“It’s gorgeous, can we keep it?” That’s what my girlfriend asked when I unboxed the Galaxy Note II. A few days later, the answer I’ve come up with is “God I hope so”.
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That the beloved was so enamoured with Samsung’s newest device is hardly surprising. She’s an S III owner, having recently escaped a two-year-old, slightly wonky BlackBerry. It would be mad of her not to love it. I was determined that I wouldn’t be so easily impressed. I own the original Note*, I love it and, apart from some glitches caused by my own failed attempt to root it, it’s given me nothing but pleasure from the day I got it. I’m not alone in this thinking. The original Note sold tens of millions of units. It pretty much defined the so-called phablet sector.
Following that success up was never going to be easy, ask any famous musician. But the Note II delivers in spades and is does its legacy proud. Here’s why.
Let’s be honest for a moment here. When you’ve got a handheld device rocking a 1.6Ghz quad core processor, you’re not going to battle. Add in the fact that even the most determined manufacturer couldn’t screw up Jelly Bean too badly and it’s easy to see why you’re unlikely to do anything that’ll make the Note II freeze on you without warning.
Just as the original Note took its design cues from the SII so the Note II takes its from the SIII. That’s a good thing. To my mind the SIII takes the lead in looks when it comes to the top phones out there right now.
Using the SIII’s curves also means that it fits as well into your hand as the original Note despite being a little wider. Perhaps the one piece of incongruity comes in the shape of the Note II’s standout feature — The S-Pen.
It doesn’t mirror the white into silver transition of the case. You also get the feeling that it the bofs at Samsung could’ve made it fit a little more snugly if they’d tried.
The limits of the human eye mean that we’re going to stop noticing improvements in screen resolution. It’s going to happen soon but not just yet. The Note II’s screen is just that little bit sharper and crisper than its predecessor. The apps also seem to pop out a little more than on the original Note.
When the Note came out, most reviewers were baffled by the fact that there was a stylus pen. The thing is, it worked. Sure you could get away without it (as I’ve done for the past few months after losing mine), but there are times when it’s genuinely useful.
The Note II takes that functionality to a whole other level. As soon as you take the S-Pen out, you get taken to all the apps that use it. The pen’s definitely a lot sharper than it was on its predecessor too. It even recognized my wonky, spider scrawl-style cursive.
One thing I couldn’t get it to do was work without touching the phone, which is one of the advertised features. It certainly recognized that the pen was incoming but no amount of button-pushing or swiping could it get it do anything without touching the screen.
Again, we’re starting to get to the point where the only things separating smartphone cameras from your workaday happy snapper is the lack of optical zoom and (in some cases) the flash. The Note II is pretty much at the forefront of this curve. Even in low light, it’s capable of shots that some lower-end devices can only manage in perfect conditions. I did however get a slight blue haze when using the flash in low light conditions, but nothing untoward. The front-facing camera is nothing special though. Maybe manufactures should pay closer attention to this. Then again, maybe not. I’d rather see any number of filtered food photos than duck face after duck face.
Once you’ve taken a photo, there are a whole load of things you can dow with it. No I’m not talking about Instagram. That’s for peasants. If you own the Note II, you’re a serious business person. That means you can do things like copy it your clipboard and paste it in a note with serious stuff on it. You know, to send to other people who also have serious phones.
Over the past while, a few keyboard apps have made names for themselves (Swiftkey and Swype for instance) largely on the back of incompetencies from the manufacturers. To their credit, the manufacturers have learned from their mistakes. The Note II takes heavy cues from Swiftkey and does so fairly well. It’s intuitive, it fits the screen right and its predictions are mostly bang on. The only place where Swiftkey seems to still have real advantage is in allowing you to select the ‘most right’ prediction by pressing the space bar twice. And that feature alone isn’t worth paying for.
The Note II just does everything better than its predecessor which, as I’ve already noted, was an astonishing device when it first exploded onto our radars. Sure there are small, detailed improvements (the facial recognition to unlock works a lot better for instance). Here’s the thing, the improvements are most marked in the places where it matters most.
Yes the Note II is an evolution of the Note, but it’s an evolution that’s very obviously been crafted with a designer’s eye. It’s exquisitely crafted and every single feature that made the Note unique works even better on the Note II, and there are a few fun new extras thrown in to boot. If it were a wild animal, seeing it and its forefather together would make the case for evolution driven by intelligent design. This is what everyone disappointed by the launch of the iPhone 5 was crying out for. Dejected fanbois, meet you new saviour.
*My Note was stolen during the writing of this article. It is very much missed.