I can't figure out what the Galaxy Note II is good at

by Dan Rowinski

October 28 2012

Dan Rowinski is a writer for tech site ReadWriteWeb. His TabTimes column is published every other week on Sunday.

I just have one problem with the Note II …I don’t know what the hell it is.

For the last couple of weeks I have been playing with Samsung’s newest smartphone/tablet, the Galaxy Note II. It is a beautiful device with lots of unique features, well-crafted industrial design and an intuitive stylus.

They call it a phablet (crossbreed smartphone and tablet). The marketing tries to push it at both segments of consumers.

On one hand, it is the quintessential smartphone, the culmination of all of Samsung’s products. On the other hand, it is a media friendly tablet with productivity and utility apps galore, many of which are optimized to the S Pen stylus. In short, it is a confusing device.

Can Samsung have it both ways?

Many people own both a smartphone and a tablet. The question with the Note II is: can you can ditch your tablet and just have one device to perform all the functions you want from both?

Let’s take the example of an e-reader. Tablets make excellent e-readers because they are the size, shape and weight of a traditional paper book. You can store all of your books in one spot and access them from anywhere. Tablets from 7 inches to 10 inches are easy on the eyes, without straining to read small text on a small screen.

The Note II, which is 5.55 inches on the diagonal, is smaller than a traditional book. With reader apps like Amazon’s Kindle or Google Play Books, you can resize text for easier reading, but the Note II is smaller than a normal paper bound book. It is certainly easier to read on than a 4-inch iPhone 5 but not as easy as a 7-inch Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD or a 9.7-inch iPad.

From a consumer sales point of view, the Note II is sold like a smartphone. It will be available through all four major U.S. cellular carriers and will start at $299 on a two-year contract. In essence, this makes the Note II more of a smartphone than a tablet.

Yet, from the view of it being an actual phone – something you use to make calls (yes, people still make phone calls) – it is very awkward. One commenter noted, “it is like putting a DVD case to your face. You look like a douche.”

The Note II is also an awkward device to carry in your pocket, just big enough to be noticeable. For my money, the 4.7 inches of smartphones like the HTC One X or Samsung Galxy S III is a perfect size for everyday use. Big enough to be functional, small enough to be practical.

Then there is the stylus. I have written on the oddness of the S Pen for TabTimes before, but I really tried to live with the S Pen when putting the Note II through the motions.

My problem was that I did not know when I should be using it. I would forget that it is there (it is embedded into its own corner of the device) and just interact with the Note II they way I would with any other touch screen smartphone. It was a guilty feeling. I know the S Pen does some cool stuff on the Note II and is very responsive, I just didn’t know when to use it.

So, after a spending significant time with the Note II, I came away more confused then when I started. It certainly can be the all-in-one device that many people desire. At the same time, it is not quite optimized toward either smartphone or tablet worlds.

Which, unfortunately, makes it problematic for both.

Dan Rowinski is a writer for tech site ReadWriteWeb. His TabTimes column is published every other week on Sunday.

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  • GSLeon3
    1 year 7 months ago

    That's funny, because I can't decide what my Note 2 is NOT good at. Samsung devices have a great deal of Hardware codec support, so it is great for media, not having to re-encode anything, & with my 64Gb UH1 SDCard, I can have more media that I could consume on any overseas flight. Reading on it is a breeze, with enough room to zoom text to a size that doesn't strain the eyes. Don't even get me started on the productivity aspects & the Wacom digitizer. The best thing of all? Samsung has been great about adding features, closing security holes, patching bugs & actually updating devices.

  • Hoverbored
    1 year 11 months ago

    Dan - You are young, your eyes are undoubtedly eagle-clear. Should it remain so a long time! Give it time... sadly, one day you too will understand why a monster-sized smartphone is a great advantage! At that point, form and functionality trump fashion, as you need access to work email, remote desktops, etc - and you need them ANYWHERE... from the one device that goes with you everywhere. Thanks for a thought provoking article.

  • Zetrue
    2 years 3 weeks ago

    Reading your article I have to recall a situatation I faced an year ago at a company meeting. My collegue sitting next to me had an iPhone and was checking his mail and fiddling around with his phone during the break, then at one point he put his phone away and pulled out his iPad. He opened a couple applications and visited some web sites, after roughly 15mn he put his iPad bback into his bag and pulled out his laptop and started typing away with anger.
    So mobility in today's world means I need to carry 3 devices instead of one?
    That's a lousy story if you ask me.
    So sure the Galaxy Note II is never going to replace a laptop (well we'll see) however I can certainly achieve a hell of a lot more with it than with any other phone out there. As for replacing a tablet, considering the tradeoff between screen size and the alternative of carrying two devices, well I personally prefer option 1!
    Only thing missing is 4G/LTE so I'll wait for the Note III :)

    PS: I personally don't believe that a tablet comes anywhere near an eReader due to the glare and rapid eye fatigue it produces so tablet or phone for that usage is lousy anyway.

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