Product Type: Samsung Smartphone
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Samsung Galaxy Note 2 3G 16GB
Member Name: sandemp
Samsung Galaxy Note 2 3G 16GB
Advantages: Looks beautiful, large screen, fast processor, good battery, almost everything
Disadvantages: Very little, cannot double click on websites
==Out Of The Box - The Styling, First Impressions and Set Up==
The Galaxy Note 2 is supplied in a simplistic, minimalistic and yet stylish box, that bucks the trend as far as excess packaging goes. On first glance, the sturdy box doesn't appear anywhere nearly big enough to hold the phone itself, USB lead, adapter plug, earphones, extra ear-buds, battery and basic quick start manual, but everything is cleverly packed as to take up as little room as possible.
Described as a "phablet", the Note 2 is a hybrid, part mobile phone, part tablet, being much larger in size than most phones and yet smaller than a tablet, while combining the functionality of both. Measuring in at 151.1mm by 80.5mm, with a depth of 9.4mm, the first impression of the Note 2 is most definitely how large it is. I remember feeling that the Galaxy S2 was large, but this dwarfs my S2, being almost twice the size. In fact the Note 2 is so big, that I did wonder how comfortable it would be to hold and how ergonomic is is for making calls, but I promise you do quickly get used to the size and now the S2 feels small and rather cramped in my hands.
As with the packaging, the Note II features minimalistic styling, which is enhanced by the glossy white fascia, (that is back cover and screen surround). The only part of the physical styling I'm not so sure about is the silver around the outside edge, it could look tacky, but thankfully simply adds to the feeling that this is an expensive piece of equipment. The battery cover is easy to remove and while it does feel a little flimsy, it is made of the same material as the battery cover on the S2, which has proved very durable despite being removed and replaced many times. Button-wise, there are only three physical buttons on the Note II, a power/stand-by button, volume control (that doubles up a camera zoom) and Home key, everything else on the phone is controlled via the touch screen and touch sensitive buttons either side of the home key.
The biggest physical selling point of the Note II has to be the touch screen, at 5.55" (140.9mm) it looks massive, which of course compared to many phones it is. This HD sAMOLED screen has a resolution of 1280 x 720, which is extremely clear, with vivid colours and deep blacks which are displayed in the wide screen (16:9) format. This truly is a screen designed for displaying photos and videos, with a wonderful clarity that exceeds the S2. This is also a screen designed to survive most knocks and bumps, being made of super-tough Gorilla Glass 2. One thing that cannot be avoided on either the screen or the rest of the phone is fingerprint smears and smudging, the glossy surfaces do seem to positively attract these marks. These marks do not show up as badly on white as they might do on a grey surface (a reason for buying this in white) and they are easily buffed off with a lens cloth, but between cleans they are noticeable when the light hits them. Talking of light, the screen is easily readable in most lighting conditions, but there are occasions when the glare from sunlight will mean that you need to move around to see who is calling.
Considering how much this phone can do, it is surprisingly easy to set up for first use. Very obviously the SIM card and battery need installing before first use, along with a MicroSD card of up to 64GB (if the 16GB internal memory isn't enough for you). A huge improvement on the S2 is that while the battery still needs to be removed before inserting/removing the SIM card, the MicroSD slot is accessible immediately on removing the back cover. Another nice plus is that the battery is almost fully charged on receipt, meaning that you can have a play with the phone before needing to charge it. When charging the battery, the USB lead can be used to connect the phone to any computer's USB port, with any drivers being automatically installed on said computer, or the plug adapter can be used to connect to a wall socket. Due to the minimalistic packaging, the plug comes in two pieces (so as to save space), but assembling it is as easy as sliding a pin into place. I'm trying to decide whether I like the fact that both the USB and plug are white in keeping with the phone. They do look different, but I only charge from the wall in my kitchen, which means these would soon yellow. Thankfully, unlike Apple with their proprietary connections, the Note II has a standard connection shared with many other products (including the Kindle and Blackberry) meaning I can not only use those black leads at home, but should the Note II need charging away from home it is more likely that a friend will have a suitable lead.
