John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Samsung Note 2 Review

I got a chance to play with a Note 2 that my friend Lance bought. Thanks Lance! It’s a I317M model from Bell running Android 4.1.2. The number one question I have with this device is to decide if there is such a thing as too big from a screen point of view. At 5.5 inches it’s big. There’s one limitation of Android. The OS requires you to be able to get to the top of the screen to reach the notifications as well as at the bottom for the home/settings/back buttons. So what this means is you need to be able to get both the top and the bottom which is challenging when you have that large of a screen. The unit itself is slippery on the back so as you shuffle the device in your hand you are at risk of dropping it.

Lets start with the physicals. As mentioned the back of the unit is VERY slippery. Fortunately there are tons of accessories including cases cheap on ebay and Amazon. The unit is rather replete of buttons as most modern phones are. It has a power button that they have lowered to make it easier to reach with your thunb as well as volume buttons also lowered. I wish the power button was easier to find in the dark such as making it rough. On the front of the phone below the screen are backlit soft buttons for back and options as well as a hard button for home. And thus comes one of my first rubs with this as well as a couple other Samsung (and other) phones. These buttons belong as on screen buttons. That way they rotate with the screen and can be used with a mouse for example when connected to an HDMI monitor. The home button for me is a throw back to trying to look like an iPhone. Interestingly you can power the device on by pressing the home button. A nice convenience. The back lighting on the options and back button turn off to quickly for me by default so I changed it to always on (anytime the screen is). Makes it easier to use. I guess you would get use to where each button is if you used it long enough.

The back of this phone is removable but it is a flimsy piece of plastic that feels like your going to break it when you remove it. Behind the door is the micro SIM slot, micro SD slot as well as the removable whopping 3100MaH battery (that’s about double most phones!). For me these two features, removable battery and a micro SD slot. So many new phones these days have neither. If there was no other reason to accept this big phone, the big battery is a pretty, well … big one 🙂 In addition the phone has a multi color notification LED. Yay, I’m so glad to have this back. So many phones have removed a notification LED and I really miss it. The micro SD card can be removed without taking the battery out. That’s about it for the physicals.

Carrying this puppy is an interesting challenge. In your front pocket you look like a geek, especially if the phone gets side ways in your pocket. Belt cases just aren’t happening. Shirt pockets risk falling out if you bend over. Back pocket risks you sitting on it. Breast pockets work fine if your wearing some form of a jacket. So all in all it’s challenging.

The screen on this device is big 5.5″, bright and responsive at 720 x 1280 resolution. The processor is a quad core 1.6G which is perfect. Android does a great job of utilizing multi cores and the quad core devices I’ve played with are very smooth. The phone has 11G of storage available after it’s loaded for apps and content. The mount point of this ends up being the default storage location which is great. There is a limitation this imposes though. The SD card is mounted in an alternate path extSdCard which some programs like Google Music, Google Movies and others can not make use of. So you will need to keep an eye on your storage and where things are being stored or you will find yourself out of space. Oddly Samsung has removed the ability to move aps to the SD card on the Note 2.

The S3 and Note 2 are considered current flagships (along with the new S4) in the Samsung line. Samsung have publicly stated that features in the S4 will trickle down in the future into these two devices. Recently it was announced that Rogers Sure tap (an NFC payment system) will be expanded to include the Note 2 and S3! So being on the Note 2 (for now) means you have some future moving forward.

Apps load is typical Samsung touchwiz. The soft buttons on the bottom can be customized to anything you like including folders. The Music player is same as on the S2 with limited enhancements. No song recognition, no music/artist detailed information or links etc. DLNA is integrated as it is on the S2. Contacts, calendar, gallery are all standard Samsung and are all quite good. Drop box is supported out of the box although personally I prefer Sugarsync.

Samsung have again stripped out the default Android keyboard. A shame because it’s not bad. As usual though my favorite is still Swiftkey flow.

Samsung have done some nice work with the camera. It focuses quickly and even has a burst shooting mode. All the usuals are here including geo tagging, full HD video etc.

