24
Oct
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Last Updated: October 29th, 2012

I panned the Note 10.1 in my review. It was subtitled "An Embarrassing, Lazy, Arrogant Money Grab" and, for my conclusion, I took a picture of it in a trashcan. I did not like it. It had erratic performance, a squishy, creaky back, and a bunch of gimmicky features that didn't work. Now, I've got a Note II!

I'm happy to report the Note II is not as crappy as its bigger brother. It's much more solidly built in comparison, really fast, and god help me, some of the TouchWiz features are actually good. They greatly improved the split screen app feature of the Note 10.1, and I think Samsung has finally found their huge, differentiating software feature that they've been searching for.

Of course, I am practically required to mention that the Note II is freaking HUGE, which I am totally fine with. How "fine" you are with it is entirely going to depend how large your hands are, how important a phone is to you, and the size of your pockets. The only way to determine that is, honestly, to try one for yourself.

I've gotten to play with an international Note II as well as the T-Mobile version, and here's where the craziness comes in: they have totally different features. The international Note II has split screen multitasking, and the T-Mobile one does not. I've seen YouTube videos of a built-in screen recorder (which would have been really handy for this review), and it's completely MIA from both of my phones. These are serious, headlining features that are just missing. I'm going to write this review assuming eventually everything gets fixed via OTAs at some point, but if you're thinking of getting a Note II, make sure the version you're getting has the features you want, because right now, the T-Mobile version is missing the Note's best one!

Specifications

  • 1.6GHz Quad-Core Exynos 4412
  • Mali-400MP GPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16/32/64 GB ROM (partitioned as unified storage) with microSDHC slot
  • 5.5 inch, 1280x720 Super AMOLED Display with new sub-pixel layout
  • 3100 mAh Removable Battery
  • 8 MP Rear Camera, 1.9MP Front Camera
  • WiFi A/B/G/N
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB 2.0 Host, MHL
  • Dimensions: 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4mm
  • Weight: 182.5g
  • Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean!) with TouchWiz

The Good

  • This split screen implementation is amazing. It may have a very limited app selection, but that selection now includes the useful Google apps that I use every day. Split screen Gmail, Chrome, Talk, and YouTube is multitasking nirvana. This will change the way you use your phone.
  • A much more appealing, more rectangular design that ditches the blob-like exterior of the GSIII. The top and bottom bezels are a lot slimmer than they are on the GSIII, and the gray, seam-filled, brushed faux-aluminum rim has been ditched for a faux-chrome rim. I like it. I wish it came in black.
  • An awesome 8MP camera that takes seriously pretty pictures. The built-in burst mode (just hold down the button) is handy, too.
  • A 3100mAh battery. This will last you the entire day, the entire night, and usually a bit into the next day. There's really no secret to it, a really big phone can pack a really big battery. This is the one of the few phones that shouldn't have MAXX envy.

The Bad

  • Cheap-feeling, glossy, slippery plastic. I feel like a broken record here, but this is particularly damaging (literally) for the Note II. It is big enough that your grip isn't as encompassing as it is on a smaller phone, so you are much more likely to drop it. The back is about as slick to the touch as the screen is, which isn't good. Something grippier is really needed for devices this large. 
  • The hardware buttons. The S-Pen can't activate Menu and Back, and pressing the mechanical Home button with it is very awkward. You would think they would design the phone to work with its special input device. They didn't.
  • The keyboard. Space bar doesn't insert the current auto correct suggestion, so unless you go out of your way to tap the prediction bar, there's no autocorrect.
  • TouchWiz is ugly, gimmicky, confusing, poorly thought out, and now, really bloated. Everything has a million features, a million checkboxes and switches, and a million menu items. Samsung has taken the "throw everything to the wall and see what sticks" strategy in regards to software development, but they never retire the crappy ideas, which are most of their ideas.

Hardware

Design & Materials

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Imagine if you took a Galaxy S III, kicked all the lawyers out of the room, and undid all of the changes they made to put legal space between it and the iPhone. I guess they felt confident enough with the S-Pen and the massive size difference to throw out the Apple trade dress rulebook and design a phone logically.

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The Note II ditches the GSIII's amorphous, blob-like design and goes for a rectangle with rounded corners. The ugly, seam-filled faux-brushed aluminum was replaced with a much better looking faux-chrome ring, and the top and bottom bezels were shrunk down. The result is a decently attractive device.

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The back is also better looking than the GSIII. The chrome ring extends around the back enough that it completely covers the corners, leaving the battery cover as a much flatter, normal-looking backing. It really cuts down on the "endless ocean of plastic" look the GSIII has going on.

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Sadly, the Note II is still plastic. It's built with Samsung's now-standard cheap-feeling, glossy plastic, and no matter how many times they shove this crap out the door, I still won't find it acceptable. Samsung is dead last when it comes to materials: Apple builds everything out of glass and aluminum, the same goes for Asus's high-end stuff, HTC uses milled unibody polycarbonate, and even Motorola's budget phone is made with an aluminum frame and a Kevlar back. The RAZR M blows this thing away, and you could buy 3 of them (on contract) for the price of a Note II.

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The plastic back is about as slick as the Gorilla Glass screen, a surface that is made to be a slippery as possible, so that you can smoothly glide your fingers across it. I actually think that's what they're going for - they want the screen and back to feel like the same material.

The huge problem with that idea is that I need to hold this, so, news flash Samsung, slickness is bad. The slipperiness on the Note II is especially problematic - because it is so huge. Your grip isn't as encompassing as it is on smaller phones. Your fingers don't get as much "wrap-around" as they normally would, and many people will have to adjust their grip from the bottom to the middle, so that they can reach every part of the screen. I've had a lot of friends I show it to say "I feel like I'm going to drop this" because the size and slickness makes for a really bad combination. As opposed something like the Nexus 7, which has a grippy back because Google and Asus understand you're more likely to drop a bigger, one handed device.

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Samsung has been nice enough to include an RGB notification LED. The regular software will only show about 3 colors, but something like Light Flow will unlock the whole LED rainbow. It's always cool of OEMs to include these when 99% of customers won't take advantage of it. It's like an enthusiast-only hardware feature.

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The back cover peels off just like a GSIII, which reveals a MicroSD slot, SIM slot, and a huge, 3100mAh removable battery. The back cover is held on with tiny plastic tabs, which look like they'll break off after a week, but the same design on my Galaxy Nexus has been standing up to my abuse for a year.

Hardware Buttons Vs. The S-Pen

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I hate these hardware buttons. Not because hardware buttons are old, lame, and inflexible, which they are, but because they will be one of the most used parts of the device, and Samsung managed to screwed up every possible aspect of them.

For starters, they're backward. Google, HTC, Motorola, LG, Asus, Acer, and even Apple all put their Back buttons on the left - probably because the button points left. The back button in a browser is always on the left too. We read left to right; left is where we used to be. It just makes sense: left is back. The back button should go on the left.

Samsung insists on putting Back on the right - in a different spot from everyone else and everything else. They're also invisible when they aren't lit up, so if you aren't used to this crazy layout, you're going to want to go to display settings and set them to "always on."

Second, I'm supposed to use this thing with the S-Pen, right? Then why is there a hardware home button? Pressing a slippery, plastic button with a slippery, plastic pen is incredibly awkward. The amount of force you need to impart through the pen and into the button really unpleasant and clunky. The Note 10.1 has software buttons, which meant one quick tap and you were on your way. Having to hit the home button is a huge speed bump in your workflow.

Even worse than the difficult to press home button are the capacitive Menu and Back buttons - they do not work with the S-Pen at all. I don't mean they work poorly, or that they are hard to use with the S-Pen, I mean tapping on them does absolutely nothing. The special S-Pen-aware touch surface does not extend to the button area, so the buttons cannot be activated with the S-Pen. Samsung implemented a clunky pen gesture for Menu and Back, but that's still much slower and more difficult that just tapping a button.

This is just a jaw-dropping oversight. On the Note 10.1, with its software buttons, you can easily zip around from app to app with the S-Pen, on the Note II, it is slow, awkward, and annoying. I never casually use the S-Pen because it is just so unpleasant to navigate the OS with it.

Samsung was supposed to design a phone that revolved around pen input. In their zeal to recycle the Galaxy S III design, they completely and utterly failed at that job.

As for the S-Pen itself, it works about as well as it did on the Note 10.1. It doesn't really feel necessary, and app compatibility for it is extremely limited. It mostly just works as an old-school Palm stylus. Samsung claims the pen supports 1000 levels of pressure sensitivity, but S-Note, the primary pen app, seems like it only supports about 5. 1000 levels of sensitivity to decide if you want an 8 pixel line or a 13 pixel line is just a bit of overkill.

Screen

The screen is not Pentile, but it doesn't have a traditional sub-pixel layout, either. I've yet to hear a definitive name for it, Samsung just calls it "HD Super AMOLED."  So if it's not Pentile, and it's not a normal RGB stripe, what exactly is it?

It's this:

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A normal RGB stripe layout is a row of red, green, and blue sub-pixels, but this has a tall blue sub-pixel, and the red and green sub-pixels stacked on top of each other! If you'd like to see a giant, 5MB version of this picture, click here.

