The glossy plastic chassis takes obvious design cues from the Galaxy S III but feels sturdier, while its 5.5-inch screen fits snugly in the same-sized body as the smaller, original Note. Though Samsung makes excellent use of the screen real estate, the Note II is factually just too big for some pockets, which will put many people off this otherwise brilliant device.
Android Jelly Bean powers the Note II, with tons of intelligent Samsung extras that make this phone a breeze to use. Small features like swiping left to text and right to call a contact on the phone log are really useful, while the post-Gingerbread OS itself is a streamlined, powerful bit of software for personalising your gadget
This action-packed device records HD video, captures incredible stills, supports detailed, super-sensitive illustration and stylus features, and in a multitasking first for a smartphone, can play video while you browse the web
High-definition, high-intensity games and apps run smoothly and speedily, thanks to 2GB of RAM and a 1.6GHz CPU. Playing a video on top of an open browser, while making notes on the memo was no problem for its immense horsepower, while its gorgeous screen makes content sparkle
With the hyper-bright HD Super AMOLED screen, constant internet, video and camera use plus gaming, the extra-large battery easily lasted 24 hours.
The Samsung Galaxy Note II is an incredibly polarising device. The first Note was a surprise hit for everyone including Samsung – so naturally it’s gone ahead and made an even bigger one. Note II doesn’t just pack a larger screen, it’s got a double-speed processor, twice as much RAM, and multiple times the number of fancy software tweaks that let you do ridiculous things like watch a video while you write an email or hover your stylus (of course there’s a stylus) over said video to see screenshots from further on. Needless to say, you can draw like a madman convinced he’s Picasso on this thing.
Did we mention this definitely won’t fit your pocket? Considering how most of us need our mobiles with us at every waking moment, that – like the Note II itself – doesn’t make much sense. It does, however, make for an incredible powerhouse of a phone that we suspect is going to blaze a trail for other phones to follow.
Samsung Galaxy Note II - Design
The Note II is very similar to the S III, with the same glossy white plastic chassis – though it is thicker, which adds a needed heft to the trademark Samsung lightweight build.
Though the Note II is much bigger, its gently curved design helps you acclimatise to its gigantic bod, to the point that after a awhile, it was the S III that looked unnaturally dwarven.
Of course, to some it’ll always be the Note II that looks like an S III with elephantitis, and if you’re one of them, you won’t be able to get past the fact that the Note II just will not fit in the pockets of tight trousers.
If you can overlook that – and wear man-pants or baggy lady trousers - note its larger 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED (that’s 1280x920 pixels rocking some glorious high definition) actually sits in the same 80.5 x 151.1 x 9.4 mm size at the original 5.3-inch Note, thanks to a minimal bezel and doubtless the same engineering team who worked on the similarly space-efficient Galaxy S III.
In classic Galaxy style, there’s a single home hard button, with two touch-sensitive spots for back and ‘more options’ for any app. 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. The eight-megapixel camera with LED flash sits on the back.
Under the hood, the fastest processor in mobile right now runs the show. The 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos chip beats both the S III and its tablet big bro, the Note 10.1, while its 2GB of RAM matches the larger slate. You can get the Note II in 16/32/64GB versions, and its microSD slot supports up to 64GB more.
Samsung Galaxy Note II - Using it
Android Jelly Bean powers the Note II, and it is deliciously sleek, streamlined and fun to use. Samsung has dialled down its much maligned TouchWiz interface completely so that the last relic, Social Hub, is 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 an overall colourful Samsung look and feel.
You can populate screens with shortcut icons, widgets, and folders, which display their innards as icons layered on top of each other. There are tons more tweaks possible, including the ability to change the font used across the phone. A dozen or so are preloaded, including those design polar opposites, Comic Sans and Helvetica – but you can download more (and we did).
Notifications display in the top bar as usual – drag down and you can view messages in their entirety, or the first paragraph of emails.
Samsung Galaxy Note II - Next-level multitasking
The real power of the Note II however, comes from Samsung’s impressive software build. This is a multitasking machine that is truly the pocket computer everyone says smartphones are. Along with keeping over a dozen apps open at the same time, you can actually open apps on top of other apps.
Not all of them – but video is one remarkable achievement. Tap the ‘Pop Up Play’ button in the corner of a playing video and it’ll zap into a smaller window you can move around. You can then open up any other app and use it as normal. Pull out the S-Pen, and S-Memo automatically launches for a total of three windows open at once.
