I’ll be honest, when Samsung first announced the Galaxy Note 2, I was a little skeptical, the main reason being the size of it, in my own mind I couldn’t see the point in what most people now call a “phablet”, which is a horrible name for a massive phone basically. However after I few days of use, I started to see why some people might choose this phone as their daily driver, and actually found other phones like the iPhone 5 or even the Galaxy S3 a little too small, and constantly found my eyes having to readjust whenever I picked up one of these phones instead, I still have that problem today.
Sized at 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4mm it can however be a bit on the larger side to hold, and can often feel a little awkward when trying to perform tasks such as sending a text message, or reading through an article with one hand. This is something Samsung seem to have thought about when designing the Note 2 however, adding a curved edge to make a little more form-fitting, and easier to hold in the hand, and on top of that the Note 2 is also pretty light, only weighing in at 183 grams.
However this attention to detail doesn’t seem to extend to the plastic body, which I can only say looks and feels a little tacky, and feels almost grease like.
On the front of the device you will find the 5.5″ Super AMOLED display, which like most other phones packing the same panel, looks great, replicating colours beautifully and displaying text in a crisp and clean manner, watching videos and catching up on your favorite website is great on this device, and its actually one of the best displays I have used on a smartphone so far, mostly due to all that real estate.
Alongside the screen there’s also a home button with two hidden soft keys for the options and back buttons, which can either be set to light up when you unlock the phone or as you tap them. Along the top you will also find that front facing camera and the two sensors.
Up on the top edge of the device is the headphone jack and secondary mic, alongside which on the right you will find the power button sitting adjacent to the volume rocker, something I personally found to be a little weird, and would have preferred it if Samsung placed the power button on the top of the device instead of the right, mainly due to the fact every time I placed the phone in my pocket, it somehow unlocked itself and started making ghost calls, and even paused music, forcing me to repeatedly start it up again each time I put the phone back in my pocket.
All that said, the main star of the show and what gives this device its name, is the inclusion of the S Pen, a slide out pen that can be cradled at the bottom of the device next to the charging port (more on that a bit later).
Taking a look around the back you’ll find the 8MP rear-facing camera with LED-flash, placed neatly above the Samsung logo, popping of the case will then reveal the SIM-card and MicroSD card slot, alongside the 3,100mAh battery, as well as the chips for the HSPA, LTE, GPS, Wi-Fi and other sensors, which are hidden somewhere within the device.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is available on a wide range of networks across the Uk and around the world, and you can pick up from Three for as little as £509 on Pay as you Go or from £34 a month on their Pay Monthly plan. (Three did send us this device for review, which is why we have included links to them, however this is in no way an advertisement, simply a nice gesture)
For the rest of the review keep scrolling, more info below.
I have to admit it, I am a huge fan of the S Pen, normally I’m not one for sketching or really using a pen at all, however I figured I might as well give it a go with the Note 2, and I have to say, much like the screen, its probably one of the best electronic pens I have used to this day.
The Note 2 is extremely intuitive and easy to use, simply slide it out of its holster and your ready to do anything from taking notes in class, to sketching a new drawing on the train, moments where the S Pen actually comes in handy.
The camera on the Note 2 is also pretty decent, featuring an 8 megapixel sensor on the back alongside a second 1.9 megapixel snapper on the front, both of which are brilliant for what they do, you won’t find amazing quality with the front or back, but they certain produce good enough photos for what the majority of people would need, and if you need something better its probably about time you purchased an actual camera.
During our testing, I found myself extremely impressed with the app loading times on the Note 2, especially with the camera, which loads up in a matter of seconds once selected, and once you have loaded the app, you will find an easy to use interface that allows you to take you shots, and select various modes and effects to use when doing so.
Autofocus on the Note 2’s camera works well, as the camera is constantly focusing on a locked object, pictures are generally quite crisp with a good overall quality, the focus can also be set to a specific location by tapping on the screen.
The flash on the camera is extremely bright however, which means the camera does work well in low-light conditions but you may end up blinding you’re subject.
Taking HD video is also a easy and intuitive experience, launched from the camera app, to start shooting a clip you simply select the video recording mode from the camera app, hit the record button and you’re ready to start filming.
The overall quality of clips is pretty decent, and I found the video recording to perform extremely well during our tests, with resolutions up to 1920 x 1080, videos can be produced in Full HD quality, however if you prefer, they can also be shot in the lower 320 x 240 resolution.