As a phone running on the Android system, Google is heavily integrated into the Note II and you will require a Google (Gmail) account to make the most, or indeed anything of the phone. On first switch on, you are asked for your sign in details, so that the phone can be synchronised with your Google account and if you are not already the possessor of one of these accounts you will be prompted to sign up for one. As I already had a Google account I obviously signed in to this and found by doing so it immediately downloaded and installed all the apps that I had previously had on my S2. Well almost all my apps, there were a couple that do not support this phone and so were not installed. As part of the set-up process, you are also encouraged to connect to a wireless network, which is a simple enough process. The Note II easily found my home network (along with those of my various neighbours) and it was simplicity itself to enter the password and connect. All of the wi-fi standards are supported (a,b,g,n) and if not connected to wi-fi, the S2 can also connect over HSPA+, EDGE and GPRS, depending on signal strength.
==The Main Event - Adding Contacts, Making Calls and Writing Texts==
So does anyone use a mobile phone as an actual phone today? Well yes actually, I do, no matter what bells and whistles it may contain, for me making calls and sending texts are still the most important functions, even if they are probably what I spend the least time doing with this particular phone.
Adding contacts is a simple enough affair, maybe too easy as the Note II decided to add all of my Gmail and Facebook book contacts without asking. OK, I love all my FB buddies dearly, but I don't want hundreds of them clogging up my contact list on my phone. This lead to a fun ten minutes or so, removing all the contacts I didn't want on the phone and sorting those I did into different groups. Each contact can hold a reasonable amount of different pieces of information, including phone number, email address and physical address, but only one number can be stored per contact. You can, however, add extra, personalised fields, such as their website, along with a personalised ringtone for each contact. The installed ringtones are as naff as is usual on phones, but any music tracks held on the phone's memory can be used in their place. Ringtone volume is suitably loud and easily adjustable via the rocker button, top volume is loud enough to be heard over almost anything (maybe not in a club), and for those quieter moments the phones can be muted and vibration activated.
Calls can be activated in all the standard ways, the number can be tapped in or they can be initiated via the contact list or call log. The call log is not quite so easy to access as I would like, rather than there being one entry per contact, every single call and text is logged, meaning that if I only call that person occasionally I need to scroll through hundreds of entries to find them. Due to the large screen the numeric keypad for entering numbers is large enough to be easily usable, even for those with large fingers, each "button" is well defined and you don't need to just use the tip of your finger.
Answering a call is as easy as swiping a finger across the screen as is declining the call, although it isn't as obvious that you need to swipe rather than tap as it could be. Once in a call you have the option of the standard holding the phone to the ear, wired hands-free, speaker phone or Bluetooth headset, which is of course pretty standard. When used in the standard manner, call clarity is more than acceptable (depending on signal), with the in call volume being easily adjustable with the ergonomically and logically placed volume button. I've not experienced any echoing and nobody has reported any from the other end either. Signal itself is easily as good as any phone I have owned, although this does depend greatly on network and I find that I do still lose signal in all the usual places.
Although the sheer size of the Note II does still make me self-conscious when making calls in the "normal" way, it is surprisingly easy to get used to holding it. I did think that it would be uncomfortable and make my hand hurt as it's not the lightest phone at 182.5g, but within a day I was having no trouble and even found holding the S2 a little strange as it felt so small. There are a couple of nifty in-call features on the Note II that are worth mentioning, the first of which is the way that the screen switches off to save power when it senses that it is near your ear and then wakes back up as you move it away. I would like the screen to wake up a little faster, but overall this is a nifty little feature. The other feature involves the S-Pen, a stylus housed in the base of the phone which is activated when it is removed. If the S-Pen is activated during a phone call, a small notepad appears on the screen, on which you can make notes (funnily enough). This is an incredibly handy feature, that I quite simply don't know how I ever managed without. No longer do I have to hunt for a pen and piece of paper to jot down an address or phone number, which saves a lot of stress.
