So I have a confession to make. What seems like an eternity ago, I received a Galaxy Note review unit for AT&T, but never quite finished my review. While the reasons for that were no fault of the device and rather the result of some other personal failings, I spent a lot of time with the original Note really trying to size up the experience of using the world’s first smartphone that crossed over into tablet territory — a so-called “phablet.” If anything, the original Galaxy Note drove home for me just how dangerous it can be to make conclusions about a handset or mobile device before you’ve held it in your hands. 

There’s this constant tug of war in the tech space between making a quick conclusion based on what evidence and data is laid out before you, and waiting a week, a few weeks, or even a month and then writing in hindsight looking back how the whole experience turned out. In the smartphone space, the pace is even more rapid with week long review cycles or shorter, and thus we see many trying to draw conclusions based on form factor, display size, and lots of speculation. For me, the original Galaxy Note roughly defined an upper bound for mobile devices that are still ultimately pocketable, and I was surprised just how easy it was to grow accustomed to. The original S Pen showed up right around the height of the draw something app craze, and the result was a ton of attention to a device that many initially criticized for its size and inclusion of stylus.

The story today however is about the Galaxy Note 2, which I’ve been using for one solid week now. Subtract out the time spent battery life testing, and it’s really only a few days, but my experiences and thoughts about the Note 2 really mirror those that solidified with the original Note and the Note 2’s smaller sibling, the Galaxy S 3. It’s an upper bound for smartphone size, but ultimately the right one, if your pockets can handle it.

I like to start reviews with aesthetics since first impressions are critical, and here the Galaxy Note 2 unsurprisingly shares industrial design language very closely with the Samsung Galaxy S 3. Compared to the original Note, the Note 2 has even larger radii rounded edges, and the same water droplet slash polished river stone shape of the Galaxy S 3.

Like the Galaxy S 3, Samsung has managed to get the hardware home button and three-button layout in general on US devices. I was sampled a T-Mobile Galaxy Note 2, but this appears to be the case across the board for the Note 2. On the front it’s easy to see the similarities between those two devices — they share the same front facing camera, ambient light sensor, and notification LED positions, and at the bottom the same three-button organization with a physical home button. Display size has also increased from 5.3-inches diagonal to 5.5 inches diagonal with the Note 2, and resolution is now 1280x720, more on that in a moment in the display section however.


Galaxy Note 2 (left), Galaxy Note (right)

The outer lip of the Galaxy Note 2 is the only real departure from the industrial design set by the Galaxy S 3, as this isn’t the somewhat faux-brushed looking plastic material with a varnish layer on top, but instead a scratchy chrome. I know there are big cultural differences associated with the appeal of this chrome ring, but I really wish the Note 2 had done away with it or at least made it less tacky like the Galaxy S 3 managed.

Samsung continues locating the microUSB port at the bottom, and to the right of that is the larger improved S-Pen which we’ll talk about in a moment. The rest of the buttons I don’t really even need to talk about, they’re standard Samsung fare in both placement and feel, which is great.

Side by side with the original Note not too much has changed at a high level, except the Note 2 is slightly taller, narrower, and thinner. The original Note felt very square to me, the Note 2 feels much more like a blown up Galaxy S 3.

Samsung continues to be one of the last remaining OEMs stalwart about including a removable battery door which covers the battery, microSIM, and microSD card. The microSD support goes to SDXC standard, which means up to 64 GB cards are accepted in the Note 2. Battery also gets a significant boost, with both cell chemistry going from 3.7 to 3.8V, and overall capacity in mAh from 2500 to 3100 mAh. The result is an effective capacity boost from 9.25 watt-hours to 11.78 watt-hours, almost 30 percent larger.

The Note 2 likewise comes with a lineup of flip covers that replace the battery door completely and have a soft lint-free felt material that cleans and protects the display, and a pleather top side. I grew accustomed to using Galaxy S 3 this way, and seeing it continue to the Note 2 is definitely welcome. Samsung gets the value of having a consolidated accessory lineup, and the Note 2 continues that by making the flip covers compatible with all the Note 2s the same way the flip covers were interchangeable between international and USA variants of the Galaxy S 3.


Galaxy Note 2 with flip cover open (left), Galaxy Note (right)

There are a total of seven flip cover colors to choose from this time around. In addition Samsung also has started making a first party protective cover with rubber around the edge that is designed to protect against impacts and drops. I wasn’t sampled one but did get a chance to play with one, and it looked decently beefy.

The Galaxy Note 2 I was sampled was the Marble White variant, though there’s also a Titanium Gray model. In addition Samsung is banking on users to buy flip covers to change the primary exterior color of their device if they so choose.