In person, it looks great. Pentile's trademark checkerboarding is gone, and you can clearly see you're getting more sub-pixels on this than you would normally get on a typical Samsung AMOLED. Everything is smoother and crisper than a GSIII or Galaxy Nexus. The only flaw I've found is that some edges don't quite look right. The Play Store icon, for instance, has a pink line at the bottom. Which makes sense given the pixel layout. It's barely noticeable though.

Performance

With Samsung really pushing the multitasking envelope, all this extra processing horsepower suddenly has a lot to do. Now that you can actually have a video open while you surf the internet, you'd better make sure the processor can manage all that.

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The 1.6GHz Exynos will easily handle a single app, and will plow through your dual app workload pretty easily, too. And all with none of the weird slowdown stuff that was plaguing the Note 10.1. This processor is seriously fast, and, even in split screen, will handle whatever you throw at it.

Camera

The Note II takes awesome pictures. See for yourself:

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Everything I took with it can out crisp and clear, I'd easily use this as my main point and shoot.

The Camera app itself is fully featured. Look at this menu:

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Isn't this seriously overboard for the normal "Point and Shoot" types that will be using this? I would like to see at least some sort of "basic" or "auto" mode, or at least some decent defaults. Shouldn't "Auto contrast" and "Anti-shake" be on by default? They aren't.

One of the new features is "Take photo using voice," which is a cool little solution instead of a self timer. The thing is, when would a self timer be useful? I pretty sure you can't buy a Note II camera tripod or anything. I guess you would have to prop it up with whatever you have lying around.

TouchWiz

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So, TouchWiz, we meet again.

Things are starting to get crazy. It seems like this build of TouchWiz started with the Galaxy S III, which was already packed with awkwardly-branded gimmicks features. They added to that with the Note 10.1, and now, they've added to that with the Note II. It's just features on top of features on top of features. Attempting to cover it all is a daunting task.

Like I said, this version of TouchWiz shares a lot of DNA with the other current Samsung devices. The lock screen, home screen, Calendar, Contacts, Phone and S Voice are pretty much identical to the GSIII. So if you're interested in reading about them, check out the software portion of my GSIII review. I'm just going to cover the new stuff, and this section will still be ridiculously long. I promise. We'll start with the big one:

Multiscreen (Split Screen)

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Split screen apps from the Note 10.1 are back! This time though, the apps are actually useful. On the Note 10.1, you were stuck with a crappy email client, a crappy IM client, an old browser, and a local-files-only video player. On the Note II, you get Gmail, Talk, Chrome, and YouTube! And that's not all, the lag when switching between apps has been reduced to zero. The combination of 'the apps I want' plus a touch response that is now on par with the rest of the system makes for a night and day difference. In my opinion, this is the defining, killer feature of this phone. Split screen is awesome, and Google needs to get this folded into Android and working for all apps right now.

Limits

There are still limitations, though. You can only use certain, pre-installed apps (though developers can add support for their own apps pretty easily). The pre-installed apps are good this time, though. The full lineup is pictured in the first screen: ChatON, Email, Internet, Video Player, Messaging, S Note, Gallery, Gmail, Chrome, Maps, Talk, and YouTube. You can also only have 1 copy of each app open, so messaging two people at once, or seeing two web pages side-by-side in Chrome is out of the question (though you could use Chrome and the old browser).

These apps just happen to be most of the ones I want, so I'm happy. I would like a few others, though. Of course, Google Voice won't work with it, neither will Google Reader, and it's notably missing any kind of word processor. Docs would have been nice, as my number one multitasking use case on a computer is internet + word processor.

How It Works

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The interface is easy enough. There's a small, circular tab on the side of the screen, tap it and a scrollable tray will pop up. From here, grab the icon you want, and drag it out to the top or bottom half of the screen, and you're done! The little app tab is even movable. Dragging it around when the tray is open will move it to a different side of the screen, and dragging it when the tray is closed will allow you to change the spot the tab sits at (it doesn't have to be centered). So if you want the tab in the top-right corner, you can do that.

The only crazy thing is how you call and dismiss the tab itself. Suppose the tab is not on your screen anymore, and you want to bring it up, go ahead and take a guess as to how you do that. A swipe in from the side of the screen? That would be the most logical, but no. A shortcut, option, or notification that turns split screen mode on? Nope. In fact, there isn't a single bit of text about split screen on the phone. You have to long press the back button. I had to Google that one.

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Other than the crazy way to open the app tab, this all works so well. The windows are split with a draggable barrier, so you can adjust the size of the windows. When you tap on the bar, 2 black window management buttons pop up. The first one will swap the top and bottom apps, and the second will maximize the bottom app (or close the top app, however you want to look at it). For some reason, you aren't allowed to maximize the top app.

I tried very hard to break this, and it deals with everything extremely well. Popup lists, like for Gmail's navigation, will correctly overlap everything and even stick out of their 'half' if they need to, the Back and Menu buttons only affect the app you last touched, and landscape even works. It's polished enough to seem like a native feature of Android.

Typing

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Typing in split screen sounds like a mess, but it actually works very well. Just tap on a text field and a draggable keyboard will popup, if you tap anywhere else, the keyboard closes. Rather than try and be smart about it, the draggable keyboard lets you stick it where ever it will work. I like it.

For some reason, the keyboard shrinks in split screen mode, which I really don't get. The 50 or so pixels to the left and right of the smaller keyboard aren't useable, so I'm really not sure why they made it smaller and harder to type on. For instance, in the first picture, it's not like I'm currently making use of the Gallery. Having smaller keys so I can see the left, right, and top edges of my pictures isn't benefiting me or anything. Typing on it isn't awful, but typing on the full sized keyboard is much easier.

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Typing in landscape while using split screen is just impossible. Do not attempt this.

Recent Apps Compatibility

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Recent Apps has no idea what is going on when you do split screen. First, the good news: they did fix one bug from the Note 10.1 implementation - Recent Apps no long shows open split screen apps, which you can see in the second picture. The Note 10.1 would have displayed Gmail or Chrome while they were open, which is wrong.

As for the broken stuff, when you leave a split screen pair, the Recent Apps list makes no indication that they are in split screen mode. In the 3rd picture, tapping on Chrome or Gmail will bring up the same screen, but Recent Apps doesn't indicate this.

What will happen when you switch apps while in the split screen mode is impossible to remember. If the app you're switching to has previously been opened in split screen, it will replace the last split screen app you've interacted with. If it hasn't been opened in split screen lately, it will be a full screen app. So check out those Recent Apps pictures above and tell me which ones have been opened in split screen and which ones haven't. Good luck.

Conclusion

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Aside from the Recent Apps confusion, Split screen mode just works. I love it - it's the best feature of this phone. My favorite thing to do is start a YouTube music video and shrink it down as much as possible (see it at the bottom?), then I can almost realize my dream of a multitasking friendly, backgroundable YouTube app. You can watch a video, pop out to answer a text message, and your video never even stops. Remember, Samsung isn't allowed to mess with the Google Apps. When you consider that, it's amazing how well everything just deals with this. Split screen is beautiful and I want it on stock Android with 3rd party app support.

Notification Panel

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Not much has changed in the Notification Panel. They added 2 new items, AllShare Cast (DLNA), and "Blocking Mode," which is basically a selective notification mode. This is probably the 4th or 5th version of TouchWiz, and Samsung still hasn't made the controls customizable.

Gallery

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Samsung makes a big deal out of the new Gallery, so I guess I should, too. Tapping on an album brings up a tablet UI! That's new. It pretty much works like every other Gallery. It's different, but very usable.

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Long pressing on a picture will bring up a checkbox selection interface, like normal, but Samsung added dragging support to it. So, to move pictures, you can check whatever you want, drag it to another album, and you're done. When you drag, you pick the pictures up in a stack. The faster you move your finger, the further away the stack will lag. It's really cool.

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The button in the top right will activate "crazy photo view" mode. The first is just scrolling picture rows, which seems a little gratuitous, but I can deal with it. The second one is a completely insane "swirling photo vortex" which exists for no reason other than to give a whiz-bang demo. Samsung has a quad core processor and they aren't afraid to use it!

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"Photo Note" is an attempt to replicate notation on the back of a paper picture. Hit menu, pick Photo Note, and it will flip the image around, make it transparent, and then you can draw on it. It also plasters a "Galaxy Digital photo" watermark over your picture. Afterwards, the top right corner of the photo will appear folded over, and you can tap that and see your note. The photo and the note, however aren't attached in any way, which kind of defeats the purpose of writing something on the back of a picture. If you share the photo, the note doesn't go with it.

Feature Overload

If you're the type of crazy person that says things like "stock is boring and has no features," boy will you be in love with this thing. Just to give you an idea of the scope we are dealing with, here's a (probably incomplete) list of features from various Samsung press releases.

