A Quick Note on My New Phone

The first time I played a game on my phone was 2005, and it was before anyone would have called that tiny, dense machine “smart”. I was on a shuttle bus in Los Angeles, riding, groggy and bleary-eyed, to day two of E3 ‘05. Somewhere in a nearby seat, Certis was playing one of them-there newfangled Nintendo DS systems, occasionally making mocking and snide comments about my having nothing more to play with than my underwhelming Nokia phone. These were days where cell phones genuinely had only one purpose, and that was to provide communication wirelessly over distances. To be honest, that was still a sort of neat concept at the time.

The device in question was about half the size of your average DualShock controller, and its profile was dominated more by squishy number buttons than by screen. The game itself was a half-assed version of Jeopardy!, only the questions came up on your screen like a multiple choice test and you pressed numbers on your keys to make your guess. The screen had all the resolution of a TI-80 graphing calculator, with less functionality, and as I played, bored and disappointed, I remember having a hard time imagining how cell phones would ever be a platform for anything beyond getting phone calls in the car.

Ironically this was the E3 in which N-Gage talked openly about applying its underwhelming technology to a cell phone, which inspired the world to continue not buying them at all. It would be slightly more than 2 years until the iPhone launched and begin a tectonic shift in the geography of wireless applications. I would never have guessed that within the decade I would be carrying a machine in pocket the size of an X-box controller that could access the internet at broadband speeds, stream and play movies, provide high-resolution gaming and be loaded dense with applications that could do everything from tune my guitar to tell me how far I’ve run.

A little over a week ago I upgraded my phone to the new Samsung Galaxy Note 2, a quad-core driven piece of advanced technology that I might at any given moment describe as sexy, fast or unwieldy. That some people have taken to giving it a nice portmanteau name such as phablet is not particularly a shock when you hold it in your hands and revel in its 5.5-inch screen. A massive upgrade from my aging Motorola 3G Atrix, the Note 2 feels like the kind of upgrade I felt when I upgraded from a Super Nintendo to a PlayStation.

This is my third smartphone, the first having been an early iPhone that I never managed to quite click with, a phone I frankly felt stuck with for the majority of my ownership. Part of that may be a result of having bought it only 3 weeks before the iPhone 3G which immediately seemed to make my fancy new phone obsolete. Plus, as someone who has never quite adopted the Apple ethos — my first MP3 player was a Creative Nomad, not an iPod — it always felt like an alien experience.

Once I made the decision to switch to Android, the Atrix just felt much better aligned to what I was looking for from my phone. Admittedly, what I was not looking for was a gaming platform — an area in which Apple had established an early lead. Once I had the new system in hand, though, the Android interface just felt more familiar to me. The only real knock I could ever put on the Android was that during my years with the iPhone I had invested too heavily into iTunes, and as a result all of my fine, fine music was relatively locked away. That stopped being an issue when I discovered Spotify.

When it was time to replace the Atrix, though, the question wasn’t really whether I was getting another Android phone, but which one.

I spent a good hour with the patient and knowledgeable salesperson at Best Buy Mobile, which I point out only because I received such surprisingly excellent service that I thought they deserved kudos. While I toyed with the idea of abandoning AT&T, the reality is that I remain grandfathered into their unlimited data plan, and am thus bonded to the service in exchange for the ability to surf the web, download songs and watch Netflix wantonly without fear of financial reprisal.

The Galaxy Note 2 stood out to me immediately, and I spent the better part of that hour trying to talk myself away from the hefty $299 price tag. The phone called to me like a siren song, though, and once I held a demo unit in hand, the contract had been all but signed.

I usually walk out of a store like that, having spent more money than I had any right to, feeling immediate buyer’s remorse. Once I’d signed over another two years of my life, I expected to get to my car and pull out the phone and begin to immediately see the countless warts of the Note 2. That did not happen.

