The word puny never came to mind as I thought about my iPhone 5 before two weeks ago. That was before I gave the Samsung Galaxy Note II a test run the past couple of weeks as my main phone. Now, returning to the the iPhone 5 feels like using a miniature child’s toy. When the first version of the Note came out last year, I remember thinking to myself that I would never want a phone that large. However, after seeing the surprising success of this “phablet”, I wanted to give the Note II a try to see if I can learn to love such a super sized phone. To my surprise, the large screen and other features of the phone grew on me quickly, and I have no intention of going back to the iPhone 5 as my main phone any time soon.
About the Samsung Galaxy Note II
The Samsung Galaxy Note II comes with a 5.5″ HD Super AMOLED screen. It is an Android phone running on the latest version of Android – Jellybean. It includes Samsung’s unique S-Pen stylus, a 1.6 GHz quad core processor, 8MP Camera, and 3100 mAh battery. This large phone is often referred to as a “phablet” as it fits right between the typical sizes of a smart phone and a tablet.
Why I’m Impressed With the Samsung Galaxy Note II
I never realized how much I would squint at my iPhone 5 as I read text on the screen until I experienced the large 5.5″ screen on the Samsung Galaxy Note II. I was somewhat disappointed that the iPhone 5 only had its screen made taller and not wider. Though this gives you more viewing space, keeping the width the same means text in most apps and on the web remains very small. I was immediately hooked on how comfortably I could read on the Note II without any eye strain or squinting while holding the phone a comfortable distance from my face. Text on web pages, apps, and other content on the phone is significantly larger than on the iPhone. While the Note II’s pixel density is lower than the iPhone 5′s (265 ppi vs. 326 ppi), because you hold the much larger note much further from your face, it is difficult to tell the difference between the two displays during every day use. The Note II’s display is very large and beautiful and is the most impressive feature of this phone. Once you go large, it’s tough to ever go back to a smaller phone like the iPhone 5.
The Feeling of a Full Fledged Computer in My Pocket
In some of my past experiences with Android phones and tablets, I was always disappointed with the choppiness, lack of responsiveness, and stuttering of the apps and operating system. Android has come a long way in improving the smoothness of their operating system in the release of Android Jellybean, and the pure power of the Galaxy Note II elevates Android to a whole new level. I feel like I have a real, full powered computer in my pocket. The phone launches apps, surfs the web, plays games, and multitasks more smoothly than any phone I have ever used – including the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 is an impressive pocket computer in its own right, but you do feel somewhat limited by what you can do and accomplish. This is due to the limits placed on multitasking and the lack of widgets and customization on iOS. When I flip on the screen of the Galaxy Note II, I feel like I am using a full fledged computer. I have multiple widgets open all the time displaying the time, weather, my twitter feed, calendar, and email inbox. Samsung’s built in Android skin allows you to open two apps at once. Though the apps that support this function are limited to the browser, email apps, calendar, text messaging app, note taking apps, and other built in apps, this multi-window feature adds to your multitasking capabilities and gives you the feel of being on a powerful computer. The fact that this high powered phone handles all of this without a stutter and the fact that the screen is truly big enough to support multiple apps running at once, add to this feeling of power.
Though many strides have been made in designing usable touch screen keyboards, it is sometimes nice to be able to jot down some thoughts, notes, or scribbles using the good, old-fashioned method of handwriting. As typing on any smartphone often leads to frustration, incorrect auto-corrects, and mistyped words, it is refreshing to be able to pull out the built in S-Pen on the Note II and use my handwriting to record a quick thought or two without worrying about the phone messing up my message with annoying autocorrects or constant mistakes that are bound to happen when typing on a screen. The built in S-Pen does a surprisingly good job of recording my handwriting and scribbles. I had never been impressed with the results of using a stylus on a tablet or phone in the past. Most of my experiences have come from using a stylus with an iPad or iPhone – screens not built for stylus input. The large tipped, awkward styluses made for the iPhone and iPad are difficult to use and never result in very accurate handwriting. Using a phone built for stylus input is a night and day difference. I can write as accurately on the Note II as I can with a piece of paper and a pen. Even when writing very small, the Note II picks up my handwriting nearly flawlessly. In fact, I took some meeting notes using the built in Samsung S-Notes app. I printed out these notes and handed them out to some of my co-workers. None of them could tell they were printed off a smart phone and all assumed they were just photocopies of my actual handwriting using a pen and paper. The S-Pen is that impressive.
The Unexpected, Impressive Battery Life
I was skeptical about how good the battery life would be with the Galaxy Note II. I couldn’t imagine a phone with a screen this large would get acceptable battery life. However, I was again surprised to find that I easily am able to make it through a day of heavy use on the Note II with plenty of battery life yet to spare. While the phone does not get the 9-10 hours of screen on time that I routinely get with the iPhone 5, I can easily unplug the phone before work in the morning, use the phone with the screen on for 6-7 hours a day, and make it to the end of the day before the battery runs dry. The Note II is still a phone that will have to be plugged in nightly, but most users will not find themselves running out of battery even on days of heavier use. The very large 3100 mAh battery is able to mostly offset the power drain of the larger screen.
It’s Not as Awkward as I Thought it Would Be
I was expecting the Note II to be an awkward phone to carry around and use. I was surprised to find out that the experience wasn’t nearly as awkward as I thought it would be. The phone slides easily into my front pants pocket where I like to keep my phones. It definitely is a much snugger fit and weighs quite a bit more than the iPhone 5 (6.42 oz. vs 3.95 oz.). This was something that I got used to by the end of the first day, however. Holding the phone up to your face is a bit strange at first because of its large size, but quickly begins to feel normal after only a day or two as well. Do expect to get asked questions about your phone or be asked to see your phone by your coworkers, family members, and passersby. The large size makes it stand out. I had this happen often during my two weeks of use, and most who saw the phone and screen in action came away impressed rather than turned off to the size once they saw what that extra screen real estate made possible on the phone.
The one downside I have noticed about such a large phone is how difficult it is to hold and operate the phone one handed. I have nearly dropped the phone a couple of times when attempting to do something one handed. Apple is right that the size of the iPhone 5 does make it very convenient for reaching anything on the screen with your thumb. If you are someone who does a lot on their phone while walking down the street or while carrying things in your other hand, this may not be the ideal phone for you. The Note II does have built in one handed features that move the keyboard or number pad of the phone to one side of the phone for easier access one-handed, but the large size and heavy weight of the phone still make one-handing the phone awkward and leaves you feeling like you will drop the phone.
Conclusion – My New Main Phone
It is funny how my perception of what size a phone should be was altered so drastically by just a couple weeks of use of the Note II. As I said earlier, the iPhone 5 now feels like a miniaturized child’s toy. I miss the large screen of the Note II whenever I revert back to the iPhone 5. Android is still is a bit behind when it comes to app quality and availability. This is the largest disappointment I have with the Note II. However, when I think about going back to the iPhone, the thought of returning to what now feels like a miniature screen keeps me from being able to let go of the Note.
As phones are used more and more for apps, browsing, photos, and movies, and less and less for voice calling, I do feel that large phones and “phablets” are here to stay. It will be interesting to see if Apple again increases the size of the iPhone screen in one of the next iPhone releases. Until that happens, I’m sticking with the Note II as my go-to phone.