With its huge display and hybrid device pretensions, the launch of the original Galaxy Note from Samsung split opinion like very few smartphones before or since. Whilst many critics dismissed the handset as mere novelty the Note went on to sell in impressive numbers and has gained a legion of faithful fans.
The recent unveiling of the Galaxy Note 2 at Berlin’s IFA show once again restarted the smartphone/tablet debate with the new device featuring an even bigger display than its predecessor along with a quad-core processor and external design overhaul. The oversized handset also features Android Jelly Bean out of the box as well as increased S-Pen functionality, making it a somewhat intriguing proposition.
So, is the Galaxy Note 2 simply a new novelty or it can it really challenge the smartphone elite? We are going to take an in depth look at what the device has to offer and see if size really does matter.
- 1.6GHz quad-core processor
- 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED display
- 16/32/64GB internal storage options
- 8 megapixel autofocus camera with LED flash
- 2GB of RAM
- 1080p HD video recording
- 9.4mm thickness
- 182g weight
- Android Jelly Bean OS
- Samsung TouchWiz UI
- 3100mAh battery
- NFC connectivity
- S-Pen with integrated functionality
- 1.9 megapixel front facing camera
- Bluetooth v 4.0
Design and Build
Despite its formidable dimensions and huge 5.5-inch display, first impressions of the Galaxy Note 2 are pleasant thanks to a chassis thickness of just 9.4mm and a weight of 182g.
The device clearly takes several design cues from the Galaxy S III, with the rounded corners and chrome-effect edges bearing a definite family resemblance. The materials used in the construction of the Note 2 are also strikingly similar to that of the S III, with a plasticky feel dominating throughout which unfortunately does lend the device a slightly cheap feel in the hand.
Unsurprisingly, the huge 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED display is the real headline feature on the Note 2 and it cannot help but impress. Obviously, such a large display is always going to have an advantage over more compact rivals, but the Note 2 manages to edge the device into high-end tablet territory, such is the quality of the display. Operating at 720p resolution, the screen delivers exceptionally rich colours and stunning definition with blacks as deep as we have seen on any smartphone to date.
The display affords the viewer an almost edge-to-edge viewing experience thanks to the ultra-thin bezels, and the 16:9 screen ratio makes it ideal for viewing movies. Despite several high-end devices currently sporting high calibre displays, the Galaxy Note 2 really does set the benchmark here.
Under the Hood
To match the quality of that flawless display, Samsung has taken the wise move of packing a 1.6GHz Exynos 4412 quad-core processor inside the Note 2 which, when combined with 2GB of RAM, makes navigating the handset totally lag-free. Whether gaming, browsing or carrying out any processor-intensive activity, the Galaxy Note 2 simply refuses to slow down even with heavy multitasking taking place.
The Note 2 is available in 16GB, 32GB or 64GB variants with microSD supported for cards up to 64GB. Although several manufacturers are moving away from expandable storage, it is good to see the trend bucked here. For users seeking a cloud-based storage solution, Dropbox is pre-loaded.
In order to power that gargantuan display, the Note 2 is carrying an incredibly large capacity 3100mAh Li-Ion battery, a unit only bettered in the smartphone arena by the 3300mAh battery in Motorola’s Razr Maxx.
Although the numbers look impressive on paper, we found that during our tests a daily charge was still required with moderate to heavy use. That said, with lighter use it would be reasonable to expect two days battery life from the Note 2 without too much trouble.
Operating System and User Interface
Android Jelly Bean is the operating system of choice on the Galaxy Note 2 and in combination with the Note 2’s large display and powerful processor, the user is provided with a highly usable and wonderfully intuitive software platform.
The familiar TouchWiz UI is also present and although we generally prefer the pure version of Jelly Bean as seen in the recently updated Galaxy Nexus, the overlay is highly customisable and reasonably aesthetically pleasing.
As expected of a flagship device, the user experience throughout is extremely swift in operation and bloatware is thankfully kept to a minimum. That said, the inclusion of both Samsung Apps and S-Suggest appears to offer no substantial advantages over the Google Play store and as such, comes across as a brand exercise rather than helpful pieces of functionality.
