Samsung Galaxy Note II
Samsung's Galaxy Note II has larger screen than the first as well as an improved stylus. However, like other Samsung mobile devices, the number of features is starting to become overwhelming.
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Samsung unveiled its Galaxy Note II smartphone in Berlin a couple of weeks ago, making the screen a little bigger and bestowing some new abilities to its trademark stylus. Mashable received some hands-on time with the new Note a few days later when the company paid a visit to New York City.
First a quick recap: The Galaxy Note II is the second version of the Galaxy Note, which came to the U.S. in February. It expands the screen from 5.3 to 5.55 inches while actually making the phone itself a little thinner and narrower overall. That's because the aspect ratio is also slightly different: It's now 16:9 (the original's was 16:10). The global version (which I was using) has a 1.6GHz quad-core processor, a 3,100 milliamp-hour battery and storage options of 16, 32 and 64GB. The Super AMOLED Plus display has 1,280 x 720 resolution.
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But the most important change is the stylus. Samsung modified the S Pen and updated the software on the Galaxy Note II to work better with it. The new stylus is thicker and has a slightly rectangular form factor to prevent it from rolling. It's a better design, though it does mean the Note II's stylus is incompatible with the original Note and won't fit in older accessories, like the stylus holder that makes it feel more like a real pen.
You see the difference as soon as you remove the S Pen -- the home screen on the Galaxy Note II changes to put stylus-centric apps front and center when you pull it out. The new Note is also enhanced with superior "hover" tech -- what Samsung calls AirView -- where the screen can detect that you're holding the stylus just above the screen. It's now on the order of about half an inch whereas before is was just few millimeters.
AirView is one of the Note's most useful features. When you hover over a video thumbnail, the video will start playing in a preview window with sound. Once you open the video in the player, you can hover over the video's timeline to preview the frame at that timeline. The frames come up extremely fast as you move the stylus -- there's that quad-core processor earning its keep. Unfortunately, it only works in Samsung's video player and not apps like YouTube.
AirView also works with email: When you hover over a message in your list, a preview window appears, showing you some of the content. If there's a link in your email, you can also call up a pop-up window that contains a mini web browser -- very useful. Perhaps the best application of AirView, however, is on the web: Hovering the stylus over dynamic content on websites will now call up those drop-down menus that didn't translate so well on mobile. The S Pen brings them back.
The Galaxy Note II also borrows some features from the Galaxy Note 10.1 and Galaxy S III, such as pop-up video, where you can have a video playing in a small window while you're doing other stuff on the phone (again, no YouTube). The camera also boasts features like the group-photo mode Share Shot (which has been streamlined a little) and a burst mode, which is built right into the camera -- no need to switch modes.
A very cool camera enhancement is Best Face. If you take bunch of pics of a group, but the no individual shot has everyone smiling, you can actually pick facial expressions for individuals from other photos in the set, and the camera will swap it into the photo you like best. We didn't get a chance to explore this feature too much (so we're not sure how good the Note II's photo-editing abilities are), but it did a decent job with photos of people standing still with simple, uniform backgrounds.
There was some issues with the Galaxy Note II. First, it sometimes relegates navigation to the buttons below the screen, but those buttons often remain dimmed, and you forget they're there. The result is sometimes feeling trapped within a menu or app without any way back. It's probably easy to get used to, but out of the gate you'll feel stuck now and then.
The larger problem -- and it's rapidly becoming a problem on many Samsung devices -- is feature creep. Samsung has labored to give its stylus many new, novel abilities, but they're often app-specific and not that intuitive. From note-taking to pop-up windows to formulas, the S Pen and its myriad tricks are either a cornucopia of mobile functionality or a messy pile of gadgety "stuff" of limited usefulness.
We'll have a better sense of which it is when we review the Galaxy Note II in full. For now, though, we leave it up to you: Does the Galaxy Note II and its supercharged stylus sound like something you'd use? What features sound best to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.
This story originally published on Mashable here.