Real life scenario? Well, one is taking notes on a video and having Google open to search more information.
Samsung Galaxy Note II - S-Pen
Never has a stylus been given so much importance. The S-Memo app is where you can write memos, draw illustrations, or edit a handful of templates to create recipes, magazines and itineraries with graphics.
It also has a few handwriting recognition extras, like ‘Formula Match’ where it’ll automatically solve a math equation (don’t ask why) or Shape Match, where it’ll turn 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 of an artistic bent, 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 pressing down its button and tapping the screen – and you can even select a particular area to screen-grab simply by circling the bit you want.
The new AirView feature very handily lets you preview emails and videos. Hovering the pen display a light blue circle which fills in when you are over content it can interact with. In the inbox, this means you can hover over every email, to preview the first paragraph, negating the need to actually open it. It’s useful if you’re in an area with patchy internet coverage, otherwise a simple tap of the finger to read the email in full is easier. This only works with the Mail app, not Google’s Gmail.
In videos, you can hover over the play tracker to view screens from further into the video – though this only works in videos actually on the device, not videos you’re streaming. Most usefully, you can over the S-Pen over a date in the calendar to view all appointments for the day – handy if you’re incredibly in demand like us.
Finally, if you happen to leave the stylus out of the Note II while walking away with it, an alarm sounds – and it cleverly works based on distance and how fast you’re moving. So walking six feet slowly as you might to get a glass of water won’t set it off, but six feet on your way out the door would.
Our only beef is that many of these excellent features have to be turned on in Settings, but aren’t covered in the setup menu.
Samsung Galaxy Note II - Camera and video
The Note II packs the same eight-megapixel camera as the S III, with autofocus, LED flash and an instant shutter.
On auto mode, it takes pin-sharp, bright images, its zero-lag shutter automatically taking great action shots. Colours are vibrant and detail is incredible. In lowlight the flash overexposes a tad, particularly on faces, so you’re best off choosing Night mode, which delivers dimmed but presentable pictures.
Daylight outside Mobile Choice HQ
Preloaded, pre-shot filter of 'Cold'
There's no macro mode, but the Note II takes great close-ups anyway
There are tons of modes to pick depending on the lighting, as well as intelligent software modes like Buddy Photo Share, which lets you instantly share photos with everyone in them.
This depends on its facial recognition ability, which is as patchy as it was in the S III. After you tag a friend once, it can’t really recognise them in different angles. There’s a cool new gallery design that adds the name of your friend, the date, and where you are to the image though.
The HD video option is particularly impressive, with good sound capture, clarity and colour reproduction. You can snap stills at the same rapidfire pace while shooting video too. Panning is smooth and responsive, and playback on the bigger screen looks just as sharp.
Through constant Wi-Fi and HSDPA, lots of photo and video capture and the odd game, the larger 3100mAh battery lasted easily through 24 hours.
Samsung Galaxy Note II - Google Now
The latest, coolest addition to the Android OS is Google Now, essentially Google capitalising on how many faces of your online life it owns. Upon setup, you’ll be asked if you want to opt in to Google Now, which gives Google the right to access your search history and location data in order to feed you ‘cards’ that display traffic information to destinations it thinks you’ll want, sports info, weather, places, among others.
We used it for a full two weeks, and regularly got traffic updates to random places that had turned up in web searches – but which we had no reason to go to. The weather update was a welcome one, but the place recommendations seemed only based on our GPS location. At one point, it gave us the traffic back ‘home’ – which it classified as Bodean’s BBQ in London. Google Now may sound a creepy foretelling of the future, but right now, it needs to predict a lot better before the shivers-down-the-spine factor sets in.
Samsung Galaxy Note II - The verdict
The Note II is an undeniable powerhouse, trumping even Samsung’s flagship S III in how much it can do, and how fast. Sadly, its size is its only but fatal downfall, while its horsepower puts it beyond the need of most consumers, particularly with its steep £529-and-up asking price
But all this screen real estate, the monster 2GB of RAM and the super-fast 1.6GHz CPU are not profligate. You can multitask to the point of having a video playing in smaller movable window on top of an app, then open up a memo on top of that. You can reformat screens such as the dialer or lock screen for one-handed use. And of course, the capacitive stylus and Wacom touch-screen are responsive – and large - enough for detailed, professional design. The Galaxy Note II has carved its own niche, is still the only one in it, and, we suspect, setting the standard for what next year's smartphones will be capable of.