Written by Charlotte Kertrestel
The release of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 has rippled the waters of the technology world with its ambiguity in style and features. As a result, the media has termed the handset the new ‘phablet’: a blur between the conventional mobile phone and the tablet.
A question which is paramount in my mind is whether Samsung has gone too far with this design. I am eager to determine whether the Note 2 is too large to be considered useable as a mobile phone, and whether its features and quality are of a high enough standard for it to be deemed competition within the tablet market.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 at first glance is, to put it bluntly, huge for a mobile phone. The screen measures a whopping 5.5 inches, compared its predecessor’s slightly smaller 5.3 inches, and the Samsung Galaxy S3’s 4.8 inches. Considering its size, however, the Note 2 doesn’t feel too heavy in the hand, probably due to its thinness of less than one centimetre.
Because of its size and capabilities (which we will go into more detail about below), the Note 2 has been termed a ‘phablet’; a combination of a mobile phone and tablet. When compared to tablets on the market, the phone still comes up smaller. The iPad Mini has a screen of 7.9 inches and the Google Nexus 7 is 7 inches, which is indicative of the Note 2 simply being a large mobile phone handset. When compared to Samsung tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, the Note 2 is almost half the size, inferring that the latter should be shelved in the mobile phone category.
However, what will be explored in the test drive of the Note 2 is whether its smaller dimensions mean that it is ultimately never going to compete as a miniature version of a tablet, or whether by being large, it has lost its appeal as a mobile phone.
The screen, apart from being large, is of an excellent picture quality; it has a 267 ppi pixel density, which makes images look startlingly clear, and the super AMOLED touchscreen is incredibly sensitive. The phone also has a removable S Pen, which is cleverly concealed inside the handset and allows you to activate the handwriting-to-text feature, which will be discussed in more detail later.
Another good feature of the Note 2 is, similarly to previous Samsung Galaxy handsets, the ease with which you can access the SIM card and battery, which is also removable.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is a Quad Core model with a processor of 1.6 GHz. This, when compared with its predecessor’s 1.4 GHz processor demonstrates the Note 2’s superiority, notably due to its size. It is worth noting that the Note 2 is not only superior to other mobile phones in the market; the iPad Mini’s processor speed is only 1 GHz, and the Google Nexus 7 is only 1.2 GHz. As a result, the Note 2 is incredibly fast at initiating processes, such as switching between home screens and applications.
The model is preinstalled with Android’s Jelly Bean Operating System (OS), which gives the user full access to all of the latest apps and features from Google. The Google Nexus 7 model also uses Google’s Jelly Bean OS, whereas the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet uses the slightly older Ice Cream Sandwich OS. Therefore, with the latest OS installed on the Note 2, it would seem that the handset has all the latest features to be a competitor in both the tablet and mobile phone market.
The audio and video quality was the first thing that caught my eye on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and the size of the screen made watching TV programs and videos comfortable to watch. The picture quality when watching videos was overall quite good, although when watching clips which had bright or flashing lights, such as live music, the images did seem a little pixelated.
Furthermore, the volume on the device had a large range, and it was comfortable to watch videos and programs at only half volume, meaning that the phone was capable of reaching quite a high volume at its maximum output. Although the Note 2 was capable of reaching these high volumes, however, when at maximum capacity, the audio did sound a little tinny.
Similarly to most Samsung Galaxy devices, the Note 2 was issued with a pair of good quality head phones and three different sized ear buds, making using the phone’s audio features more comfortable for the user.
The Note 2 also comes with a sensitive voice recognition feature, which allows the user to search for items on the internet browser, for contacts within the mobile’s phonebook, and for help with any application installed on the phone. The Navigation app pre-installed on the Note 2 is also an impressive feature, as can not only be easily activated using voice recognition, but due to the size of the phone’s screen, it can be used in place of a Sat-Nav, increasing the multi-faceted nature of this handset.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 comes installed with one basic game demo, ‘Sharkdash’, which is sufficient to demonstrate the handset’s impressive visual and audio abilities when it comes to gaming. Like most other Samsung smartphones, games are easily downloaded from the Google Play Store, and the ultra-sensitive touch screen on the Note 2 allows the user to play any game really comfortably, to their heart’s content.
In terms of apps that Samsung Galaxy models feature, the Note 2 really impressed me. Whilst the Kindle app is available on all Android phones, I felt that the Note 2’s 5.5” screen was the only phone which made reading on a mobile phone a comfortable experience, especially as the handset, when turned on its side, measures the same width as an actual Kindle device. Again, features such as this are what I felt made the Note 2 outstanding in fulfilling all the required features of both a mobile phone and a tablet; a device especially useful for commuters who prefer not to carry a large tablet, but who want all of the features that a tablet can offer.
