Samsung Galaxy Note II Review: This Is Android’s Battleship

We reviewed the Galaxy Note from Samsung. People liked it. People hated it. Some thought it was too big. Others thought it was the perfect size. Whatever people thought (and by “people”, I mean us, the tech press) consumers bought into it, and Samsung has sold millions. So, fast forward to an extravagant press event in New York City, first calling out to the press and then the public, to come and celebrate the coming launch of the Galaxy Note II — a bigger, faster, and better looking successor.

And you know what? In this case, the sequel is better than the original. In fact, it’s the best Android smartphone I have ever used.

Price as Reviewed: $299 on AT&T, on a new 2-year contract; also on Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

The Pros Of Using It

The Samsung Galaxy Note II is all about numbers. Big numbers. A 1.6GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos processor, 2GB of RAM, a 5.5-inch Super AMOLED HD screen, a bigger S pen, a large 3,100mAh battery, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with Samsung’s Touchwiz interface, and an amazing 4G LTE reception on Verizon and AT&T in New York City.

All of this translates to all of the pros that we saw in the original Galaxy Note and the Galaxy S III. It’s basically a bigger GS3, but with the advantage of the S pen, and on top of that, astounding battery life. Anecdotal-speaking, I could run the Note II all day long with Twitter, Gmail, Google Now, Chrome, and Instagram, with auto-brightness and GPS off, for nearly an entire day. And it’s a very good feeling to know that I can head outside with a device, without the constant thought of it running out of battery.

Performance-wise? The fastest Android phone I’ve tested. Faster than the American Galaxy S III — which is confined to a 1.5GHz dual-core processor — and with the latest version of Android 4.1, which includes Google Now and the Project Butter experiment (keeps the software running at a constant 60FPS) it really is like having a tablet in the palm of your hand — or hands, if it can’t fit into one of them. Thankfully however, the Galaxy Note II has a thinner body, but is slightly taller, so you do the math; it’s actually easier to hold than the original — it almost feels normal, unless you put it against your face. Of course, you still could get a cramp by holding it for too long, but my hands can wield it easily, at 16-years-old.

Camera quality is excellent, sharp, and videos can be recorded in 1080p HD, using the 8MP camera, with the ability to shoot and record, at the same time. Plus there’s HDR and tons of customizations  And the S Pen? It’s thicker, and makes so much more sense to use now. It even allows you to scroll while hovering the pen above the screen at the edges — that’s smart technology.

As for Jelly Bean’s speech-to-text and Google Now commands? Heck, it’s way better than Siri, and is faster and more accurate. The refreshed S Note app takes the appearance used on the Note 10.1 tablet, and the result is great: easy note-taking, with a fun interface and lots of options.

Oh, and as for benchmarking? The Note II scored a crazy fast 5,552 in Quadrant Standard, beating the HTC One X, Galaxy Nexus, and similar smartphones.

The Weird Stuff About It

Here’s a weird thing: the resolution from the original note has been downgraded from 1280×800, to 1280×720, with an aspect ratio of 16:10 to 16:9, and dropping the pixels per inch density from 285ppi to 267ppi — both resolutions are actually “Retina” quality, but it’s interesting.

Otherwise, the resolution and lack of great ergonomics is all that makes the Note II lose perfect rating. It has the latest of everything, along with a battery and network that can support it for extended usage.

And of course, it goes without saying that Touchwiz can be too controlling of Jelly Bean, especially when there’s a lot of notifications, something Google built Jelly Bean to do better than any other version of Android that preceded it. There is also one thing that sucks about S Note: the handwriting utility sucks. Just don’t try to write out texts; just type them — drawing and editing is much easier.


Score: 9//10

After spending time with the Galaxy Note II, I can safely say I’d recommend it — to anyone. It’s up to that person however to figure out if the Note II is just too huge for them at 5.5-inches for the screen size; something like the Galaxy S III’s 4.8-inches or the iPhone 5’s 4-inches may be more suitable for some. But for what it’s worth, Samsung has designed a winning smartphone; the Note II is worthy.