A very large phone on which you can write and draw
Android smartphones have been getting increasingly larger and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 takes this trend to the extreme – it has a massive 5.5in screen that dwarfs most other phones. The huge screen is there to accommodate another odd feature: a stylus.
Is the pen is mightier than the touch?
The Galaxy Note 2 can be controlled using either the stylus or your fingers. The stylus may seem old-fashioned but it can be used in several intriguing ways. Pop the stylus out of its nook and the note-taking widget automatically opens so you can quickly jot down an address or phone number.
The full note-taking app allows you to draw diagrams, scribble notes and organise them into notebooks. An optional handwriting recognition mode automatically turns your scrawl into editable text. This process works surprisingly quickly and smoothly, although it sometimes has trouble correctly recognising spaces and punctuation. Impressively, it doesn't need an internet connection to work.
The stylus can also be used in other interesting if slightly gimmicky ways. For example, hovering it over a thumbnail of a photo or video in the Gallery app displays a large preview of it although this sometimes didn't work. Videos can be minimised into a small floating window while you use other apps, but this only works with Samsung's video app and not with other apps such as YouTube or LoveFilm. Sadly, few apps currently available take advantage of the stylus. There are only a handful of drawing and note taking apps, but these might be all you need.
If all of this sounds familiar, it's because the Note 2 is effectively a smaller version of the larger Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet. The screen resolutions of both are almost identical - the Note 2's 1,280x720 pixel 5.5in screen has almost the same amount of space as than the 1,280x800 resolution of the Note 10.1. The Note 2 feels smoother and more responsive though since it has a more powerful 1.6GHz quad core processor and a plentiful 2GB of RAM. There's 16GB of storage with 32GB and 64GB models available – extra storage can be added via microSD cards.
It's not how big it is, it's how you use it
Physically, the Note 2 is attractive enough and looks like a larger version of the Galaxy S3. It's available in either white or blue plastic with a silver trim around the edges. It feels sturdy enough, although it still doesn't feel as robust as the Kevlar and aluminium Motorola Razr i.
An optional accessory is an a flip cover that protects the screen that is actually attached to a battery cover that replaces the one that comes with the phone. Annoyingly though it not only makes pressing the volume buttons harder. It can also make using the Note 2 while out and about even more cumbersome and fiddly – especially in tight spaces like a crowded Tube carriage.
Given the Note 2's large size, Samsung has squeezed in a massive battery. It lasted a lengthy 15 hours and 37 minutes when playing videos on a loop with airplane mode enabled. When used for web browsing, GPS and making phone calls, it lasted just over 24 hours which is good.
The screen itself is bright with vivid colours and crisp text. The huge screen may be attractive to those with poor eyesight, but its sheer width and overall weight of over 180g make it difficult to use and hold single handed even for short periods of time – especially if you have small or medium-sized hands. Using the Note 2 as your sole mobile phone could be a struggle.
Call me maybe?
Samsung has recognised this as the phone app has a ‘single-handed mode' where the massive dialling pad is shrunk down so the keys can be pressed more easily using just a thumb. Using the hulking Note 2 as a phone may feel silly, but call quality is crisp and clear in our tests on the Vodafone network in central London. A few calls sounded tinny on our end though.
The eight megapixel camera fared reasonably well in bright sunlight. Photos had reasonable levels of detail, but focus seemed a little soft round the edges. It's unusable in low light conditions without the flash though – even with the camera app's dedicated low light mode enabled, the resulting photos were dark and blurry with smeared details.
The Note 2 is the first smartphone to come with the new 4.1 version of the Android operating system, also known as Jelly Bean. The standout feature is Google Now which automatically gives you information as you need it. For example, if there's an appointment in your calendar then Now will automatically show you how to get there on a map. Now requires an internet connection to work though since it sends information back to Google's servers which may not suite the privacy conscious.
The Galaxy Note 2 is tough to judge. It's expensive for a phone and far too large for everyday use when out and about, but its revamped pen features are surprisingly usable and potentially useful. We wish they were present on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 where they would be a better fit on that tablet's bigger screen. The Note 2 is eye-catching, but most people will be better off with a more sensibly sized smartphone.
Read more reviews
The Note 2's whopping girth and high price means it won't suit everyone. It does have intriguing stylus features, but these would work better on tablets.
Stylus included; Good quality screen
Massive screen but huge size uncomfortable for some; Expensive
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