  • Smart Stay
  • Smart Rotation
  • Smart Alert
  • S-Voice
  • Social Tag
  • S-Beam
  • Group Cast
  • AllShare Cast
  • AllShare Play
  • Popup Play
  • Popup Browser
  • Popup Note
  • Photo Note
  • Best Photo
  • Buddy Photo Share
  • Page Buddy
  • ShareShot
  • Direct Call
  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Command
  • Palm Swipe Capture
  • Palm Touch Mute Pause
  • Turn Over To Mute
  • Tilt to Zoom
  • Tap to top
  • Multi-Screen
  • Air View
  • Easy Mode
  • Easy Clip
  • Blocking Mode
  • Shake to update
  • One Handed Operation

If you don't know what half of these do off the top of your head, neither do I. This doesn't even include the actual applications - this is mostly just stuff that's built into the OS. It's an insane amount to keep track of. Don't worry though, here comes a run-through of most of them. I hope you packed a lunch. And some Advil.

Smart Stay and Smart Rotation

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Smart Stay and Smart Rotation are indicated by the in no way creepy Lens of Truth eyeball icon in the status bar. They both use the front facing camera to try and figure out if and how you're looking at the screen. Smart Stay will keep the screen on; Smart Rotate will rotate the screen to match your face. Smart Stay works great, so if you're the type of person that has a really short screen timeout, you'll like this.

Smart Rotate works, you can lay down and have the screen stay in portrait, but it will add about a second of lag to the rotate change. I usually keep auto rotate off, because I cannot stand how slow rotating is, so I'm going to keep doing that.

Smart Alert

If you've got a text message or missed call, the phone will vibrate when you move it. That happens. There's also a notification light, though, so I'm not so sure this was really needed.

Social Tag

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So the gallery has facial recognition, and if you take the time to tag a few of your contacts, it will eventually learn who's who and will start tagging them automatically. You can then call your friends from the Gallery. I have no idea why you would want to do this.

S-Beam

S-Beam is Samsung's proprietary mashup of NFC and Wi-Fi Direct to transfer local Music, Pictures, and Video to another Samsung Device. The only products that are compatible right now are other Note IIs and the GSIII. The Note 10.1 is not compatible because Samsung neglected to include an NFC chip. So even if you are all Noted-out with the 10.1 and the II, you won't be transferring files. That would have probably been the most likely use case for something like this.

As for sharing with other people, S-Beam is the product of completely backwards thinking. No one wants to transfer local files. Stuff is sent over the internet now. Sneakernet has been dead for a while.

Group Cast

Group Cast will let you screen share a picture, music, or document to anyone on the same Wi-Fi network. You have to start a Group Cast and create a pin, then the other people have to join the Group Cast and enter that pin. Then they see the same picture, document or song that you do, and you can all draw on the screen and everyone will see it.

Samsung PR pitches this as useful for business meetings. So rather than just set up a projector and put the presentation on that, it's "Let's spend the next 10 minutes messing around with the settings on our Samsung Galaxy Note® IIs!" This would also require everyone in the meeting to have a brand new Samsung phone.

AllShare Cast

This is real, working wireless screen mirroring to your television. You need to buy a dongle though.

AllShare Play

AllShare Play is basically DLNA that also works across the internet. I actually have a new Samsung TV that supports this, and sure, after a significant amount of setup, you can make your TV display your pictures, music, and video. And that's your videos only - codec support is so non-existent that I couldn't get anything other than videos from the camera to play.

Popup Play, Browser, and Note

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Popup Play, Popup Browser, and Popup Note are all floating windows that you can use in addition to the split screen stuff. Popup Play is a local video player, you can resize it with pinch zoom, tap to pause, and, like the other two windows, you can drag it around.

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These features all seem related, but opening them is a complete mess. Popup Play is a button in the video player, that's nice and easy and obvious. Popup Note can only be opened with a pen gesture, and Popup Browser is only able to be opened by tapping on a link and choosing Popup Browser from the App Picker. Having 3 different ways to open similar programs is really confusing.  The Popup Browser, however, takes the cake as the stupidest possible implementation. If you want to use it, you can never set a default browser. Popup browser relies on the App Picker, which won't pop up if you have a default browser set. And remember, this is the new Jelly Bean App Picker, which is specifically designed to slow you down. I'll never use Popup Browser because of how difficult it is to open, and how not having a default browser makes opening every link a 3-tap affair.

Page Buddy

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Page buddy is a set of specialized home screen pages that open when a certain trigger event happens. Those events are removing the S-Pen, plugging in headphones, docking the phone, or when you walk into a cellular roaming area. The idea is that you fill each specialized page with the appropriate apps, and when you take the Pen out, for instance, the screen pops up and you have all the apps you want at your fingertips.

...Why do these pages look like advertisements? "Discover you inner creativity?" Really? The text and the yellow corner design make these look like a sign you'd see in an electronics store. I don't need promotional slogans shouted at me in bright yellow every time I plug a pair of headphones in.

You can customize the middle of this screen with widgets and icons - it's a 3x3 grid. The slogan is permanent, though, and the apps at the bottom are "recommended apps" for your current activity, which you also can't change. For some reason, it is recommending I use Calculator, Weather Eye, and Chrome when I pull out the S-Pen, but they have no S-Pen functionality.

Best Photo

Best Photo is a burst mode that will only save the pictures you select. It's a separate camera mode. With the Note II, a regular burst mode is built into the standard camera mode now, so this just seems obsolete.

ShareShot

This is the much-advertised feature that will send all your pictures to other Note II or Galaxy S III owners on the same Wi-Fi network who have also joined your ShareShot group. It must be awesome at Samsung's corporate parties.

The Google+ app will do this for everyone with an Android phone. If this idea really appeals to you, the wider compatibility makes the G+ version much more valuable. Really though, you'd want to curate and approve your photos before sending them to everyone, wouldn't you?

Quick Glance

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Quick glance is an ironically named feature that will turn the screen on when you wave your hand over the sensor cluster. It loads a special screen which displays the time, date, battery, and missed calls and texts. The problem is, there is nothing quick about it. It takes about 2 - 3 seconds to turn on. If this is supposed to be the smartphone equivalent of glancing at a watch, Samsung, you failed. This is so slow, it's useless.

Quick Command

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Whip out your S-Pen, hold down the pen button, draw a straight line up on the screen, and you'll bring up the "Quick Command" screen. Quick Command is a programmable, handwriting recognition-based launcher, which can sometimes even pass text to the app your launching. For instance, write a question mark followed by a search term, and it will do a Google search. The other default commands are listed on the right picture.

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I said "default" commands, which means, yes, you can actually make your own. Tapping the "Add a command" button will ask you if you want to trigger an application or a function (think power control stuff). After you pick what you want to do, you'll have a grey writing area where you can choose your command trigger. I immediately tried to do something cute, like have a music note trigger the music app, but it can only be one of the recognized symbols in picture #4, or a letter. Most non-Samsung apps can only be launched, but there are a few exceptions, like Gmail, which will let you pass the text on to a particular field, like the recipient or body.

It all works, but it's not an ultra-quick revolution in how you use your smartphone or anything. It's yet another feature that requires you to have a perfect diagram of how it works in your head in order to use it. "What was the symbol for Texting again?" ... "Oh. Right. Tilde."

Palm Swipe Capture

This is for taking a screenshot. Wipe your palm across the screen while it is on, and TouchWiz will take a screenshot of the ensuing chaos. This almost always triggers a false touch response and screws up what you wanted to take a screenshot of. Remember this: Power + Home. That will take a screenshot the proper way.

Air View

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Air View replicates mouse hovering on a touchscreen device. The Note II can detect the S-Pen from a few cm away, so you can hold the pen above the screen and have a "mouse cursor" of sorts. Android doesn't recognize a hover event, but Samsung has built one or two things into their own apps. Hovering over an album in the Gallery will give you a preview of it, hovering on the video timeline will give you a preview thumbnail, and hovering on a calendar event will give you an expanded preview. You can also navigate Flash based menus in the browser.

One Handed Operation

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This one is hilarious. Samsung knows their phone is huge, perhaps too huge for some people, so they came up with "One-handed operation" which will use smaller, right or left aligned versions of the keyboard, dialpad, etc. I just think it's really odd looking. If you need this, you probably shouldn't have purchased the Note II. Try a RAZR M.

Miles of Menus

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Samsung still included a menu button, and still thinks hiding a million options under it is ok. The menus have scrollbars - it's like a user interface designer's worst nightmare. Who decided 17 menu items for a picture was a good idea? Cut some of this stuff down, use a hierarchical navigation if you really need that many options. You're telling me "Draw on image," "Crop," "Advanced Edit," "Rename," and "Edit weather tag" couldn't go under a single button called "Edit"? No one can find anything in this mess. It's scary.

All The Wrong Tutorials

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Did you know you can swipe on the lock screen to unlock it? Or that you can tap on the all apps button to see your apps? Or that you drag down to see your notifications? Did you know about this feature? Or this feature? OR THIS FEATURE!? There needs to be a "shut up" button that turns all this crap off. Better yet, just ask, once, when the phone turns on if you would like to be in tutorial mode. This is crazy, and there is no way to disable everything.

Some screens even have multiple popups. So when you turn your phone on, lock screen tutorial #1 comes on, and you tap "Don't show again" and mash OK, but then the next time you turn on your phone, it shows tutorial #2! For the first day or so, using this phone feels like browsing the web before pop-up blockers were invented. Not a good first impression.

