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.
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.
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.
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.