When calls are taken using the speaker phone (which is easily activated by pressing a button on the touch screen), the call quality is exceptional through the rear speaker and my voice is picked up with the minimum of background noise. Again the volume is easily adjustable, and there is no echoing or distortion even at top whack. When using the wired hands-free set, the ear-buds themselves are comfortable and mould to my ears. Although a total of three different size bud covers are supplied, I find the medium set already installed perfect for my ear size. These buds fit neatly in the ear, reducing the majority of external noise, but still allowing me to be aware of my surroundings. If I had to point out any problems with the earphones, they would have to be that the wire is a tad too short, and that the buds themselves are not labelled left and right. But taking calls with these earphones is a joy, with exceptional sound quality, due in part to the gold plated jack. Calls can be answered via the in-line control and the microphone is perfectly placed to pick up your voice. From my end call quality is perfect, with no evidence of hissing or popping, while reports from the other end is that it's loud and clear with no drop-outs.
Rather than each text message being displayed individually, text messages are grouped together into conversations, which makes looking back at what either party said previously easier along with making replying to a particular contact easier. There are various input methods available, a standard tap keyboard, swipe and handwriting recognition. Due to the larger size screen the keyboard is large enough to make tapping out your messages a breeze, especially when used in landscape. Should you still have difficulties using this method then then S-Pen makes it even easier to be accurate. The swipe function was first introduced in earlier Galaxy models and is one that I am used to using on the S2. When swiping, rather than typing out each letter you slide your finger across each letter in the word only lifting it on the last letter and the phone will then decide which word you were intending to write. Although I find this method a lot quicker, it does take practise and there are times when the phone picks the wrong word.
My new favourite input method has to be the handwriting recognition, while this was a chore using a fingertip on the S2 it is a delight with the S-pen on the Note II. You can set whether you will be using the S-pen with your left or right hand, but from what I can tell it makes no difference which you set it to. I'm left handed, haven't bothered changing the setting and it doesn't seem to have caused the phone to have a fit. With the S2 you had to be very exact for the handwriting recognition to work, but with the Note II you can be far more imprecise, in fact you can be downright sloppy. My handwriting is in no way the neatest and yet I can scrawl in joined up writing and the Note II has no problem recognising what I want to say. My only problem is that I haven't yet worked out how to quickly add spaces between my words. As with all phones there is a T9 dictionary and predictive text available, both of which I find incredibly annoying and switched off as soon as I could.
==Putting The Smart Into Smart Phone - The OS, The Processor, Apps, The S-pen and Touch-screen==
The Note II runs on the latest version of the Android OS, 4.1, codenamed Jellybean (which is only to be expected with a phone released just one month ago). Combined with a quad core 1.6GHz processor this OS, means that the Note II is lightening fast even when several different applications are open at the same time. Samsung have overlaid Jellybean with their own proprietary software, Touchwiz UI, which "enhances" the smart phone experience further, by adding extra home screens along with some S-pen specific Apps.
The Note II features seven home screens, all of which can be customised with widgets or short-cuts to Apps and then there is easy access to the various Apps ready installed and those you have downloaded. While Apple has iTunes, Android's equivalent is Google Play where you will find a huge number of Apps, whether they be games or utilities. While some of the Apps are naff, there are many that are incredibly useful, some fun games to while away the time and even better a huge number of these are free. With this being a newly released phone on a newly released OS, there are a number of Apps that are available on other phones (such as the S2/S3) that are not compatible with the Note II. One that was particularly disappointing for me, is that Sky Go is not supported, which means I'm now missing out on watching Sky on the go. Some of the Apps I can recommend include, Polaris Office (which allows the creation and editing of Microsoft Office files), iPlayer (you will need to download Adobe Air), ITV Player, TV Catchup (plays the Free-To-View channels in real time) and AVG (an anti virus).
