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Samsung Galaxy Note II review

Verdict

The unusual form factor will put some off but, in every respect, this is a superb device

Review Date: 25 Oct 2012

Reviewed By: Mike Jennings

Price when reviewed: Free, on a £31.00 per month, 24 months contract.

Buy it now for: £260
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
6 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

Samsung’s original Galaxy Note was the subject of much derision from tech fans: after all, who’d buy a smartphone with a huge 5.3in screen, and a stylus, in 2012? Despite all the scoffing, customers flocked – and now Samsung has unleashed the sequel – with an even bigger 5.5in display.

The first Galaxy Note followed in the footsteps of the Galaxy S II with its black chassis, so it’s only fitting the Note II looks like a Galaxy S III on steroids. It’s available in the same marble white or pebble blue finish, has the same rim of chrome around the edges, and the Samsung logo and row of sensors even occupy the same positions above screen. The home button looks a little different, the corners aren’t quite as curved, and its 9.4mm frame is a few millimetres thicker. But it shares its plasticky build with the S III, with that flexible, flimsy rear panel and the odd creak in the chassis.

Samsung Galaxy Note II

This is a very different beast, though, and you’ll realise that as soon as you fire it up for the first time. Although the Note II has a capacitive touchscreen that works like any other, this device is all about the S Pen stylus, which can be stowed away in a slot in the bottom-right corner, and the screen’s Wacom-licensed digitiser technology. To get you started, there’s a bevy of creatively geared list and note templates, but the S Pen makes its influence felt throughout the rest of the heavily tweaked version of Android 4.1.1 (aka Jelly Bean).

Hovering the tip of the pen over a gallery folder, for example, opens up a thumbnail preview, while waving it over a contact flashes up their details. Removing the S Pen during a call launches a small notepad app, and the phone even sounds an alert if you begin to walk away without the S Pen stashed in its slot.

Samsung Galaxy Note II

A button on the stylus unlocks more options. Hold it down and flick up on the home screen, and you’ll unlock Quick Command, which enables fast note-taking. It supports gestures, too: by default you can write an “@” symbol to draft a quick email, “?” to open the search box and “!” to load Google Maps. You can also define your own gestures for opening apps or performing other functions: we told the Note II to open the Amazon app every time we scrawled “a”, and it worked flawlessly.

Other software features don’t need the S Pen to work successfully. A tab on the left-hand side of the screen opens up a menu of common apps, and Samsung acknowledges the screen’s potential awkwardness by including options to move the dialler, keyboard and calculator keypads to the left or right sides of the screen. And many of the features we loved on the S III appear on the Note II. Smart Stay monitors your usage to turn the screen off, the processor can be reined in and haptic feedback disabled to save power, and S Voice also returns.

Inside, there are more small differences: it employs the same quad-core Exynos 4412 processor as the S III, but runs at a slightly faster 1.6GHz rather than 1.4GHz, and the RAM has been doubled to 2GB. That results in a stellar set of benchmark results: the Note II scored 5,892 in Quadrant, ahead of the S III’s 5,413, and its SunSpider score of 1,042ms isn’t far behind the 932ms of the iPhone 5.

The Note II runs Jelly Bean and this makes for a wonderfully smooth experience when combined with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI tweaks. There’s no sign of slowdown during navigation, and high-end games run without a hitch: N.O.V.A. 3, Shadowgun and Dead Trigger all run flawlessly – an improvement over the S III, which struggles on occasion with the toughest titles.

Samsung Galaxy Note II

Size aside, there are few differences between the Note II and S III’s screens. Both have an aspect ratio of 16:9, a resolution of 720 x 1,280, and the 239cd/m2 measured brightness and Super AMOLED panel’s perfect black levels make for a picture quality that’s bright, punchy and has plenty of depth. The larger diagonal does mean the pixels aren’t as dense, but you’ll be hard-pressed to see any of them unless you look very, very closely.

The Note has an 8mp camera, which is standard fare on phones these days, but Samsung has carried over many of the software enhancements we loved on the S III. The burst mode still takes 20 shots at just over 3fps, and the face detection and HDR modes work just as well. Technical users will be pleased by the glut of advanced options, from metering and white-balance options to manual ISO selection, and quality is still excellent.

Samsung Galaxy Note II

One feature that is out of the ordinary is the 3,100mAh battery, which is larger than the power pack in most other smartphones, and in our tests it proved its worth. After 24 hours during which we carried out a series of controlled tests, the Note II had 78% of its battery left – one of the best results we’ve seen from any smartphone, and a big improvement on the 60% result of the original Note.

