January 30, 2013 | by Ben Crawford
Evaluated version: 4.1.1
Pros: Vibrant Screen, Fluidity, Elegance, Fast, Fast, Fast
Cons: Size isn't for everyone, Touchwiz
We have written a review for the Galaxy Note 2 previously, but phones on Verizon are always a little different. Whether it’s an almost completely rolled out LTE or non-removable apps that pervade your homescreen, Verizon plays by its own rules. I’m going to be focusing more on the software side of things since you already have a good idea of what this phone brings to the Android world. I’m going in-depth on the camera, Touchwiz, battery, and I’ll get into the consumer’s head to really understand the Galaxy Note 2 and why it’s the phone you need.
While the Note 2 doesn’t have the eye-popping screen the Droid DNA did, Samsung does make sure the size of the phone grabs you, then the S-Pen, the multi-window function, and the S-Voice keep you sucked into the Samsung software ecosystem. It’s a very good ecosystem to get sucked into too. The S-Voice is a nice gimmick, but I don’t think it really compares to Google Now as Samsung simply doesn’t have as much information about you as Google does. However, the S-Pen is accurate, quick to withdraw, and I actually found myself using it quite a bit. Samsung made a nice app to make notes, lists, and diary entries as well as draw and sketch to your heart’s content. I would liked to have seen Evernote integration or support, but Samsung’s app is nice, if not very intuitive. It has been pointed out that Samsung is distancing itself from Google by providing its own Google Now competitor, its own Media Hub, and Kies.
This would be an unfortunate development as the multi-window feature is pure brilliance and works great on the Note 2 (aside from the Verizon Note 2 only being able to take advantage of a few apps), but the Media Hub and S-Voice simply cannot compete with Google Now and the Play Store. The battery is fantastic; I could only drain it to zero if I was using it constantly for the whole day (think YouTube streaming in HD on LTE for 4 hours). This is my new number one feature – a battery that lasts all day. I will not buy a phone that doesn’t have a 3,000+ mAh battery. Of course, a Verizon OTA update was available for the Note 2 so I downloaded it, and, as many forums and websites have reported, it has caused a noticeable battery drain when compared to my first week without the update. The battery still lasts a full day, but now it doesn’t seem to go into deep sleep as well as it used to. LTE has a strong signal, and where my Galaxy Nexus would have trouble finding a single or drop from LTE to 3G, the Galaxy Note would hold the LTE signal. Speed tests showed the Galaxy Note 2 averaging about 15mb/s at peak times, outpacing my Galaxy Nexus at ~7mb/s, and hitting a high of 29mb/s late at night.
Samsung generally makes some decent cameras, probably third behind Sony and HTC, and I think that’s about adequate. The camera app isn’t as good as the Droid DNA was, but the Note 2 has a nice “Best Photo” mode to take quick pictures and select the best available, and it has all the usual filters and other normal camera stuff you need. The camera lens is too high up for my liking. I always seemed to get my finger caught in the way when I was trying to take quick shots. This would have been an easy problem to solve since the Note 2 has so much room on the back. The camera was noticeably dim at night compared to the DNA, and snapping pictures wasn’t nearly as quick as it is for my Galaxy Nexus or anything else I’ve tried running ICS or Jelly Bean. The more I look at the pictures, the less impressed I became, but most of them were with low light or at night.
Touchwiz is as pervasive as HTC’s Sense UI, but Samsung has done a fairly good job of keeping it current with the Android updates. Samsung took a lot of things from the stock ICS launcher, colorized it with a palette from the 80s, and added a few enhancements like the screen staying on if you are looking at it and moving items on your homescreen by tilting the phone. It’s these small enhancements that make Touchwiz much more user-friendly and much more acceptable than HTC’s ten-clicks-deep menus. We can all remember the days when Touchwiz had Bing, Blockbuster, and generally left the phone feeling more cumbersome than polished. Not anymore. Touchwiz actually adds value to the device, especially for novice Android users. There are different homescreen modes, Simple and Standard, different saturation levels you can change, tons of lock screen options (news, weather, Facebook feeds), and battery-saving options (not that you will need them). Touchwiz has certainly come a long way from my Fascinate days, and it isn’t an excuse to not buy a Samsung device anymore.
I love this phone. The Galaxy Note 2 is the best phone I have ever used. Anyone that gasps about the size is correct, it’s a really big phone that isn’t seen very often. But, you’re hand(s) become accustomed to it, and eventually a smaller phone just doesn’t cut it for pictures, movies, and Redditing. Looking at my Galaxy Nexus, it is almost a disappointment now, even though I’m on the latest version of Android with stock UI. A battery that lasts the whole day using LTE is a serious game changer and keeps your mind at ease. Samsung and their Touchwiz UI have made the buttons ever-so-slightly bigger to be reached easier, and the multi-window feature (especially if you figure out how to get any app to use it) is a serious advancement in smartphones. A quad-core processor and 2GB RAM make this beast of a phone fly, even while having a YouTube video playing on one half of the screen and tweeting from the other half. Samsung has outdone themselves, and Verizon should be happy because the S-Pen, multi-window feature, and size can sell to business customers. That being said, why is there a Verizon logo on the front? A great phone aesthetically marred by stupidity/ingenious marketing. That is my one fault with the phone. That being said, the Galaxy Note 2 is a must-buy, even if the price tag gives you hesitation.