When Samsung came out with its Galaxy Note smartphone last February, many wondered exactly how to classify the 5.3-in. device. It was smaller than any existing tablets and yet larger than any other smartphone. And it included a stylus (called the S Pen), an add-on that had become out of fashion with the advent of current touch screens.
Now, Samsung has introduced a follow-up to its initial offering: the Galaxy Note II. This tweaked version offers a sleeker and easier-to-hold design, an improved version of the S-Pen, and upgraded software.
I had a chance to spend a few minutes with the Galaxy Note II last week (somewhat later than the attendees at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, who were able to play with it at the end of August). The device I tried was still the European version; the U.S. version, which may differ slightly, was not ready yet.
Longer and slimmer
That being said, the Galaxy Note II that I was shown had a number of improvements. The original Note has a 5.3-in. display; the Note 2 has a 5.5-in. Super Amoled display with 1280 x 720p HD resolution. I didn't have an original Note with me to use as comparison, but on first glance I thought the display of the Note II was excellent: the color depth and detail were impressive, and videos played smoothly and without any pixilation.
The new Note II weighs 6.35 oz., somewhat heavier than its predecessor's 6.28 oz., and measures 3.16 x 5.94 x 0.37 in., slightly narrower and taller than the Note. Interestingly, that slight change made it much easier to hold in one hand. When I spent a few minutes with the original Note, I could tell that it might be a strain within a minute or so; when I was trying out the Note II, it was comfortable enough so that I soon forgot to even notice its size.
The processor has been upgraded to a Samsung 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos processor, and the standard battery is now 3100mAh (as opposed to the original Note's 2500mAh). The Note II will be offered with 16/32/64GB of storage, but will also be able to use up to a 64GB memory card. It will, according to Samsung, ship with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean).
The S Pen
I may be prejudiced, having spent several years with PDAs that used styli as tools for touch, but I don't feel that the S Pen is a disadvantage at all. This may be a generational thing; when questioned, a Samsung rep admitted that, on the whole, the S pen has been used largely to do precision work; Note owners tended to use their fingers to perform tasks when they weren't using pen-specific features. The company is trying to change that by extending the number of applications available for the S Pen and by improving the Pen itself.
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