A few weeks on with the Samsung Galaxy Note II have done nothing but cement it as not just a viable smartphone, but an enjoyable one too.
I am not a big gamer, but I do like to dabble, mainly in the popular-for-adults and popular-for-5-year-old type games - mainly Spy Mouse, Draw Something, Where's My Perry, Where's My Water, Angry Birds and a few others. Whilst trying to steer clear of reviewing individual games, I will say this about a few of them:
Draw Something is a completely different game to play with a stylus. The stylus on the Note 2 makes for an amazing gaming experience, beating finger-touch smartphones and tablets hands-down. All my playing partners regularly comment on my drawings since the Note 2 arrived.
Spy Mouse (and other similar games) are a joy on such a big screen - plenty of detail, lovely and bright, my 5 year old and my 3 year old love to sit with me and play these games, and a large screen really makes that much more comfortable, in terms of being able to maintain a longer viewing distance much more comfortably than a small screen.
Duke Nukem 3D and other 'bigger' games all come to life as well, with on screen controls not obliterating such a big area of the screen, leaving plenty of viewable square centimeters.
A lot of smartphone camera reviews will bore you to death with endless colour tone comparisons, and massively blown up enlargements showing you degradation in such detail that you would think it was a professional SLR camera review. The Note 2 camera is "great". It's up there with it's peers from both it's own Samsung stable, as well as HTC, Motorola, Apples iPhone, and 8MP Windows Phone devices. Hindered slightly by the lack of a dedicated camera button (so are many of its competitors), you will want to make sure that you have got shortcuts on your lock screen, and your home screen, to ensure quick access to the camera app.
Samsung's own camera app is a joy to use, with many of the features you would expect in a mid-range consumer point and shoot digital camera. Especially helpful is the ability for the camera to take a snap with a voice command, eliminated the fiddlyness of poking at a touchscreen in very bright sunlight, or from an odd angle - get your group together, and call out "SAY CHEESE" and the Note 2 will take your snap for you.
Extremely quick access through uncluttered toggles on the main camera screen to things like front/rear camera selection, flash on/off/auto, shooting mode (including Smile Shot & HDR), colour modification (Sepia, B&W, negative and more), and the main settings menu is great, although I would still like to see more smarts around the auto flash, as it tends to fire more often than it should, favouring a sharp image over the natural tones attainable in slightly lower light without flash.
With manual focus, ISO and WB controls, metering options, guidelines, GPS tagging and more, there is enough to satisfy the tinkerers.
Having said that, simply taking great photos, without getting bogged down it settings is nice and easy.
One of the great features here is the video camera - part of the same camera app, video can be shot in 1080p High Definition. Whilst not approaching the quality of dedicated digital HD video cameras or SLRs with HD video, the Note 2 is great for capturing family moments, kids sports or productions, or other random moments.
Where it suffers greatly is fast-moving (especially sideways) subjects, where despite smooth video, the moving subject itself may appear a little choppy. I first notice this effect when using the Note 2 as a dashboard event camera with the "Dailyroads Voyager" app from the Play Store.
Integration provided by apps like Dropbox are a great feature on Android, with all photos automatically syncing to a private folder in my Dropbox account, so no more syncing required. As soon as my phone is in a Wi-Fi zone, all my photos zip up to the cloud, and down to my laptop, without me having to do anything.
The final word on the camera is that for non-photography buffs, it is good enough to replace a compact digital point & shoot, if you don't do much zooming (the Note 2, and most smartphone cameras do not have optical zoom). Personally I really enjoy photography, and love using my Canon DSLR, but the Note 2 is the camera I am always carrying, so as the adage goes, it is in fact my best camera 99% of the time.
The audio quality of the Note 2 is excellent. Phone calls on Telecoms Smartphone Network are crisp and clear, the speaker in the earpiece has ample volume without distorting. Callers have reported excellent sound quality at their end too.
The microphone works well for phone calls (including Skype), or for recording voice, but like any smartphone, isn't suited to recording louder audio sources - e.g. acoustic guitar, where the audio become muffled and choppy as the volume of the audio source increased well beyond normal speaking volumes.
The speaker is on the lower back panel of the Note 2, and provides good quality audio at reasonable volumes. At night, as a low-volume bedside music source (I often use Pandora internet radio, and a sleep timer app), the quality is excellent - crisp and clear audio, with good range. However, music playback at normal daytime levels quickly degenerates into fairly typical smartphone territory - no bass, and a lack of depth to the music, so you will want to make use of the middle-of-the-road earphones that the Note 2 ships with - they are surprisingly comfortable, and as good as any $40 earphones you could buy separately).
As a speakerphone, the speaker performs well, and is clearly tuned to reproduce human voice frequencies well, and in a suitable windscreen mount, is perfectly usable as a speakerphone whilst driving, as tested in my Commodore (not know to have the most quiet of vehicle interiors).
With Bluetooth 4.0 on board, and the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, there are plenty of options for good quality audio playback, I have the Note 2 paired to a Bluetooth audio adapter connected to my home stereo, allowing excellent quality music playback, with the Note 2 happily in my hand, in my pocket, or on the coffee table - at arms reach to tell Pandora how much I love Manic Street Preachers, or where they can politely put James Blunts rendition of Four Seasons In One Day (Crowded House).
I hope you enjoyed reading about something other than size, weight, and processing power. Keep checking back on the Telecom Tech Blog for further posts about Galaxy Note 2 features that matter.
About The Author
My name is Tony Hughes. I am an I.T. & telecommunications consultant based in Hawkes Bay. I am a musician, I love to play guitar (acoustic or electric), and enjoy playing the bass as well. I geek around with mobile devices, Ubuntu, Debian, the Raspberry Pi, Linux in general, and web technologies. I have an operating system installation habit of about one a week for which I do not require help. Just more operating systems.
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Samsung Galaxy Note II: More Than Just A Giant Phone
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