One of the key features that has been promoted with regards to the Note 2 is the S-Note app, which makes use of the phone’s removable ‘S-pen’ to write, draw and type a variety of documents, from business papers to fun interior designs.
Samsung have divided the S-Note’s uses into business, education, Ideasketch and lifestyle, and feature templates for you to produce meeting notes, business notes, financial reports and mind maps, as well as travel diaries and news articles. The business folder includes a formula match which is ideal for those wanting to review or produce spreadsheets by a touch of a button. Furthermore, the Ideasketch application is an especially good feature, as it allows the user to make their own designs using the S-pen (in various colours and brush sizes), text, shape detector, clip art and image inserter.
The S-Note app also allows you to convert handwriting into text, and the sensitivity of the touchscreen means that even the scruffiest of handwriting can be translated into clear text, often at half the speed that it would take you to type the text using the QWERTY keyboard. Moreover, the Note 2’s screen senses the pen when it isn’t even pressed against the glass, which, whilst not being the most useful feature of the phone, was still impressive. A final comment about the S-Note application is how simple it is for the user to share their design or document in various formats via social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, as well as to send the items via email or ChatON (Samsung’s instant messaging service).
For the creative people out there, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 also features a Paper Artist app, pre-installed on the handset, which allows you to upload existing images or photographs, or to take new ones, and apply a large variety of effects to the image. For instance, you can change the texture and colour scheme of the design to over 34 options including Felt Pen, Mosaic, Pastelsketch, Newsprint and Watersketch.
You can further customise your images by adding a frame or by drawing extra details on the picture either with your finger or with the specially designed S-pen. It is again easy to share your masterpieces via email, text message, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter by simply pressing one icon.
Similarly to other Samsung Galaxy models, the Note 2 manages its home screens very well, allowing the user to customise their phone by filling up to seven screens with their favourite apps or widgets, downloadable from either the Samsung or Google Play app store.
Useful widgets include the Favourite Contacts app, in which you can simply insert your most used numbers to make communication with your friends or business partners much faster and easier. I also liked the fact that the Note 2 gives you the option to surf the internet, or check your email or Facebook account at the same time as playing a game or watching a video, which is helpful when, if you are like me, you are eager to open a new incoming message but don’t want to have to pause the application which you are currently working on.
The Note 2 offers an 8 MP camera which outputs with a 3264x2448 pixel resolution, which is pretty standard for most modern smartphones. The camera produces fairly high quality photographs, though I sometimes found that images appeared better when you were viewing it through the camera than they did when viewed in the gallery afterwards, where some photographs appeared a little dull. Saying that, some close-up images that I took came out very clearly and show the detail of the image incredibly well.
When compared with the Samsung Galaxy S3 camera, the Note 2 goes further in offering more post production options that you can apply to your photographs. These include, single shot, best shot (which takes the photo 8 times), best face, face detection, panorama, HDR, buddy photoshare, beauty, and low light. Some of these features, especially the best shot option, is useful when taking photos of a large group, as it avoids the usual protestations from the people who either didn’t have their eyes open, or weren’t ready for the photo to be taken… Furthermore, you can easily initiate the ‘continuous shot’ function to take a series of 20 still shots by holding down the camera icon on the touchscreen.
Yet more options to customise your photographs include a Negative, Sepia, Black and White, Cartoonify, Washed Out, Coloured Points, Solarise, Warm Vintage and Cold Vintage selection, which can help make your images a bit more fun to play around with.
The 4 x zoom on the camera is also quite good, and doesn’t make images look pixelated or out of focus.
Video recording is done via 1080p at 30 frames per second and has stereo sound recording and HD video and image recording. A feature that seems to appear on most Samsung Galaxy smartphones is the option to take still shots while you are recording a video, which means that you don’t have to keep switching between the video and photo features.
It was incredibly easy to switch from the video mode to the camera mode, with a simple swipe of a finger on the main camera screen. I also liked the fact that you can pause videos while you are capturing them, which can be especially useful for those times when people or objects move and get in the way of your line of vision.
I tested the battery life on the Note 2 in two ways; initially I used the phone to a minimal extent, simply for reading messages and emails, and after I used the device frequently, by playing games, videos and TV programs.
The battery in the Note 2 is actually larger than it was in the original Note model at 3100 milliampere-hour compared with its predecessor’s 2500 milliampere-hour, which is an obvious improvement when comparing the two models.
When left with minimal interaction, the Note 2’s battery discharged quite slowly, taking more than 4 days before it was necessary to recharge it. However, I noted that when I used the phone more intensely, the battery drained at a much more rapid rate, and needed recharging within 48 hours. In fact, the battery discharged by 20 per cent after watching a 40 minute TV program. However, I would say that the battery life of the Note 2 is not unlike most other smartphones on the market which require charging on a daily basis; it’s a small price to pay for the vast amount of apps and features that you get with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.