Hands on: Galaxy Note II and yes, size matters

Hands on: Galaxy Note II and yes, size matters

Summary: While armchair analysts bloviate over the impact of Galaxy Note 2 on its competitors I got my hands on one. I like it - a lot.

TOPICS: Mobility

While armchair analysts yap incessantly about the to-ing and fro-ing between Apple, Samsung and Microsoft over which tablet form factor wins in the race for hearts and minds, I've been getting on with what really matters - road testing the Samsung Galaxy Note II. I've also compared notes with a few colleagues who've also fallen in love with the Galaxy Note. What's the anecdotal but useful verdict?

Despite some of the commenary about its in-betweeny size, I like the Galaxy Note II. I like it so much I paid for the thing alongside signing up for a new data plan. That should tell you a lot because unlike some of my erstwhile tech junkie colleagues, I don't usually buy the latest fashion toy. Far from it. I buy when I need to. In this case a semi-dead LG Optimus (something or other) that blew up two daya before I absolutely needed to be on a call and where the only other feasible option was either a reverse call-in to one of my other mobiles or Skype. Neither of those alternatives was ideal. 

Size matters

OK - what's to like? The size. It fits into any of my jacket pockets with ease, slides neatly into the dedicated phone pocket of my Tumi briefcase and is surprisingly light for its size at 112 grams. It doesn't look stupid when held up to the ear when used as a...wait for it...phone and can be used hands free using the shoulder lift manouver without straining my neck. Not that size matters when you come from an era of using the Motorola DynaTac - or as I lovingly called it: The Luggable.  

Then there is the small matter of what you can display on the Galaxy Note II. Colleagues who are migrating off Blackberry fall in love with the device instantly because at last they can see (and read) web pages without too much scrolling or zooming. As a past 'Four Incher' screen devotee, the additional real estate makes reading most web pages and all applications nearly as easy as on larger devices. Again, it avoids a degree of scrolling. Ergo, my life is easier. 


While talking about size, Samsung has not been daft in realizing that many people prefer using one hand to operate their smartphones. They offer neat little 'helpers' for left (as in my case) or right handed only operation. To be fair though, I prefer holding the device in my right hand and then operating with the left. This has advantages if you live in countries/locales where drive by snatchers operate as you will have a much tighter grip on your device than if it was only used in one handed fashion. A small point? Not if you live where I do. 

And before anyone asks - has Howlett got meat packers' hands? No. I am pretty average on the hands size front though like many others, I continually suffer from 'fat finger' syndrome. Which neatly brings me to yet another advantage of the Note II's size. I am making far fewer typos than would normally be the case when only using fingers. That's a productivity bonus all of its own. 

Loving the S-Pen

Moving swiftly on. I've seen many so called analysts poo-pooing the Note's inclusion of the S-Pen as indicative of a device that doesn't know what it wants to be. Ahem - ever seen people using pen like devices to draw on iPads? In this case, the S-Pen is altogether more useful for enterprisey types. 

Until I got hold of this device I would never have thought to use a smartphone as a device for creating lists yet the combination of some very nice templates and the S-Pen make this much simpler than I could imagine. That in turn has led me to think about the kinds of lists that make sense on this device.

The most obvious is a shopping list the creation of which is often a highly repeatable exercise but always annoying and time consuming. Notes on financial statements, quick meeting notes and instant mind maps are obvious business uses. Using the S-Pen for email is a breeze as it is for calendar updates. Again, we're talking productivity as opposed to aesthetics.

Most important of all, the S-Pen is a natural tool for those of us who routinely use something other than a keyboard with which to communicate. Which I am guessing is something like 99% of the executive population. 

OK - so the S-Pen isn't perfect and I do get odd ball typos (Don't ask, they are deeply embarrassing). But then only having used the S-Pen a few days I am sensing it is a case of getting used to it in much the same way I did back in the day with Palm devices. This is one case where even my advancing years and attendant ADD will not prevail. The S-Pen is too useful to allow that productivity boost to be lost. It does not leave me hankering for a physical keyboard, which I have acquired for my iPad

Speed/battery life

I am well used to working on crabby wifi networks, 2G and 3G. 4G is a pipedream for me. Whatever Samsung has done to overcome the natural sluggishness of networks I encounter is magic. Everything loads at lightning speed and even video, which once was pretty much a no-no on other devices, streams flawlessly with this device. Once again, score one for productivity. As a side note, I am tempted to load this thing up with some video for travel. It's certainly watchable although I'm guessing I'd still prefer an iPad for that purpose. 

