In a sea of Android devices all running the same underlying operating system, handset makers try to differentiate their offerings through custom software tweaks. More often than not, custom software just adds a layer of complication on top of the stock Android experience of Nexus devices. Samsung, while still customizing the UI with TouchWiz, has taken a drastic but effective route in differentiating its Galaxy Note smartphones.
Today we're taking a quick look at the Galaxy Note II. The first Galaxy Note has a screen size of 5.3 inches, while the new one has a 5.5-inch screen. While diagonally bigger, the resolution is actually lower. The original Note has a 1280x800 screen, while the Note II has now-Android standard 1280x720. There are fewer pixels overall (or technically more if you're nitpicking about the old Note's PenTile screen), but the screen is improved thanks to the Super AMOLED HD Plus screen with an BGR pixel layout. This AMOLED screen is the best we've laid eyes on, besting even the one in the Galaxy S III.
Size is clearly what sets the Galaxy Note II apart. Anyone laying their hands on a Note phone for the first time will feel it a little awkward, as it's larger than anything they've used previously (except for those who had a Dell Streak). The first thing anyone does when picking up a Note is to see how it looks and feels when put up against the face in a call position. Yes, it's definitely larger than anything out there, but it's not any longer than a regular home phone handset.
The move down to a narrower 720p screen has also made the Note II a little skinnier than it's predecessor, making it slightly easier to hold with one hand. In our usage, we found that the Galaxy Note II would easily fit into jean pockets in either front or back – though the back pocket would sometimes leave a bit of Note II showing. Those who are worried about the Note II's pocketability should worry no more. This is mostly thanks to how thin it is.
Another thing that differentiates the Note II is the S Pen stylus, which can be used for drawing apps or even as a more precise way of navigating instead of using your finger. It's handy for sketching and taking notes, but in our use, the S Pen was holstered 99 percent of the time. Other people may have very different usage habits involving the S Pen, but when going from one phone to the next, we tend to do the same tasks just on different devices. That said, the S Pen is an asset to the Galaxy Note II, but one that the user is never forced to use.
Another benefit to such a big phone is that there is more room for battery cells. The Galaxy Note II has a 3100 mAh removable battery, which we found to be more than adequate for a full day of heavy use. The massive 11.8 watt-hour battery does a good job of giving the device slightly above average battery life while powering that huge screen. We're fans of removable batteries too, in case you need more juice away from an outlet.
In terms of performance, the 1.6GHz Exynos 4412 is Samsung's custom quad-core A9 chip. It's plenty fast for everything you'd ever want to do on the phone today, but it's no match for the quad-core Krait chips (like Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro in the LG Optimus G and Nexus 4) that are just hitting the market right now. Nevertheless, the Galaxy Note II did not once lag or stutter. In fact, thanks to the "Project Butter" optimizations in its Android 4.1 software, this is the smoothest Galaxy device yet. The Note II is also Samsung's first product to ship with Jelly Bean.
The Galaxy Note II is the most unique modern Android phone on the market. It'll be a simple device for people in phone shops to sell, as consumers will either love or hate the size. Samsung told us that the original Note was very popular among women, who no doubt weren't scared off by pocketability of the large device thanks to their handbag carrying habits. It's worth repeating again that we didn't find the Note II difficult to carry around in pockets, and the large screen – while no greater in resolution – made the phone a joy to use.
Those who find the Note II just too much phone will find almost the same experience (minus the S-Pen) in the Galaxy S III. Both look so similar that one wouldn't be wrong to call either one a bigger or smaller version of the other.
Stand with a spare battery charger.
Portrait mode dock with additional inputs and outputs.
First-party cases and covers.