In Part 1 of my series on why I switched from an iPhone to Android (Samsung Galaxy Note II to be exact), I explained the background to why I made the switch, as well as my general purchasing experience purchasing the Note II at my local Sam’s Club.
In Part 2, I want to focus on a solid review of the Samsung Galaxy Note II’s hardware, why I chose it as my phone of choice, as well as how well it stacks up against the iPhone and other popular Android phones on the market.
The first thing one will notice and admire about the Galaxy Note II is its massive screen. Dubbed a “phablet”, the Note II is a hybrid of a smartphone and a tablet. Packed with 5.5” AMOLED screen running 720p HD resolution, the Note II’s screen is absolutely stunning. One of the biggest factors I was looking for in a smartphone was the ability to heavily read on the go, without having to carry around both a smartphone and a tablet. I’m wanting to engage in reading more Logos Bible Software books on the go, and the Note II fulfills this need perfectly. Text is extremely comfortable to read on, and I feel as though I have a tablet with me everywhere I go, yet the Note II still feels comfortable enough to use as a phone. For me, it’s the best of both worlds smashed into one. The 720p HD resolution is excellent as well. While it’s true that the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S4 will boast full 1080p HD resolution, having to give up the extra half-in of screen size doesn’t feel worth it to me, as well as the 720p HD resolution on the Note II is still breathtaking. Compared to my iPhone 4, my iPhone 4 feels like a toy when standing next to the Note II. The Note II dwarfs the screen easily. Even compared to the iPhone 5, I still prefer the screen of the Note II. The issue with the iPhone 5’s screen is the “tall and skinny screen” approach feels strange in my hands. It feels very unbalanced, awkward, and it feels strange to navigate such a screen. The wider, more balanced screens in the Note II, as well as even the Galaxy SIII or S4 just has a better feel when using them.
Strangely enough, even with a monster of a phone, I can comfortably hold it up to my ear, as well as reach the controls on it easily with one hand, and this is even with “single handed use” turned off. Due to the fact that I’m over 6’ 4” tall and have extra long fingers, navigating such a large screened phone is a breeze for me. In fact, once I adjusted to the new size, it feels comfortable, and it would be very difficult to go back to using anything smaller.
Large screens are not for everyone, however. If a large screen doesn’t matter to you, I’d consider checking out the Galaxy S4, or even the HTC One, both excellent Android phones as well. If you like big and are looking for a super sized screen, the Note II is definitely the way to go.
The construction/build of the Note II consists of a plastic back with Gorilla Glass v2 on the front. The Galaxy S4 comes with Gorilla Glass v3, which is even more durable, but I’ve found that even the v2 iteration of Gorilla Glass on the Note II should work fine for me. I’ve owned three different iPhones over the years (two of them being the AT&T and Verizon iPhone 4), and I’ve yet to shatter the glass on any of them. Coupled with the fact that I have insurance, I should be OK.
The plastic backing of the Note II is obviously different from what I’m used to with the iPhone. My iPhone 4 had a glass backing, and the iPhone 5 utilizes Aluminum. The Note II reminds me of when I used the iPhone 3G a little (which had a plastic backing), although even though it’s plastic, it’s still exceptionally durable. Plastic is harder to scuff than Aluminum and harder to shatter than glass, as well as the plastic backing leads to improved signal quality, which is excellent due to the fact that better signal quality is more important than the design of the phone.
It is true that the iPhone’s design feels slightly more “elite” than the Note II (even though the Note II is still very well designed), but coupled with the issues I was having with my iPhone, as well as the limitations of the iPhone over the Note II, I compare my iPhone to a model that maybe “chic”, but underperforms, whereas the Note II is stouter, but really gets into the kitchen and cooks.
For those coming from an iPhone over to Android, but are willing to sacrifice a larger screen and a few other limitations (see below), I’d highly recommend looking at the HTC One. The HTC One combines durable construction and elite design all wrapped up in an Android phone. It still has the iPhone edge without being an actual iPhone. However, if the next two things I mention are something you absolutely desire in a phone, then the Galaxy S4 or Note II is definitely going to be the better option.