When I first got the device I did everything I could to exhaust the battery in the shortest possible time. On my other Android devices I know I can kill a battery stone dead in less than four hours just doing email, checking Twitter, LinkedIn and running a few webpage reads. Note II took me a good seven hours of hammering it with video playback and my usual tasks before I was down to 20% power. Even then, the recharge rate was phenomenal, coming back up to full power in less than 45 minutes. More goodness IMO.


Samsung include an app called Kies for backup and restore. This reminds me of some older apps of a similar nature but with the added ability to backup/restore over wifi. I'm not sure the extent to which I will use this solution. Yes it's a bummer if you lose treasured photos that have not been shared on one of the many photo sharing sites or backed up to something like DropBox.

Samsung has a slew of its own apps but most of these are consumer focused. Even so, they should provide devleopers with ideas about how they can re-imagine enterprise apps on this 5.5 inch form factor. That will be interesting to watch. 

For the corporate user, I notice that Samsung has attracted plenty of ISV interest. As I would have expected, SAP is in there with Afaria support for device management. Box is in there too, as is Adobe, VMWare and Zoho among many others. Oracle is not, neither is IBM.

What I am not seeing however is a plethora of enterprise mobile apps built specifically for Samsung even though there is an SDK on offer that includes an update for the S-Pen technology. I am guessing most of those apps will appear as free client side only apps in the Google Play Store with server side functionality as a paid for add-on via the usual user license agreements. It will be interesting to see if Samsung is able to get serious interest in its SDK but for that we will have to wait and see how well the device does in shipping numbers to the corporate market. 


I am not geeky enough to go into the whys and wherefores of Jelly Bean, the technical specification and what not. I leave that to the likes of Matthew Miller. I count myself as a reasonably tech savvy user who represents the people I mix with - business folk who care about getting things done. In that regard, Note II is a genuine step up for someone like me who is coming from the smaller form factor world or who is looking for an alternative to iPad mini or some other similar sized device.

The overall positive usability and user experience driven by the size, S-Pen, battery life and other hardware related topics is enough to get me seriously interested. I can for example see road warriors carrying both this and a conventional iPad, rather than opting for iPhone and iPad Mini. It will be one for when they're on the street (Note II), the other for when they're on customer/supplier sites (iPad.) That works if developers are prepared to support both Android and iPad devices for the same applications. Right now I tend to see something of an either/or approach. 

The Galaxy Note II will not be to everyone's taste. I can see it presenting some handling difficulties for those with smaller mitts than me but those limitations can be overcome with a little effort. The default whistling 'tune' when there is inbound data is entertaining for about 20 minutes before it starts to get irritating. That can be easily changed and I can imagine having a lot of fun with finding something more appropriate. Other than that, I can find little to truly complain about. 

Related ZDNet coverage

Topic: Mobility

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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  • So, should Apple release "iPhone maxi"?

    What do you think, Dennis?

    Considering how iPhone with only small battery 1420 mA-h lasts on tests 50-60% longer than SGNote 2 and only comparable to Motorola Droid HD Maxx with 3300 mA-h battery -- and yet being dramaticlly faster in graphics and faster in many integer calculations tests -- huge iPhone could be much more functional device than other companies are offering now.

    Apple's iOS unique approach towards multi-tasking and A6X implementation of Palo-Alto Semiconductors (PA Semi was bought by Apple in 2008) unique patented technology for "splitting" the scheme into tens of *thousands* of blocks of transistors into *independently* controlled by voltage and frequency "gains" -- give unique combination and advantage.

    (Usually SoCs/CPUs only have limited number of huge blocks with voltage/frequency control for energy saving; but PA Semi went to an absolute extreme in that, so Steven Jobs decided to buy them.)
    • Re: So, should Apple release "iPhone maxi"?

      Apple should stop litigating and start innovating, is what it should do. Then maybe it can become a market leader again, instead of being reduced to copying whatever new idea the Android vendors come up with.
    • You're on drugs buddy

      The latest iPhone gets lower in true battery tests than the Galaxy S3 and the Note 2 exceeds battery usage of the S3. Where are you getting your results? applesheep.com? Nor does it benchmark higher than the Note 2 and their quad core Xenos processor it houses. Go back to fantasy land with the other Apple twirps.
      Christopher Skaggs
      • quite fictional hypothesis

        Thanks Christopher. Completely agree not sure where those figures came from. My SGN 1 last longer than the friends who are using the iPhones.