Here’s the first thing you need to know about the Note 2: It’s unbelievably fast. My admittedly old Atrix could take up to 2 minutes to cold boot, but on hitting the power button on my new phone I was on a home screen within 20 seconds. It’s a speed I don’t know how to comprehend for a phone, though I’m told it may have something to do with its Quad-Core 1.6Ghz Cortex-A9 processor, which I presume are words that, when strung together for tech-type people, make sense. To me it just means the phone is a silly kind of fast.

Though not by any way unique to the phone itself, the leap from what always felt like an unreliable 3G on my Atrix to 4G LTE was equally impressive. Not only do applications pop open, but the data transfer speeds aren’t anything like what I’d become used to. In the Twin Cities, I’m getting download speeds from between 6Mbps to a peak just today of 17Mbps.

I dunno, that seems good to me.

While there is really no comparing Apple’s Retina Display with most other phones, the screen is vibrant and, most importantly, gigantic. The difference between the 4-inch screen of my old Atrix and the 5.5 inch screen of the Note 2 is genuinely the difference between ever wanting to watch a movie or show on my phone. Having Netflix, HBOGo or even YouTube on my phone is no longer just a curiosity, but a legitimate application I have used.

The touchscreen itself also just feels better, likely in part because of the greatly expanded real estate. Best of all is the swipe functionality for the keyboard, which allows you to move your finger rapidly from letter to letter without lifting and touching each individual key, doesn’t just work, but is nearly flawless. Short of names, acronyms and proper nouns, swiping has made it entirely feasible to craft work emails on my phone without taking minutes at a time.

The phone also comes with a stylus and native support that allows you to write out notes, and in many cases (if your handwriting is good enough) to convert those notes to text. But while functional, it still doesn’t seem entirely practical. It comes in handy every now and again if I just need to quickly jot a small thing down, like say an impromptu grocery list or a quick reminder, but honestly it’s probably no faster than just using the keyboard, particularly considering the swipe tech.

What surprised me the most in the long run, though, was the outstanding battery life of the phone. For all that power and speed, you would reasonably assume that you could barely get through a day without charging, but even with relatively regular and high use, I still end my day with a half-full battery, and on light-use days with the phone mostly on standby, the battery meter barely seems to move. And, should I someday need to, the battery is replaceable.

I’m not naturally the kind of person who pays a lot of attention to my phone, but the Galaxy Note 2 is a machine that gives you good reason to pay attention and rewards you for it. There are experts on smart phones out there and I do not count myself among their august populations, but it’s hard for me to imagine a better phone for the technology of the age. When I sit back and think of a thing I want from this device that is not provided or accessible, I frankly draw a complete blank.

I’d like to give you something I think the phone could do better, or that I don’t necessarily like about it to provide some patina of objectivity, but either I am hopelessly smitten or don’t know what I should want that isn’t there. As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing I don’t like about the Galaxy Note II. If you can get past its size, and we of the Giant-Folk rarely worry over such matters, I’d be hard pressed to believe there is a better phone on the market.

Comments

Heh. My first cellphone was a Motorola Droid, I was 30. Never really needed a cell until then. First month I downloaded something like 5gb in apps (mostly games). I now regret getting the dang thing as I never use it and it costs over $100 a month if I didn't keep turning off the service every 3 months.

I now have a samsung gravity and it allows me to do the things I just used the droid for. Mainly texting with the occasional phone call. I do miss the GPS map system and internet in my pocket however.

Is "Retinal Screen" a typo?

I don't know what you're talking about!

*throws smoke bomb

I'm still suspicious of the whole phone fitting in your pocket part.

I do love how the Note commercials have LeBron James in them. It's a great choice, because it looks like a freaking iPhone in that man's hands.

psu_13 wrote:

Is "Retinal Screen" a typo?

I think I saw a movie about that once.

The phone is a ridiculous kind of huge for a phone, but it's tiny for a tablet, smaller than the mini 7-inch ones. While it can fit in the pants pocket of a large person, it's really something for a handbag, an inside coat pocket, or something of the sort - more of a checkbook than a wallet.

It's plausible to just hold it in hand as an accessory to an outfit instead of a bag, especially if the cover is nice and sexy.

I wonder if there's a good kickback for this "article".

when I upgraded from a Super Nintendo to a PlayStation.