To add a layer of protection to my phone, I’ve ordered a skin of Mallard ducks flying from SkinIt. It looks great, but I may also pick up a clear case for my phone since I was thinking I’d have more protection from the SkinIt skins than I ended up having.
The Galaxy Note II (as well as the S4) has another advantage that the iPhone (and the HTC One) doesn’t: expandable storage. At times, my 32GB iPhone could feel a little cramped, and if I needed more storage space, I’d simply have to either wait to upgrade to a new phone (the iPhone 5 currently maxes out at 64GB) or perform some housekeeping on my iPhone’s internal storage. With the Note II, I can easily expand the storage on the phone by popping in a MicroSD card up to 64GB of storage space (and the back of the Note II easily pops off as well with just a little pressure, making changing the battery, adding storage, or swapping the SIM card a breeze, no need for a SIM ejector tool!). Adding a Samsung 64GB MicroSD card I picked up off Newegg to the already 16GB internal storage, I now have 80GB of storage in my pocket! I remember when I used to lug around 80GB notebooks, now I have that amount of storage in my pocket. Some S4 models can even take the storage space higher. Having expandable storage is an excellent plus to get more out of my phone.
Another advantage of the Note II (and GS4) the iPhone (and HTC One) doesn’t have is a removable battery. I like having a removable battery for two reasons: 1. In the event I do completely run out of battery power, I have the ability to keep a spare battery on hand, pop it in, and continue going. It’s not something I’ll probably do often (you’ll know why in a moment), but it’s handy to have just in case. 2. Having a removable battery makes it easy to replace in the event I get a defective battery or the battery simply wears out before my phone does. With an integrated battery, I’m forced to completely replace my phone in the event of a battery failure (and since Apple’s track record of batteries is anything but solid, I’ve been leery of continuing to use phones with built in batteries). The Note II’s removable battery is also extremely easy to replace. Just pop off the back, and it’s all right there.
In addition to being removable, the Note II has a spacious 3,100 mAh battery inside. Battery life has been excellent on the Note II, getting through a full day of usage without even dropping below the 50% mark. This is even with the screen cranked up to full brightness, as well as additional apps and widgets running that some users probably wouldn’t even need to run. Even with all the heavy use, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the battery life on the Note II.
Which brings me to reiterate a point I made earlier. If a smaller screen, no expandable storage, and a non removable battery are fine, seriously consider the Note II. The construction/build is very solid and premium. If expandable storage and a removable battery, but a smaller screen is what you’re looking for, consider the Galaxy S4. If you want it all including a massive screen, the Note II is the best choice. What is excellent is all three of these smartphone models are impressive to me, and any of them are such an excellent choice, whereas when compared to the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5 just didn’t compare to these smartphones in my comparisons.
Micro USB Charging and Headphone Port
Another factor I enjoy about the Note II (as well as pretty much any other Android smartphone) is the fact that it charges over Micro USB, verses the 30 pin dock connector for the iPhone 4 and the new Lightning connector on the iPhone 5. There is a great deal of advantages to using Micro USB. For starters, the rest of my family has phones that charge over Micro USB, and while their charges would charge my Note II slower, in the event of an emergency, I could still borrow one of their chargers and charge it. Same with car chargers. While I picked up an extra car charger for myself at AT&T to have my own, I could still borrow one of my other family member’s Micro USB car chargers if I absolutely needed to. I’m no longer tied to a proprietary charger. Finding accessories for Micro USB is also easier than over Apple’s 30 pin dock connector, and vastly easier than Apple’s new Lightning connector.
Honestly, I do not get at all why Apple went with the Lightning connector instead of simply changing to Micro USB. In the past, I get why the 30 pin dock connector was born. Back when the iPod was becoming popular, there was various different charging methods on the market: 4 pin FireWire, 6 pin FireWire, Micro USB, Mini USB, etc., all struggling to become the standard. In an effort to simplify charging and accessories to Apple’s iPod line, Apple “standardized” the charging connector at least for iPods in the form of the 30 pin dock connector. At least a person could move between different iPod models and variants and still use all their charging accessories, etc.
