My Impressions of the Samsung Galaxy Note II
(TL;DR = I like love it)

So last night I was sitting in +Danielle Teixeira's office and trying to encapsulate for me what makes the Galaxy Note II the best mobile device I have ever used. And while she was playing with the S-Pen and notes, it hit me why I enjoy the device so much.

For me, this phone perfectly captures the feeling I used to get in the 1990s and early 2000s with the PDA devices. My old Handspring and Palm devices, or my Compaq PocketPC devices. It feels like you're on the cutting edge of a new technology that is just starting to peak out and show how truly useful and capable it is. In the same way PDAs lead to the smartphones of today, I suggest the Note II kind of gives me a similar "pioneer" feeling for future devices.

The S-Pen is a fantastic little device. The utility of it is such that in the space of a few days I already find myself trying to reach for it on my Nexus and S2 only to discover its not there. The ability to command the phone using just the S-Pen is great. That I can create my own commands is even better. Draw a "+" on the screen and it loads Google Plus. Draw an "f" and it loads Facebook. A "G" for Gmail and so on. Over and above the built in commands. A "^" in place of the menu button. Quick easy access to search or sending messages or any number of other features.

But the absolute killer feature of the Note II is the hand writing recognition. This puts my old PalmOS devices to shame. I can, with ease, write notes or messages or emails in my own handwriting and the device is able to correctly figure out what I'm writing over 90% of the time so far. Even when I write in cursive.

Connectivity-wise, this device is fantastic. I bought an AllShare HDMI box and connected it to my TV in the living room. I can play Youtube videos in 1080p on the TV from the phone. Wirelessly. Last night I was playing Riptide GP on the TV screen using my phone as a controller. The lag was so minimal as to not be an issue at all. I can stream content from my NAS to my TV through the Note II. And if I go to a friends place, I can do the same via DLNA.

I'm impressed with the AllShare because if the source file or content is in 1080p, that is what gets played on the TV. It doesn't keep it at the 720p resolution of the phone itself. Lower res source media gets upscaled to full screen on the TV. I was streaming from TVNZonDemand from the phone to the TV and it looked as good as the original show would have on the TV. (Yay for sideloading Flash.) I ripped a BluRay movie to MP4 and played it from the phone to the TV and it played perfectly as the original 1080p. 

Usage for me has changed over the years. I use my phones less as phones and more as internet access devices. My email, calendar, web browsing, RSS feeds, youtube content, pod/netcasts. Even downloading software while I'm out and about which then get copied to the PC via bluetooth or wifi or even USB.

So this device harkens back to my days of using a PDA. Back when people used to assume I wore a pocket protector :-P

But the sweet spot for this is just how fast and powerful it is. I've heard others complain of laggy scrolling and the like. I'll be honest, I haven't noticed any of that. This phone is amazingly powerful and fast. At 1.6ghz with a quad core in there, its powering through everything I ask it to do faster than anything I have experienced before. With 2GB of RAM in there, and the full quad core SoC, this thing eats up games. I've got a Tegra2 tablet and played Tegra optimised games. They don't come close to this beast for smoothness and richness of detail. But thats my subjective opinion. If you want to compare for yourself, play TDKR ( ) on a Tegra3 tablet, then compare the same game on the Note II. You will be surprised.

The size of the device is interesting and a little strange to get used to at phones. I don't hold my phones the way most people do. I kind of rest it on my fingers rather than claw grip it. This gives me the ability to easily move my thumb over the phone and easily move the phone if I need to get to places my thumb is otherwise unable to reach. I can comfortably one hand this phone, but more because of the way I hold my phones than because I have giant hands. 

Samsung's UI modifications to things like the keyboards and such help with this as well. Although I have to be honest, I really miss SwiftKey. But while I find Samsung's keyboard buttons to be a little too small, SwiftKey taking up the whole width of the screen makes one handed typing too difficult.

Swapping out the Samsung Keyboard for SwiftKey also means I lose the ability to use the stylus for handwriting recognition. And that's just too good to go without.

One feature I really love is that the S-Note popup appears when I pull the S-Pen while on the lock screen. It has become so useful and so simple to see something, pull my phone, take the stylus and be able to immediately write a note on the phone. All without unlocking the device. I've taken to using these a lot like sticky note reminders. :-) I have to be honest, it has increased the utility of the phone immensely. And it harkens back to the days of having a PDA once again.

Are there bad points to this phone?

I don't really know. Compared to my GNex and my S2, this is an amazing device. I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. Its damn big. As in massive. I don't have a problem holding it and using it as a phone. That doesn't bother me. But +Kris Campbell was casting jokes that I'd need to hold it to my ear with two hands when using it as a phone. Guess I'd better learn to use the S-Pen with my teeth :-P

The thing about the size is that you quickly don't even notice it any more. When you're watching a video or doing anything on this device, everything that isn't the screen quickly vanishes and you don't even notice it. As a media device, I find it almost as good as, maybe even better than, my Galaxy Tab 10.1. It is definitely significantly easier to hold and it does fit in my pocket.

