Samsung Galaxy Note II Hands-On: Bigger Just Got Better

The original Galaxy Note was very not good, but seven months and 10 millions sales later, it's hard to deny that it's found a niche. But will its even beefier successor live up to the hype? We've been fondling the upcoming Galaxy Note II, and you know what? We're pleasantly surprised.

The screen has gone from 5.3 inches on the Note to 5.5 inches on the Note II, yet, despite the size it's more comfortable to hold. This is because it's longer, but skinnier. The original Note was 16:10, this one is 16:9. Reaching the top of the screen with your thumb is still a serious struggle (and I have pretty long thumbs), but it's definitely an improvement. Below you see it compared to the Galaxy S III on the left and the original Note on the right.

The S Pen (Samsung's pressure-sensitive stylus) has undergone improvements as well. As you can see in the photo below, it's gotten longer and thicker. The first iteration was round and hard to hold. The new version is a little more squared off and is definitely easier to grasp. They have also upgraded the tip. On the original Note it was just way too slippery, and the pen would slide around like crazy. The new tip is a bit more rubberised, and so there's more resistance when you write. I would have liked to see them go further with this, but it's certainly an improvement.

The S Pen has added a few cool new tricks, too. The phone is now aware of when the pen is in or out. Removing it will take you to a screen with some S Pen shortcuts. The phone can also tell when the tip of the S Pen is within 10 millimeters, which it uses to some advantage (it's called Air View). For example, when you're playing a video, you can hover over the timeline to get a thumbnail preview of what is happening at that point, then you tap to go there. In the email app (not Google's Gmail app, unfortunately), you can hover over a subject line and get more information before you open it. Or you can use it to preview the contents of a gallery. Unfortunately, the handwriting to text is still basically unusable.

The biggest improvement, though, is the phone's performance. It absolutely flies, and it's incredibly smooth. Whether that's due to the 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos processor or simply the addition of Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) we don't know, but I tried hard to make it stutter and lag, and I couldn't. Google Now opens by long-pressing the menu button (not the home button, which still opens Samsung's S Voice, which, meh), and it was fast and smooth. Opening up a gallery, videos auto-play in thumbnail mode. Click them and they open and play instantly. The gallery has two new graphically intensive modes (Timeline and Spiral), and they both look great, and didn't lag at all. Really impressive.

The camera has picked up some nice features, too, the most interesting of which is Best Face. You take a burst shot of a group, and the phone recognises indivdual faces and isolates them. You can then chose which face you want for which person. Sam Biddle was blinking in these three, but here he looks nice and respectable. Mario was sneezing over here, but here's a good smile. It then splices those faces together to make one smooth, perfect group photo. It worked really well in the demo. Like the Galaxy S III it can fire off 20 shot bursts at six plus frames per second. The shutter was extremely quick and the photos looked good at first glance.

There are plenty of other upgrades. The processor, yes, but also 2GB of RAM (compared to one on the original Note) and a new GPU. The battery has also been bumped up from 2,500 mAh to 3,100 mAh. That's still a bit shy of the upcoming Motorola RAZR MAXX HD's 3,300 mAh battery, and the much larger screen on the Note II means the RAZR will probably beat it in battery life, but it should certainly outlast the original note.

Those were just our flash impressions. The size of the screen will be still be extremely divisive. You will either love it or you will think it's the worst thing ever. That aside, it's a serious improvement over the original, and we're looking forward to spending some real time with it for a full review. Expect it to hit the US sometime in November. Hopefully Australia won't have to wait much longer than that. In the meantime, check out this gallery of some of the features we mentioned.



    I will stick with the s3 for now ....

    It fits in my pockets .... just.

      You must have extremely small pockets, maybe need a handbag?

    The model that hits Australia, will it have 4G LTE compatibility? or will it be 3G and Samsung will later bring out a 4G enabled Note II with a different processor? Any idea?? Thanks!

    How practical is the Note really. I held one for the first time other day and i reckon i would get a cramps in my hand due to stretching to hold it. It wouldn't fit in my jeans either and friend who owns it says, people do get a shock when they see the phone.