That was then. This is now. Nowadays, Micro USB has become the charging standard for most cell phones in general, as well as most portable/mobile devices. Lightning seems gimmicky to me. I’d understand it more if Lightning were to work over USB 3.0 or even the Apple/Intel technology Thunderbolt. If that were the case, I’d “get” Lightning easily. However, Lightning still operates over the same old USB 2.0 technology Apple’s 30 pin dock connector operated over. Additionally, Micro USB is still exceptionally tiny and would have fit perfectly fine in an iPhone 5. Big deal that it’s not “reversible” like Lightning is. Neither is Apple’s 30 pin dock connector. It seems to me the only thing I’d get out of Lightning is having to re-purchase my charging accessories, etc., all over again, and have fewer accessories to work with in the event of a backup. Thanks, but I’d rather stick with Micro USB and standards-based charging.
Additionally, the Note II places the headphone port on the top of the phone, similar to my iPhone 4. This may be minor, yet the benefits of it is large enough for me. I usually wear a wired headset when talking on the phone (right now I’m testing out the Sennheiser CX 275 headset I picked up from B&H Photo/Video. I need to do more testing on the sound quality before I can give a thorough review; I’ve tried Bluetooth headsets before, but having to remember to charge them and pairing them up have proved more of a hassle to me then just plugging in a headset and going), and being able to plug in my headset and pop my phone in my pocket while talking is a breeze. With the iPhone 5’s headset port being on the bottom of the phone, things would get awkward. I’d have to flip my phone around and insert it into my pocket upside down, as well as the headphone cable would be in my way more when talking on the phone and surfing the web at the same time. It’s just another awkward design implementation from Apple, one that would annoy me if using it.
Quad Core Processor and 2GB of RAM
The Note II also sports a Quad Core Samsung Processor (Exynos 4412 clocked at 1.6 GHz to be exact) and 2 GB of RAM. The Note II really packs a punch. I love having a quad core processor (coming from the iPhone 4 using a single core A4 chip), and it’s a shame that the iPhone 5 only sports a dual core processor. Sure, the 5S will probably sport one, but it’s great to be able to enjoy the speed boost today. I also like the fact that Samsung manufacturers the processor inside the Note II, versus Qualcomm chips inside many other Android smartphones. I’m not a huge Broadcom or Qualcomm fan, and while I may be stuck with their wireless chipsets inside the Note II, as least a Samsung chip is powering the system.
Having 2GB of RAM is excellent as well. I have plenty go breathing room to run my applications, widgets, customizations, and multitask. Additionally, I can take a trip to the Task Manager anytime, and with a tap of the button, release any background processes I don’t need to run if I need to free up additional memory. The memory management I have on board is excellent, so I can either use it out of the box or finely tune performance I need to to get the perfect amount of power and performance I need.
8MP Camera with 1080p HD Video
The Note II also comes included with an 8MP camera (for still shots) and is capable of shooting 1080p HD video (the front facing camera can also be used for HD videoconferencing). While the Galaxy S4 is getting an improved shutter in the form of a 13MP still shooting camera, as well as a wealth of additional software features to enhance the camera, for me, the 8MP camera in the Note II is more than adequate. It’s an improvement from the 5MP camera in my iPhone 4, plus I also own a Canon 7D high end DSLR. When I need to shoot high quality photos and video, it’s obvious I’m reaching for my DSLR over any smartphone camera. However, for light photo shooting, the Note II outperforms both my iPhone 4 and any point and shoot camera I’ve owned. 8MP is still not too shabby for still pictures, it can still shoot 1080p HD video, plus all of the current software features on board make the Note II’s camera feel very much like a solid point and shoot camera. Even out of the box, it’s more than adequate for me, and if Samsung does deliver some of the additional software functionality to the Note II that the GS4 is getting, then I’ll have plenty of camera fun to enjoy between my Note II and my DSLR.