"Upgraded" there is subjective and easily arguable.

I had invested too heavily into iTunes, and as a result all of my fine, fine music was relatively locked away

iTunes music has been DRM free for a while now. You may want to try adding some tracks by adding the directly to the phone's file system. It may/should work.

I too can't recommend this phone highly enough. Oddly, I've got a smaller, disposable phone for work which I now have a difficult time holding because it feels too small.

I marvel at where the tech is now and where it will be in a few more years.

It took me an hour of internal debate at my local carrier store to talk myself down from buying this darn phone. Two hours a week ago to do the same. I suspect I'll be a proud owner of a Note 2 before too long. Filthy enablers the lot of you...

I have the smaller, stylus-free version of this phone, the Galaxy S3, and I could not be happier with it (though I had considered the Note 2 but was scared off by its size -- a mistake). This is my second Android device, coming from the world of Blackberries before that.

Reading this was like reading a summary of my own thoughts after having the GS3 for a couple of weeks. Unbelievable speed. Amazing screen. LTE being consistently faster than WiFi. Actually watching videos on my phone -- not because I had no choice, but because it was a satisfying experience. On top of all that, I finally got an upgrade to Jelly Bean this week that proved to be a major improvement, despite basically making a lot of relatively small changes. I really can't recommend it enough.

I'm glad you are enjoying your Note 2.

It is odd that Sean posts this the same day a story over at Kotaku professes its love for the very same phone.

I'm pretty jealous myself, it seems like the perfect phone to me.

My note II just got to me a earlier this week. And I do like it quite a bit. I have been waiting for it to get to my carrier and Ting just got them a couple weeks ago and I ordered right away. I also ordered a Flygrip to help me manage the darn thing with one hand. It is still a good reach to get the far corner with my thumb but doable if needed.

I have the smaller, stylus-free version of this phone, the Galaxy S3, and I could not be happier with it (though I had considered the Note 2 but was scared off by its size -- a mistake). This is my second Android device, coming from the world of Blackberries before that.

+1

Since the S3, Android phones are no longer '10% worse than an iPhone for a 20% discount'. They're equals now, with the same 20% discount.

I've liked the look of the Note since the first one, don't think it'll fit in my jeans pocket though.

Equals schmequals. Andriods blow iPhones outta the water, IMO. The only thing keeping those dinosaurs afloat anymore is the rabid fanbase and the online storefront.

I have an iPhone 5, but really wish that I had opted for a Note 2. I would love to have both, with a cloned SIM.

LarryC wrote:

Equals schmequals. Andriods blow iPhones outta the water, IMO. The only thing keeping those dinosaurs afloat anymore is the rabid fanbase and the online storefront.

My reptilian brain wanted to type the same, but my frontal lobe won the battle

I'm running on a Galaxy Nexus, which is 'old' tech, about a year old now, and it feels very fast to me, most of the time. Bootups are not a quick process, but I hardly ever do that, so it hasn't been much of an issue.

In terms of computation speed, I used desktop PCs for many years that were much slower. I'm not going to be transcoding video with the Nexus, but it's fine for a huge number of possible applications. An awful, awful lot of very useful things can be done without a ton of CPU power. I think, if it were possible to connect an external monitor and keyboard to one of these units, I could actually make it into a perfectly functional (Linux-based) desktop PC, given enough time to modify the ROM.

So, as far as I'm concerned, we're now going from 'more than fast enough' to 'stupid fast'; I suspect that, with a newer phone, I'd be looking into aggressive downclocking to improve battery life.

But, then again, I don't watch video or play games on phones. The biggest things I use one for is to A) be a phone, and B) feed my car stereo. Being able to stream Internet stations into your car rocks. No more being stuck with what the local stations are playing.

One thing I particularly like about this unit is that the ROM is easily unlocked, so putting replacement firmware on it is trivial. It means I actually own the hardware, I'm not just renting it, and I can use it for anything I want. This is a key feature for me. Fortunately, because I got the Google flavor, it already comes with sufficiently relaxed rules (tethering is a biggie) that I haven't felt the need to replace the ROM, but had I bought a regular carrier model, it would have been insufferable to use, and loaded with crapware.

