Review: Samsung's Galaxy Note II gets bigger and better
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I had very mixed feelings about the original Galaxy Note, Samsung's "phablet" tablet/smartphone tweener, when I tested it last February. It was a bit large for one-handed use, and its apps didn't take advantage of the large screen. In fact, the apps "optimized" for the large screen were harder to use than the stock versions they replaced. But the Galaxy Note had several intriguing innovations, including its pen input.
It's clear my misigivings were not widely shared: The Note has been a smash hit for Samsung. Now Samsung has an even larger version, the Note II. The good news is that the Note II runs the latest version of Android, 4.1 "Jelly Bean." The original Note ran the outdated Android 2.3 "Gingerbread," even though the modern 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" had been released a couple months earlier.
[ If the Note II is too big for you, see who wins InfoWorld's face-off between the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III. And if the Note II isn't big enough, see which small tablet InfoWorld recommends in our hands-on review of the iPad Mini, Google Nexus 7, and Kindle Fire HD. | Get expert advice about planning and implementing your BYOD strategy with InfoWorld's "Mobile and BYOD Deep Dive" PDF special report. ]
Bigger and beefier hardware
If you want a big screen, the Note II offers 5.5 inches, measured diagonally, versus the original Note's 5.3 inches. It's also about a quarter-inch deeper and about 1/16-inch narrower than the original Note. It'll fit in your pants or jacket pocket or a purse. In a shirt pocket, expect it to poke out precariously -- just waiting to drop.
Like the original Note, the Note II supports LTE and 3G networks. In the United States, it's now available for Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular, with availability planned for AT&T and Verizon Wireless later this year. It's available in other countries and on a variety of carriers.
It also supports Bluetooth, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, near-field communications (NFC), and Wi-Fi Direct -- the whole cornucopia of radio connections. Bluetooth is now the power-sipping 4.0 version, and the Wi-Fi radio adds 5GHz spectrum support, which offers better speed and increased range.
As you'd expect, the CPU is faster (1.6GHz quad-core versus 1.4GHz dual-core), and the Note II feels more responsive as a result. Ironically, the resolution of its Super AMOLED display is actually a bit lower: 1,280 by 720 (larger) pixels versus the original Note's 1,280 by 800 pixels. The Note II has 16GB of internal storage and a MicroSD slot that can accept up to 64GB more. But its battery life is only adequate, running out of juice after about 10 to 12 hours of use -- faster than an iPhone.