NFC and S Pen
Two additional features of the Note II are the NFC sensor and the S Pen. As far as the NFC sensor is concerned, I really haven’t had a chance to try it. I’ve heard it’s handy to use it to beam files between phones using S Beam or Android Share. I need to find a friend with another Android phone with an NFC sensor to try it. When I start conducting public business meetings, some of my colleagues at Mallard are already considering getting the Note II or another similar Android phone with an NFC sensor so we can exchange files with each other quickly at public business meetings. It does seem like a handy feature, and one I hope to use more as I find more uses for it. As far as using NFC to replace my credit cards, however, that I’m not sure about. I’m still leery about replacing my credit card with a phone, so I may still need to carry around a wallet a little longer. I have to carry a photo ID with me anyway, so why not continue to carry traditional credit cards as well.
The S Pen is another feature I haven’t fully taken advantage of yet, but I’m learning more about it as I go along. The Note II comes with it’s own built-in stylus called the S Pen. It allows for writing/drawing on screen, converting handwriting into text, using air gestures by hovering the pen over the screen to preview images, etc., among other things. While I haven’t fully explored all the capabilities of the S Pen, it does seem handy. I’ve been using it to take screenshots of the screen, as well as to annotate images when I’m needing to show someone how to do something. I can also see that it’ll be handy in the winter months when I’m wearing thick gloves. In the past, I could have either purchased “smartphone gloves” for using my iPhone during the winter, or I’d have to take my gloves off to work my phone (and rick icing my fingers up before I was done). With the S Pen, I can leave my gloves on, no matter how thick they may be, and continue to operate my phone with the S Pen. That’ll be handy.
The Galaxy S4 is getting a lot of the air gestures itself, just without using the S Pen. Instead of hovering the pen over the screen, a person can simple hover their finger over the screen instead. The S4 is also supposed to improve the touch responsiveness of the screen to better work with gloves. However, I like the fact knowing I have a pen for a backup just in case.
Back Button and Indicator Light
Two handy things I’ve encountered about switching to an Android phone are the back button and indicator light. With the back button, I can easily go back a page in certain apps just by pressing the back button. In iOS, since there is no back button (no menu button either, which I have also found is quite handy), I’d usually have to tap through the OS (sometimes resulting in multiple taps) just to return where I need to go. With the back button on Android, it’s as simple as a tap. Case in point: I’m reading a book in Logos. I decide to tap on the verse reference and go to my preferred Bible to read the passage (for verses longer than the hover window can contain). In iOS, getting back to my book would require summoning the library again, searching for the book I was reading, and re-launching it (or if there was a simpler way, I never knew it). With my Android phone, I simply tap the back button, and immediately, I’m back at my previous book I was reading. Simple.
The indicator light is also handy when my phone is in sleep mode. I can see at a glance if I have any new notifications without even waking my phone up, as well as during charging, the notification light changes colors to let me know when my phone it charged. Again, I get to see any of this at a glance without waking up my phone. Handy.
So that’s my personal review on the Samsung Galaxy Note II, the Android smartphone I ended up switching to. Again, let me reiterate by saying that if a smaller screen, no expandable storage, and a non removable battery are fine, seriously consider the Note II. The construction/build is very solid and premium. If expandable storage and a removable battery, but a smaller screen is what you’re looking for, consider the Galaxy S4. If you want it all including a massive screen, the Note II is the best choice. I’ve been very pleased with my Note II, but such a large device isn’t for everyone. There’s still a couple of other very solid Android-based smartphones on the market to choose from besides the Note II. All three of them, in my opinion, outperform the iPhone 5 and would have given me enough reason to switch.
In my next article in this series, I’m going to focus on a review of the Android OS itself and how it compares to iOS, then I’ll wrap up this series explaining why I switched from Verizon back to AT&T as my wireless carrier.