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

wordsmythe wrote:
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.

As per usual, you're right.

I have an S3, and it completely rocks my socks. I pine for the Note 2 however...

I was ready to ditch Android after continued disappointment with the Motorola Droid X. It was buggy and slow and Motorola only updated sporadically with buggy releases. I upgraded to a Galaxy Nexus and it was a revelation.

My only issue with Android is the generally lower quality and patchy availability of apps as compared with iOS. Even when Android has a version of a program that iOS has, it seems the iOS version is the definitive one.

Anyhow, the note 2 seems ludicrously large for me. I have to wear my phone on a belt holster (i know... NEEERRRDD!), and that size probably would cross the line. I take enough flak as is.

I have a Nexus as well. It's fantastic for phone calls and text, but the battery life is ridiculously short. On high use days it doesn't even last me 12 hours, which is something of a major use issue. Moreover, it's really hard to read pages not formatted for a mobile screen. I imagine a Note would not be all that much better, but any screen increase improves readability.

Love my GNex as well. Couldn't have waited for the S3/Note as my old Moto Droid had some screen issues and I needed a working phone ASAP.

Saw a Note this weekend when visiting some friends though and holy crap it's huge. Of course it was one of the girls that had it, so she could lug it around in her purse. Still, quite the little device. With it, you could probably skip the whole tablet/ereader thing and just do everything with a phone.

We'll be expecting our cut of the Samsung marketing money, oh powers that be.

The S3 is amazing. I have one courtesy of work, and it replaced an iPhone 4. I still have the iPhone for testing apps (ActiveSync with Exchange) and such, and it really is night and day between the two devices. The S3 screen POPS, the iPhone screen is... serviceable.

I resented having to spend a year in iPhone hell with the 4, and it was only because my company was not offering IT staff Android phones at the time, but I am so glad to be back in the Android fold, having been a first gen Droid user. There's just no competing with actually being able to make your phone do what you want it to do and look the way you want it to look, walled garden be damned. I'm currently using Cyanogenmod 10 on my S3 and it is the bees' knees.

I have seen the Note phablet first-hand (a co-worker has one) but it's just too damn big to be considered a phone. Even the S3 is pushing it, size-wise. The first couple weeks I had it, I was really self-conscious about pulling it out in public to answer a phone call. Who knows though, maybe in a couple years we'll all be walking around with iPad size tablets stuck to our ears.

Less than a month until the Blackberry 10 comes out and I'm filled with hope their faded glory will return...to paraphrase Gone With the Wind, "The North 'gonna rise again!"

Malor wrote:

We'll be expecting our cut of the Samsung marketing money, oh powers that be.

Sean and I have a deal: He provides consistent weekly articles, and I try not to care if they're lame.

Good lord. I just saw one at the shop just now. They are big, aren't they? Finally a phone I may be able to type on with my stupid meatfists.

I don't know what your talking about with the android phones not comparing to the iphone retina display. My phone, the Droid DNA, has a higher resolution, and higher DPI rating than any Apple product.

If I wanted to, I could watch full 1080p video on it, and it's only exactly the same size as a Vita screen.

I'm still completely underwhelmed by the games and game controls on it however. I need a real controller...

No problems at all carrying it in my pocket, but I do regularly have my Vita in the same pocket.

Looking to try an Android phone in the near future and my ISP is bundling the Note as one of the options. Not the 2 though, and the Note down here is retailing for AU$792...

By comparison, for the same price you paid, I can only get the GALAXY Ace (AU$240).

Think I'll 'settle' for the GALAXY S II for AU$480.

Curse you Americans and your cheap (regionally locked) technology!

I'm still using my iPhone 4 after refusing to upgrade to the 5 this year. Too similar in the UI department after nearly five years of the same old, same old. I was seriously eye-balling the GSIII, and might wait to see what the "GSIV" has in store before making any decisions.

People can complain all they want about the "fanboys" of the iPhone, but I find the Android fanboy equally as tiresome. Both devices have their place, and (at least for me) the iOS AppStore and selection of games/Apps is night and day superior to the competition. Spec-wise? UI wise? Apple fails to impress me. The only reason I am considering changing my phone is because of owning an iPad. I like the integration between the iPhone and iPad, but I don't know if that's going to be something I truly miss... but at least with the iPad in hand I know I won't miss out on any games or apps that hit iOS first (if at all).

Soooo... ultimately, I don't know what route to take. I guess I'll just wait to see what the new year brings from Samsung.

kazriko wrote:

I'm still completely underwhelmed by the games and game controls on it however. I need a real controller...

Wiimote Bluetooth works great. Even better with classic controller plugged into it.

Of course that's mostly for old emulation, where you need a full pad.

SommerMatt wrote:

People can complain all they want about the "fanboys" of the iPhone, but I find the Android fanboy equally as tiresome. Both devices have their place, and (at least for me) the iOS AppStore and selection of games/Apps is night and day superior to the competition. Spec-wise? UI wise? Apple fails to impress me. The only reason I am considering changing my phone is because of owning an iPad. I like the integration between the iPhone and iPad, but I don't know if that's going to be something I truly miss... but at least with the iPad in hand I know I won't miss out on any games or apps that hit iOS first (if at all).

You are a wise and sensible man.

spider_j wrote:
SommerMatt wrote:

People can complain all they want about the "fanboys" of the iPhone, but I find the Android fanboy equally as tiresome. Both devices have their place, and (at least for me) the iOS AppStore and selection of games/Apps is night and day superior to the competition. Spec-wise? UI wise? Apple fails to impress me. The only reason I am considering changing my phone is because of owning an iPad. I like the integration between the iPhone and iPad, but I don't know if that's going to be something I truly miss... but at least with the iPad in hand I know I won't miss out on any games or apps that hit iOS first (if at all).

