Review: Samsung's Galaxy Note II gets bigger and better
Samsung has paid close attention to usability, while also boosting the browser and VPNFollow @MobileGalen
As in the previous version, the MicroUSB port supports MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) cables for video-out to HDMI monitors. Samsung also now sells a $99 Smart Dock: a USB-and-HDMI hub that lets you connect the Note II to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for more desktoplike use. However, Samsung couldn't provide one for hands-on testing for this review, so I can't vouch for its usefulness in practice.
Oh, and you can get the Note II in high-gloss white or in what Samsung calls titanium, a burnished-metal-looking finish with a classier appearance. The Note II costs $650 without a contract and $300 at most carriers with a two-year contract.
Updated apps: Mucked-up calendar, much better browser
One app in the original Note that I thought Samsung made inferior to the stock Android version was the Calendar app, whose bright colors rendered its text hard to read. Unfortunately, the Note II's Calendar app is designed even more garishly and -- worse -- reduces the amount of useful information that displays in your calendar. For example, the original Note's month view would show the first few events of each day; the Note II just shows the number of events. Or pretends to: The badges showing the numbers completely drown out the numerals on them, so you can't actually tell how many appointments you have.
Fortunately, Calendar is the only egregious design mistake in the Note II. The Email and Contacts apps -- the lifeblood of business users -- are basically the same as in the original Note, with slightly different color schemes that do no harm. Plus, the Email app in horizontal orientation uses smarter text sizes so that you can see your message list and current email with enough detail; in the original Note's Email app, text in the message list was so large that too little information could display.
The Camera app has been enhanced with the kinds of image-correction features increasingly found in digital cameras, such as the ability to select each person's face in a group photo and choose the best version from a series of exposures. There are more such enhancement capabilities than in an iPhone 4S or 5, though the Note II doesn't have iOS 6's autostitching that assembles panoramic images from a series of photos.
In all apps, the Note II's onscreen keyboard gains a fourth row at top for numerals (like a physical keyboard), which further facilitates text entry, though it reduces visible screen real estate too much in horizontal orientation. And a long-standing beef of mine is addressed: In the notifications pull-down, you can now tap and hold the Wi-Fi icon to select a different access point, not just use the icon to turn Wi-Fi on or off as in standard Android. (The Galaxy S III also gets this function in the current Samsung Android 4.1 update.)