The worst thing is that this is "advanced" mode. There is actually an "easy" mode that lowers TouchWiz's assumptions about your intelligence even more.

wm_2012-10-17 17.16.38wm_Screenshot_2012-10-20-12-47-01wm_Screenshot_2012-10-20-12-49-57

This is easy mode. Which I really have no problem with, but put all those stupid popups here. Give the rest of us an option to turn that crap off. I guarantee you the majority of customers will not be popping their smartphone cherry with the Note II.

The sad thing is that some features of TouchWiz are bafflingly unintuitive, and that stuff never gets explained. So far I've had to resort to Google to figure out how to enable split screen (long press the back button), screen recording (Home + Volume up, which doesn't work), and screenshot (Home + Power, it's normally Power + Volume up). There is even a "Help" app, and none of this is explained there, either. Letting me know that I can tap on the "apps" button to see my apps was helpful though, thanks.

Keyboard

wm_2012-10-22 20.41.32wm_2012-10-22 20.42.00

Samsung still can't get the keyboard right. The GSIII would do a crazy, in-line word prediction thing, where typing "A n d r" would make "Andre" appear in your text field, because that's what it thinks you want to type. Displaying letters you haven't typed in the text field made it basically unusable. The Note II goes in the complete opposite direction, and does no auto correct at all, unless you specifically go out of your way and tap on the prediction bar. Yes, that's right; it will not change what you've typed in any way if you hit the space bar. If you want to type "work" and accidentally enter "w o r j [space]" you will end up with "worj."

As a result, this keyboard sucks. There is no option make the spacebar insert a prediction. Every typo is dutifully preserved. You don't get any help at all. They also broke Jelly Bean's spell check, so you don't get the MS Word-style red underlined words. I'm not sure why you would want to remove such an awesome and useful feature, but they did.

wm_2012-10-22 20.49.332012-10-22 20.54.52

You can also switch to a handwriting recognition "keyboard" by long pressing on the microphone, and you can even set it to pop up when you pull the pen out. Give me a handheld computer and a pen and I am immediate going to start banging out text in Graffiti, but, sadly, this doesn't support it.

Writing as opposed to typing is pretty slow, but then I've used a keyboard most of my life. Maybe older people will get a kick out of this whole "handwriting" thing. There isn't much auto correction here, either, so it makes a lot of stupid mistakes.

The other keyboard option is the Clipboard, which works just like a desktop clipboard, in that it is a list of all the stuff you've copied recently. Here it's showing a bunch of screenshots. You can't drag the screenshots out into Gmail as attachments or anything; you can only do that in S-Note.

Crapware

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Here's the full app drawer for the T-Mobile version. You get the usual suite of Samsung ecosystem crapware, and about 5 T-Mobile apps. You can disable (but not uninstall) just about everything, even the carrier stuff. OEMs and carriers have the ability to turn off the disable button for apps, and they didn't. Thanks guys!

Battery Life

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The 3100mAh battery does not disappoint. This battery will certainly last you a day, and usually through the night, and probably into the next day. There really isn't any trick to it, a device as large as this can fit a really big battery. This is what battery life should be like.

Conclusion

The hardware is, aesthetically, a huge improvement over the Galaxy S III. All of the ugly, design-around-the-iPhone decisions have been tossed out the door, and the result is a logically designed, rectangular device. The top and bottom bezels are impressively small, and they've even fixed the back. It's attractive.

The exterior is still made from the cheapest material Samsung could find. While some companies choose their materials for a premium or a pleasant feel, Samsung's only goal seems to be "put something between the electronics and the user so they don't get electrocuted." It's like they view the exterior as nothing other than a parts bucket. I really wish they would put some thought into it, especially for the $300 asking price. A $100 RAZR M feels more expensive.

It is unstoppably fast, though, and it needs to be, because you can do a lot more at once with this phone than you can with other phones. The screen, a new, non-Pentile AMOLED with the full complement of sub-pixels, is big and beautiful.

As for the size, I never found the phone to be too big. I'd be perfectly happy with something this size. Whether you can deal with it or not is a personal thing. It is a huge device - if you're on the fence about the size, the only thing to do is go to a store and try one.

The S-Pen works just as well as it does on the Note 10.1. It's pressure sensitive, and you can do handwriting with it, if that's something you're into. The incredibly poorly-thought-out hardware buttons really make the S-Pen a pain to use. The S-Pen can't activate the menu and back buttons, so you constantly have to shift your hand while navigating around. Alternatively, you can use some clunky gestures, which are significantly slower than single tap buttons. I just don't understand why one of the primary input devices is incompatible with the primary form of navigation. It just blows my mind.

bopit_extretme

Pictured above: TouchWiz's user interface inspiration.

As for TouchWiz, this is the first time I've played with an OEM skin that, honestly, needs some kind of instruction manual to keep track of all the stuff it does, and all the crazy, unintuitive ways you are supposed to activate something. Long pressing on back will open the multitasking tray, holding down the button on the S-Pen and double tapping will open a floating note pad, smacking the top of phone twice will make it scroll to the top of a list. It's all completely crazy, and for most things there is no visual indication that some little trick is possible. Samsung just piles features on top of features, most of which are gimmicky, poorly thought out, and accomplish nothing other than padding out a spec sheet.

Samsung badly needs a Matias Duarte - someone with some design chops who will take over, cut out all the crap, and focus on the good stuff. Because there is good stuff here. Split screen is the multitasking feature I've always wanted, and it works. You can have YouTube as your music player while you surf the web in Chrome, you can view Gmail while messaging someone on Google Talk, you can reply to a text message in the middle of a YouTube video, and not lose your spot or your buffer. It's beautiful, and in my opinion, the next great productivity boost for smartphones.

The S-Pen and huge screen are nice and all, but it's split screen, a feature that changes the way you use your phone, that is the real killer app here. Many aspects of the Note II are clunky or rough around the edges, but I still like it. A phone that brings you a step closer to the way you use a real computer is hard to argue with. Assuming split screen actually comes to the US versions, it alone is well worth the price of admission. It's just a shame you'll have to wade through all the crappy parts of TouchWiz to get to it.

Ron Amadeo
Ron loves everything related to technology, design, and Google. He always wants to talk about "the big picture" and what's next for Android, and he's not afraid to get knee-deep in an APK for some details. Expect a good eye for detail, lots of research, and some lamenting about how something isn't designed well enough.
  • http://papped.webatu.com papped

    wow, back button on the right would drive me ape****...

    • Joshhud

      My HTC Evo has 4 buttons and the back button is the middle left.. aka 3rd from the left... so this doesnt seem like that big of a deal..

    • nmw407

      huh? I've had a back button on the right side of my phone for the longest time and that's on an HTC phone. Menu on the left, back on the right.

    • Tom

      poster said all HTC phones has "back" on the left? my HTC desire had it on the right. i then moved to the SGS2 and the button was again on the right. now i have a note 2 and again, the button is on the right.

      if the buttons were virtual of course, you could in theory rearrange them as you saw fit. i'd choose to have menu on the left and back on the right. you would reverse this. but, we'd both be happy :)

  • Mapekz

    Great damn review. I wish more sites were even 1/2 as in-depth as this.

    One thing I wanted to comment on:

    "One of the new features is "Take photo using voice," which is a cool little solution instead of a self timer. The thing is, when would a self timer be useful? I pretty sure you can't buy a Note II camera tripod or anything. I guess you would have to prop it up with whatever you have lying around."

    This can be handy as you said yourself the 5.5" behemoth can be unwieldy, especially given its glossy back/sides. When attempting to move your index finger/thumb to press the right spot on the touch screen on my 4.65" Galaxy Nexus the device moves a little bit and I often have to retake the picture; I can imagine it being substantially worse with a device that's around 30% larger. Using Voice is a great way to simultaneously sync up people's smiles and take the picture with minimal lag and effort required between the two actions.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/ron-amadeo/ Ron Amadeo

      Oh, self shots. That's a good point.

      • Lien Wee Hoo

        Same as GS3. Just say cheese or smile.

    • spydie

      there are lots of tripod options for cell phones

    • http://www.facebook.com/hassan.mahmood.3939503 Hassan Mahmood

      another use for voice taking foto is when u use it as a scanner a steady hands is also a must

  • Marcin Kowalczyk

    That has to be the most detailed review i have ever seen for the Note II. Maybe cause i haven't really been searching but damn. Thanks.

    • Lefaid

      I have been searching for Note 2 reviews and this IS the most detailed review I have seen that has not made me question the reviews integrity. This is also the most negative review I have seen that has not assumed "Its not an iPhone so it must suck." It has not changed my mind but I do like an honest almost negative review that can balance out some of the more positive reviews that sound like they are selling the phone to you.

      • http://twitter.com/vinceklein Vince Klein

        Reviews don´t cancel each other out. Better look at it this way: They point you towards certain highlights and shortcomings. In the end just try this thing out in the flesh and see whether you like it enough to splash your cash on it.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

    One thing I want to point out is that apparently it's easy for apps to enable multi-window functionality and thus be available in the list of apps that can go multi-window. Here's a good post explaining how for developers: http://www.modaco.com/page/news/_/android/developers-add-support-for-samsung-multi-window-to-your-apps-r823

    • hot_spare
    • http://twitter.com/cooltay105 Tay

      Would swiftkey nullify the pesky keyboard autocorrect spacebar issue?