There are two versions of Swiftkey Flow, my favorite on screen keyboard for Android. One for Tablets and one for Phones. The Tablet one pulls the keys over to the side closer to the thumbs in landscape mode. The screen on the note 2 is just big enough to take advantage of this feature!

I’ve never had so much difficulty unlocking a phone. I’ve unlocked many. First I got some guy on ebay that was selling freely available info on how to unlock it for free (which doesn’t work on this device, and refused to refund me), then I got a guy who’s Bell unlock program had stopped working (he refunded me), then I went to a web site who’s unlock code didn’t work and he wanted me to reflash the ROM to an older version he knew worked and refused to refund me when I didn’t want to do that. I would avoid by the way, they say they have a 100 Satisfaction guarantee but clearly they do not, and no morals either. In the end I gave up and left it locked.

Android does an amazing job of using the processors when needed. On a dual core playback of X264 MP4s is less than perfect. On the quad core it plays perfectly. The Note 2 is not the smoothest device I’ve played with. That distinction goes to the Nexus 4. When the additional processing power isn’t needed the core idles well, saving precious battery power.

A new feature called Multi window allows you to have two supported aps on the screen at the same time. It allows you to make better use of the larger screen and makes it easy to copy and paste between aps. Press and hold the back button to start multi window. The list of supported aps include Email, gallery, Chrome, Internet Browser, Polaris Office, S Note, Gtalk, Video player, You Tube, Gmail messaging and maps. A very nice feature. You can even resize how much of the screen goes to each ap.

Samsung offer a terrific service for a number of their phones, this one included. It’s called Samsung Dive. It allows you to track your device (if you loose it), ring the device so you can find it. You can lock the device and even wipe it remotely. It’s a wonderful add to the device.

This device has HDMI out but it does not use the same MHL cable that the S2 uses. It seems that Samsung changed it for the Note 2 and S3 to include both the ability to do both USB OTG as well as HDMI out at the same time. I’ve ordered a cable to try it but don’t have it yet. Like most Android devices the home screen does not rotate into Landscape mode automatically. Particularly problematic with and HDMI device. I use Ultimate Rotation to get around this. If you buy a docking station you will want one that has landscape orientation.

One of the new features of the Note family is the pen. You can add a pen to lot of other screens but they aren’t very accurate making them difficult to impossible to use to draw or write. The S-Pen on the Note 2 is sensitive and accurate and usable like a normal pen. Now you can use it for drawing but honestly I have zero artistic abilities. I mean zero. You can also use the S-Pen to create actions scroll and the like but I can’t imagine taking a pen out just for this. Frankly the idea of a pen is a throw back to the days of Windows Mobile 2003 when you couldn’t do anything without a stylus. Back before everything became finger friendly. The S-Pen Note is a neat ap to allow you to take notes. A nice replacement for a pen and paper. I think this is actually quite useful in the right situations. The pages are broken into distinct length pages. I would have liked an infinite length page but oh well. Once entered you can try and convert it (dependant on how neat your writing is) or save it as a doodle. The doodle can then be sent as a jpg file or saved for future editing. The question in my mind is how much would I actually use this? And how long before I loose the pen 🙂 If this feature were available on a smaller device like say the S3 this might be even more interesting.

Browsing on this device is really a pleasant experience. Smooth scrolling, nice big screen, fast network. All in all quite a happy place to be if there is no tablet nearby.

Phones these days are all about the accessories. The Note 2 has been embraced by Samsung and the after market. There’s lots out there from car docks, desk docks, cases, spare batteries etc. And fairly reasonably priced. You will be able to trick your device out!

So in the end it comes down to a personal trade off. The first thing you have to ask yourself is, how important is one handed operation? While not impossible to do stuff with one hand it’s challenging at best. Second can you endure the physical size and weight of this device. For me personally the answer would be no. I would prefer when I want the bigger screen to carry my 7″ tablet. The device is stunning. Well designed. Limited oopsies. I just wouldn’t buy one because of size.


March 28, 2013 - Posted by | Android

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