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Living With: The Galaxy Note II

March 30, 2013 - Written By Tom Dawson

Here at Android Headlines we have a whole lot of information concerning new phones, phones that have been around for a long time, tablets etc etc. Chances are though, that the staff here will upgrade to or buy our smartphones like everyone else out there, which means that we don’t just have a phone for a few months – well maybe not all us – we tend to “live with” a smartphone until something better comes along or when we can afford a new device. I was pretty pleased then, when I got the chance to spend some quality time with Samsung’s Galaxy Note II. There’s no denying that it’s a polarizing device, it’s far too large for some, just right for others. Our own Alexander Maxham reviewed the Note II here, and while I’ve always had a lot to say about large-sized devices like the Note II, I had never gotten the chance to use one: until now.

The staff here will know me as the Editor that doesn’t enjoy change; and they’re right. I don’t like the idea of going through smartphone after smartphone, mostly because I’d like to spend my hard earned money on other things but, also because a smartphone should be built to last and let’s face it; most of us are locked into a contract these days anyway. I should let you all know now, that my personal device that I’ve been living with since last summer, is HTC’s One X; and I love it. There are a number of things I really don’t like about it though, the battery life mainly and the fact that I have to run an AOSP ROM constantly; because Sense presents me with a really uncomfortable experience. Spending time with the Galaxy Note II then, is going to be a little bit of a system shock, keep reading to find out what I loved and hated about the Note II and whether or not it could earn a permanent place in my pocket.

What I Loved About the Galaxy Note II

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When using the Galaxy Note II there were some aspects that I came to love about the device, one of them was in fact the S-Pen. It’s been labelled a gimmick by many and indeed, it’s mostly used by myself for games. I’m a pretty traditional kind of guy, I still have an honest-to-God pen and paper notebook to run my life and I have never been able to get on with digital note-taking solutions. The S-Pen for me, presented a sort of digital compromise between old and new, maybe that’s a little extreme but I was able to do all the things I would on a smartphone and still get the satisfaction of hand-writing notes and lists. Mostly lists, I write a lot of lists. The S-Pen also provides a much more comfortable user-experience for me, holding the device in one hand and using the stylus with another, it’s more precise and Air View is really great for scrolling up and down in conversations and web pages. I never quite got to grips with the whole idea of hand-writing all of my text, my writing is pretty awful to say the least but, for notes and the like it was a welcome breath of fresh air.

The battery life of the Note II is pretty damn amazing. While I don’t necessarily use a smartphone a lot throughout the day, I do tend to have everything turned on and I never use auto brightness so I was very pleased to see the Note II would last nearly twice that of the One X. Never did I have to worry about charging it before I went out in the evening – as I always do with the One X – and after a while I found that I had stopped caring about battery life altogether. I could just forget about it. Not for years have I had a device where I could just forget about battery life, it’s the one thing about Android that still irks me but, the Galaxy Note II took that little niggle off my mind and made me forget all about it.

What I Hated About the Galaxy Note II

I’m going to be very surprised if I escape this unscathed in the comments but, here goes: the Note II is just too damn big. As I said above, the Note II is a polarizing device, it’s not for everyone and it seems to be very much a love it or hate it kind of thing, and when it comes to size; I hate it. For me, using a device in one hand with just my thumb is pretty important, if I can’t do that then I’m just not going to use my phone too much. Of course, I can hold the Note II in one hand, I don’t have tiny freakish hands or anything but I certainly didn’t feel comfortable doing it. The One X – and any other 4.7-inch smartphone – is a stretch with one hand as it is. I also didn’t care too much for the build of the device, it seems very much like one big hunk of plastic, that hasn’t been put together overly well. I’m not going to get into the whole plastic vs premium debate but, if a device creaks in my hand when I am on the phone, that’s really not a good sign, is it?

AMOLED display. I’ll admit that it’s been a long time since I used a Super AMOLED device, and I can definitely see that they’ve gotten better since then but, I don’t care for the overly punchy colors and unrealistic reproduction offered by AMOLED panels. I will hand it to Samsung though, the display is very bright and the settings offered to tune the color temperature really helped. I am a fan of IPS-based panels and I’ve always found IPS to be a more honest reproduction when it comes to color and text is a lot easier to read on a true-white background, which AMOLED doesn’t seem to achieve, in my experience at least.

Would I Keep It?

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Honestly? No. I wouldn’t be able to live with a device like this without either dropping it numerous times or getting fed up with it. My time with the Note II hasn’t been bad, by any means, I even grew to enjoy TouchWiz a little bit but, it’s just not me. I can see why some people would love such a device though, my Dad for instance would love something like this, he doesn’t want anything to do with a tablet and sometimes he can’t be bothered with the Chromebook. If you have a Nexus 7 and use that a lot of the time though, there’s not much need for a smartphone this big. I can think of brilliant uses for the size but, I couldn’t live with this on a daily basis, it’s just too big.

Software is a big thing for me and while I don’t care for anything outside of stock Android, I came to appreciate TouchWiz. Certainly far more than I could HTC’s Sense, TouchWiz did get in the way a number of times – Page Buddy for instance, confused me the first 20 or so times it happened but then, I became glad for the extra help and the fact that when I pull the S-Pen out, it encourages me to play Fruit Ninja is both dangerous and exciting. I didn’t try out any AOSP-based ROMs on this device as that wouldn’t be fair to trying out the Note II for what it is.

I might be crazy, I probably am. Which means some of you might agree with me, and some of you might not. Regardless, I’d love to hear from you in the comments and please remember that this was a telling of my experience with the Note II, I’m not passing judgment or anything, I’m just passing my thoughts along.

Thanks to Phones 4U for sending out the Galaxy Note II where my UK readers can take a look at mobile phone deals and more.