Before some iPhone owners run off in objection to the article’s title, let me first say I've owned three iPhones and was one of Apple’s biggest supporters. But after 4 years, the thrill has gone. For starters, the screen was too tiny albeit Apple finally increased it by a mild half inch; and, although the software was interesting, it was not robust enough for me. I was using my mobile device less when I wanted to use it more. So I looked elsewhere. And found the Samsung’s Galaxy Note II. And this changes everything! This new type of hand-held device goes to a whole new level of accessibility. In fact, I think this device will be the break-off point when people used to call mobile devices “smartphones” and started calling them “hand-held computers” or what many are calling it now, a “phablet”, a cross between a smartphone and a tablet. I agree. In short, it’s like carrying a laptop in your pocket!
Since I got the Note a little over two weeks ago, I have hardly been able to put it down. I am constantly multitasking, running around 30 applications at the same time, bouncing from one to another instantly without any lag time. Having a magnificent HD AMOLED 1280 x 720 resolution 5.55-inch (141 mm) screen and arguably the fastest smartphone processor in the world, a 1.6 GHz quad-core, jumping from one application to the next is no problem at all. But all this power would mean little without Google’s absolutely amazing Android 4.1 (“Jelly Bean”) OS (Operating System). This is my first version of Android I've used. My last OS I used was the iPhone iOS 6, and I can honestly say Android is awesome; for every one function done in iOS 6, I can do dozens more in Android. Even further, because the Android OS has an open development environment, it has the largest collection of 3rd-party applications. And I am really impressed with the quality of applications I've been using so far, all free. The possibilities once again have seemingly become infinite. But it just keeps getting better with technologies I was not aware of before I got the device, such as, wireless syncing. I've used this device for only two weeks, and I've almost forgotten what it was like to have to tether my smartphone to a computer to sync. And because it's done automatically, I hardly ever think about it! Finally, my carrier's 4G LTE network practically shocked me with speeds around 30 Mbps, about 2-3 times faster than my home cable network!
To try to summarize in one phrase my experience so far: this is a pocket-size computer that screams in speed!
In this first article, I summarize what I see as the Galaxy Note II highlights. But every day I pick it up, it amazes me, and there is no way I will be able to do this device full justice. In future articles, I will describe each area in more detail. My intent is to speak from a user’s perspective, describing all the great things a user would find useful.
List of features and functions in the order presented:
Basically, the unique microSD card is the Note's hard drive, sporting a great “Windows Explorer” file manager that works wonderfully in reading from, adding, removing and moving multiple files at a time to other folders, adding and removing folders, and syncing wirelessly with your computer—and you can directly download files to the Note from the Internet, completely removing the computer middleman required with an iPhone. The download manager is used to manage files that are downloaded from the Internet directly to the Note. Also, if applications fill up the traditional memory area, applications can be moved to the microSD card. Finally, the microSD card is removable allowing the user to swap it out with up to a 64 GB microSD card, which is smaller than the size of a postage stamp. And at the cost of $50, it is a no brainer when you consider an Apple customer has to pay hundreds of dollars more for each 16 GB iPhone upgrade. Apple seems to always mark up their products a lot more than what they are actually are worth, perhaps due to the media going ga-ga followed by the hordes lining up.
This is another computer feature that improves multitasking speed and eliminating latency. To my knowledge, this feature is not found in other smartphones and another feature that distinct smartphones from this new pocket-size computer.
Arguably the fastest smartphone CPU in the world!
The size allows developers to truly unleash their incredible software that frankly just doesn't work in smaller screens.
I can hardly remember what it was like back in the day when I used cables; I don’t even have to do anything after setting up an automated hourly wireless syncing schedule; my files get updated “magically” by invisible elves. It is hard to describe how liberating it is not ever more having to deal with a tedious, time-consuming process I disliked a lot when I was an iPhone user, you don't know what you are missing iPhone users. And everything is arranged in their proper folders and directories on the microSD card. I just had to specify what directory and what files I wanted to go to and then turn on what directories I wanted synced. I also can sync with other areas like cloud spots, all at the same time. Syncing is super fast, syncing all my photos, screen captures, documents I downloaded directly to my Note, and Microsoft Notes, Categories, Calendar, and Tasks. And I can quickly adjust what gets synced at anytime by simply turning on or off the folders set up on the Note's microSD card. And I can see a ongoing log on my laptop show each item getting synced. This application is only one of many syncing programs available. It's called Local Sync by a company or developer in the Czech Republic. I also tried two other wireless syncing applications, one of which has a pretty cool browser interface that does some interesting things, like allowing me to easily convert one of my audio files into a ring tone. "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" was its first suggestion and works great. I also have a widget for my tasks, so I have their descriptive titles displayed on a portion of one of my Note's screens to remind me of my schedule. This widget automatically updates after each sync.