This powerful, long-lasting and intriguing device doesn’t come cheap. It’s free on a £31-a-month contract, and you’ll have to shell out £522. That’s much more than Samsung’s Galaxy S III – almost enough to buy a 16GB iPhone 5. And its undeniably odd form factor won’t appeal to all. However, the design of the S III scales up well, TouchWiz is still slick, and stylus-specific software is implemented well. The awkward size means the Galaxy S III is still our smartphone of choice, but if you’re after a device to bridge the gap between smartphones and tablets, this is as good as it gets.

Author: Mike Jennings

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User comments

Best Smartphone yet

Had mine for five days and am blown away by it. Don't be put off by the large size, it fits snugly into my shirt pocket yet provides me with a very advanced tablet and a very advanced phone, the large size is a REAL advantage, now I don't know how I put up with my tiddly little HTC Desire for so long. The software provided is very well thought out (and lots of it) and perfectly integrated to the unit, Jelly Bean is great. Battery life is incredible. Why don't PC Pro give the sim free prices? mine was £520 Superb device and worth every penny.

By MikeHitchcock on 25 Oct 2012

A PDA by another name!

Ten years of technological advances to end up with a PDA + a mobile phone chip.

Thinks the marketing boys are laughing all the way to the bank.

By dholbon on 25 Oct 2012

@dholbon

Your PDA had a high resolution colour screen, could access the net at good speed, doubled as a sat nav, had an 8MP camera, HD video, could play FPS games and had voice recognition?

Wow.. That must have been some machine, back in the 90's.....

By TigerUnleashed on 25 Oct 2012

When Dell launched the Streak some 2 1/2 years ago, most reviews including PCpro said it was too big. What's changed?

By R4N6ER5RE4DY on 25 Oct 2012

@R4N6ER5RE4DY

What's changed is the brand. Any device with the name Samsung on it seems to get an automic thumbs up on PCPro.

By rascar_capac on 25 Oct 2012

@R4n6er

The Streak was too early is the main thing. The OS and hardware needed for a decent user experience wasn’t available yet.

Most reviews (including PCPro) also said the original Note was too big, but it sold in droves because it worked well and people appreciated the extra choice in the market of having a big screen with a well integrated stylus.

@rascar_capac
Is an automic [sic] thumbs up better or worse than a nuclear thumbs up?

By TheHonestTruth on 25 Oct 2012

@TheHonestTruth

Tough to say, but neither is as good as an "automatic" thumbs up.....(clearly the "a" & the "t" decided to go for a walkabout in my first attempt)!

By rascar_capac on 25 Oct 2012

Nuts!

Some of guys are like radical christians!! such opinions even without using one! try it before u slag it!

By mcmpro1 on 25 Oct 2012

IMHO, the most advanced smartphone on the market

Having had all manner of BlackBerrys for seven years (none of which I got on that well with) then an iPhone 3GS (which I loved), the Note 2 that I've had for nearly two weeks blows them all out of the water. It is so much more advanced than the competition. It has a beautiful screen, a multitude of built in apps that will keep you amused for days and very responsive UI.

It is not 100% perfect of course, nothing is. TouchWiz, the Samsung layer over Jellybean, has crashed a few times but it recovers immediately after you click OK.

It doesn't feel too big in your pocket, unless you wear very tight trousers, as it is quite light weight and although it doesn't feel cheap, due to its size I don't know how robust it will be. I wouldn't want to drop it from more than a couple of feet above the ground. I have a cheap rubber bumper and screen protector on it until the MiTab or Poetic cases are out, then I will remove the screen protector - it's such a shame to have such a glorious screen only to have it dulled.

The camera is terrific and web browsing is a pleasure.

The size is ultimately, a matter of taste and probably not for everyone. But if you bought one you would want it for the larger screen otherwise you wouldn't get it. And it isn't *that* big really. When you've used it for a very short time, other phones seem far too small.

By Phewie on 25 Oct 2012

Works Exceptionally Well

Good review Mike. I would have given it 5 stars but depends what you need it for. Want a large screen and good inbuilt software? Then this is for you. I've had all the smart phones and recently held out to try this. On the demo in high st shop I wanted to buy it as soon as I started playing with it even though could have saved £50 buying it on line, it was that good. I was worried about the weight not the size. TBH I don't notice either. I carry it in my suit trousers no problem and dont have deep pockets. The form factor is perfect as I spend more time using the smart features than the phone. Comfort and handling can be achieved one handed. The pen handwriting CR is the best I have used on a mobile. The Note II is worth the price tag.

By thakaptain on 29 Oct 2012

Awesome phone

I need something new on the AT&T 4GLTE network (contract expiring), so I'm looking at this. As a graphic designer who scribbles on the go, I'm putting the G Note 2 on my list, but it’s heavy. Too bad we can't order custom-made phones!

By TPuente on 25 Dec 2012

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