Review: Samsung Galaxy Note II for T-Mobile USA
The Galaxy Note II proves that sometimes the sequel surpasses the original. The Note II, with its larger screen, faster processor, and much-improved camera, is a real contender for king of the phablets.
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Updated 9AM October 25. Apologies to our readers. Due to a mix-up at Samsung, our initial tests of the T-Mobile version were with pre-release software that did not perform well. We have since received final software, re-tested, and re-written the relevant parts of this review (notably, signal and browser tests.) In a nutshell, the issues we saw initially were resolved. This updated review is therefore more positive than the first version we published.
Is It Your Type?
The Samsung Galaxy Note II is a dramatic improvement of the Korean gear-maker's 2011 phablet. It is better in just about every way. It's also just about the biggest darned phone you can buy, with a massive screen and massive footprint to boot. If you subscribe to the "bigger is better" mantra, then the Note II could be the phone you're looking for.
In redesigning the Galaxy Note, Samsung borrowed heavily from the design of its own Galaxy S III smartphone. The Note II uses the same design language and materials as the GSIII, only it's bigger. Putting the two side-by-side, the family resemblance is unmistakable. The Note II is the GSIII on steroids.
I've used the Galaxy Note II for almost a week, and it got a lot of attention everywhere I took it. There's no question the size makes it stand out. One friend of mine, who was using an iPhone 3GS, looked at it and said, "What, are you trying to give me smartphone envy?" Another friend of mine said, "Wow, what is that, a mini tablet?" Yeah, with a 5.5-inch screen, you can say that.
The Note II has clean lines, a straight-forward design that features curves instead of edges, and still manages to look sleek despite its giganto-phone proportions. The materials are mostly plastic and glass. I really wish Samsung would step up the quality of its materials across the board. The plastics are strong, but still come off as the cheap design option when you look at what HTC, Nokia, LG, and Apple are doing with materials these days. The glass surface of the display feels good under the thumb, but I'm not a fan of the thin battery cover.
One important change Samsung made with the Note II when compared to the original Note was to reduce the width. The Note II's screen — and hence the entire phone — is thinner. We're talking about a half a centimeter here, which may not sound like a lot, but it has a huge impact. The narrower profile makes the Note II much easier to hold in your hand. It's still impossible to wrap your fingers all the way around it, but believe me when I say the reduced width goes a long way to improving the daily usability of this phone.
The smooth surfaces are slick and glossy. Both the front and back are prone to collecting smudges and finger oils. It looks pretty gunky after using it for a few moments. However, the slippery surfaces mean the Note II glides into your pocket with ease. If it fits, that is. I tried carting the Note II around in several different pairs of jeans. It barely fit into one pair. No matter which pair of jeans I had on, the Note II's profile was easily visible on my leg. I always knew the phone was there, it's just too big and heavy not to notice.
The Note II uses a physical button for accessing the home screen. Its about an inch long and elyptical in shape. It has good travel and feedback. The back and menu keys are capacitive buttons to either side of the home button. There's no multitasking button, but if you press and hold the home button the multitasking panel will open.
The volume toggle is on the left edge. It feels cheap and produces a "clacky" sound when pressed that I found unappealing. The same goes for the lock button on the right edge. The microUSB port is on the bottom and the headphone jack is on top.
The battery cover can be peeled off in typical Samsung fashion by digging your thumbnail into a little slot. The 3100mAh battery itself can be removed if you so choose. The microSIM card can't be yanked unless you first yank the battery. The microSD card, however, can be hot swapped without pulling the battery.
The S Pen is buried in the bottom of the Note II. It's quite simple to retrieve or insert. The Note II offers haptic vibration when the S Pen is removed from or stored in the Note II. The vibrations are meant to make the owner aware that the Pen has is or isn't where it ought to be.