You are a wise and sensible man.

Yay! It's a Festivus miracle!

Braehole wrote:

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.

Google Maps is available for iPhone, so you can throw the apple maps crap into the banished folder way at the end of your pages. I'm not sure what problems you have with the battery, since mine lasts for a few days if I'm not using it extensively. As for the cable, the new one is way better: it's smaller, it transfers data far more quickly, and the ability to plug it in either direction is a real headache saver when driving or at night. Complaining that your friends don't have the cable is like complaining that you bought a XBox 360 in the first months and couldn't play its games at your friends' homes that don't yet have it; keep a cable with you.

Keithustus:

Despite having an iPad, and 2 iPod Touches I have resisted the iPhone because it never seemed like a good deal to me. Android fanatics call me an Apple fanboy. Apple enthusiasts lump me in with Android fanboys on account of my Nexus.

To me, even with my modest dip into Apple's ecosystem, the new cable is a major inconvenience on account of two interacting factors:

1. Apple charges unreasonable prices for proprietary accessories
2. All of the expensive accessories for Apple devices uses that interface

If Apple didn't charge so much for cables and adapters, it wouldn't be an issue - I'd just fork a few more bucks and adjust. The high pricing for the adapters and new cables just feels like Apple doesn't want my business; and where I come from, we already get major FU's from Apple affiliated centers on a regular basis. The new cabling is a little much to swallow with all the rest of the load.

Sean and I have a deal: He provides consistent weekly articles, and I try not to care if they're lame.

I can accept this.

I like the Galaxy Note 2...it's very fast and the screen and size is amazing. It makes watching video on a phone a legitimate pastime. I watched movies on it on my recent 3 hour flight. I got a nice Seido case with a kickstand...one downside is the way android handles memory cards...I would much rather the OS see the card as an extension of Onboard storage rather than seperate...and it appears trying to install applications directly to the memory card is a tricky proposition... 16GB in today's world is the bare minimum...and handling memory like Andriod does makes that limit more painful

I'm going to upgrade to a WP8 phone in a few weeks, and I am already trying to rationalize a phone the size of the Lumia 920, and failing. I see zero chance of lugging the Galaxy Note 2 around as anything but a mini tablet.

I will probably end up with an Lumia 820 or HTC 8x, as they are smaller and lighter. I already have an iPad and Vita if I need a video streaming device and I'm in "willing to lug" mode.

I think it is odd that smartphones seem to be going in the boom box direction of the rare electronic device that keeps getting bigger instead of more portable.

LarryC:

There's nothing stopping iOS users from buying accessories not made by Apple.

I think it is odd that smartphones seem to be going in the boom box direction of the rare electronic device that keeps getting bigger instead of more portable.

I think that's a function of what a lot of users are doing/wanting to do with it. If you want to watch a video/play a game screen space is critical. Having a small screen makes the phone a lot less functional, and for me the size of the phone is actually a plus. Right now, I'd far prefer to have a 5 inch screen and a much larger phone than a smaller screen.

That's fair. It's just not what I want out of my phone for that exact reason.

Jayhawker wrote:

I'm going to upgrade to a WP8 phone in a few weeks, and I am already trying to rationalize a phone the size of the Lumia 920, and failing. I see zero chance of lugging the Galaxy Note 2 around as anything but a mini tablet.

I will probably end up with an Lumia 820 or HTC 8x, as they are smaller and lighter. I already have an iPad and Vita if I need a video streaming device and I'm in "willing to lug" mode.

I think it is odd that smartphones seem to be going in the boom box direction of the rare electronic device that keeps getting bigger instead of more portable.

I'm not sure if it is the new windows phone OS or the 920 that I am especially enamored with but I got over the size of it real quick. I didn't know I needed it but now I can't imagine a smaller screen. I think it was the problem I had with smartphones in the past ... The screen was too small for me to enjoy using it for anything but what was required. Now my iPad is getting neglected and only gets used on occasion.

PissedYeti wrote:

I'm not sure if it is the new windows phone OS or the 920 that I am especially enamored with but I got over the size of it real quick. I didn't know I needed it but now I can't imagine a smaller screen. I think it was the problem I had with smartphones in the past ... The screen was too small for me to enjoy using it for anything but what was required. Now my iPad is getting neglected and only gets used on occasion.

I'm wondering if going to a screen to type on will make me appreciate a bigger screen. I use an LG Quantum now, and its physical keyboard is really good. I've always kind of hated the screen keyboard on my wife's iPhone and my daughter' Android.

But one thing i really hated about the Quantum was the extra heft the keyboard created. So I'm leery of going much heavier.

Elysium wrote:
Sean and I have a deal: He provides consistent weekly articles, and I try not to care if they're lame.

I can accept this.

I'd offer another deal in which you promise that the Packers will beat the Vikings, but I don't even know if I think the Bears deserve another chance at the playoffs this year.

This was actually the phone I got recently when jumping from the Apple ship. I had iphones since the 3G, and this is the first android phone I've owned. The transition was tough for sure, but I love this phone. It's funny how it actually doesn't feel that big to me anymore.

Ballotechnic wrote:

Oddly, I've got a smaller, disposable phone for work which I now have a difficult time holding because it feels too small.

I'm the same way now with my old iphone which I still use for some games and such... so tiny hehe

So, I ended up getting an S III from a local Staples. After some Holiday promotion specials and trading in my old phone I ended up paying nada. I still pine a bit for the Note 2, but free is free. Along with a free copy of World of Goo from Amazon I am quite the happy camper right now.

Braehole wrote:
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.

You probably could turn around and resell the iphone and use the money to buy a Note 2. Still a lot of people who'd be willing to buy it at a good price.