Cellphones used to be big and heavy. Then, they started getting smaller, thinner and light. Now, they’re starting to be bigger again. The Galaxy Note 2 is a good example of a big phone. At 5.5 inches, we bet half the population will have a hard time holding it with one hand.
The first generation Galaxy Note was already huge at 5.3 inches. It was already considered a cross between a smartphone and a tablet (we don’t like the term phablet though) and it comes with a built-in stylus.
With its success, it was obvious that Samsung would refresh the whole idea and offer something better. So came the Galaxy Note 2. Bigger, faster, brighter, smarter.
Here’s a quick unboxing video we did several weeks ago when we first got the phone.
No question here that the Galaxy Note 2 got its design inspiration from the Galaxy S3. That, plus a few more additional touches that are genetically inhereted from the GNote line.
Design and Construction
The Galaxy Note line has always represented the hybrid class, a cross between a superphone and a tablet that offers the comfort, usability and portability of both. The Note 2 has that typical shape reminiscent of the first Galaxy Note and the Galaxy S3.
The 5.5-inch display makes the handset really huge that single hand operation is almost impossible (unless you got really big hands). The phone is thin but due to its size, you’ll certainly feel the heft.
The front panel is covered entirely in glass (Gorilla Glass 2) with a slightly rounded corner. The power button is found on the right side, the 3.5mm jack is on the top, the volume controls are on the left and the micro-USB port and slot for the S Pen are found at the bottom side.
The backside is smooth, somewhat rounded and tapers towards the edges. The 8MP rear camera is found the the top corner along with the LED flash while the speaker is at the bottom. For this model, the trimmings are in silver which help highlight the ivory or pebble white color and finish of the handset.
The form factor really requires that you use it with both hands, unless you have really big hands. And, it’s not pocket friendly as well.
The Galaxy Note 2 is actually the biggest smartphone we’ve seen in the market. It sports a 5.5-inch Super AMOLED HD display with a screen resolution of 720p (1280×720 pixels), giving it a pixel density of 267ppi. That’s a little lower than the 285ppi of the first Galaxy Note and is already pretty good if you’re looking at it from a tablet perspective. However, in the smartphone category, anything under 300ppi might seem unimpressive.
Nevertheless, the Super AMOLED display looks really good as always — it’s sharp, bright and colors a vivid. The Note 2 is a bit taller than its predecessor, thus changing the aspect ratio of the screen (from 16:9 to 16:10).
The accompanying stylus (S Pen) is a bit larger than the old one and now more similar to the one on the Note 10.1. Aside from using as a navigating tool, the stylus serves a pretty specialized function — for sketching/drawing and precision actions. This is where the S Pen really does wonders. From experience, the S Pen works much better than the one on the first GNote and drawings are more precise and smoother.
Because of the full glass front panel, we noticed that the screen is very prone to glare under direct sunlight but not to the usual bright indoor light sources.
Apps, UI and OS
The Galaxy Note 2 came out with Android Jellybean right out of the box. That’s a huge plus point when everybody else normally just offers ICS when released. Samsung continues to improve on their custom UI, the TouchWiz UI 4.0, and adds a few more snippets of goodies with the Note 2.
When you remove the S Pen, the device automatically detects and alerts you. Then the screen will pull out the S Note application in anticipation of you using the S Pen for making notes or sketching.
TouchWiz UI 4.0 is simple and has less eye-candy but the selection of widgets are better and other UI customizations are improving. There are 7 home screens that you can customize and a lot more widgets to use.
First introduced in the Galaxy S3, S Voice still exists as a personal voice assistant. We’ve tried it a number of times but we’re always getting “Network Error” responses even if we tried several connections. Even a simple response to a “hello” would take longer than usual. If it’s not our internet connection, we think its their servers that are already overloaded.
Multimedia and Camera
The large 5.5-inch screen of the Note 2 makes it an idea media player when no tablet or bigger screen is available around. Great for watching movies and streaming YouTube videos — not too big to be conspicuous and not too small to make out the details.
The sound quality is also very good, has enough volume when you want to crank it up and audio is pretty crisp and clear. At this size, even reading eBooks and browsing the web is more comfortable to the eyes (it also afford you to put more distance between the screen and your eyes).
The camera on the Note 2 is downright impressive. It’s got the same exact optical quality as the Galaxy S3.
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We always get very sharp images, fast focusing, colors are well saturated and performance in dark or low-light environments is really good. Here’s a collection of video clips we shot using the rear camera.
The image stabilization is still noticeable in some shots but over-all, the video quality is very clean, sharp and in focus.
Performance and Benchmarks
The numbers will not lie — the Galaxy Note 2 got benchmark numbers through the roof. All three of our standard benchmark tools gave the Galaxy Note 2 the highest marks we’ve seen. Quadrant Standard result is 6,592, Antutu Benchmark has a total score of 13,540 and NenaMark 2 puts the graphics performance at 57.9fps.
Doubling the RAM on the Note 2 proved to be great move as it allows for more applications to be loaded simultaneously. The quad-core processor is utilized when running several programs all at the same time.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Taking calls using the Note 2 might look silly because of its size but you’ll get used to it. Our experience will voice calls are pretty good, have not had any dropped calls, or garbled conversations. The dual microphones helped a lot in noise reduction when taking calls. We’ve experienced some delays in receiving SMS notifications but we think it is more of a network issue than a hardware issue.
With a bigger screen and processing power, it’s no surprise that Samsung had to add more battery capacity on the Note 2. At 3,100mAh, it’s actually the highest rated battery we’ve ever seen in any smartphone (that’s actually bordering into the tablet space already). The battery can last all day even with heavy use and can extend to a full two days with moderate use (especially with mobile internet).
Samsung took a really good concept from the Galaxy Note and made it even better with the Note 2. It’s one hell of an Android phone, packed with the best hardware and the best software with sprinkle of goodness everywhere else. But, and there’s always a BUT, it’s not really for everyone.
The Galaxy Note’s most appealing feature, the 5.5-inch display, could also be the same reason why other would think it’s an over-kill of a phone. We hate to say it but size does matter.
The Note 2 is a significant upgrade from the original Galaxy Note — twice the processing power, twice the RAM, and better battery capacity.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is available on postpaid plans with Globe and Smart (which we think is worth it) but you can also get it in stores at the retail price of Php32,990.
Samsung Galaxy Note II N7100 specs:
5.5″ HD Super AMOLED display @ 1280×720 pixels, 267ppi
Gorilla Glass 2
Exynos 4412 Quad 1.6GHz processor
16GB, 32GB, 64GB internal storage
up to 64GB via microSD card
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, dual-band 2.4GHz & 5.0GHz
8MP rear camera, 1080p video recording
1.9MP front-facing camera
GPS with aGPS support, GLONASS
3100mAh Li-Ion battery
Android 4.1.1 Jellybean
What we liked about it:
- Impressive and powerful specs
- Long battery life
- Great front and rear camera
- Large HD display
- Jellybean out of the box
- Inclusion of the S Pen
What we did not like:
- Not for single-handed operation
- Plastic construction