For reading, this is also a nice sweet spot. EPUB books on this thing are very easy to read, and the increased size makes up for the reduced PPI. But I'm used to reading the same books on a 10 inch screen at 1280x800, so a screen half that size running at 1280x720 doesn't bother me in the slightest as far as clarity goes. The exception is PDF documents.

Due to the nature of PDF files, they don't scale down well. Many of my study books, especially the Microsoft ones, come with PDF versions on the bundled disk. This is great. But PDF doesn't scale well. So trying to read these books on my past cellphones has been painful. However, because the 10" screen of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is similar in size to the original books themselves, those same PDFs become really easy to read on that size device. Suddenly I can study anywhere without having to carry around very heavy books.

Unfortunately the 5.5 inch screen of the Note II is still not sufficient to comfortably read PDF documents without scrolling them. And I can extrapolate from that the same would be true for 7 inch screens as well. For reading normal books in formats that can easily reformat the text, such as MOBI or EPUB, there is no problem at all. The Note II is very good there. Kindle and Kobo books are great. But I wont be filling it up with my study books for anything other than a quick reference purpose.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 I also find to be better for long haul creative purposes at the moment. At least until that new Samsung Smart Dock for the Note II is available. ;-)

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has the bigger display so I can use the more "desktop" like software features. For example, the interface differences between QuickOffice and QuickOffice HD. Due to the PPI values, the HD version won't run on the Note II, even though the Tab 10.1 is essentially the same resolution. So using MHL to connect it to a larger screen and the bluetooth keyboard and mouse is still more practical on the tablet.

But we'll see how that changes over time.

The Note II has scratched two itches for me. I no longer want a Nexus 7, and I no longer what a new phone. This one device has slotted right in between the two and perfectly bridged the desire for either.

I wonder if it might start to become almost a complete mobile computer solution for me when the SmartDock is available? It definitely has the power and the connectivity to do so. Canonical should stop playing on the Nexus and start partnering with Samsung to put Ubuntu on this device. 

I can say with complete and total honesty that such a scenario would almost eliminate my need for a laptop. Bluetooth keyboard and mouse plus a MHL connected HD screen with Ubuntu running on a 1.6ghz quad core, 2gb RAM, ARM platform that fits in my pocket and has a full day of battery life.... Think about how that could potentially change sales teams. The same device that runs as their desktop in the office is also in their pocket with the same information when they're out on the road. The potential is amazing and very exciting to me.

I'm getting nearly 20 hours on a full charge, with pretty heavy use. That includes the "new device playing" that always happens when you get a new toy. When I bought the device, I also got a desktop stand that included a battery charger and a second battery. And with heavy usage, I can go a full day and not need to charge or swap out the battery. 

So the peace of mind that comes from having 2 batteries with me, each with 3100mAh of power, is a huge boon. It means that in a pinch I suspect I could go at least 4 or 5 days before running out of power. Longer if I switch the device off between uses. Put that in context, how many people are still without power after super storm Sandy? The FM Tuner on the phone also increases its utility in such circumstances, even though many people like to joke about it being the most useless thing to add to a modern phone.

I have to admit. This is, for me, is by far the top of the food chain when it comes to mobile devices. Keep in mind I am a power user. I use my phones and tablets almost constantly. Even when I'm at home and have a powerful desktop and laptop at my disposal.

Yes, the Note II has its share of problems. But every phone does. That is normal. No phone, no tablet, no mobile device, will ever be able to completely tick every possible box for every person. However, for me, this is the closest yet in my opinion.

And that feeling of being right on the bleeding edge of a new technology, similar to how the early PDAs did for me back in the 1990s, is actually really exciting. This device makes me feel like the future of mobile devices, and Android devices in particular, is going to be an almost complete paradigm shift. I mean that in the same way Nokia putting EPOCH on a phone and calling it Symbian changed the future of smartphones for that generation.

That paradigm shift was about functionality. What you could do with your phone. The amalgamation of phone and PDA type functions into a single cohesive unit. The past few years we have had the UI and UX shift. From buttons to finger touch. The Note II in my opinion is a shift in functionality AND the way we interact with the device again. The S-Pen stylus is only one part of that change.

HTC and LG are really going to have to up the ante if they want to get in this game. I cannot think of a single device from either (and I include the LG Optimus G and the HTC J Butterfly) that can possibly come close to the Note II for functionality and capability right now.

But the next 12-18 months are going to be an amazingly exciting roller coaster of new devices. Thats for certain. :-)
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