Ease of Learning: 4 / 5
Ease of Use: 4.5 / 5
Enjoyment: 4.5 / 5
Design: 4 / 5
Value for Money: 4 / 5
A year ago, almost to the day, we featured the original Samsung Galaxy Note on FoS. Samsung has released the new Galaxy Note II roughly a year after its first appearance, which can only mean that, as with the Galaxy S series, we will see a new iteration every year going forward. This isn’t by any means a bad thing, although you may become frustrated reading about the latest rumours for the update almost as soon as you’ve made your purchase. With the Galaxy Note series, the updates lie in its size, growing slowly each year. I can only imagine that before too long it will inch toward the 7” mark, officially making it a tablet.
As in most cases, we start off with the hardware specs, and firstly, its size. The Samsung Galaxy Note II has been beefed up by 0.2”. If the original 5.3” screen was too big for you, this 5.5” screen will definitely not do it for you. The increase may seem insignificant, but a direct comparison between the two shows quite a difference. A lot of its design is reminiscent of the Galaxy SIII. This isn’t a negative at all, since Samsung spent a large amount of capital in researching the best layout for bigger smartphones when held in one hand. So in the end, the Galaxy Note II looks like an oversized SIII, with the same build quality and the same buttons, camera, speaker, and sensor locations.
The Note II is equipped with a powerful Quad-Core 1.6GHz CPU, compared to the original Dual-Core 1.4GHz CPU. The RAM remains the same at 2GB (although a few versions only had 1GB of RAM), along with the Mali-400MP GPU. The battery has increased from 2500mAh to 3100mAh, which results in an additional 3 hours talk time over a 3G network. There have also been many other improvements under the hood, such as improved 3G connectivity, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC (standard across all variants).
The original Galaxy Note shipped with Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread, which seems like an age away. The lack of OS and software upgrades angered many of Samsung’s patrons last year, most especially those who owned the Galaxy Note. There was a significant lag in response when using the S-Pen, which was confirmed by Samsung themselves. The company promised a lot of the bugs would be fixed with the upgrade to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which took an eternity to arrive.
The Note II, thankfully, ships with Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, including the latest version of TouchWiz, which makes a world of difference in performance with and without the S-Pen. The OS has a few new apps and features such as customised menus for one-handed operation, Auto Share Shot Pairing using NFC, Multi-Window and a host of others. A few of the apps and features can also be found on the SIII, such as Smart Stay, S-Beam, Direct Call, S-Memo, S-Planner, etc. The S-Pen has a few improvements of its own, with a new “hovering” functionality, enhanced sensitivity when pressed and a few other minor changes.
With a smartphone of such calibre, you would guess that there’d be very few issues to be had. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, and isn’t here either. Although it’s 5.5” screen size is something to behold, I am a bit downcast with its pixel per inch count, at only 267 (compared to the 306 you find in the Galaxy SIII). The reason for the lower PPI is that it has the same 720x1280px resolution you find on the SIII, which means that the display has been stretched to accommodate the larger screen. On its own, you wouldn’t even notice this, but when compared, again, to the SIII, you will notice the slightest of granularity. Even more surprising is that the original Note had a resolution of 800×1280 at 285ppi. Samsung decided to change the aspect ratio of the screen (from 16:10 to the more standard, 16:9), which, in turn, changes the dimensions.
There’s no uncertainty of the Note II’s superiority over most, if not all, smartphones available today. It offers the user a big enough screen to work on and includes working with multiple windows concurrently. It also has the power to complete tasks faster than your average smartphone, which isn’t a bad thing either. The only other test, then, is whether it has the graphics capability during gameplay. Off the bat, without any real tests, one would expect the results to match that of the SIII, since they sport the same GPU. This means that it has a little less to offer than the HTC One X’s Tegra 3 GPU. After spending some time playing a few big name games such as Real Racing 2, Modern Combat 3 and ShadowGun: DeadZone I came to the following conclusion: although having a larger screen adds to the gaming experience, there’s little to no difference in terms of visual effects over the SIII. The only notable change is that the game and menus will load a bit quicker, which makes a big difference to most gamers.
With over 3 million Galaxy Note IIs sold in its first 2 months since released, there’s no doubting this smartphone’s popularity. In most cases involving smartphones, bigger is better. But where do we draw the line? The Galaxy Note II, upon its release, was the biggest smartphone around. Rumours have already been making the rounds that the Samsung Galaxy Note III will feature a 6.3” screen, growing from 5.3 to 5.5, and then 6.3 inches over its short existence. If you were a fan of the original, you’ll definitely be a fan of the Galaxy Note II. Although you may not be entirely convinced to upgrade, there is enough there to give it a thought or two. If only some attention was given to the resolution and PPI, this would have made a huge difference, and the Note II would have been an almost flawless device.
The other question to many is whether to choose the Note II over the SIII. If you compare these two smartphones point for point, the Note II is definitely the stronger. The real deciding factor is the cost. The recommended retail price of the Samsung Galaxy Note II is R8,000, almost R2,000 more expensive than the Galaxy SIII. Even with such a seemingly high cost, it’s still around R1,500 cheaper than the entry-level Apple iPhone 5. If that is of little concern to you, or if you can find a suitable deal from your selected mobile operator, I would like to think most people would choose the Note II, including myself.
You can find the full specifications here.