Galaxy Note II: To Buy or Not to Buy?

After weeks of rumors and speculation, Samsung finally revealed its successor to the wildly successful 5.3″ “phablet” Galaxy Note, which sold 10 million units as of August 15, 2012, at its Mobile Unpacked IFA show in Berlin on August 29, 2012. Unsurprisingly, the successor is called the Galaxy Note II.

When the Galaxy Note first came out, most people were skeptical about how big of a market such a huge phone could have. As its sales proved, the Galaxy Note found a very unique market segment who were looking for a larger phone. It’s surprising because I initially thought most people enjoyed the added S-Pen functionality that the Note provided, but when I spoke with various people who owned a Note, the one thing that kept coming up was the large, beautiful display. Even I was mesmerized by the Note’s gorgeous screen and had some buyer’s remorse over buying the Galaxy Nexus, but I knew having a Google AOSP phone would serve me better in the long run.

Specs

Enough about that though. Let’s look at the specs of the Galaxy Note 2:

Screen: HD Super AMOLED 5.5″ 1,280 x 720 (267 ppi)

CPU: 1.6 GHz quad-core Exynos

RAM: 2 GB

Storage: 16/32/64 GB Internal Storage, microSD card Expandable Storage, 50 GB Dropbox Account

Camera: 8 Megapixel Rear, 1.9 Megapixel Front

OS: Jelly Bean Android 4.1.1

Other: 6.35 oz, 3,100 mAh Battery, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, LTE, HSPA+, improved S-Pen and new functionality

Thoughts

Let’s start with the good: The hardware specs are pretty par for course with a slightly faster quad-core Exynos than its Galaxy S3 counterpart; the 2 GB of RAM is great and more phones should be including more and more RAM; and the camera is also the same as the Galaxy S3. The device also has a microSD card slot for people who dislike that Google has removed that from its Nexus line. Bluetooth 4.0 support is also a welcome upgrade. On the software side, the device comes out of the gates with Jelly Bean, the latest version of Android, which is a huge advantage. Jelly Bean went a long way to making the advances made in Ice Cream Sandwich feel complete and smooth like a true competitor to the iPhone. It also means the Galaxy Note II will most likely be in line for an upgrade to the next Android OS, Keylime Pie. Finally, the S-Pen has even more functionality than its predecessor and includes neat tricks such as alerting your phone if you happen to forget your pen somewhere. The phone can also be programmed to launch a default app when the S-Pen is removed from its slot in the phone. It’s great to see Samsung building on its own software suite and it definitely gives people a reason to go Samsung and use its TouchWiz skin.

Now on to the bad. The screen did become ever so slightly bigger at 5.5″ (versus 5.3″), but the pixel density took a hit. The original Galaxy Note had screen resolution of 1,280 x 800 (285 ppi), whereas the Galaxy Note II has 1,280 x 720 (267 ppi). While I criticize the specs on paper, I’m sure it will be a completely different story when viewed in person. Further, the hardware just isn’t very different from the Galaxy S3. What this means is that consumers will just be choosing between a “phablet” or a “phone.” Along those lines, the overall design of the Galaxy Note II is similar to the Galaxy S3 – even going as far as having the same, ugly (my opinion) home button in the center instead of using software buttons. Finally, there’s TouchWiz. I am simply not a fan of Samsung’s TouchWiz skin and we’ve already seen how that has gotten Samsung into trouble with Apple in the U.S. (although other countries have ruled very differently such as in South Korea and Japan). For developers, it’s an additional hurdle to go through and for people who want to run AOSP lose the entire collection of TouchWiz functions.

The Competition

There really isn’t a lot of competition in the “phablet” space, so if you’re looking for a 5″+ device, the Galaxy Note II is probably in your future. However, there have been rumors floating around about HTC creating a “phablet” device with a 1080p screen, which would make it the first phone to have such a high resolution.

Other than that, the true question to ask is whether or not a “phablet” is right for you. If not, then there are many other phones to choose from. Of course, Apple’s next iPhone is rumored to be released in late September. In terms of Android, there is, of course, the Galaxy S3, HTC One X, and Galaxy Nexus as viable options today. In the future, I was quite impressed with LG’s Optimus G. Rumors point to Motorola, in partnership with Verizon, announcing an edge-to-edge screened phone at its event next week. Sony just announced its new line of Xperia phones, which I didn’t find too appealing although these Android phones are the most likely to be PlayStation certified. There’s also HTC One X’s rumored successor, the HTC One X+ (I know, creative, right?). Finally, there are a trio of Nexus devices that rumors say will be made by Samsung, Sony, and LG, respectively.

Finally, we have the dark horse in this race: Windows Phone 8, which rumors suggest will be coming out just a few days after its desktop and tablet version. Many people are saying great things about Windows 8 and I’m sure many people will be attracted to a unified OS for their desktop and mobile needs. The major issue of concern for Microsoft is building up its app library, which is quickly growing – and with a forecast of over 300 million Windows 8 devices over the next year or two, developers will be unable to ignore such a large ecosystem.

If you’re looking for a “phablet,” go ahead and get a Galaxy Note II when it finally gets official (Samsung says the Galaxy Note II will be available in the U.S. “later this year”). However, for me, I’ll be looking at the next line of Nexus devices (come on, Verizon version!).

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