      It would depend on the size of your pockets, which can be any size you want, and what you'd want to use the phone for.
      I use my phone for the web, games, apps etc, not much for calls, a bigger screen would benefit me. Large screens are startling at first, but on trying the HTC Sensation XL a few times I found that it's really extremely usable and makes doing most tasks so much easier and less annoying.

      It really is a two handed phone for a lot of things. You don't need the stylus though.
      You can do basic things such as unlock and make calls with one hand if need be.
      I've got a pair of tight jeans and baggys and it fits in both. Its pretty think which helps. i know i used to be able to put my 3GS in my back pocket and wouldn't care too much if i sat on the couch with it. Not with this thing though. It might snap. Probably not different from an iphone 4+ in that regard.

        Is that a SGNII in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

      Well i can honestly say the last 5 friends of mine who have wanted to see my note, have ditched all there phones ,includeing 2 iphones to buy the original galaxy note. And now swear there not useing anything else. These things have fonts that can be changed on everything even email and txt. :)

      Models released in Australia will all be 4G compatible, depending on the carrier an update may be required when their network is updated to 4G... I know cause I was at a Samsung presentation for work.

    Sounds like a lovely beast. The note 1 was a bit laggy when I tried it, very disappointing, but if this one is as smooth as the S3 this might be my new phone. I'd get bigger pockets especially for it :)

    One thing that does concern me though is build quality... I'm addicted to the good stuff from HTC and really dislike Samsung's custom apps which I've found to be crappy in the past. SO I hope their apps and interface aren't annoying and that the build isn't as tacky as it can be on many of the devices.

    Very not good?

      ^Yeah that's what I was going to point out!

      For all the people who are asking if the Note is easy to live with, and the size factory. I think of my self as an average sized man, and I find it is very easy to use as a phone, and for doing everything from texting, browsing and playing games. It may be a little large for smaller women, but its not like you are holding an iPad to your head when you are talking on the phone as some people think it would be.

      The initial size may put people off (it really isn't that much larger than a SGS2 or SGS3), but when you have one for a bit you will never go back to piddly screen.

      In standard form it is great, but I have just recently put the Paranoid Android Jelly Bean ROM on and it is absolutely awesome, as you can set it to go into fully tablet mode for certain apps, and phone mode for certain apps. Very cool.

    The device is very beautiful and all however, is it going to be in the Australian market? Ive seen a lot of posts on the net about Samsung keeping mum about. Which worries me a lot. Now, im split about waiting for the note 2getting the s3 and nexus 7..

      Do yourself a favor and just import from Kogan or wherever. I ended up with a GN 1 from Germany and it gets all the latest updates straight away from Samsung. No waiting for carriers to get off their backside to install crapware on it.

      Should be very interesting to see how it runs on JB which it will be getting in a couple of months.

    I'm having constant power and wifi troubles with my GN1. But I think it's ICS, and not the Note itself, as many people on ICS, regardless of phone, seem to have the same problems. I do hope that Jelly Bean will fix all these issues. In other respects, I like my GN, and would probably still go for another once this one dies. As for size, it fits my pocket just fine...

      Try juice defender. Doubled my battery life

      Put the launcher from google play called nova launcher on and turn the speeds up on transitions, it will run buttery smooth

    it's a great phone been using my note for many months now. no problems at all. 'normal phones' seems weird to me now

    The original Galaxy Note was very not good: What?
    The first iteration was round and hard to hold: I have no problem holding mine.
    And the pen would slide around like crazy: its not hard to control it. I love the minimal friction

    none the less the GN2 beats the GN1 in every way, still very pleases with my GN1.
    current price difference in the GN1 and GN2 is $370 on Kogan, which I cant justify.

      Agreed. I switched to the Note from the iPhone 4. All other phones just feel like toys now.

      Although I am getting tired of the constant remarks to it's size every time I remove it from my pocket.
      "That thing is huge! How does it fit in your pocket??" and "What is that thing?!" are the common ones I receive on a daily basis.

        This is certainly one instance where "size does matter!"

      The price difference is exactly $200. GN1 $449 and GN2 is $649.

    Typo? Shouldnt it be the Samsung Galaxy Boat II ? The thing is huuuuuuuge. Ive seen people making phone calls on these things, and they look ridiculous!