The major drawback is probably size. I can't imagine going much bigger. The Galaxy Nexus (and the new Nexus 4, the current replacement) is right at the absolute outer limit of what I'd consider acceptable. If it were any larger, it would become a Thing I Need To Bring With Me, as opposed to something I just stick in my pocket when I leave home.

As has been said many times on digital camera forums, the best camera is always the one you have with you. I think this also applies to phones. If it's big enough that you decide not to bring it along, it's useless.

I had been using blackberries for over 10 years now and for me it was just a cell phone with a nice keyboard that I could respond to emails with. I just switched over to a Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8 and I feel like I just discovered fire. I work in IT so I am used to working with some pretty cool tech but this new phone has just grabbed me like nothing else has in a long time and I am finding all sorts of new and wonderful uses for it that I hadn't even considered before. So I am a little late to the smartphone craze (blackberries could be considered smartphones but it never clicked for me) but now I can see what all the excitement is about. Now if someone could just make some decent games for the Windows Phones.

And on the size of the Note ... my Lumia is about as big as I could stand for a device to be so the Note just looks silly big when I've seen folks using them as phones. Maybe it's something you just have to get used to as I was skeptical on the first day with my new phone. Now I can't imagine using anything else.

Good read for this morning ... thanks.

I'll throw some additional love towards the Galaxy Nexus. I think that Samsung really designs some nice hardware. My first phone was the original Droid. I went through three of them (warranty replacements) before I upgraded to the GalNex.

I wonder if there's a good kickback for this "article".

Not entirely sure if you're actually questioning my credibility here or not, but to be clear I wrote this because I really like my new phone. I have no contact with any company affiliated with the phone, the service or the retailer.

Hopefully that addresses any concerns raised by your "comment".

Wait, you wrote this without getting paid? I'm pretty sure liking something means money lined your pockets. I'll see you in either hours, thief.

FYI Samsung sponsors The Nerdist podcast and Chris Hardwick does spots for the Note 2. I for one, think it would be cool if a company with the marketing resources of Samsung targeted our little community.

the Note 2 feels like the kind of upgrade I felt when I upgraded from a Super Nintendo to a PlayStation.

I would not try to make a positive comparison of the "upgrade" from beautiful, polished and slick games to the ugly mudhole mess of horrible controls and god awful textures of the "amazing 3D" gaming of the 90's.

That's pretty much all I have to add, though. Only thing I use my phone for is texting, phone calls, Fandango app and IMDB app.

Thanks! I love this kind of tech review - pragmatic and written from the perspective of an everyman and not some CNET wonk that gets phones as review swag. This thread points to the need of a cellphone comparison thread in the general forums. I've looked but can't find one. Should I take some initiative and start one?

As someone that's looking to switch up phones in February, I'm wracked with indecision about whether to move to some Android phone (Nexus 4? HTC One X?) or upgrade my iPhone 4 to an iPhone 5.

spider_j wrote:

I have an iPhone 5, but really wish that I had opted for a Note 2.

I have the IPhone 5 and It's the last IPhone I will buy. The maps and battery life suck. Then you have the new power plug that none if my friends have so when my battery dies at there house I'm sh*t out of luck. I'm really disappointed with Apple right now. The Note 2 is what I should have bought. It's my 4th IPhone but the first I've been disappointed with.

Trashie wrote:

Thanks! I love this kind of tech review - pragmatic and written from the perspective of an everyman and not some CNET wonk that gets phones as review swag. This thread points to the need of a cellphone comparison thread in the general forums. I've looked but can't find one. Should I take some initiative and start one?

As someone that's looking to switch up phones in February, I'm wracked with indecision about whether to move to some Android phone (Nexus 4? HTC One X?) or upgrade my iPhone 4 to an iPhone 5.

Probably in the tech forum, yeah.

Certis wrote:

Wait, you wrote this without getting paid? I'm pretty sure liking something means money lined your pockets. I'll see you in either hours, thief.

Hands to yourself, sneak-thief!