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

October 28, 2012

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.

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