A major selling point of the original Galaxy Note was the inclusion of an integrated stylus known as the S-Pen. Fans of the digital handwriting tool will be pleased to hear that the S-Pen has returned on the Note 2 and it has dramatically increased functionality this time around.
A major part of this deeper level of integration includes the handset now recognising whether the stylus is in its housing or not. For example, when the pen is removed the device automatically opens up the S-Note menu which allows the user to immediately begin to use the stylus without having to navigate through several menus. Similarly, the handset will warn the user with a missing pen alert if the stylus has not been attached when the device is moved out of its vicinity.
Alongside its increased communication with the handset, the S-Pen has also had something of an aesthetic overhaul. Improved ergonomics and a thicker, triangular construction mean that the stylus is more comfortable in the hand, and an all-new rubberised tip makes for increased writing sensitivity.
That level of sensitivity is also carried over in an innovative and handy feature dubbed Air View. This piece of functionality allows the user to hover over content including emails and image galleries in order to get a preview via a pop out window. Although in theory this might sound quite clunky and something of a novelty, in practice it is incredibly usable and well thought out.
Similarly impressive is Quick Command, which uses handwritten gesture input in order to access features such as email and internet search. Much like Air View, Quick Command may not immediately strike the user as essential, but over time it becomes an ever more useful part of the Note 2 experience.
Screen capture is taken to new heights with the S-Pen, thanks to Easy Clip. This feature allows the user to cut out any part of a screenshot with the stylus simply by pressing the side button on the pen. The resulting image can then be shared via email or text message with just a few taps of the stylus.
Camera and Video
The camera onboard the Note 2 is an impressive 8 megapixel autofocus unit which is highly reminiscent of that seen in the Galaxy S III. As expected with camera on a top end device, images are of a uniformly high standard with excellent colour reproduction and excessive noise only seen in very low light conditions.
A huge list of image capture options are available on the device including panorama and HDR modes, all of which work well enough but feel somewhat gimmicky overall. That said, those looking to capture novel shots without the use of third party apps such as Instagram may find that some of the features do offer interesting enhancements to otherwise dull images.
One photo processing feature that does prove useful time and time again is the ability to write notes on the back of images using the S-Pen. Although an incredibly simple slice of functionality, this feature makes perfect sense for all those times that a quick note is required to accompany an image.
Video recording is available at 1080p HD, meaning high quality results are possible without too much trouble. As with still image capture, results during our tests were noise free and had excellent colour saturation throughout.
Connectivity and Multimedia
Connectivity options are predictably plentiful on the Galaxy Note 2, with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC all featuring. Samsung’s own AllShare functionality is also included, which allows users to mirror the handset interface across different enabled devices. Although the setup for this a slightly laborious process, it does mean accessing content from the phone via a laptop or desktop PC is possible. Both S-Beam and Android Beam are also available for further wireless connectivity options.
Multimedia is largely controlled via a selection of hubs, most notably the Samsung Music Hub and the Google Play Movies Store, with each providing quick and easy access to preloaded content alongside the option to purchase the latest albums and movies respectively.
Pop-up Play makes the leap from the Galaxy S III to the Note 2 and the functionality is infinitely more usable here thanks to the increased screen size. Its uses may still be limited but it is sure to be popular among users who are keen multitaskers.
Performance and Verdict
With an undeniably imposing form factor and a display which will surely overwhelm those new to the smartphone experience, the Note 2 will undoubtedly split opinion. There is a mild embarrassment whenever the device is actually held to the ear to make or receive a voice call and it does feel odd when stored in a pocket.
However, if users can get over the outsized nature of the device then they will be rewarded with what is possibly one of the most complete smartphone packages currently available. The display makes the Note 2 experience a totally immersive one, offering a tablet-like viewing experience. Additionally, the combination of the intuitive S-Pen and its bundled software alongside the handset’s impressive processing power means that the device works with the user in a way that no smartphone has done before it, including the original Galaxy Note.
Those seeking a compact, pocket-friendly device will probably want to look elsewhere. However for anyone who wants an intuitive, all-encompassing smartphone at the very cutting edge of mobile technology could do far worse than pick out the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.