User Interface and Experience
The Samsung Galaxy Note II ships with Android Jelly Bean (v4.1) right out of the box, with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface enhancements installed on top. Overall, we like many of the additions offered by TouchWiz and the build of Jelly Bean on the phone feels very polished and fluid. The work Google has put into Jelly Bean and Samsung has put into TouchWiz really show on the Note II.
When the Note II is first powered on, the home screens are fairly loaded up with widgets and shortcuts, but they can be quickly and easily customized. Responsiveness to touch is excellent on the Note II, perhaps the best we have experienced on any device. There is virtually no lag when touching / dragging items, pinch to zoom is fluid and responsive, and transition animations are buttery smooth. Launching applications is also very quick; during everyday use, the Note II simply felt fast.
The 5.5” Super AMOLED screen on the Note II is also very good. Samsung came up with a new sub-pixel arrangement with this screen, which features an elongated blue sub-pixel alongside the red and green sub-pixels. There are fewer sub-pixels in the Note II’s display than a similar resolution IPS LCD, but there are actually more sub-pixels in the Note II’s display versus the previous-gen Note, despite the predecessor’s higher screen resolution. As we’ve come to expect from Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays, colors are very vibrant and somewhat over saturated, and the screen has decent brightness. It’s not as bright as the screen on the HTX One X or iPhone, but the screen on the Note II has excellent contrast and deep blacks, which make up for it.
As is the case with many smartphones, the glossy display is somewhat hard to see in direct sunlight, but that is par for the course. Viewing angles are very good, which makes for easy sharing of content with others around you, even when not directly in front of the device. The true HD screen offers a relatively high resolution of 1280x720, which results in crisp and sharp images that rival the best smartphones available today.
In addition to the standard fare included with Android 4.1, the Samsung Galaxy Note II comes preloaded with a number of other applications. Preloaded on the device are Samsung L!ve Panel, Samsung Kies / Kies Air, Samsung ChatOn mobile communication service, Smart Stay, Screen Recorder, Quick Glance and Samsung S Suggest. In addition, there are a number of S-Pen tailored apps installed on the Note II as well, including S Note, S Planner, Email with hand-writing integration, S Pen Keeper, Quick Command, Easy Clip, Photo Note, Paper Artist, Shape Match and Formula Match.
We should note that the S-Pen is a great addition to the Note II in our opinion. The Galaxy Note II’s screen is perfectly happy with finger / gesture input, but the S-Pen adds a much-appreciated level of precision. Writing notes and/or editing images are simply better when you’ve got the additional precision offered by the S-Pen. The S-Pen also makes it easy to take screen-captures, and then edit them immediately thereafter. It’s a great feature that can make taking notes on articles, or whatever you may be viewing on-screen, quick and easy.
Since the Note II is also a phone, we should probably speak a bit about voice quality as well. We recently met with a company called Audience, who demoed their EarSmart technology. EarSmart is a real-time noise suppression—not cancellation—technology that can be tailored for specific levels of noise suppression. In the demos we say, the technology was able to essentially filter out background noise as a person spoke into a microphone, which is what a smartphone has to do when a user is speaking in a noisy environment. The Note II performed very well in that regard. When using the Note II in a car with the windows down, for example, the wind noise was blocked out to the listener at the other end of the call. Music playing in the car was also mostly suppressed. In quiet environments, the Note II’s call quality was also excellent.