Samsung Galaxy Note II Review

Introduction and Design
Update: You can now read our Galaxy Note 3 review!


The smartphone stylus pretty much went the way of the Dodo bird with the introduction of the original iPhone that reinvented the touchscreen paradigm, yet a lot of folks have apparently been missing it.

Samsung really caught up to that trend, and introduced a stylus-laden Galaxy Note handset, but instead of putting the pen there for the precision it allows you in some tasks (like hitting tiny X buttons on small-screened WinMo handsets), it took a counterintuitive at first look approach. The Note was equipped with the gigantic for a phone 5.3” screen to doodle on - a pretty logical idea if the intent is for more useful tasks than chasing interface elements unoptimized for touch. Such a huge phone was a gamble, though - Androids were growing in screen size at the time, but the flagships topped out usually at 4.3”, and the iPhone was still at the palm-friendly 3.5” size, so a 5.3-incher raised quite a few eyebrows.

Whether because of the top-notch specs at introduction, because of the marketing push Samsung put behind the Note, or simply because people heard about the Note and said “Bril, I can now jot down the grocery list when out of the door, or scribble an address while on call”, but the monster handset carved a brand new niche for itself, and more than 10 million units have been sold so far.

Now we have its successor, the Note II, which transitions the Note family feel from the I’m-with-dork to an oversized-Galaxy-S-III-with-stylus impression. It also ups the ante with a much more ergonomic S Pen stylus that learned new tricks, a larger 5.5” screen in a thinner, narrower body, die-shrunk quad-core processor, and 2GB of RAM. Are there other improvements in store? Read on our review to find out...


A 5.5-incher doesn’t bat an eye these days, and it’s not only Samsung with the first Note to blame. Calling from smartphones is pretty down the list of the most used features now, with web browsing and media consumption knocking it off its perch. Thus, people have been increasingly game with sacrificing pocket and in-hand comfort for having an ever-increasing portable window to the world - what a smartphone screen has become today.

You can compare the Samsung Galaxy Note II with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Despite the larger screen, the Note II is about the same weight as its predecessor, but is not as wide, making it a tad less unwieldy in the hand. It is still a giant, messy thing to deal with, especially if you have smaller hands, but has been slimmed down, and received the gradual curves and rounded corners of the Galaxy S III, meaning that it is a bit more comfortable to handle than the Note. The design similarity with the GS III is strikingly obvious, with the notable exception of the stylus silo bottom right, which hints at the Note II’s other main selling point.

The chassis build material is the same polycarbonate plastic used for the S III, with gradient colors in the non-white version, and the only gripe about it is that it is a bit slippery to hold - a slightly textured surface might have been a better choice. We don’t have a unibody design here - just the good old paper thin battery cover, under which you find a microSD and micro SIM slots, as well as a removable battery, so the Note II earns starting points for expandability right there.

The first thing you notice when you take the Note II in your hands is that juggernaut of a screen that Samsung has managed to fit in a more compact body than the Note. It occupies almost the entire front, with a significantly slimmer bezel underneath, where the home key is – the bottom bezel is thinner than not only the one on the Note, but also on the Galaxy S III.


The biggest news with the Note II’s 5.5” 16:9 screen is not just that it is the largest ever put in a phone, but that it is the best AMOLED display Samsung has ever produced, too. Granted, it’s listed as an HD Super AMOLED display, which should still mean a PenTile pixel matrix arrangement, right?

Wrong. Microscopic examinations of the Note II display show that PenTile’s peculiar way of achieving higher resolutions with ⅔ the subpixels of the usual RGB matrix, is gone now. What we have in the Note II is not a “stripe” RGB matrix either, as the blue subpixel is perpendicular to the red and green, instead of parallel, but still we have all the subpixels per pixel present now, though arranged in an alternative to “stripe” manner. Not that PenTile made that much difference compared to RGB at such high resolutions, but its alternative “screen door” matrix irked some screen purists, and we are done with that now - solid green or red looks, well, solid.

Because of this new HD Super AMOLED, one would argue that the 1280x720 (267 ppi) resolution of the Note II is actually higher on a subpixel level than the 1280x800 (285 ppi) one on the Note, yet you can’t really see much difference with the naked eye. What you can see, however, that the cold colors typical for Super AMOLED are almost gone now, and when displaying white the Note II is pretty close to a good LCD display, as it has largely disposed with the typical cold blueish tint.

More important than the geeky PenTile vs RGB argument is that the screen is also much brighter now, and might easily be the brightest AMOLED on a Samsung device yet, which, coupled with the low screen reflectance, makes for an excellent outdoor visibility, and the automatic brightness adjustment works like a charm.

Other than those, you get the usual wide viewing angles, extreme contrast, and saturated colors you would with other Super AMOLED displays, making the phone the best handset out there for enjoying video with this screen size.

S Pen:

The stylus sits very tight in the silo, almost too much so, making you put an effort while whipping it out in a brand new unit. The Note II makes a beeping noise and pops a warning when you walk away from the desk, and the stylus has not been inserted back in the silo.

Since the S Pen is longer and way thicker now, it feels much more ergonomic in the hand, and the button at the bottom is larger and easier to press compared to the original Note, too. The stylus on the Note II feels more solid, too, better than the thin, bendy unit on its predecessor.

Samsung Galaxy Note II 360 Degrees View:

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