Look and feel
If you can get over the sheer bulk of the Samsung Galaxy Note II LTE, you’ll find it a surprisingly slender and attractive device. The 5.5-inch screen fills almost the entire front of the glossy frame, so there’s no wasted space. Just make sure you carry a large bag or have baggy pants on.
Ease of Use
Android Jelly Bean is a joy to use, and you can fully personalise almost every aspect of the Galaxy Note II, down to the fonts used. The S Pen is beautifully responsive and the spacious screen makes for a smooth typing and browsing experience.
From the HD screen to the new 4G LTE compatibility, the Note II packs in more features than pretty much any other smartphone out there. We also love the capable 8MP camera, which shoots sharp HD video.
The powerful processor, backed up by 2GB of memory, means you’ll nary see a stutter on the Note II.
Despite that massive bright screen, the Galaxy Note II will easily survive a day of use, while we managed a massive ten hours of video playback on a single charge.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/10/2012 4:51:44 PM
Ease of use
Spacious, vibrant screen;
Smart pen and tools;
Fantastic battery life;
Great 8MP camera
Bulky and heavy;
Niche target audience
Sci-fi films from the 70s have us speaking into phones the size of thimbles by the 21st Century, but recent trends amongst high-end mobiles have swung well the other way. Samsung’s Galaxy Note II is one of the biggest around, rocking a massive 5.5-inch screen, but we love its S-Pen stylus and wide range of supported features, which make using it a highly unique experience. Now we have the Samsung Galaxy Note II LTE, an update on the original handset that supports 4G LTE, for uber-fast download speeds when browsing the web or streaming media.
The Note II LTE features the exact same design as the original, sporting a glossy white plastic body that reminded us of the Galaxy S III. The massive chassis is no bigger than it has to be to support the 5.5-inch screen, with only a tiny bezel surrounding the display, but you’ll still struggle to fit this monster inside your pocket unless you’re wearing a 90s-style baggy tracksuit. It surprisingly doesn’t feel as heavy as its 182g weight, probably because our brains made adjustments for its bulky frame.
In classic Galaxy style, there’s a single hard ‘home’ button, plus two touch-sensitive ’menu’ and ‘back’ buttons. A front-facing 1.9-megapixel camera sits next to the two tiny lenses used for the eye tracking tech that powers Smart Stay, which keeps the display bright as long as you’re looking at it. Flip it over and you’ll find the eight-megapixel camera with LED flash, and you can prise off the rear plate to access the battery, SIM card slot and memory card slot.
Under the hood, the 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos chip beats both the S III and its tablet big bro, the Note 10.1, while the 2GB of RAM matches the larger slate. That’s enough power to multitask with the best of them, and navigating around Android and the internet was a buttery smooth experience. You can get the Note II in 16/32/64GB versions, which should more than do you even if you’re a huge apps and film fan.
Even more impressive is the battery life. Despite the enormous power-sucking screen, we managed to get a full day’s use without issue, even with the features turned up to max. Incredibly, the Galaxy Note II LTE lasted a whopping ten hours when streaming media too, around double our normal result. If you need something to entertain you on long journeys, this is one of the best options around.
Android Jelly Bean powers the Note II, and it is deliciously sleek, streamlined and fun to use. Samsung has dialled down its TouchWiz interface, so relics like the Social Hub are blessedly absent. All that’s left are usable widgets like the weather and calendar, the inoffensive Music and Video Hubs to purchase content if Google Play just isn’t good enough for you, and the vibrant Samsung look and feel for the desktops and menus. You can heavily personalise most aspects of the Galaxy Note II LTE’s interface, from the usual widgets and live backgrounds, right down to the fonts used.
We also love the virtual keyboard, which makes full use of the extended screen size. You now have numeric keys as an extra line on the board, so you don’t have to long-press or enter a whole extra menu. We found we could bash out emails and notes incredibly fast, and there’s always the stylus if you need to scrawl handwritten notes.
The real draw of the Note II LTE is of course its S Pen stylus, something which could quite easily come off as a gimmick in the wrong hands. Thankfully this pressure-sensitive pen truly is a great tool for sketching, doodling and simply writing down notes, and well supported by the S-Memo app, which allows you to create all manner of memos, diaries, cards and more.
It also has a few handwriting recognition extras, like Formula Match, where it solves any math equation you jot down (don’t ask why), and Shape Match, where it turns your wonky hexagons into actual geometric forms.
Like the original Note, the screen incorporates Wacom technology, and its sensitivity has been dialled up so that it’s even better at registering the differing weights of your S-Pen strokes. We were bowled over by its responsiveness to the way we scrawled our signature, which came out looking just like it does on paper. Naturally, if you’re an arty type, you’ll feel the difference even more. Shading and highlighting looks incredibly realistic, while the range of pens, weights and colours lays a whole new digital world at your stylus.
But it’s the extra mini-features that make S-Memo more than novelty – you can easily make a list of ideas then transform them into a mind-map, attach pictures or map links to make multimedia notes, and save them all as JPG or PDFs to send to anyone. The S-Pen itself has its own set of capabilities too. Pressing the button near the tip activates its ‘select’ action, allowing you to take a screenshot by tapping the screen – and you can even select a particular area to screen-grab simply by circling the bit you want.
LTE years ahead
The only real difference between the Note II LTE and the original Note II is the 4G LTE support, which allows you to download data in mega-quick time. Websites load noticeably faster than with 3G, but the real benefit is obvious when streaming video (especially HD content), which is beautifully free of buffering and other annoyances.
Of course, you have to be within a 4G hotspot to take full advantage, and our data speeds quickly dropped as we headed out of Central London. However, they were still consistently better than on 3G, still allowing us to browse the web at impressive rates.
Other features and camera
The incredible ‘Pop Up Play’ feature is one example of the Note II LTE’s multitasking power. Just tap a button when playing a movie and the video screen will zap into a smaller window, which can be dragged around the display. You can then open up any other app and use it as normal. This is just one of the many fantastic features packed into the Note II LTE, and to go through them all would turn this review into a novella, but Samsung has thought long and hard about how to make our lives easier.
You get the same eight megapixel camera as the Galaxy S III, with autofocus, LED flash and an instant shutter. On auto mode, it takes pin-sharp, bright images, while its zero-lag shutter captures great action shots. Colours are vibrant and detail is incredible. In low light the flash overexposes a tad, particularly on faces, so you’re best off choosing Night mode, which delivers dimmed but presentable pictures.
There are tons of modes to pick depending on the lighting, as well as intelligent features like Buddy Photo Share, which lets you instantly share photos with everyone in them – although the facial recognition can be a little ropey at times. Socialites will love the flexible options for quickly sharing a pic online.
The HD video option is also impressive, with good sound capture, clarity and colour reproduction. You can snap stills at the same rapid-fire pace while shooting video too.
The Samsung Galaxy Note II LTE is a 4G upgrade of the original Note II, packing the same incredible power and vibrant 5.5-inch screen as its predecessor. The S Pen could easily come off as a gimmick, but here it feels like a natural extension of a feature-packed phone – although the Note II is definitely still a niche product. If you can handle the size, there’s a lot to love here.