Using a 'Phablet'
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  • name99 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Of course you could consider this an empirical display of the difference between Apple supporters and Apple haters. The Apple supporters don't seem to feel a compulsive need to wander into a non-Apple thread and tell everyone how much Android, Samsung, Google, AMOLED, S-Pen and TouchWiz all suck.

    Either way, yes, a thread that does't feel like a wanna-be gang fight between two groups of 8-year-olds is a pleasant experience!
    Reply
  • Peanutsrevenge - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    If it helps:

    Droid fanatic
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7huae767Rxg&fea...

    Apple Fanatic
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFhjDX-DUew&fea...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTTSsB92L_s&fea...

    Came across these yesterday on Phandroid :D
    Reply
  • Mugur - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    As owner of a 5" Dell Streak, I'm looking to replace it with another large phone and Note 2 seems just perfect. One question though: can I use another launcher (I don't like TouchWiz) without losing the S-Pen features? Reply
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I use Apex launcher, S-Pen stuff all works fine. :) Reply
  • Mugur - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Thank you. Reply
  • Aenean144 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "we load webpages at a fixed interval until the handset dies, with display set at exactly 200 nits as always. The test is performed over both cellular data and WiFi. The new test has decreased pause time between web page loads and a number of JavaScript-heavy pages."

    What's the pause time?

    In such a test, the system that is fastest to idle will typically result in a lower or lowest power draw through time. One can only interpret the performance of a device relative to other devices when doing the specific test, maybe. No one should be assuming that they'll get 10 hours of wifi/cellular browsing though, whatever time your device of choice gets.

    Do humans really do what the battery life test does? I don't know if we're at the point where we are input saturated on how fast we can web browse, but I don't think we're at the saturation point just yet. So, if a phone downloads and renders web pages faster, I think we would just browse more pages in the same given time frame. The devices that burn more power during download and render times may end up with shorter battery life performance simply because a user is browsing more and faster.

    You guys are definitely promoting the idea of wider "dynamic range" on battery performance. The battery life test is perhaps a light use case based on my gut feel. Minimally, I think, at least for web browsing, the minimum battery life performance should at be established for devices.

    Lighter and lighter browsing workloads would tail off towards standby time. You may want to establish or guess at what the max work rate for humans is while browsing the web, like using an average reading speed or maybe somewhere in the 80th percentile of reading speed.

    Obviously, it's a more than one parameter problem with games, GPS, etc, but maybe that can be tackled later.
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Of all the smart phones I know about, this is the one I'm most interested in. However, I'm a Windows kind of guy, tried Android briefly and I certainly see why people would choose it over iOS, but in my opinion it's not great. Just my personal view, of course. I'm Windows trained and Windows is the most "intuitive" for me, largely because of that I'm sure.

    So, in case anyone from Microsoft is reading - can we get Nokia to make something like this with Win 8 as the OS?

    On Verizon? (I have to say though, Verizon's methodology for keeping their phones up-to-date doesn't thrill me. Of course, cell phones, particularly smart phones, are about as private as a house made entirely of screen doors anyway, so I'm not sure that's all that important as things exist today.)

    ;)
    Reply
  • shortylickens - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Got one this afternoon (not because of the article).

    My local store had them for 200 and also a 50 dollar mail in rebate. I dont think thats nationwide though.

    I like it, made an informal review in the forums.
    Reply
  • zilexa - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Really, you have a Note 2 without split screen functionality? So you cannot see and work with 2 apps at the same time??
    Thats weird! Here in Holland I cannot walk the street without seeing billboards showing off this feature.. those Apple fans don't know what hit them.. firstly iOS 6 wich feels like 2010 version of Android for Android users, now this Note 2 can even show 2 apps at the same time, side by side!

    Really weird the US versions don't have this firmware yet. But like you said in other reviews, US market is totally different. Here we see Samsung phones, in the shops, there you see AT&T or T-mobile or Verizon phones. Although here in NL almost always sold with subscription, and with the name of your provider on it, at least its an actual Samsung phone and not a T-Mobile phone..
    Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    What? They're all still Samsung/HTC/etc branded in the US... What are you going on about? The carriers do meddle with updates and the firmware, but the thing isn't sold as an AT&T Galaxy S or something, it still says Samsung and it's advertised by Samsung (for better or worse, their anti-Apple commercials are almost as bad as Apple's old anti-PC commercials)...

    Hell my Sprint HTC EVO 4G LTE doesn't even have Sprint silkscreened anywhere on the front (amazing show of restraint on their part). AT&T's often the worse about branding, they've put the name AND logo on some Moto phones (centered no less).
    Reply

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