read.

    • DarrenR

      Anyone know what colors AT&T will have at launch? Also does anyone know if AT&T is going to F with the NFC?

      • koolkat2

        im guessing they will F with it, they havent let us down yet :/

      • Nate

        Looks like they’re launching with titanium grey only — they mention that “Marble White may be available in the coming weeks”

        • DarrenR

          Meh I dont want a white one anyway, guess its grey.

  • supremekizzle

    Are you high?

  • pregameonlinecom

    I got the Note II today on T-Mobile and it is awesome! So many cool features that I haven’t seen in any other phones. Best purchase ever!

  • Jeff

    i will have mine in a few more hours :)

  • warcaster

    Should’ve had a 1080p screen. The only reason it doesn’t is because Samsung is using SAMOLED and it’s harder to cheaply raise resolution on that. Samsung should ditch SAMOLED already and start using some good IPS display tech like Sharp/HTC.

  • Knobskin

    Had to sell my international, tons of phone gimmicks, the split screen is nice, but really never would use it, and that screen is just horrid coming from the Htc One X, I feel like that lonely kid on the side lines who thinks this phone is nice, but wayyyy overrated and could have been much better :(

  • https://sites.google.com/site/barry99705/ barry99705

    Dude. The camera on the top of your laptop is not for videoing product reviews.

  • http://www.swornbrotherhood.com/ nemesys06

    Got mine. I am loving this thing. Great help for doing graphic design while on the go. This phone is a beast