        And now that you have given the idea, Apple will create an applesheep.com
      • Drugs fail you

        Go to AnandTech and see Engadget battery tests. SGN2 exceeds battery life of S3, but iPhone 5 still lasts 50-60% longer, and only huge Motorola Maxx phone can compete.
        • Haha, okay

          I just went and read the Engadget reviews for both the SIII and the iPhone 5; the iPhone 5 DID produce better battery life but nowhere near the 60% you claim.

          Galaxy S3: "A second run of the looped video test yielded nine hours and two minutes. That's a brilliant score given the screen's size and resolution."

          iPhone 5: "On our standard battery rundown test, in which we loop a video with LTE and WiFi enabled and social accounts pinging at regular intervals, the iPhone 5 managed a hugely impressive 11 hours and 15 minutes. That's just 10 minutes shy of the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx."

          While the iPhone does have an advantage there (in part to the ~17% smaller screen) that's only about a 19% difference in battery life, nowhere near the 60% you claim. I have an SIII while a friend has an iPhone 5 and neither of us have been able to run our phones down in a day of use (including long weekend nights full of media streaming, calling, texting, and internet use.) Both are powerful, responsive, and intuitive and we both love our different phones for different reasons.

          Blind rabid fanboyism is dumb, both phones offer more than enough juice to get you through a day but not enough you don't have to plug it in when you go to bed just to be safe so the difference is more academic than practical anyway
        • Oh, one more thing

          The engadget review of the Galaxy Note II with it's 5.5" screen shows a battery life of 10 hours 45 minutes- 95.5% of that of the iPhone 5, not the 40%-50% you've been throwing out.
          • You have certainly did not read Anandtech SGN2 review

            It lasts 5+ hours comparing to iPhone 5's 8+ hours.

            Blind rabid fanboyism is dumb.
          • Really?

            Well, I read the Engadget reviews which directly rebutted what you said so now onto the Anandtech review you're talking about I guess

            AT Smartphone Bench 2013: Web Browsing (WiFi)
            iPhone 5: 10.27 hours
            Galaxy Note 2: 8.41

            AT Smartphone Bench 2013: Web Browsing (WiFi)
            iPhone 5: 8.19 hours
            Galaxy Note 2: 5.78 hours

            That's roughly an 18% difference on WiFi and a ~29% difference on 3G/4G. They go onto that the Note 2 they're testing, being on T-Mobile, lacks the more efficient LTE that the iPhone is using.

            T-Mobile instead uses DC-HSPA+, which is _two_ 5MHz aggregated wide carriers and thus is usually not as power efficient as a single LTE channel. Also, on LTE the handset can get back into an idle radio resource state quicker for the same workload. They specifically make note of this but I guess you're too busy frantically cherrypicking information to actually read and comprehend, despite the fact you have yet to use said cherrypicking to actually prove your claims that the Note 2 has 50% less battery life than the iPhone 5.

            At best, you've noted that the most power-hungry of the Note 2 carrier options (DC-HSPA+ rather than LTE) has about a 29% battery life deficit compared to the iPhone 5, which itself is not exactly shocking given the ~27% disparity in screen size.

            Congrats? Where's the 50%-60% difference on the actual LTE Notes? It doesn't seem to exist anywhere you claim it does.
          • edit

            Edit: the second test results should read "3G/4G" rather than "WiFi"
          • Why would I go read a test that I know is wrong?

            I spent the weekend in airports and flying, and I was able to watch 6 episodes of Top Gear, and a half dozen episodes of MASH as well as read a few chapters of scripture and make about 20-30 minutes of phone calls during layovers before I got the battery warning message. I am very aware of what the battery life is on my phone, and quite frankly the Note 2 is the best for battery life that I have ever had, including my old iPhone 4s by a fair amount.
  • Once you have the Note II, it changes everything

    I love this phone, too. The size makes everything easier to see, to read, and to use, especially with regard to three things: maps, photos, and general reading. Saves me from buying 7-inch tablets so I can spend money for 10-inch models instead. And when I pull out the Note II, everyone wants to hold it.
  • Once you have the Note II, it changes everything ???

    I had Galaxy Note for 6 month. Love hardware. Big screen. Could not live with Android though. Just not friendly OS. For phone - my opinion, though. Went back to 4" Windows7.5 Samsung Focus. May be one day GS Noe II will come with Wins 8, then I will buy it again.
  • AVOID SAMSUNG.poor build quality, numerous bugs,I advise you to AVOID NOTE2

    "size-matters" YES the size of the editors over inflated ego!