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        Don't see why not - if you replace the whole keyboard, it replaces the whole keyboard.

  • Joshhud

    i got tired of reading this because it was full of complaining and just too long. First off you arent supposed to use the pen with the buttons... your fingers hold the pen.. move them 1/2 an inch.. boom you pushed a button. Second why would you complain about "too many features" Do they cause harm? No some people like to play with stupid features every once in a while and it makes marketing's job easier. Other than that i dont know what you complained about because this was an annoying review.

    • jordanjay29

      @Joshhud tl;dr

    • TPR

      I completely agree. Looks like he just has something against Samsung. Look at the previous reviews. The Note 10.1 wasn't even that bad.

      • damien

        And I often go to do this with my Note, and others who try using the phone try to do it too, so I do think Samsung should have put some extra effort into making it work with the stylus. The note 10.1 wasn't anything fantastic, in fact it was very average.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/ron-amadeo/ Ron Amadeo

        1 month ago I bought a Samsung TV.
        3 months ago I bought a Samsung laptop.
        I own several Samsung monitors.
        My current phone is a Samsung.

        My laptop, a Samsung Series 9, is an excellent example of what I want. It preforms well, is beautifully designed, and made from premium materials. Real thought and care was put into it. That's not a crazy thing to ask of a product.

        I AM a Samsung fanboy. I just expect the phone division to be as good as the TV, Monitor, and Laptop divisions. It isn't.

        • madHatter

          Well THAT's the very thing wrong about you - you're a samsung fanboy! this review was too easy on the phone hurr durr!

          Fact of the matter is whatever you say or write will always be claimed to be 'Teh bias' by some people. Vocal minority and all that. The rest of the guys appreciate your work.

    • 27yearold

      so when samsung does it, it's features. when moto does it it's bloatware. makes sense.

    • setspeed

      If you're already holding the stylus to interact with the screen, why would you then want to change and use your finger to press a button? It just doesn't make sense.

      • Joshhud

        i really dont understand the issue with that? i mean honestly how are you people holding the stylus? WIth your teeth? Your finger is like a quarter of an inch away.

        • setspeed

          What's not to understand? It is not efficient to keep swapping back and forth between stylus and finger - this is called poor industrial design.

      • http://www.facebook.com/WilliamSheridanJr William Billy Sheridan

        Easy answer, because when you use the stylus you are probably focussing on one app. Not to mention it takes literally a tenth of a second for me to hit the home button and keep working with the stylus in my hand... silly thing to complain about.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/ron-amadeo/ Ron Amadeo

      First off you arent supposed to use the pen with the buttons... your fingers hold the pen.. move them 1/2 an inch.. boom you pushed a button.

      That's much slower and really over-complicating things. Pushing a button is faster, easier, and 'normaler'.

      "too many features" Do they cause harm?

      Yes. See the ridiculously complicated settings and menu buttons. It's also my job to look at all of them and tell you if they're good or not. So I did that.

      • Jonathon Luken

        they arnt part of the screen so how would the pen use those buttons? it was the same way on the first note.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/ron-amadeo/ Ron Amadeo

          Usually the touchscreen controller also handles the buttons. The glass is what registers touches, not the LCD.

      • dickhole

        the common sense is that the s pen uses a magnet, not capacitive input, earlier post was talking about good industrial design. well it uses a magnet because the pen, while having the ability for text input is not meant for that, it is meant as a drawing tool. using a keyboard is obviously far more efficient for text. if it were capacitive it couldn't differentiate between the pen and an accidental palm input. i think they were trying to appeal to designers/artists, who else would really benefit from a stylus?. back button criticism is negligible, and the complaint about the tray when pen is removed is odd considering this site is called androidpolice, you can swap them for whatever app you want. and most importantly, the whole "fanboy" thing is ridiculous, most logical people purchase what they like or what suits their needs, not pledge alleigance to manufacturers because something else they bought was great. sony ruled the tv market for a long time, great products for a long time, now fucking shite. ps should really know the meaning of words you use in a review

  • GeForceFX

    All i can say is WOW! Amazing review. Thank you!

  • VonLaserface

    Excellent review, thanks.

    If I wasn't stuck in my contract from the original GNote I picked up back in April I would be all over this.

  • Sven Enterlein

    @Ron I say: Let Google buy Samsung already! They would make a great team in my opinion

    I agree that the S-Pen and what you can do with it is a game changer. It's the biggest reason I'm seriously considering this as my next phone.

    • Tom

      google buy samsung? seriously? more like samsung taking over google considering LG and samsungs governmental ties.

      side note - i have this phone - it is awesome and most of the negs in this article are not an issue IMO. the only one that bothered me was the buttons. should have been virtual so they could be used with the pen (which is nice btw) and then give more screen to movies

    • Jonathon Luken

      you do realize samsung is worth more than goog right?

      • Sven Enterlein

        @google-ecf9ea20ec6fe65a1e40e09431b2e0d9:disqus Minor details! ;) But who would take my comment actually serious?!?!

    • wank

      samsung is the largest company in the world dude.... try googling them

      • Sven Enterlein

        I see where you got your screen name from, dude. It's humor, try googling it!

  • Bala

    poor article i have ever read in androidpolice, totally unprofessional, most of their articles are good, but this one looks completely different from their standards

  • sillmacka

    Best review of the Note 2 on the net, beats Anandtech hands down.
    Thank you

  • MARCIO A.

    Great review I think most people will agree but I'm a "all options" guy so I like all those options on the menu and I like the fact Samsung is giving you anything you may or you may not need. This is the reason I left IOS in the first place. I agree that s-voice has to go and some other features that Google just does a better job. BTW I'm buying this phone knowing the chances of it getting a future upgrade is slim to none.

    • jordanjay29

      Well, there's 'all options' and then there's 'every conceivable option'. Having all options is great, you just don't need to throw them all at your users at once. I think that was the reviewer's point, that the menus are needlessly long.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

      Yeah I'd rather have the options and not end up using most of them as well. That's what Android is about, options.

  • New_Guy

    I can easily ignore crappy bloatware and extra settings. I just want the Note 2 in my hands....NOW!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=727522526 Tan Hun Boon

    Best review I've read on the note 2, and I've read at least a dozen of the major ones. I'm now reconsidering my purchase and sticking to my galaxy nexus instead.

  • sahdh

    Their software, especially the settings, have become ridiculous. Touchwhiz on the S2 was great, because Android 2.2/2.3 looked like crap. But wow, thats a joke. Most of the people dont even care to start s-whatever, its just bloated.

    • defred34

      most people...really? i THINK

  • HellG

    " Samsung's only goal seems to be "put something between the electronics and the user so they don't get electrocuted." haha epic :)

  • ithehappy

    A review from an Android fanboy! Damn!
    Anyway, I own this device, and it's a lovely piece, WITH Touch Wiz on it but with out. And all the gestures works well too. I'd be so happy if I see those crap CM ROM's don't pop up for this device.
    And about the Camera, the LED Flash is NOT strong as S III or S II. Take a photo in dark with flash on and compare them with the other phones. You will notice the difference.
    Anyway, not a good review, kinda over smart type, oh sorry, that's what Android fanboys are.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

      If you ask me he's not what folks would call an Android fanboy because he was very critical in his review.

    • Blake Forehand

      I find someone calling another person a "smart type" in a comment filled to the brim with grammar and spelling errors to the point of borderline illegibility pretty entertaining.

  • Angino

    With all due respect Sir I think your review is full of complaining. You should have titled this Galaxy Note II Flaws.

    • defred34

      Yeah Ron's got to get the dressing down from Artem. The review should be professional, and not "I don't like it so I'll just talk bad about it".

  • Dylan

    In my original Note I can go back a page by clicking the S pens button and swiping to the left on the screen, has this feature been taken out? I believe there is a motion similar for the home button but I might be wrong.

    • spydie

      It's still there, but the reviewer thought it was too much work so he glossed it over.

  • James V Feragola

    I stop reading reviews when they list a Con as "Cheap-feeling, glossy, slippery plastic".
    This screams, "Anything that isn't exactly like an iPhone is junk imo"
    Even an implication that they tried to make it more like an iPhone than the SIII?
    This is almost as bad as the review with the guy complaining about how crappy the chrome strip looked and had to print a retraction when he realized that he didn't take the plastic film off of the phone yet.

    • lordmerovingian

      Ditto. Also never seen a grown up person whining so much about a "back" button. Need some cheese with that whine? Geez...

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I've used enough Samsung hardware to back up what Ron says - not only does the plastic feel and look cheap, it is. It creaks, groans, and snaps. It scratches extremely easily. The buttons aren't great, either - my GS3's home button started sticking after a month. Samsung is in last place on phone build quality out of the "big four" handset makers (LG, Moto, HTC, Samsung) when it comes to high-end devices, and it's not even really a contest.

      I have no problem with Samsung (nor with people who like TouchWiz or Samsung's mountain o' menu features), but defending their build materials as anything but sub-par in light of the competition is simply a bold-faced lie.