This OS (Operating System) is just plain awesome. Google’s Android OS got bad press in the beginning when it released its first version several years ago, but now in its 4.1 version, it has surpassed the iPhone’s iOS. Not only are its functions more accessible with revolutionary functions, in short, for every iPhone function, Android provides dozens more. In all seriousness, to me, it makes my iPhone operate like a toy. Don’t get me wrong. I loved iOS when it first came out, but since then, it just had bells and whistles added to it while still using the same old overall functioning.
Finally, I listen to music, talk radio, sports and news among tens of thousands of radio stations around the world or from a list of local stations that is more accessible than my car radio!
The Galaxy Note II comes with a stereo FM radio tuner and RDS (Radio Data System). There are a bunch of free Android radio tuner applications available. I picked the first one of the list with what appeared to the average highest star rating (Tunein Radio). I’m sure there will be others I find that have other features that I will want as well but for now this application works just fine, with a bearable negative of commercials appearing at the bottom of the screen.
Tunein Radio has a good browsing feature with several categories. The local radio category picks up and displays in a list all the radio stations in your area (see image). Once a radio station is picked, the Note II RDS displays information and images based on the song playing and the radio station (see image). Look for an upcoming post dedicated to this technology and much more on features of functions on this and other applications.
I get 2-3 times faster speeds than I do through my home cable Internet connection! Imagine no latency, outside a Wi-Fi network! Cherry on top with whip cream: being grandfathered into unlimited data transfer. Android also makes it very easy to switch back and forth between my carrier's network and my home network by "pulling down the shade" from wherever I am and toggling the Wi-Fi soft button.
Similar to the old stylus but way better that not only allows you to write with handwriting recognition and draw with automated shape and formula calculations, but has other functions including an “air light” feature that accesses additional information and does other things depending on the application and the imagination of the largest 3rd-party smartphone software developers in the world; put simply, it’s another sensor!
Google Now is pretty amazing. It's like a personal assistance that follows all events occurring through my Note and then alerts me and highlights what's basically going on in my life. For example, I placed some orders online and eventually received emails from these online stores that they mailed my stuff. Google Now surprised me by not only putting these events at the top of the Google Now screen in their individual "cards", but provided in each "card" a USPS tracking link and a link to the email. Since I've only used this for a little over two weeks, Google Now should get more complex as it gets to know me.
It's been great telling my Note hands free what to do or having it take dictation, or retrieving contact information, and having it talk back to me, such as, who just emailed me, that I only have an hour to get ready for an appointment, or just reading a book to me through text-to-speech function. But I'm new to this type of system and need to work with the long list of commands in my daily schedule before I can properly cover the S Voice. Look forward to an upcoming article dedicated to this feature.
Below is a small portion from the long list of available S Voice commands that work great:
This removable 3,100 mAh is the largest smartphone battery that I am aware of. Not only does it offer the longest charge but you can swap it out with another when the battery gets low. Average video playback with full brightness of up to 12 hours and 15 hours of talk time. And I’ve already received two more additional 3,100 mAh batteries with charger that I ordered for only $20 on Amazon! No more will I have to limit my use of battery-sucking GPS-map applications when I go hiking, like I often had to do in Europe last year while using my iPhone, because I had to reserve juice for taking pictures, let alone much more demanding videos. Now, I just need to swap out my drained batteries with the two additional Hyperion batteries that I can comfortably carry in my front pocket if I want. I read one review where another owner of these batteries went to a multi-day music festival and played music on portable speakers during the day and headphones at night and also took videos -- for 4 days! and still had half the juice of the final battery left.
NFC technology allows the Note to share data with other NFC-enabled devices wirelessly. The NFC component is located on the inside back cover. I would not have noticed if I didn't know first where to look. I look forward to trying this out with friends and family members as more devices come with the component. But more importantly, any time you add a new technology to a mobile device, you open up worlds of possibilities to developers. So, I'm sure NFC will have a lot more useful applications down the road; maybe a killer application.
This is huge and changes the way people will use smart “phones”. I often have 30+ applications running at the same time and easily go from one to another with no lag time or complicated tedious process, but a slick multitask list I call up with the press of a button and pick an app from the list. Split screen technology is also available. I had no problem finding, installing free FTP, HTML and image-editing software, and creating a website with modified image and launching my website—all from my pocket-size Note. But this is just one of an endless list of multi-software, multitasking processes I’ve been doing since I got this device.