Overall sound quality is also very good and the Anti-Shake mode that is included within the app, works well for filming in shaky conditions.
Playing back video is much of the same, and with the choice of either 16/32/64GB storage built-in, you definitely won’t run out of storage to store the latest HD films on, and if you do, the Note 2 can be expanded with a microSD card sized up to 64GB, a feature not found in many Android smartphones today.
HD and even SD videos look great on this device, thanks to that Super AMOLED screen, colours a displayed in near perfect quality and with a few extra features added to the Video Player application, Samsung has certainly set the Note 2 a bar above the rest in terms of a media consumption device.
Features that allow you to do things that you have always wanted to do with a smartphone but have never had the opportunity to do so, like the Pop-up-Play function, that allows you to pop out the video player, displaying it above any other application that you are currently viewing, this allows you to multitask even further, without the distraction that can sometimes be found when using Multi-Window.
As you can easily drag and drop the player anywhere on the screen, you can easily adjust it to the content that you are currently using, however this view will only work with the included video player, so you couldn’t do the same for an app like iPlayer or YouTube.
Which is a pity, but I expect that may not entirely be Samsung’s fault.
Samsung have also decided to create their own music player for the Note 2, an application that tops Android’s normal application easily, with support for playlists and equalizers such as Virtual 7.1ch and Externalisation, Samsung have added a few much needed features to a lacking music player.
The overall interface for the application looks great, with album art displayed in the centre, above various buttons for skipping the track and setting the equalizer you would like to use for that track.
Alongside that you will find even even more features hidden away, probably one of the coolest is one called Music Square, which allows you to touch a part of the square from a selection of exciting, joyful, calm and even passionate, and it will then play back a corresponding genre of music.
Then there’s Music Hub, a feature from Samsung that work’s somewhat like Apple’s Genius feature, scanning your phones music and displaying tracks that you might like according to your current music taste.
The service is powered by 7Digital, which of course means you need to pay a subscription fee to use it, however upon opening the app for the first time, you are granted a free 7 day trial, without entering any information whatsoever.
From the music hub you can also access the included FM Radio, completely free of charge.
Even though the Note 2 runs on Android 4.1.2 (some still run Android 4.1.1 or lower), there’s a wide selection of features included within the device that you will find on no other phone running the same OS.
All of which have been packed into Samsung’s overlay, something you might know by the name, TouchWiz, these new features truly set it apart from the rest, something that some might see as a pure inconvenience whilst others find it to be one of the best features included in the Galaxy line-up.
Personally, I like it, I find most of the features Samsung have included to be extremely functional, simple ones like showing a new page on the homescreen, that can show music related widgets when you plug-in a set of headphones, is a winning feature in my view, and something I think a lot of other manufactures should take notice too.
These pages include a S Pen page, Earphones page, Docking page and a Roaming page, each showing their own customisable app page whenever you do anything from docking the phone, to turning on roaming.
Within these pages you can add whatever widget or app shortcut you wish, saving space on your other app pages. However not all these additions are as great, but some of these can simply be switched off to never be seen again, so the phone is truly up to you, if you don’t like a feature like S Voice and prefer Google Now, switch it off, simples.
Of course, the Note 2 has full access to the Google Play store, so you can download as many apps, widgets and live wallpapers as your internet limit will allow you too, once you have done which, you can access any of your downloaded or pre-installed apps through the app drawer, which can be accessed by tapping the icon on the bottom right of the homescreen, next to the other four customisable shortcuts.
Another great addition that comes with TouchWiz is multi-window, which allows you to run two separate apps on the screen at the same time, a feature which is makes life so much easier, imagine, you’re in the middle of watching a film, but want to check the news, simply hold the back button and a new tab will pop up on the left of the screen, simply drag over a couple of apps onto the top and bottom halves of the display and your ready to go.
The only problem with this, is only apps that already support the feature can be used, which may seem like a bummer but they do already include a great set of apps like Twitter, Chrome and YouTube, so its not all that bad.
Android Jelly Bean also adds a few features of its own, the most notable of which being Google Now, a new assistant app from Google, that has widely been praised for its skill at learning what you want to search at the time you need it, for example if you were on your way to work, Now will display the traffic as well as displaying other information such as the weather or who that actor is from the film you watched last night, in the form of a pop up card.