      • Freak4Dell

        Exactly. Nobody is saying it has to be made out of the same materials as the iPhone. There's a difference between cheap plastic and quality plastic. Samsung's is cheap. Even if manufacturers do use the same materials as Apple, there's still different ways to design the device, so it wouldn't be exactly like the iPhone.

        • spydie

          you wouldn't know cheap plastic if it bit you in the ass. What are you? a Chemist?

          • motherucker

            He made a good point, you don't need to throw your personal insults. You don't need to be a chemist, just spend 5minutes on wikipedia is enough, Samsung fanboy.

      • spydie

        Had the original note, international model, for many months... the home button never stuck. I loved it... wouldn't get the ATT version because it lacked the home button. Have the SGS3 now and love the home button. Got it the day it was released and the home button has never stuck. You must have gotten that 1 in a thousand? bad one. I think Samsung built quality is top notch. Wouldn't own anything else... can't wait to get my new Note 2 as soon as it's for sale at ATT for full price (I never take a contract).

      • defred34

        I have to agree here. I have both the Tab and Note 10.1. Both creak, and I can sort of twist them sideways slightly. Absolutely horrendous I must say. In the case of the Note 10.1 especially because it is supposed to be a premium tablet. smh

      • James V Feragola

        Dropped my Note 2 more than a few times, that "Sub Par" plastic never broke, chipped or dented like other phones with "Superior Durability". Never broke the screen either like every iPhone user I know has. If a phone breaks from everyday use, it's not "Superior engineering".

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/ron-amadeo/ Ron Amadeo

      I've got news for you, the iPhone is an extremely well-built product made out of premium materials. No Android phone comes close to it. There's nothing wrong with saying that.

      NOT admitting that makes you a biased fanboy.

      • Mapekz

        Indeed. My iPhone 5 is the best handheld device I've ever owned. iOS even has some benefits over Android (though more cons in the end).

        The perfect smartphone for me would be a 4.3" screen iPhone 5 running a version of Android that was as fast as iOS 6 and more consistent in its app designs. I'm positive many others feel the same way but wouldn't admit to it for fear of being labeled a fanboy whether we are talking on AndroidPolice or MacRumors.

        • spydie

          fanboy... you're on the wrong forum

      • Peter

        I don't think anyone is saying that. But why is the plastic considered cheap? I used to think like you, and found it very difficult to switch away from my 3GS a number of years ago to my GSII due to the use of plastic. The iphone 4 is indeed a premium phone made of premium materials.

        The iphone 4 however, wasn't comfortable to hold. It was sharp, cold and fragile. Plastic is better because it is softer and is lighter in the hand. I have a GSIII now and am very happy with the build quality and the grip-iness of the glossy plastic.

        These are all opinions however, and you are entitled to yours. The problem is a lot of your reviews come across as unduly harsh. Reporting that it uses plastic that feels cheap is sufficient for the reader to make up their mind. But carrying on like that means that you just make yourself less credible as a reviewer.

      • Skypie

        Also you seem to forget that it needs to be plastic for NFC to work. It would nearly impossible to get NFC working with a metal back and unless they are using some sort of inductive glass, that would prevent NFC from working as well. Maybe you should think about that a little before you start bashing on a 'cheap plastic' feeling.

        • http://twitter.com/andr3wjacks0n andrew jackson

          They should use polycarbonate instead of cheap plastic.

      • Jonathon Luken

        you are a mod on an android site and your saying NO android phone comes close? really? Your saying the evo lte or one x doesnt come close? what premium mats do you want? they use metal shell cases.

      • Joshhud

        wah wah wah STFU

      • http://twitter.com/andr3wjacks0n andrew jackson

        How about the HTC One S or X? Motorola Razr? Come on now!

      • ronsintheapplecloset

        premium materials? you have tested anodized aluminum vs polycarbonate plastics? you realize there is a reason apple has 26% of the market, but 75 of the profit right? do you know what kind of aluminum they are using? oh yeah who makes most of their chips? you should give criticism in a review, but whining about stuff(lengthy ranting) for a paragraph that only warrants a sentence, just makes you sound like you need to finally lose youre virginity, or at least squeeze one out before your next review.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

      I prefer the plastic as well personally, though I'd certainly not complain if they used Kevlar like Motorola, that'd be kinda neat. My point is that the plastic doesn't break, or scratch that easily, so it's not a bad idea to use it IMO. I don't want my phone to break, it's that simple.

  • power_pizza

    The GS3 is my first Android device, I came over from BlackBerry which has the same menu/back button configuration (and miles of menu options). So operating the capacitive buttons was second nature to me.

    At first I was really blown away by all of the neat features that Samsung crammed into the GS3 but over time I started disabling/uninstalling them as they mostly seemed superfluous. Sure there are a couple of neat additions (in address book, swipe right to call a contact or left to text them) but there's way too many that require more setup time than they are worth.

    I now understand why someone would want a Nexus device. Google seems to have adopted the less is more approach while Samsung does the exact opposite. I am currently trying to muster some info on how to root my GS3 to run a cleaner version of Android. CM10 seems like the best way to go (any tips for a noob would be appreciated).

    Great review, you really crystallized my thoughts on TouchWiz.

    EDIT: I don't believe you touched on Google Now. Is it an option? Or are Note 2 users forced to try and use S-Voice a couple of times before deciding its garbage and disabling it?

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

      Probably didn't touch on Google Now cause it's a stock Android feature and he had enough stuff to cover (in his opinion)

    • http://twitter.com/vinceklein Vince Klein

      Try this for your GS3. I was happy with this stock JB rom while I owned the Galaxy. You can find the download on XDA [ROM][AOSP][JB][4.1.2][JZO54K] SuperNexus - I9300

  • Nicholas Loomans

    Why don't they get you to do a preview of their phones I'll never know. If Samsung had someone like you Ron giving them advice before they ship a production model we would be all 'Appl-wha?'

  • SilverStone641

    Decent review. i like all the in-depth looks at all the apps, menus, features, etc. I could have done without all the personal opinions. The note 1 had the back button the right. Not a big deal. It also had the same "cheap-feeling glossy plastic" as well as the same thin back cover. I've never damaged the back cover and after several good falls, my note is still unscathed. The wifes iphone shattered on the first drop.

    All in all, still a good review. I got to read about a lot of features i hadn't heard about. The constant samsung bashing was disappointing. Why would you be selected to review a device you're already biased against?

  • http://richworks.in Richie

    Since the back button is very frequently used, it makes sense to keep them on the right which happens to be the most convenient position for accessing it with our thumb. And since the first Galaxy phone had the back button on the right, I guess they decided to stick to the same design to avoid confusing users who upgrade to newer generation Galaxy phones

    • Freak4Dell

      Agreed...the back button makes more sense on the right on a device that's mostly used in portrait and held in one hand. On a tablet, it doesn't really matter, since you're typically not hitting it with your thumb.

      That's wonderful, though...another asinine change I'm going to have to learn to deal with when I upgrade to a new phone. I guess it was a Honeycomb change that transferred to phones with ICS. I guess the bright side is that I finally found a good reason for soft buttons...I can change the buttons to the way they're supposed to be.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marcusleejh Marcus Lee

    Wow, lots of Samsung fans around these parts...

    Anyway, I agree that the plastic Sammy uses doesn't feel all that good, but really, that stuff is high-tech. The back cover of my S2 still looks as good as when I first got it more than a year ago - it seems like it just doesn't scratch or break, *ever*. I think reviewers should learn to appreciate it a bit more.

    • yankeesusa

      I agree, I would rather have a metal back or teflon or something but either way I'm probably going to put a case on it. Probably a sleek looking tpu case to keep the form factor the same.

    • motherfucker

      I had an SII, Note and S3. The back cover of the S3 and presumably the Note2 is cheaper, it does crack from just normal removal over times.
      About Samsung fanboys, looks like this website is overran by them too. Though it was only at androidanme and androidcentral.

  • firethorn

    I'm dreaming of a Nexus Note. Basically a Note-sized successor of the Galaxy Nexus with stock AOSP goodness but full pressure-sensitive stylus support.
    I'd get such a device in an instant.

    • Thefluidrock

      Depending on how the developer community responds, this could be my dream "Nexus" phone. I really hope 3rd party developers code for the stylus pen. I basically want a Note 2 without the hardware buttons or touchwiz, but WITH all of the S Pen functionality like air view click for website drop down menus and multitask view. I hope that Cyanogen Mod and other developers make the added Note features as part of Vanilla android, this way I can run CM10 on the Note 2, and basically have a 5.5 inch nexus with an SD card slot. RIght now I have a Galaxy Nexus and absolutely love it. I was really excited for the rumored multiple Nexus devices because I thought we would see a 5inch nexus. The LG Nexus 4 is a wonderfully spec'd device and I hope it succeeds, but without the bigger screen or SD card support i'll be skipping the LG nexus. I really want a phablet experience so i'll probably pick up the US version of the HTC butterfly or the Note2. Looking at the verizon price leaks the HTC will be $199 and the Note to will be $299, so my choice has become a bit easier. Without knowing if the developer community will develop for the S-Pen at all, let alone incorporate it into vanilla Android, i'm leaning heavily towards the HTC butterfly. Maybe i'll be a proud owner of a Note 3 next year if Samsung gets rid of those damn hardware buttons and lets me disable touchwiz.

