Though Samsung had debuted the Galaxy Note II, the company’s second-generation smartphone with a screen that’s roughly 5-inch large, in Berlin at the IFA trade show, the company recently brought the phablet to the U.S. to show it to American media in San Francisco, California and New York. Not much was said about specifics for the U.S. release, but we did get a chance to play with the device in greater depth and learn some key facts about the phone.
The company says that it is committed to the category-defining form factor, and though we can expect to see a U.S. variant released before the end of the year the information presented here pertains specifically to the international unlocked version of the Note II.
Smaller, Bigger, and Better?
The device now has a more traditional 16:9 aspect ratio display that’s slightly larger, but a little bit more narrow than the original Note thanks to the new aspect ratio. At 5.5-inch, the screen uses Samsung’s improving HD Super AMOLED technology, which leads to a vibrant, bright display that’s perfect for consuming pictures, videos, and webpages.
As far as dimensions, the Note II is a bit more narrow and slightly taller than the original Note that it succeeds. The second-generation device is also slightly thinner and feels more substantial and denser. Construction and build seems to reflect the same polycarbonate plastic that Samsung is using on the Galaxy S III, though the Note II feels a bit more weighty. The narrower frame, thanks to the 16:9 aspect ratio, makes the Note II more comfortable to hold and less unwieldy to use as a phone when holding the device up to your face.
And like the Galaxy S III, the Galaxy Note II will be available in either 16, 32, or 64 GB memory configurations and will support a micro SD card for expansion.
At launch, the Note II will be available in either the titanium grey or marble white color options. The device will have a number of accessories available as well, including a similar style flip cover that’s available for the Note and the Galaxy S III and a rubber case.
Quad-Core Exynos + LTE
Under the hood, the Exynos processor is a quad-core 1.6 GHz ARM-based chipset with graphics acceleration though the company was not able to give specifics with the graphics processor right now. And for the first time, the Exynos architecture is able to accommodate the LTE radio inside the SoC so we will be seeing an Exynos + 4G LTE release, at least internationally.
Samsung is claiming the new chipset is delivering about 20 percent improved performance than what’s out there on the market today.
The battery has also been improved and the Galaxy Note II now supports a larger battery that will give users 20-25 percent extra usage time on a single charge. Additionally, the Note II will also ship with a charger that recharges the device faster.
The S Pen has also been improved as well with a rubberized tip that adds a little bit of extra grip so there’s a bit more friction when you’re writing on the screen. In practice, it’s not that much more friction than the original Note, but it does feel less slippery but still no where near the pen-to-paper feeling. Also, if you leave your S Pen behind and don’t re-insert it into the stylus holder when done, the Note II will sound off an alarm to remind you so you don’t lose this Wacom active digitizer. It’s a nice feature that makes use of existing technology, such as the motion sensor, that detects when the phone is in motion and the pen hasn’t been replaced in its slot.
S Pen is also more integrated with TouchWiz. You can now mark up your calendar and write and sign your emails directly within the email app. You can use the pen to hover over various different segments in the video to get a direct preview of what’s going to be playing should you wish to jump to a different point in a video.
Hover, Drop Downs, and Pop Ups
The S Pen also comes with new features as well. My favorite new feature is that now users can browse desktop webpages with ease as the S Pen now supports a hover feature. Hold the pen about a centimeter above the display and you get crosshairs that show you, sort of like the mouse tracker, where you are. Press down on the screen to tap, or just hover for additional features.
For instance, when you’re on Amazon.com doing some online shopping, you can now hover over the drop-down menus and the menus will open up to allow you to navigate to a specific page within Amazon. This will make the Note II more like a desktop experience.
The hover feature has also been incorporated throughout TouchWiz as well, allowing users to hover over the calendar to get more details about upcoming appointments, or hover over an email message to get more information about that particular email without having to open up the email. Hover towards the top or bottom of the list and the list will start scrolling.
And like a desktop, Samsung is bringing a multi-windows experience to the phablet. There is a pop-out video player that puts video in a re-sizeable window so you can open a browser, read and triage emails, or check your latest sports scores. Similarly, there’s now a Web Everywhere feature. For example, if you receive a web link in an email, you can open the link via Web Everywhere in a pop-up so that you don’t have to juggle through different screens. This way, you can still see the email and also check out the linked content.
Though you can use the pen anywhere on the screen, you cannot use the pen to tap on the capacitive touch back or menu buttons that flank either side of the hardware home button on the Galaxy Note II in a similar arrangement to the Galaxy S III smartphone. As such, to make it easy for you to navigate around Android, Samsung has implemented simple gestures for the S Pen that you can draw to pull up the menu screen or go back a screen.
You can even use Quick Commands, which will automate some functions to make it easier for you. For instance, drawing the “@” sign and writing a person’s name with the S Pen would automatically open the email app and start composing an email message with the person’s email address pre-populated. Drawing a “#” sign and a person’s name may bring up the phone dialer pre-populated with the person’s telephone number, for example.
Put Your Best Face Forward
We’ve covered the camera features of the Samsung Galaxy S III extensively in the past, including the many ways to share pictures and capture images and videos. With the Galaxy Note II, you will have access to all the features of the Galaxy S III plus you’ll also be able to capture the best faces in a group shot.
How this works is that when you’re taking a group photo, the Galaxy Note II’s camera will actually take multiple images of the same person. Once you tap on a face, you’ll be shown a series of sequential and successive photos captured of that face for that group shot, and then you can select the best face you want.
The process is pretty neat and I was impressed with how well it worked. For pixel-peepers who zoom in to the image, you’ll notice some artifacts when the best face feature has been applied. On some images, you can see that some ‘editing’ has been done as the face may appear overly sharpened or that the background is slightly blurred or not quite as continuous as it should be. Casual sharers on Facebook or other social networks likely won’t be able to notice.
There’s also a lot more eye-candy with the Gallery app where Samsung has created a spiral UI to show off images in a fluid manner. There’s also now a simple way to group images into a folder on the Galaxy Note II.
More to Come
These were just some of the many features that we were able to check out in our session with Samsung in San Francisco, California. We’ll definitely have more coverage about the device in the future and the U.S. release(s) when that information becomes available. Stay tuned. If you loved the Note, you’ll definitely love the Note II.