    This is my non biased write up on this phone, unlike Dennis 'shill'etti I do not receive financial compensation for posting positive pro-samsung propaganda...

    The first thing you'll notice about this phone is its ridiculous size. If you can look pass that, you might consider it because of precisely that, the h-u-g-e screen size. You would also expect that because of this screen that this device would be suited for posers or people with 'small man complex'.

    And you would be right - Samsung marketed and pimped it to consumers as all about their screen as well. However, do beware that it has absolutely horrible banding/screen issues that makes watching any videos with dark scenes (or anything with dark shades of grey for that matter) impossible - they all show up as dirty dark blocks/blobs. (for details just google "samsung note II screen issues").

    The sad part is that their previous AMOLED phones didn't have such issues, but the latest ones in the series (Note,S3 and Nexus) do! They definitely changed something up in their production recently, probably cost savings when they moved production to china.south korean company and chinese build quality usually means disaster.

    When i brought it to Samsung's attention, they refused to acknowledge the problem and claimed that it was perfectly fine. The service center I was at even went as far as to suggest that since their sample model phone they had at the back exhibited the same artefacts, that my phone looked to be in perfect condition. This south korean customer service didn't have an happy ending but it did massage a ton of money out of my pocket....

    Looking around on various web forums, it seems like this is a fairly widespread problem for Samsung note II's (and not the only screen problem mind you, just the most obvious one) and apparently it's due to some poor QC on their part after transferring production to mainland china and you might get one that's good (apparently low probability), or one that's horrible like mine so yes, do check your operators return policies or wherever else you might be tied into a 2 year contract on a door stop!

    So yeah, it's basically a lottery to see if you can get a working one. so I'm not even sure what the probability of a "perfect working screen" is.

    Some reviewers reported to me in confidence that they have exchanged as much as 10 Note IIs in an attempt to get one such unit that works. Since that was not an option for me all I can do is suck it up

    Or so I thought. Until even with very minimal usage, it was barely 4 days old before the next problem arose - the wifi broke. I just got it fixed a few days ago by wiping the phone and reinstalling the firmware, but I'm just waiting to see what the next problem will be with this expensive abomination that could have been a great phone, but trust the money grabbing south koreans to release this untested POS, instead i have ended up being taught an frustrating and expensive lesson to NEVER buy anything from Samsung again!! The only thing I can do now is hope that the problem is with the software and that can be fixed with a new OTA update, unlikely knowing samsung who drop support after 2 months and move onto the next plastic POS phone with android '5.2445 sweet ttongsul'.

    So in conclusion, if you're looking to watch videos on-the-go or use it as a photo-book, get the the new ipad mini instead. If you just want a phone with basic web functions/emails and such, get something cheaper instead like the nexus 4, you'll end up at the same place after all without a hole in your pocket nor a oversized south korean rock in your pants..

    Samsung woo you with hype and glitzy editorials on this very website but it is smoke and mirrors, the tablet phone is DOA and i advise anyone looking to buy to.....

    AVOID SAMSUNG. dreadful build quality, numerous bugs,I advise you to AVOID
    • Galaxy II Note

      Thanks for your rather useless commentary. My wife and I have been using Samsung products for years and love them. My wife got a Galaxy SIII in August and I for one plan on getting the Note II for T-Mobile when it is released. I've been using Android for the past 18 months (I have a Galaxy Tab 7-European T-Mobile version-which actually is a cell phone) and very much like it. I prefer Anroid over Windows Mobile 7.
      • Yuk foo....

        Thanks for providing such an (un)insightful comment. I really appreciate that kind of crapola.
    • Oy...

      I am talking as a user who uses devices and apps every day. This is MY experience so please don't try trash talk that unless you've got something more insightful to say.
    • Is that you...

      Tim Cook?!
    • Are you paid by Apple?

      Your comments are useless and are motivated by ????
    • More like avoid you...

      I've seen this same review posted on every review for the Samsung Note II. Almost every review I've read has been positive. But I should listen to you instead because you make such a logical argument without resorting to name calling. Oh wait...you insulted the author, South Koreans, Samsung, people who prefer phones with large screens and I'm probably missing a few others because it was such a long, rambling diatribe. Next time try staying on topic and maybe you won't seem like such a jerk and people may actually pay attention to the substance of your words. As it is most people will read a small part of your post and completely skip the rest as they no longer value your opinion.