Widget or “gadgets” as Windows calls it might seem like bells and whistles but I am finding they turn out to be amazing little apps that take the smartphone screen UI to a whole other level.
Unlike iPhone's iOS, the Galaxy Note Android OS is an open development environment allowing developers throughout the world to unleash incredible applications, mostly free, that have been amazing this user who quite frankly became blasé over the limited list of rather simple one-trick pony apps produced for the iPhone. Google’s Android OS is the world's most widely used mobile device OS and the number of developers matches as the largest group supporting smartphones and other mobile devices; no more Steve Jobs from the grave telling me I can’t watch Flash in my browser, or have access to the nuts and bolts of my OS to kill any of the hundreds of specific processes that I can view and control from awesome, free 3rd-party software. Further, I found a great free app that allows me to move applications to the microSD card.
Embedded playback allows you to multitask while doing other tasks on the same device; and the processor speed is powerful enough to playback 6 different sections “chapters” of one movie at the same time! Some other features include HD recording and playback, Video Share and TV-Out.
My multi-tab Excel programs and formatted Word documents look great, including this post that I created first in Word and modified both on my laptop and Note. The first Office application I am using is Polaris Office, but there are more and plan on investigating more.
Imagine searching and replacing text in a Word document or having all the searched word in a website highlighted for you to easily find. I waited in vain for this pretty standard feature in iPhone's iOS. But now I don't need to wait anymore in Galaxy Note's Android OS. Incidentally, I remember when I couldn't do a simple copy and paste in my first iPhone. One of Apple's tech support thought I raised a good suggestion! Well, copy and paste did finally get into a later version of iOS.
This area is easily accessed from any application or other area of the Android OS by simply sliding your finger down the screen from the top, which “pulls down the shade”. From this new screen you can view all the latest things that have taken place on your Note, e.g. notifications, specific screen captures and downloads, recent emails that came in, downloads you made, applications running like a radio that you are listening to while viewing the notification area. A big time saver is selecting one of the notifications, which will then take you right to the event in the app that raised it. At the top of the notification area, there are several controls, such as, the screen brightness control, a row of big setting buttons and a button to access all settings.
Volume control eliminates the countless times I previously would have to launch my iPhone OS and access the variety of apps that contain volume controls; easily removable back cover to quickly swap battery, SD card and SIM card; wireless port eliminates the need to tether device to computer for syncing, as well as, wirelessly communicating with home devices; and an 8 MP HD rear camera and 1.9 MP front camera with a plethora of really cool features, such as, Burst Shot (e.g. I took about 20 pictures in about 5 seconds when I tried this the first time, and could have kept on going), Fast and Slow Motion, Face Detection, Panorama, Auto Focus, 4x Digital Zoom, Video Effects and Filters, etc.; a microUSB port that can output HD video and surround sound to external devices, such as, TVs; S Beam allows you to transfer files to another S Beam device simply by touching the Note against the other device and determine what you want transferred; a light sensor that indicates several events that have occurred when the device is turned off with the ability to add events and colors; and a proximity sensor, which I need to investigate further but think provides sensing detection when the device is not activated, including having the device warn you if you walk off with the device without its S Pen. But anytime you add new sensors, which this device has a lot of, you open up new worlds of developers.
In summary, as I now prepare to investigate much further each function and feature and post my results in upcoming articles, I must say I am pretty amazed with the Samsung Galaxy Note II. The thrill is back! I am also pretty amazed at how the media has completely missed the point of the Note. Watching critical reviews on YouTube, for example, it’s interesting how nonchalant some have been as this device’s specifications roll off their lips, as if in a daze and not entirely understanding that everything they are saying goes way beyond all measures previously known to a smartphone. Add also to the fact that 3 million units sold within the first 30 days of its release. It’s like all the major media outlets are all chasing the “iPhone ball” on the other side of the field, while remaining mostly oblivious to this alien Note II, except to only take a peek at it and say “it’s too big”. It’s not too big! It’s awesome! And it’s not a phone. It’s a freaking pocket-size computer that happens to have a feature called a “phone”, among many other ways to communicate. The bottom line: If it fits comfortably in your pocket, it's not too big. Yes, I do have to often use two hands, but frankly I want to use two hands with the amount of work I now can get done on a "smartphone". And if I'm in my car, I have S Voice. The question is, can I carry it with me without having to hold it in my hand or put it in a special case that I have to carry? And the answer is, no, I don't. It’s like my wallet. I carry my wallet in my pocket wherever I go and my Note is the same. With one small exception: I carry my Note in my pocket even more than I do my wallet!