Samsung surprised the world with the success of the original Galaxy Note. The follow up has big boots to fill.
In the hand the Note 2 has the feel of the Galaxy S3 after a bit of a stretching session. The glossy finish feels good, its easy to hold and the look is definitely more up to date than its forebearer.
With the Note 2 Samsung has managed the feat of fitting a larger screen without adding bulk. Its a big device, but no larger than the original. So if that was too big for you, this won't win you over either. Conversely, current Note users can be happy knowing that the dimensions they've been comfortable with have been carried over.
The jump from a 5.3" to 5.5" screen has been accompanied by a switch from a Pentile AMOLED display to a full RGB one. There's a notable improvement in colour reproduction and brightness. Surprising because the original had a pretty impressive screen of its own. As a viewing experience you're not going to get better than this combination of size and clarity.
Other than the body and the screen the big hardware change is to the feature that makes the Note range unique: the S-Pen. Its become longer, thicker and its shape has changed from round to a sort of squashed semi-circle. Its more comfortable to hold and write with, although insertion back into the main body is a little trickier than before. Accuracy has been improved and the hover function has gained a few additional features.
On the software side Samsung has been very busy: Jelly Bean is now the Android of choice and brings all of the standard 4.1 Android features, including Google Now, rich notification messages and Project Butter silky smoothness.
Touch Wiz makes another appearance here and adds lots of functionality at the price of design elegance. To my eyes HTC has a better looking user interface and Samsung needs to improve the way some Touch Wiz widgets look. However Samsung does a great job of providing all the widgets you might need and any widget can now be resized, rather than just Samsung ones.
New features like Smart Stay and floating video make it across from the S3 and a new function called Smart Rotation is added. This ensures that the screen only rotates when you want it to by using the front camera to watch your face. A little eye notification appears in the top bar whenever Smart Stay or Smart Rotation are activated and both features work as advertised.
As you can imagine, on a screen this bright and clear video playback is amazing. Its possible for two or three people to comfortably watch a movie, slideshow or presentation. Being able to pop a video out to a floating window sounds like a gimmick and apart from testing that it works l'm not sure whether it would get used.
It appears that Polaris Office is only provided as a viewer, so editing Office docs isn't possible unless you install Google Drive.. The Polaris software itself suggests that a full version is available from the Samsung Apps application but I wasn't able to find it.
S-note, the software that makes the stylus so useful has had a tweak and its now possible to draw freehand around items in any other application and paste them to S-note. Designers will find this massively useful for pulling together mockups. When you want your freehand scribble converted to text the hand writing recognition has had a bit of work and is now much more usable. Just about makes up for the loss of Swype from the input options and is now much better at turning my scribble into text - and it was pretty good before. Your mileage might vary.
Samsung has brought multiscreen capability from the Note 10.1 and enhanced it. Most apps will work in split screen view making it possible to do things no other Smartphone can hope to achieve. The Note's screen is big enough for this to be usable, but any smaller screen would be challenging. In landscape mode you are effectively presented with two iPhone 4S sized screens which can be used for multitasking. Tied to the true multitasking capabilities of Android it works very well and I can see this getting lots of use.
Lastly the improved S-voice app has made it across from the S3, brief testing suggests it does a good job of recognising my southern drawl.
I haven't had a chance to test battery life yet but the 25% increase in capacity should ensure similar longevity to its predecessor.
Altogether its a powerful offering the Note 2, its not going to replace an iPhone or S3 for most buyers who will balk at the size. However, owners of the original Note will almost certainly want to upgrade. Buyers who were considering the S3 or similar phones might be tempted to upgrade just for the bigger screen and multitasking and there will be those who see it as a replacement for both phone and tablet.