Samsung Galaxy Note II, With Android Jelly Bean, Demands Attention

REVIEW: The Galaxy Note II will soon arrive on the nation's top four networks, starting with Sprint Oct 25. It's big and slick and takes gorgeous photos. And it's also a tablet.

The Samsung Galaxy Note II has a 5.5-inch display on the diagonal, which is arguably its defining feature. It's for people who want an unapologetically big smartphone. Or really, a phablet—a device that strives to be equal parts smartphone and tablet, and in this it generally succeeds.

Like Samsung's Galaxy S III smartphone, it feels like a lot of device, in multiple regards. But while I found the size of the Galaxy S III at times overwhelming, I felt differently about the Note II. It's more obviously a small tablet than a giant smartphone, so toting it around over a weekend I had different expectations of it and so found it more pleasant to use. There was no thought of it fitting into the shallow pocket of a fall jacket, so I never tried to put it there. Accepted for what it is, the Note II offers a number of unique delights.

For this reason—and because the Note II is fast and gorgeous and takes beautiful photos and is a pleasure to watch videos on and do a number of things one generally prefers to use a tablet or laptop for than a smartphone—I expect Samsung will sell as many of these as it has its last four devices. In September, Samsung introduced the Note II as its "fifth iconic device in 12 months."

Sprint will begin selling the Note II Oct. 25 for $299.99. For the same price, AT&T will begin offering it Nov. 9—it will be AT&T's first smartphone with a quad-core processor—and within weeks if not days it will also arrive on the Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular networks.

An Android device, the Note II runs version 4.1—Jelly Bean. Google calls this the "fastest and smoothest" version of Android yet, with its main benefits being a more "fast, fluid and smooth" user experience, to again borrow from Google. More specifically, it adds Android Beam, for sharing photos and videos, offers an improved browser with better support for animations and HTML5, brings a handful of new features to the camera, is smarter about data usage, includes Face Unlock, and, among dozens of other new features, improves the keyboard with a better dictionary and seamless recognition of other languages.

It came as a quick surprise and delight when the Note II understood that I was typing a Pinyin word—the way of writing Chinese with Latin letters—in an otherwise English email and offered the word before I'd finished typing.