    • ocujos

      Dream no more. Note 1 with Paranoidandroid has just what you need: stock OS with stylus support.
      http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1871713

      • firethorn

        I ran ParanoidAndroid on my GNex for a while, didn't know it featured S-Pen support for the Note though. Tbh, if I had known the ROM in January when I decided to get the GNex over the Note 1 my decision would likely have gone the other way.

        Still though, an official phablet Nexus device with an awesome stylus is something I keep hoping for. Maybe next year, or maybe the HTC 5 at I/O or some such.

        • Jonathon Luken

          it only does on the note. because the note is the only one that has the mag sensor for the pen

  • http://twitter.com/PCSievers P.C. Sievers

    I hope the multi-window stuff comes to Android OS itself sooner or later (ideally sooner). I want this feature so much, its so obvious I dont know why I dont already have it, but I dont want to buy a Note II just for this feature.

    Its also significantly more usable than LG's partially transparent screen on top of another screen approach which is funny and potentially useful but mostly hilariously bad.

  • NotBruno

    I like your review, it's a critique point of view that I appreciate alot. I agree samsing is throwing everything at the wall and see if anything sticks

  • ocujos

    Why is the original Note (1) crappy? Have you used it lately with one of the AOSP/AOKP ROMs like Paranoidandroid? It's lightening fast (for a dual-core phone) and is still a great phone. Screen, although pentile, is bright, clear and >>sharp<<.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

      I still use mine with the stock ROM and love it. Definitely isn't crappy.

  • Freak4Dell

    I'm convinced that there is a very evil spirit somewhere that guides manufacturers to take features that I want, and throw them across several different phones, but not aggregate them into one. "Oh, he wants a physical keyboard...let's put it on this completely shitty phone. Oh, he wants a small phone...let's make a RAZR M, but still skin it. Oh, he wants a stock, unskinned phone...let's make all Nexus phones giant. Oh, he wants a menu button. Let's stick on the most gargantuan phone ever." I get it world...you hate me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

    I'll take 2 plz

  • vitriolix

    Oh Man this review was amazing, you absofinglutely nailed it.

  • GraveUypo

    "Shouldn't "Auto contrast" and "Anti-shake" be on by default? They aren't."

    no. both can interfere with picture quality.

  • Blake Forehand

    I do actually think the "hold the S-Pen button and tap twice" to open S-Note is slightly inspired by actual writing... well, writing in the olden days.

    Picking up a pen and tapping it on the paper to get the ink flowing? It seems that was their inspiration at least.

  • Nick

    Far out, I don't mind critical reviews but the constant whining in this review really put me off, I just gave up reading it. I am sick of the same old boring comments about iPhone being amazingly built, not everyone loves it design, I prefer to have a device built to handle any environment, I couldn't give a toss how it looks or even feels when in the end I will be putting a cover over it.

  • azhrv

    Great review, if you put all the personal opinions aside. Seriously. A good reviewer always try to explain as much as details as possible and keep his own opinion in minimum amount. Unlike this review. For example : "As for sharing with other people, S-Beam is the product of completely backwards thinking. Now one wants to transfer local files. Stuff is sent over the internet now"
    This is purely your personal opinion. Stuff is sent over the internet now? Have you considered people who don't have fast internet connection? How about those who lived in hard to reach signal area? If I want to share an image to my girl standing next to me, should I use internet?

    Many details are already covered in this review, and it's good. Much less personal opinion would make it a great review.

  • http://twitter.com/cooltay105 Tay

    Someone knowledgeable mind answering this: This issues with the stock keyboard really worry me, but this should be easily fixable just by installing Swiftkey, correct?

    • defred34

      absolutely correct. Besides, I think the reviewer didnt even look into the options. Anyway, there's also the stock Android keyboard to revert to in the settings, so its not so much of a big deal!

  • Guest

    Tl:dr.

  • Jon Garrett

    I want this phone, I have no upgrade options so Im going to add a 5th line just so I can get it !!!

  • Justin Quang

    Just a few words for the editor.
    I think you're on the wrong team. That fruit phone is so perfect that it fits you like a puzzle so you can stop whining, stop being such a drama queen, and shut that yapping mouth.
    Your Note reviews are beyond honest that I feel like I'm reading your diary.
    Oh, and how the fuck should they implement ways to activate features when there's only so limited buttons?
    Also, some of things they do are obviously a workaround to avoid lawsuit because everything that is simple and apparent has already been patented.
    Not being a fanboy or defending Samsung. Just point out obvious things.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    Awesome review.

    Give me this form factor as a Nexus with split screen rolled in, and I am super interested.

    As is, no thanks.

  • Bervick

    Nice review, Critical at times. But I think, quite justified. Thanks.

  • future droid owner

    Despite disagreeing with some of the author's points, I do appreciate the detail of the review. I'm not surprised that some of the Touchwiz features are, shall we say, not ready for prime time. It's too bad that other reviewers don't mention these flaws.

    As for the Note II's plastic construction, I'm fine with that. Any phone I buy, I will protect with an Otterbox case, anyway. Even if I bought an iPhone 5, it'd go straight into an Otterbox.

    Regarding S-beam, I personally dislike having to use the Internet just to transfer a file to someone who is standing right beside me. These phones have Bluetooth and wifi radios, so I would expect them to be able to make direct transfers. One of the reasons I'm looking for an Android phone (have an iPhone 3gs at the moment) is for versatility of connectivity and file storage while travelling (ie: won't always have Internet access).

  • noMoreCrpware

    This is a great review. A critical discussion like this is so much more helpful and informative than the usual glossy fanboyish cheerleading reviews we see plastered all over the web. I may not agree with all of your critiques, but by raising them you got me thinking about what I want. Nice work. I hope Samsung's software design team reads it.

    BTW - I do disagree on the back button placement. I want the most frequently pushed button to be closest to my thumb, which is on the right.

  • http://twitter.com/AnthonyRyan89 The Forgotten Jedi

    Really TouchWiz UI was inspired by Bop It Extreme lol

  • defred34

    And so the Android Police witchhunt against Touchwiz (which the average consumers find useful) goes on. Hec, even I the above average find it ultra useful.

  • Cruz

    I agree that this is the most detailed review on No0te 2 yet. I have a Note 2 myself, and there's so much more to discover.

  • http://www.facebook.com/prafullbhaiya Prafull Singh

    Nice Tab......I wana buy It .....thanks .......But One Question Where Will Buy It In India

  • yankeesusa

    My question is: does this have swype installed from stock or can it be sideloaded? Either way even with the negatives I still really want this phone. I just hope sprint keeps up the great work and not installing so much bloatware and also make uninstallable like on my evo 3d.

  • Geoff Johnson

    I really appreciate the honest review. It's refreshing to see reviews that focus on the negatives, rather than reviews that are trying to sell me the phone. Keep it up!

  • sam

    Good review and I agree with almost all of it. Got the note 2 yesterday and have been playing with it nonstop. The biggest problem is that the tmobile version does not have multi window. And the device is too large without adding much more function. I have found myself picking up my gnex to use rather than reaching for the note. It is actually just as fast and fits almost the same things on the screen just smaller. Galaxy note 2 is just too much of everything. Where as the gnex is just a pleasure to use the note 2 is completely frustrating.

  • ssj4Gogeta

    You can't use the capacitive buttons with the S-pen, but you can do a gesture with it to activate menu and back.

  • Bleakvision

    Thanks guys, once again an epic and very enjoyable review. Really good read!

  • Paul

    even the international one needs an OTA to update multiscreen. Some of the features like airview dont work on non standard apps as they need an api applying. Shame. Hope devs fix this in their apps.
    Also the multiscreen currently doesnt allow you to change and add your own favourite apps which is pants.
    Overall the phone is awesome though. Worth £540? Yeah but Samsung really need to make it feel and look more like the quality you expect from Nokia, Sony and HTC devices

  • SetiroN

    I got to play with a Note II and I must say this: how doesn't anyone mention the huge input lag it has? Next to a GS3 it was pretty obvious - and the latter is still slightly worse than a recent phone with an AOSP-based ROM.

    • youwearyoursunglasses@night

      imput lag is just animation scaling time etc... all can be changed in dev options. I must say how doesnt anyone READ THE MANUALS, AND USE THE DEVICE FOR MORE THAN A DAY BEFORE THEY JUDGE.

      • SetiroN

        animation scaling time and input lag have nothing to do with each other.
        go educate yourself before yelling to rtfm.

  • Greyhame

    The [backwards] hardware buttons preclude me from purchasing this phone.

  • Gideon

    You should compare the polymer price to the aluminium one before point out this "cheapest material". But, I agree with you, the metals phone looks more solid.