      I'm sick of this hearing this comment. You know what. People look ridiculous using a bluetooth headset, they look ridiculous with white headphones, they look ridiculous recording video and taking photos with an ipad, people look ridiculous trying to browse and read on a tiny smartphone screen.
      And guess what ? They probably don't care what you think or what they look like.

      You must have hands the size of little princess! because i wrote a comment here how 5 of my friends recently have bought the note was they started useing mine, well 4 of them are girls real women not petite and not large just normal GET OVER IT!

    Unless there's a new Galaxy Note in the next 12 months, this will be my new phone. I'm sure something else will come along before then.. but if my contract had just expired, this is the phone I would now be holding instead of my SGSII.

    For me.. a Smartphone is a phone last and a multimedia device first. So for me, having a 5.5" 16:9 screen is a total win for my use. My wife uses her phone.. as a phone first and a multimedia device last.. and so she has a smaller phone. :)

    Good to finally see some news about the GN2 on Giz. I've been reading everything I can about the note2 and I still cant get enough. The slimmer screen is really noticeable though which has me a touch disappointed since I think it'll make drawing a little harder but thats really my only gripe with it so far
    Off contract in May hopefully the price will have dropped a bit by then

    I don't find the debate of size valid as its like asking people to wear shoes of the same size. Everybody has their own preferences. Its good that market has options available. I have just pre-ordered my first samsung phone (Note 2 i.e.)... shifting from iphone was a tough decision and i'm still pondering over my decision, but willing to go out try the alternatives and develop more depth for my future purchases.

    Screen is perfect size, Not too big at all. Maybe some of you are a little too young to remember the original mobile phones(bricks).
    Just as weird watching people try and play games squinting or correcting mistyped text on tiny little screens. Or phones so small it looks like they are just talking to their hand. ;)
    This phone will be a jack of all trades, Screen is large enough to mount in car and use as gps on the move.
    Can't wait to replace my old iphone 3GS with this beast!

    To think I just got rid of my Dell Streak 5 for an Iphone 5...If only i had waited and gotten this instead. I really wish my Streak did not die within that last week and died next week. The Note 2 is everything I have been looking for in a phone but sadly I converted to the darkside...My Jimmies are rustled.

    I'd love to know how Gizmodo managed to get their hands on one.

    I need a PDA and media player first and a phone second. I'm hoping this will take be back to two devices instead of iPhone + iPad + laptop. The GN2 plus a light laptop would keep me very happy.
    Although, I'm a bit nervous about fitting it in a pocket with a cover on it :(

      If you go with this device you will not go back! :-)

      I carry it in my pocket and it fits with out a problem with a cheap ass rubber cover.

        I totally agree! I often see young women hunched over in bus stops typing on there iphones, now that looks way more funnier this phone

    Thinking about selling my Galaxy Nexus & Galaxy Tab 7.7 and getting one of these.

      Holy crap you got the same set-up as me. Althought got a Gnote aswell which I gave to my brother.

    I can not wait for this device. I have contacted Samsung (via FB and email) trying to find out when this beast will be released, alas, no responses other than it will be released in Q4. I am confident that it will be released in Australia... I was at the Better Homes and Gardens Live show (as directed by my wife) the weekend before last and got to talking to one of the girls at the Samsung stand. I asked about the GNII, she said that Sammy staff are about to start their staff training on the device.... so I can only assume that a release is not that far away...

    I just bought a Sandisk Ultra Micro SDXC card (64 Gb) in preparation for my purchase of this device.

    As for size... a sales girl I was speaking to a few weeks ago had a GN1... when I asked about it she said she loved her phone and said she could not go back to "regular" sized phones. She was a petite girl and had not problems with the size of the device... so I just don't get the arguments that people say it is too big... I know, each to their own, but this device for me "should" allow me to stop carrying my GTab 10.1.... let's wait and see.

    Porn is better in bigger screens. Just call it Samsung Galaxy Porn ffs

    The GN is great phone. and very easy to use. i don't tend make with it walking down the street and if i do i use speakerphone which is vv good. The screen is big when u first see it but trust me after 5 mins of text being crystal clear because its soooooo much larger you will not want to go back!

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