A feature which I found to work very well and can be extremely responsive for more or less any task, ask it who the president of America is and it will tell you in just a couple of seconds, I was actually pretty impressed with its overall reliability, however it does seem a little robotic, and won’t perform tasks such as sending a text as well as Siri would.
The contacts application is pretty much the same to any other Android based phone, with shortcuts displayed to both the contacts list and the actual phone application, your numbers and e-mails can be accessed with ease. Samsung have added a few new things however, swiping a contact to the right will allow you to call them, or you can simply lift the phone to your ear once a contact has been selected and the phone will begin to call them automatically.
Once in that view, thumbnails for your contacts are then displayed behind their name and information, just in case you forgot what they look like during a phone call. Social networking also links well with your contacts, which can be synced from your e-mail, Facebook and other networks, however the annoying thing is that these contacts won’t actually link up with each other, so you will end up with one contact from Facebook and another from your Outlook account, truly annoying.
Calling a contact is a great experience, and I didn’t find any problems with signal quality or call dropouts during my tests. In terms of messaging, you get a ton of options upon opening the box, including access to GMail, Samsung’s own Chat On service and of course the usual SMS and MMS facilities. All of which I found to work perfectly fine, however I didn’t get a chance to test Samsung’s own mail application or the ChatOn service, I took a quick look and thought that they weren’t for me, and as such didn’t get round to using them too much during my review.
However within all of these apps, their downfall, at least in my opinion, is Samsung’s keyboard, which I found to be a little too small, I found myself making mistakes a little too often, despite the phones auto-correct functions, that display a suggested word above the keyboard, helping make typing out messages a little quicker.
Of course, if you don’t like the keyboard there’s a couple of other features you can use instead, the first of which is Google’s voice-to-text dictation, which works just as you would expect with any other Android phone that includes it, recognizing words quite accurately and in a matter of seconds.
However the feature that sets the Note 2 apart is the addition of handwriting recognition, which allows you to pull out the S Pen and actually write out your texts just as you would have done with a pen and paper, this feature is normally pretty accurate, however with some handwriting styles and words, the system may choke a little.
However its still a fun experience, even if the phone an’t read you’re handwriting.
Browsing the web is probably one of my favorite things to do on this device, mainly due to the mammoth screen, capable of showing full web pages without hassle. During testing I found pages loaded up pretty quickly, our own site only taking a couple of seconds to fully load on our second attempt at testing, the first took a little longer due to the cookie acceptance, however you will find other sites like the BBC’s homepage, load up without a second to think about it, even whilst browsing on mobile data.
Within the browser you can also load up a reader, that will take an article and remove all the content you don’t need, only displaying the title and the actual content, something that I like to think our mobile site already does, but still, it’s a nice feature. One feature some might miss from the Note 2, is support for flash.
This is something that is starting to happen to a lot of phones recently, mostly due to the dominance that is HTML5, which does sometimes mean that videos won’t load due to incompatibility, but hopefully other websites will start to roll out the new technology soon.
Personally however, I didn’t actually find myself using Samsung’s browser all that much, as I prefer using Google’s Chrome application, as it syncs with all my data, and simply works.
With all these features, you might think that the battery life is pretty shoddy, but actually you would be wrong in saying that, as during my tests, I actually found the Note 2’s battery to hold up pretty well, I’m not saying the battery life is amazing, but you will certainly be able to get a good days use from a single charge, so if you don’t mind plugging your phone in each night, this phone’s battery is perfect really.
If you are a power user, you might find that this time decreases quite heavily, especially if you start surfing the web, and auto syncing files to the cloud, so you might want to start using a few battery saving techniques if you want to get the device to last that little bit longer throughout the day.
In order to help you with this, Samsung have actually added a Power saving mode, that once turned on will limit the maximum CPU performance and help conserve the battery life with various methods once the battery gets below a certain percentage.
Overall I’m pleasantly surprised with how good the Galaxy Note 2 actually is, and after coming into this review somewhat skeptical, I can honestly say that I have been converted, larger screens on smartphones are definitely better. But that’s not to say the Note 2 doesn’t have it’ own flaws, with a cheap feeling look and feel, the Note 2 and in fact most Galaxy devices can look a little tacky when placed next to something like the HTC One or the iPhone 5, alongside which some of the features Samsung have included might not be for everyone, and as they do add more of a learning curve to the Android platform, it can make learning how to use the phone quite difficult.
That said, if you’re looking for a device with a huge screen, the Note 2 is certainly a great option.
Disclosure: Three sent us this product for review purposes.