Hands-on Samsung Galaxy Note II: Big, But Still Pocketable

In a sea of Android devices all running the same underlying operating system, handset makers try to differentiate their offerings through custom software tweaks. More often than not, custom software just adds a layer of complication on top of the stock Android experience of Nexus devices. Samsung, while still customizing the UI with TouchWiz, has taken a drastic but effective route in differentiating its Galaxy Note smartphones.

Today we're taking a quick look at the Galaxy Note II. The first Galaxy Note has a screen size of 5.3 inches, while the new one has a 5.5-inch screen. While diagonally bigger, the resolution is actually lower. The original Note has a 1280x800 screen, while the Note II has now-Android standard 1280x720. There are fewer pixels overall (or technically more if you're nitpicking about the old Note's PenTile screen), but the screen is improved thanks to the Super AMOLED HD Plus screen with an BGR pixel layout. This AMOLED screen is the best we've laid eyes on, besting even the one in the Galaxy S III.

Galaxy Note II on Right; Original Note on Left

Size is clearly what sets the Galaxy Note II apart. Anyone laying their hands on a Note phone for the first time will feel it a little awkward, as it's larger than anything they've used previously (except for those who had a Dell Streak). The first thing anyone does when picking up a Note is to see how it looks and feels when put up against the face in a call position. Yes, it's definitely larger than anything out there, but it's not any longer than a regular home phone handset.

The larger screen also paved the way for customizations, like a pop-up browser

The move down to a narrower 720p screen has also made the Note II a little skinnier than it's predecessor, making it slightly easier to hold with one hand. In our usage, we found that the Galaxy Note II would easily fit into jean pockets in either front or back – though the back pocket would sometimes leave a bit of Note II showing. Those who are worried about the Note II's pocketability should worry no more. This is mostly thanks to how thin it is.

Another thing that differentiates the Note II is the S Pen stylus, which can be used for drawing apps or even as a more precise way of navigating instead of using your finger. It's handy for sketching and taking notes, but in our use, the S Pen was holstered 99 percent of the time. Other people may have very different usage habits involving the S Pen, but when going from one phone to the next, we tend to do the same tasks just on different devices. That said, the S Pen is an asset to the Galaxy Note II, but one that the user is never forced to use.

Another benefit to such a big phone is that there is more room for battery cells. The Galaxy Note II has a 3100 mAh removable battery, which we found to be more than adequate for a full day of heavy use. The massive 11.8 watt-hour battery does a good job of giving the device slightly above average battery life while powering that huge screen. We're fans of removable batteries too, in case you need more juice away from an outlet.

In terms of performance, the 1.6GHz Exynos 4412 is Samsung's custom quad-core A9 chip. It's plenty fast for everything you'd ever want to do on the phone today, but it's no match for the quad-core Krait chips (like Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro in the LG Optimus G and Nexus 4) that are just hitting the market right now. Nevertheless, the Galaxy Note II did not once lag or stutter. In fact, thanks to the "Project Butter" optimizations in its Android 4.1 software, this is the smoothest Galaxy device yet. The Note II is also Samsung's first product to ship with Jelly Bean.

The Galaxy Note II is the most unique modern Android phone on the market. It'll be a simple device for people in phone shops to sell, as consumers will either love or hate the size. Samsung told us that the original Note was very popular among women, who no doubt weren't scared off by pocketability of the large device thanks to their handbag carrying habits. It's worth repeating again that we didn't find the Note II difficult to carry around in pockets, and the large screen – while no greater in resolution – made the phone a joy to use.

Those who find the Note II just too much phone will find almost the same experience (minus the S-Pen) in the Galaxy S III. Both look so similar that one wouldn't be wrong to call either one a bigger or smaller version of the other.

Size Comparisons

Left to Right: S III, Note, Note II

Left to Right: S III, Note, Note II

Note II on top; original Note on bottom

Note II on top; original Note on bottom


Stand with a spare battery charger.

Portrait mode dock with additional inputs and outputs.

First-party cases and covers.

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Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • s3anister
    we didn't find the Note II difficult to carry around in pockets

    The only time I've found it to be pocketable is when I'm wearing dress slacks. It does not fit in skinny jeans and is absolutely weird in shorts.
  • fedelm
    Love it. I think it's a great idea; and it's paying off.

    I have a GS2 and I'm looking at the note 2 for my next upgrade down the road.

    Well done Samsung.
  • cscott_it
    I usually wear dress slacks, but I pocket my Nexus 7 (Which initially blew my tiny mind when I first tried)
    I used to think anything over 5" was too big to be a phone, but a couple of my co-workers have Galaxy Notes and although it looks a little weird - they seem very happy with it. If I was in the market for a phone, I'd consider the Note II.
  • ikyung
    Once you go Note, you can't go back.
    ikyung, it's "once you go Note, you'll think 4ich's a joke
  • azathoth
    Is that a Galaxy Note II in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
  • fedelm
    LOBOBASTikyung, it's "once you go Note, you'll think 4ich's a joke
    fo shizzle
  • darkchazz
    but it's no match for the quad-core A15 chips (like Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro in the LG Optimus G and Nexus 4)
    S4 is not A15 :/
  • southernshark
    I want a ballistic shield phone. Where the front is a bullet proof shield and the entire 4 foot back is a tablet. It should also have a spike on the front in case I have to impale someone. Razor blades on the bottom might be a nice addition to so that I can slam it down on someone's foot.
  • scook9
    Looking at this or the rumored Droid DNA as my next phone....(dam Verizon and their super slow phone releases)