Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review
The most complete digital communications device known to man?
I’ve no idea what the Korean is for “let’s stuff everything we can into a phone and ram it up Apple’s jacksie” but it’s a fair bet the phrase was used at the inception of the Galaxy Note 2. This Android handset is the feature-packed successor to the surprisingly successful Galaxy Note that I was quite taken with late last year.
Second draft: Samsung's Galaxy Note 2 Android smartphone
Just as the first Note followed the design language of the Galaxy S2, so the Note 2 follows the S3. I’m no fan of the S3’s looks but, writ large, the aesthetics come together far more successfully. The S3 looks like a too big phone but the new Note looks like a beautifully proportioned small tablet.
Size and weight are close to the original, so the new device will still fit in the back pocket of my jeans without issue. The smooth and rounded chassis goes some way towards mitigating the size and bulk, and I like the low profile volume and power controls.
Marginally bigger screen and higher capacity battery too
There have been a few notable physical changes not least a bigger 720p screen which is now 5.55in rather than 5.3in corner-to-corner and a larger battery that's 3100mAh, up from 2500mAh. The cameras have been improved too, although the basic specs – 8Mp back and 1.9Mp front – are much as before.
The larger screen means the front of the Note 2 is almost entirely taken up by the Super AMOLED panel – perhaps this why it looks a more resolved design than the S3? Made of Gorilla Glass 2 and avoiding any Pentile matrix silliness, the Note 2’s 267dpi display is quite simply a thing of beauty. Bright, vivid, sharp as a tack and colourful – I can make no criticisms.
AnTuTu and SunSpider results
With a 1.6GHz Exynos 4412 quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, support for 4G LTE and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the Note 2 is as up to date and powerful as you could possibly want. In short, it goes like blazes and has a superbly sweet and fluid UI. The AnTuTu and Sunspider numbers speak for themselves.
Being a Samsung device Android is here overlaid with TouchWiz but I’m prepared to forgive it this foible even if it’s a bit like painting a moustache on Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix. Yet, with all the extra functionality built into the Note 2, there is at least a solid reason for messing around with Google’s mobile OS beyond the simply aesthetic or bloody minded.
Memo options: handwriting recognition and note taking
Make no mistake, Samsung has added a truly bewildering – perhaps even excessive – amount of extra functionality the Note 2. Gesture commands, floating video screens and context-aware home pages. There's also a funky auto-rotate feature that uses the webcam to judge the angle of a line between your eyes relative to the device, which is handy if you are using the Note while lying down. The list just goes on.
Lest we forget the S Pen which is the Galaxy Note 2’s party trick. With this stylus, you can write, sketch, doodle and grab the screen in all manner of useful ways. Damn shame though that screen video record function seems to have bitten the dust between Samsung’s video guide and the Note 2 hitting the shelves.
The new Pen has an oblong rather than round profile making it easier to hold and easier to slot into its bay the right way. There's no lanyard to connect S Pen to Note but if it detects you walking away without replacing the stylus it will start beeping which is useful.
The Note’s screen can sense the pen before it touches down, thanks to a feature called Air View. Hover over a gallery, video or e-mail with the stylus and a preview of the file opens. I have to admit this is not a feature I've been crying out for on a mobile phone but it is pretty cool. Handwriting recognition is also much improved over the original Note.
The new S Pen is also more sensitive compared to the original and can now distinguish between 1024 different levels of pressure. You can feel and see the difference this makes and you now get extremely fine control over line thickness.
Superb video player
How does it work as a phone? Superbly, thanks to a size that puts speaker and microphone closer to ear and mouth than smaller devices can manage and very good active noise cancellation. Also, that huge and removable battery proved capable of more than eight hours of HD video playback, and an easy 60 hours of call and data intensive general use.
To conclude on some peripheral features the loudspeaker is powerful and composed and put my Nexus 7 to shame when it came to listening to music or video sans headphones. The MicroUSB port supports HDMI-out and USB OTG and you get a very nice pair of earphones. To cap it all, the Note 2 also comes with 48GB of Dropbox storage free for two years.
Winning combination: the Note 2's mix of handset and tablet works out well despite being a large form factor
For a pound less than a 16GB iPhone 5 with its piddly 4in screen, terrible maps app, dodgy Wi-Fi reception and scratch-prone body, the Galaxy Note 2 is something of a bargain if you are after the ultimate mobile phone. It has the physical presence of an A380, the power of Concorde and the stamina of a U-2, and is packed with more features than a Swiss army knife. ®
Thanks to Clove Technology for the loan of the review handset.
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