Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review: This is a phone and tablet, or 'phablet', that looks like the Samsung Galaxy S3, but is bigger really better?
Undeniably one of the surprise tech stories of 2011, the Samsung Galaxy Note sold in bucket loads proving that the niche product actually had mass appeal.
Having already served up the improved S-Pen technology with the bigger screen surroundings of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 ‘phablet’ brings more inches, power and multi-tasking prowess to the party with a device that fits snug in the pocket.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2: Build
Taking clear design cues from the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, think of the Note 2 as a kind of super-sized version of the flagship handset, swapping straight lines for sleeker curves and a white paint job "inspired by ‘nature", so the marketing blurb tells us.
At 9.4mm thick, it’s slimmer than the original Note (9.65mm) but not as slender as the Samsung Galaxy S3 (8.6mm), but at 182.5g heavier than the original Galaxy Note (178g).
In terms of the key physical features, you’ll find the rounder home button at the bottom of the screen flanked by two capacitive buttons. The power button is situated on the right edge of the device with the volume rocker on the opposite side while the charging micro HDMI cable port sits at the bottom of the handset.
The 3.5mm headphone jack sits at the top and hiding at the bottom right hand corner is the new, more accurate S-Pen. At the back sits the 8-Megapixel camera with flash alongside it and the loud speaker at the other end.
Behind the replaceable cover you’ll find the microSD card slot which can expand storage to 64GB and the microSIM slot which will give you phone functionality.
Putting this to your ear to make a call is still likely to draw strange looks, but the more curved design actually makes it feel not so abnormally large in the hand. It does seem more suited to a handbag, manbag or inside jacket pocket than a pair of jeans though.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2: Features
Samsung’s TouchWiz UI is overlaid on top bringing seven homescreens instead of the Android standard of five, its own web browser, app drawer and branded apps like S-Suggest and S-Planner scattered all over the place.
You can also reap the benefits of new Jelly Bean features including Google Now and expect a speedier UI performance and reduced lag thanks to Project Butter.
Following on from the Note 10.1 the advanced smart pen is based around the same tech found in the Wacom digitizer which means you can expect improved pressure sensitivity while you are being creative.
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When you pull the S-Pen out from its compartment, it will instantly launch a selection of optimized apps and it is likely that S-Note will be your first port of call.
Previously just a place to doodle and take notes, the application feels more useful in its latest guise adding the ability to add videos and pictures to documents, support handwriting recognition and Wolfram Alpha integration for working out formulas.
Other S-Pen apps include S Planner (calendar) and integration with the email client, but it is likely that S-Note is where you’ll appreciate how handy it is as a brainstorming tool.
Multi-tasking is another feather in the Note 2’s impressive bow for those who are so busy they need to have two applications running at once on the same screen that can interact with each other.
We got to play with various features including Air View which let’s you hover over functions to preview but the Multi Window mode was only available as a software update after our playtime with the Note 2. Stay tuned for details on that.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2: Camera
In the camera department, there’s a respectable 8-Megapixel rear-facing snapper with auto focus that can be adjusted on the screen and an LED Flash.
Interestingly, the front-facing camera which is capable of HD recording is now just 1.9-Megapixels down slightly from the 2-Megapixel one on the original Note. You can expect all picture editing modes and features seen on the S3 including Face Detection and Best Photo to be on board as well.
The flash is pretty bright on first use as unsuspecting pictorial targets found out but does manage to pick out colours impressively. Things can get a little blurry the more you zoom in, but it is up there with some of the best smartphone snappers on the market.
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The f/2.6 aperture aids low lit photography and while it is not quite as impressive as the f/2.4 aperture found on the iPhone 5, it still does an admirable job of picking out objects in the night. It’s perhaps worth noting the HDR mode which aims to pick out more detail in images is also included but we didn’t notice a substantial difference from pictures taken in normal camera mode.
At a maximum 1080p for video recording, the Note 2 certainly fares better than the Note 10.1 in this department and is more on par with the shooting performance of the S3 with the nice addition of being able to take pictures while filming.
On the connectivity front, it is much of the same with new additions including Bluetooth 4.0 up from Bluetooth 3.0 and Samsung’s take on NFC, S Beam which means you can ‘bump’ phones with another S-Beam packing handset to transfer files like music and videos. However it wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds when we tried it out.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2: Screen
The screen has got bigger, 5.5-inches bigger (up from 5.3-inches) to be precise but it’s still HD Super AMOLED quality which means you can expect deep blacks and brilliantly vivid colours on a 16:9 ratio display making it ideal for watching movies.
The resolution may have dropped from 1,280 x 800 to 1,280 x 720 and spread across a bigger screen, but it still delivers excellent levels of clarity particularly for video. With a screen that big, it’s good to have some added protection and with Corning Gorilla Glass 2 should help protect against everyday bumps and bruises.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2: Performance
Swapping a dualcore processor for more power-hungry 1.6GHz quadcore innards plus 2GB of RAM, the Galaxy Note 2 is significantly zippier than its predecessor which makes it ideal for the new multitasking features and is lightning quick loading up web pages and flicking through home screens.
With 4G capability, things can only get speedier as well, so hopefully it will be added to the list of 4G ready smartphones.
In terms of call quality, the Note 2 put in a decent performance and thanks to the noise cancelling tech and dual mics on board, delivers the kind of clarity to ensure everything comes through loud and clear on both ends of the phone.
With the extra screen estate and array of new power-sapping features, it’s perhaps no surprise that the Note 2 hosts a bigger 3,100mAh battery (up from 2,500mAh) to cope with the extra demand.
We did have some issues with regards to the battery life of the Galaxy Note, so thankfully that has been improved dramatically and we found running applications like Twitter and Facebook throughout the day, browsing watching HD video the Note 2 managed a healthy 12 hours before reaching critical levels.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2: Verdict
There’s not really many places you can fault the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. It’s made a significant improvement in most departments and does more with the design to hide some of its hulking size. We loved the S3-inspired design, the improved S-Pen integration and overall speedier performance thanks to the quadcore processor and addition of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
It really does come down to the issue of size. It’s a great performing smartphone but you are going to have to accept looking a bit silly putting this against your ear in public. We still feel that the S-Pen technology is more suited and beneficial to a larger device like the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, but if you're sold on the super-powered stylus and can deal with the inevitable stares, this is a great smartphone.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2 release date: Available now
Samsung Galaxy Note 2 price: £549.99