Amongst the Apps the Samsung themselves have added to the Note II, there are a number that have been specifically designed with the S-pen in mind. On removal of the S-pen from it's home a menu housing a number of these opens up. These include S-Notes, which allow you to use the S-pen to write notes, while I'm sure some people would find these useful, I have to admit that I don't. I was quite surprised at how little I liked these Apps, considering just how much I love using the S-pen. As far as I'm concerned the S-pen is simply the smartest thing about this smart phone, it makes writing texts a breeze, highlighting and clicking in the browser simplicity itself and is fantastic for whenever a little precision is required. Want to preview a photo without opening it up, or look at the information hidden behind a piece of HTML, then simply hover the S-pen above it and it will come up on screen to disappear again when you move the S-pen away. Not only that, but should you forget to put it back in it's little home and walk away from it with the phone in your hand it will alert you so you don't lose it.
If your only experience of using a touch screen is those unresponsive mobile phones of years back then the Note II will be something of a revelation. The screen itself is of the capacitive variety, which is extremely responsive and it reacts smoothly to finger touches and swipes, with little to no lag, no matter how cold the weather. While the screen is capacitive the S-pen itself isn't, and I must say that Samsung have managed to combine the two perfectly.
==Snap Happy - The Cameras and Video Recorder==
The Note II features not one but two cameras, a front facing 1.9MP suitable for basic self-portraits to put up on Facebook but not much else and a rear facing 8MP. While admittedly this is the same specification you would find on the S2, it is still an excellent camera that negates the need to carry a separate piece of equipment when out for the day.
The camera includes many features that are considered standard today, including an LED flash, face detection, beauty shot, smile shot and panorama along with a 4x digital zoom. There's more than enough settings to play with including some very cool effects and even a timer. The LED flash is very bright and lights up to a surprising distance, but does come as something as a shock to the photographed, making them blink.
The full crux of the matter as far as the camera goes is how good the pictures are, and in my unprofessional opinion they are excellent. Colours are bright and vivid, without being over-saturated and unnatural, when using the automatic settings, everything is in focus, with no pixilation. While obviously an optical zoom is going to beat digital every time, the zoom is still reasonable at low levels, but at full zoom pictures do become a little blurry and even blocky. At top quality resultant photos can be blown up to A5 size and above to display on the wall and look as good as anything my 10MP camera can produce.
The camera also doubles up as a HD video camera, recording at up to 30fps with full sound. This HD recording does take up a lot of memory, but is fantastic for recording precious memories to watch later on an HD screen.
==Click Happy - The Online Experience==
If ever a phone was designed for spending time online then this is it. Connecting to the internet is painless through the wi-fi connection and almost pain-free using mobile internet, although, be warned you will need a large data allowance for on the go.
Gmail is integrated into the phone from the outset, meaning that you are instantly alerted to new emails and can send and receive then almost anywhere. The combination of the touch screen and S-pen, means that writing emails go is almost as easy as from a PC. Facebook and Twitter can also be integrated by installing their respective Apps, but it is when you are actually accessing the internet that this phone comes into it's own.
The combination of the large screen and accuracy of the S-pen, means that I can access web pages that I wouldn't go near with the S2. Rather than needing to make do with the mobile versions of web pages, I can load the full versions, meaning I get to view and interact with the whole of the site. The large screen is fantastic at displaying detail and the S-pen means that I can accurately click on links. My only real problem is that I am unable to double click, which is only a small niggle really. Using the S-pen, I can even "cut" pictures and articles off of the web and then paste them into the S-notes, pretty cool huh?
==Rock The House - Multimedia, Music, Video, Pictures, Games and Books==
So the Galaxy Note II, is a fantastic phone, a pretty good camera and excellent for accessing the internet, so what else can it do? Well it's also a pocket sized multi-media player.
With 16GB of internal memory (of which only about 12GB is available), upgradable by a further 64GB via a microSD card there is plenty of space for all of your music, video, gaming and even reading needs. Files can be transferred to the phone via a variety of means, you can use the phone as removable storage by connecting to a computer via a USB lead, or you can use Bluetooth to transfer between devices. Perhaps the most innovative way of moving files between your computer and the Note II is Kies Air, which transfers using wi-fi. Whichever way you choose, there is more than enough space and files can then be accessed using the various media hubs.
