Samsung Galaxy Note II, With Android Jelly Bean, Demands Attention
The size of the display, and its crispness, make it a pleasure to do everything from emailing to using Google Maps; it's simply easy to see and manipulate apps. The battery stood up to all I asked of it. While I often find my phone dead in my shoulder bag, if I leave it there overnight, the Note II, after on-and-off use over Saturday and Sunday, still had juice to spare when I plugged it in Monday morning. But what impressed me most about the Note II was the rear camera. There are lots of options and features and filters, it's easy to move between the front and back cameras, as well as between photos and video modes, and one can even pause during recording and then restart—an actually very helpful feature. But, really, it's the display that makes taking and viewing images and video so satisfying—the size is nice, of course, but it's the resolution and how saturated but crisp it makes images look that made it a treat to use. The display is a Super AMOLED (active-matrix organic LED) with 16 million colors and a resolution of 720 by 1280. Together, these make each photo—particularly in bright light—seem better than the last. Transferred to my MacBook, the photos still look good, but they didn't pop the way they did on the Note II. As much as sharing photos—and Samsung has included lots of ways to do this—I just wanted to show them off on the Note II's display. As for the Note II's tablet functionality, this is rather well-trodden ground, as the Note and Note 10.1 also paired an S Pen with applications meant to offer the user the perks of handwritten input. In theory, these apps are a great idea, but in execution, they're often frustrating to use. I found them not intuitive—there were things I knew were possibilities, but I couldn't naturally figure out how to do them. Even when I turned to Google for answers, I couldn't always find them. That feels like too much work, which suggests a need to improve the design of the S Note apps.Indeed, there's a lot of figuring out that goes into taking advantage of all of the Note II's capabilities, which are considerable—windows are constantly popping up, showing the user shortcuts and tips and tricks, far more of them than I could remember or that eventually felt like fun or convenience. I have to wonder whether, with time, a user actually learns all of these or just figures out the three or four he likes and then ignores the rest.Another design quibble: The power button is directly opposite the volume buttons. Whether holding the Note II from the front or the back, one has to be very conscious of trying to push one without pushing the other. By the broad strokes, though, this is a great device, and one that millions of people are likely to feel excited to have with them on a long flight, or when stuck in a line, or even when needing to look over business documents, whether in the office or out. More than a follow-up to the Note, it seemed to me an appropriate follow-up to the Galaxy S III. Once committed to a size that, for most people, is unrealistic to use with one hand, you might as well go all the way. Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.