    • Gideon

      Btw thx for this complete review

  • Andrew torres

    This was the funniest review I've read because it was so in depth and Blunt on what sucked and what worked....His views on how long the menu items, stupidity of not making the home, menu and back buttons unusable with the pin were hilarious and unfortunately true...I had a feeling that the note would have incredibly hard navigation due to my experience with the GS3. They should have called it Touchwiz ++....One of the biggest negatives that no one realizes that it is extremely simple on Touchwiz to turn off applications protecting apps you dont want anyone viewing. Lets take for example "AndLock" on the market:
    If you do not have a pattern or pin unlock on your lockscreen and you have your text messaging section blocked by Andlock:
    1. Press the Messaging section and the prompt for password should come up
    2.Hold the Home button down till a screen pops up showing your open tasks & "task manager"
    3.Click on task manager and it should show the application protecting
    4. Click on end for "Andlock"....
    huge flaw with the task manager. the task manager should not even be so easily accessible on any stock or customized version of android. This is seriously a let down on all customized UI's of Android on high end phones out now.

    "The worst thing is that this is "advanced" mode. There is actually an "easy" mode that lowers TouchWiz's assumptions about your intelligence even more." <----funniest line. couldnt stop laughing.

  • http://twitter.com/vinceklein Vince Klein

    Thanks for this thorough review. I think you hit the nail on the head pretty much throughout.

    However, I think you made the mistake of equating product quality and whatever you think drives it with what customers (seem) to want. Samsung wants the sale, you would like to see the Android platform advance I presume. The Gnex captured less than 1% of the US Market.

    I concur that Samsung Mobile as a whole is somewhat short on "real vs. perceived quality" although there are worse offenders in other industries. My company car costs 50k Euro and is chock-full with faux everything. It´s a 2011 Audi A4 btw.

    I mean, just look at the SG3 or N2 display. It´s childishly garish but when people look at a screen in store, they go for it. Who wants the truth? Why are most laptops regardless of price still utterly reflective? Because John Doe wants it. John Doe wants a porn screen.

    It doesn´t matter what Display Mate says. Screen porn sells.

    Samsung gives you the choice to tone down color saturation in options. Moto for instance does not on the Razr HD line.

    While most features are gimmicks, some are (potentially) good -as you stated- and on the SG3 you can turn them all off. That does not alleviate some of the shortcomings that are so obvious, of course.

    Samsung moves very fast and the major flaws you rightfully scoffed at will be remedied in next year´s iterations.

    In terms of software design, I´d venture to say that the current iteration of TW is a step forward, a substantial step. It´s not a liability in the same order that HTC Sense represents. Not even close. Yep Moto is better these days. Yep Sony is better these days.

    • lickmytaint

      sony is garbage, other than their cmos sensors, you obviously havent used a xperia for more than a few minutes.

  • http://twitter.com/acsr333 acsr

    you can use the s-pen for menu and back button if you spend time to RTFM...

  • http://twitter.com/c0z Nicole Cozma

    I used to think I hated the hardware Home button, but after carrying a GSIII for several months, I actually love it. In fact, I thought this would be the best addition to the Note II, simply because of its large form-factor. The ability to activate the lockscreen with one hand by pressing that button near the bottom-middle of the device seemed easier than pressing the awkwardly-placed-for-its-size power button. The placement is great on smaller phones, but with such a large device, it is too difficult to get a grip on the device AND still have enough pressure to activate the button. I'm still going to check it out for myself and see how I feel about it on this device.

  • Pat

    I agree, I have a SGSIII and while I love the actual device but Touchwiz is shamefully ugly and unintuitive. I'm glad I moved on to CM10.

  • V

    Is that NFS Most Wanted?

  • Luis Augusto Fretes Cuevas

    It's an incredibly honest and detailed review, if a little whinny. However, I think you downplayed the S-Pen, taking notes with it is way more comfortable than with the virtual keyboard and you totally forgot to mention any of the built-in apps for it.

    Moreover, for example, I'm a mathematician and it has support to transform my handwritten formulas to text, which is beyond awesome:

    http://images.anandtech.com/doci/6386/Screenshot_2012-10-23-14-01-57.png

  • http://www.facebook.com/WilliamSheridanJr William Billy Sheridan

    I have never read such a biased, hackneyed review in my life. You belittle every possible feature and knock every single thing about the phone. You cant possible hate everything genuinely, as some of the things youve hated on are iPhone bragged about features... screenshots? You manage to knock screen shots??

    PS I own a Galaxy Note 2 for Sprint. If you have a GS3, there isnt too much new other than the US Quad Core which is noticeable. Split screen features dont work yet but they are coming. Over all its not as big as you think and you get used to it quick. Its a great phone, and I plan on using it as an everyday device / tab. Forget how goofy you look making calls, no one cares how you look. Also the battery cover is a little trickier to remove than the GS3, or maybe Im just being careful still, so carrying a spare battery is still up in the air for me.

  • ericshmerick

    Just apply some spare pieces of Invisible Shield to the back and chrome sides of the device. That's what I did. Grippy, non-slippery bliss!

  • Skidmark

    Since I first saw the Galaxy Note, I've wanted one. The thing that drew me first was the premium, quality look. The back looks like an expensive piece of equipment. Not so on the Note 2. This quote is just right, and why I'm going to wait until the next iteration before making a purchase:

    "The exterior is still made from the cheapest material Samsung could find. While some companies choose their materials for a premium or a pleasant feel, Samsung's only goal seems to be "put something between the electronics and the user so they don't get electrocuted." It's like they view the exterior as nothing other than a parts bucket. I really wish they would put some thought into it, especially for the $300 asking price. A $100 RAZR M feels more expensive."

  • MrMLK

    Ron,

    Nice review, but I think you are too quick to blow off some features that many people will find useful even if you don't.

    For example, I am really looking forward to the single handed mode. I don't expect to use it for general use, but if I need to dial a call while driving, being able to keep one hand on the wheel should come in handy.

    Still, an interesting review and it was nice to see what all the Samsung buzz-features do.

  • Sinepa

    I actually DO own the Galaxy Note 2 and all the BS you write about the cheap plastic is just WRONG!

    It doesn't feel cheap at all, in fact the Note 2 feels really like a high-end device.

    As for Touchwizz, it is not so bad, you're probably making Samsung pay for your lack of intelligence that prevents you to figure out how to use it properly and take advantage of
    all the goodies it brings to the game.

    The split screen is the killer app? Is that all you found to make your piece of writing sound good for Samsung?

    Most of the reviews on the internet rate the Note 2 a 9/10. They can't be all wrong.

    Again, don't listen to this guy, he is a Samsung hater (and a big one for that matter). Just go to
    the shop, pick up the thing and play with it.

  • Dave755

    If the iPhone did all this it would be considered AWESOME!!! WE get it!!! Apple Great everyone else BAD!!!

  • http://twitter.com/ktaifan R.M.

    So glad I discovered you and your writing. I'm cracking up for all the right reasons. You nailed everything on the spot. The Bop It! ROFL

  • Jay

    I don't understand how people can't just use the thumb of the hand HOLDING the Note II to use the hardware buttons. You're already using two hands to work the thing if you have the S Pen out. It's not that hard, people.

  • Matt Peters

    Your reviews and writing are top notch.

  • Lar

    Good review! I One thing wrong that I'm going to point out that was addressed in a different review I saw:

    There is a way to access the back button and home button while using the S pen without having the tap on the buttons itself. All you do is hold the pen button down while drawing either this symbol < as the back button or ^ as the home button. Works just as well.

    • Lar

      I meant menu button in reference to drawing the ^ symbol.

  • Abel Silva

    You say great stuff there, but here are things i don't agree: multitasking, i hope this keeps a Samsung exclusive, not for all Android, specially now that are rumours that Samsung Will use tizen os. 2nd one hand feature, its a Nice things to have, i use it a few time (when i have patitience to desactivate swiftkey), you sugest buying smaller phone, if i wanted that i would kept my s3 or the s2! 3rd everyone complains about the plástic cheap stuff , well i wouldn't mind kevlar or other materials but the again, the phone would be bigger, heavier and more expensive, then its ok like this for me! But thanks for your review, its your opinion and i respect that :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/hassan.mahmood.3939503 Hassan Mahmood

    you sure give another meaning for word " review " . i thank you

  • Jim Bros

    Why is NO ON talking about the idiocy of placing the VOLUME rocker on the LEFT of the phone? Many video apps and website FORCE you to adopt THEIR idea of landscape which means turning the phone counterclockwise...WHICH MEANS that the VOLUME ROCKER works backwards never mind that it is NOW AT THE BOTTOM OF WHAT YOU'RE WATCHING!!! That is just plain dumb! SAMSUNG PUT THE VOLUME ROCKER on the RIGHT SIDE and the power button on the LEFT! Duh! or is everyone in Korea left handed and left-minded???!

  • LX

    Problem is the native phone app. As you mentioned the phone is well oversize even for long fingers like mine. But the menu bar for switching contacts, groups, call history, and favorites is only established at the top ... how do I get there with only on hand free? No good solution. And even Note3 does not show any achievements in this matter.

  • lbpd2003

    SINCE I GOT MY NOTE II I HAVE INCREASING SHOULDER PAIN. MY RANGE OF MOTION DIMINISHES WHEN I HOLD THE PHONE A LOT. LIKE WHEN PLAYING A GAME. THE WEIGHT IS TO MUCH FOR MY PETITE SHOULDER FRAME.

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