After a week with the largest smartphone in the world, I’m practically smitten. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2, a 5.5″ behemoth, isn’t the first phone that I’ve said that I would replace my iPhone with, but it’s at the top of the list now. Why? Because bigger is better.

Forget Zoolander with miniature cellphones that fit in that useless in-pocket pocket on your jeans. The Galaxy Note 2 looks and feels like it actually is a mix between a cellphone and 7″ tablet, and the massive display is a near-perfect balance between the two. It fits in the pocket (not comfortably; getting it out in the car is uncharacteristically hard), and the 720p resolution display has a slight blue hue but is really bright and really beautiful. The Super AMOLED display provides not only brilliant colors but does so well outdoors and in bright conditions. I’ll write more about how well the display fares in all conditions in the upcoming full review.

What really has me colored impressed is the size of everything, and how unlike the original Note the Note 2 feels like both a tablet and a smartphone. Android apps — notorious thanks to Apple’s latest keynote address — don’t differentiate between display sizes and smartphones vs tablets, but that’s not a problem on the Note 2. It’s such a perfect blend between the two, with a 267PPI 720p display, that it doesn’t matter. Apps feel at home and native on the screen, so you don’t need to look for the few tablet-specific apps there are on the Google Play Store. Just get your favorite selection and you’re good to go.

And while several people who I’ve showed the phone too were distraught that the huge size would make for unbearable weight and a lack of comfort for telephony, that hasn’t been the case. It’s very light at 183 grams for a device of this size; the Kindle Fire HD, a 7″ tablet, is more than double the weight, and that can be held comfortably in one hand. Combined with the plastic shell that’s glossy and easy to grip, it’s actually more comfortable to hold two-handed than most smartphones. Typing can be a chore, but Samsung decided to use Swipe as the main mode for typing, which is faster and easier on such a large screen than on competing devices.

Typing has also been improved by including one-handed typing mode, which makes the keyboard smaller and shifted to the right or left. It’s still difficult to type with just one hand — holding the phone and using your thumb to type is a bit unwieldy — but the feature is great for dialing phone numbers or if you really don’t want to use two hands for some reason.

The Note 2 also has a stylus that works very well, though it’s hard to justify using it for anything other than messing around. Notes can be saved easily and the S Memo application is easy enough to use, but I don’t think anyone is going to adjust to writing on a glass screen anytime soon. The best use for it is taking screenshots, and perhaps drawing on them for your own use.

Battery life is also really great, and it should be. As I’m writing this my desktop workstation is dead (self-inflicted; that’s what I get for installing new hardware in the middle of a crunch holiday season), the Note 2 has completely taken over as a tablet and is doing an incredible job handling video, email, and lasting for days at a time. It lasted two days of use, with the GPS, music streaming, chat, and email going for hours. It shouldn’t be that impressive considering the 3100mAh battery, but it is. It’s a champ. It only dropped 3% after four hours of audio streaming last night while repairing my desktop.

For some reason the battery starts showing low-power at 15-30% (yellow/orange), and nearly discharged (1-15%) really early, along with warnings to recharge. There’s no way to adjust the setting for that, and like other phones with huge batteries, it’s a real nuisance.

But the most important thing that’s impressed me thus far is just how fast the Note 2 is. It’s fluid like no other smartphone on the market, thanks to the 1.6GHz quad-core Krait processor and quad-core Exynos 4412 GPU. No Android phone is as fast or as smooth as the Note 2; of course, no other phone can pack as much power as the Note 2 at smaller sizes. The chip has a higher clock speed and is more powerful than the Galaxy S III, and kind of puts Samsung’s own flagship to shame.

And while I haven’t tried any high-end games on the Note 2, playing any game on the much larger screen is a blast. The recently-released Angry Birds Star Wars is great bigger; the additional real estate makes it easier to zoom out and still see so much of the level.

I’m having a lot of fun with the Note 2, but it isn’t all perfect. Like most tablet-sized devices the screen fills up with fingerprints really easily, and it’s much worse than most phones. The back panel also gets dirty very easily; practically everything sticks to it. It’s thankfully easy to clean. Some quirks include no access to adjusting the lock-screen apps, and the 720p display doesn’t have more room for apps than smaller phones even though the screen is so much bigger. But after a week, I’ve already recommended it to a handful of people, especially those looking at the iPad mini for a holiday buy but wondering if it’s worth it to have two separate devices. I don’t have the iPad mini on hand for testing, but after using the Note 2, I feel like I don’t need it.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.