With the Note II there is absolutely no need for a separate music player, music played through this sounds fantastic, whether through the earphone or speaker. As with all music players tracks can be accessed in a variety of manners, including via album or artist, artwork is displayed on the screen, play lists can be composed and there is a shuffle function. There is also a graphic equaliser with a number of settings to further enhance sound. Music can also be played in the background and if using the earphones can be controlled directly using the in-line control. When played through the speaker the maximum volume level is very loud and yet there is absolutely no distortion and depending on the quality of the track, the audio is multi-layered and life like. One thing I really like is that all of the common and not so common file formats are supported meaning that I do not need to convert any of my files.
Various different video formats are also supported, including MPEG and AVI, which again means that less conversion is required. HD playback is also supported, meaning that the most can be made of that beautiful screen. Obviously the quality of play back depends greatly on the quality of the original file, but so far everything I have played has been displayed perfectly, with no stuttering, loss of synch or other problems, but I have to admit that I do not watch that much in the way of film files. What I do watch on this phone are the various TV Apps along with Netflix (which is a mix of TV and films). The quality of these is amazing, with excellent picture quality, even down to the fine detail and multi-layered sound (especially when teamed with earphones).
The Note II does come with some games installed, but these did not really appeal to me, so I downloaded a selection from Google Play. What really impressed me is that this phone supports not one but two Final Fantasy games, which is perfect for the die hard FF fan that I am. If you are not a FF fan, then there are plenty of other games to choose from, both free and paid for and the responsive touch screen makes playing them a delight. While the Note II will never replace my beloved Kindle, by downloading the Kindle App it becomes the perfect eReader for at night in bed. The lit back screen makes it much easier for me to read at night and I love the way that the App synchronises with my actual Kindle so I never have to find my place in a book.
There are countless other things that the Note II can do, it doubles as a radio when the earphones are attached, it has Google maps for finding your way around, it has a Sat Nav and you can even turn it into a torch by downloading an App, the only limit seems to be the imagination of the App developers.
==Permanently Attached To The Wall? - Battery Life In Real Life Conditions==
Samsung's official figures state that the 3100mAh battery has a talk time of up to 35 hours (2G) or 16 hours (3G) and standby of up to 980 hours (2G) or 890 hours (3G), but as we know these figures really mean nothing as they are under laboratory conditions.
I use my Note II daily, with it mostly being connected to the 3G network and constantly connected to wi-fi. I make up to an hour of phones calls, write (and send) a dozen or so texts, about the same number of emails, check Facebook upwards of twenty times a day, spend several hours online, watch about an hour of TV and play a few games, along with taking the occasional photo/short video. With all this use the battery lasts just over 24 hours between charges, which is actually pretty impressive. What is not quite so impressive is that it takes a good couple of hours for the battery to charge when connected via USB to my laptop.
==The Low Down - Conclusion and Recommendation==
In case you hadn't guessed in my opinion the Samsung Galaxy Note II is one impressive piece of kit. Yes it is much larger than any other phone I have owned, but it also does far more. I love the huge bright screen that makes watching videos and accessing the internet a delight, and I love the accuracy that the S-pen provides. I love that as well as being a fantastic media player, the Note II is also an excellent phone for making calls and sending texts. Considering how much I use this phone during the day, the battery life is also excellent, it's not too much of a strain to charge it each night especially as it lasts throughout the day.
And so I'm giving the Samsung Galaxy Note a full five stars out of five, as although it isn't perfect it's pretty close and I am recommending it to those who are looking for the functionality of a phone with the added extras of a tablet and media player. Only make sure that you have a large enough data allowance to cover the time you will spend on the internet and streaming music and video.
Summary: Fantastic new phone/tablet hybrid from Samsung