The Galaxy Note II is the first Samsung smartphone to ship with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update out of the box, followed closely behind by the Samsung Galaxy S III LTE towards the end of September. While we are quite familiar with what Android 4.1 brings to the table from our review of the Google Nexus 7, we weren't sure how Samsung integrates Jelly Bean with its TouchWiz user interface until now. Here's a run down of the major features spotted on the Samsung Galaxy Note II: -
Quick Glance is a new feature that utilizes the proximity sensor on the front of the Galaxy Note II. When the device is locked, hover your hand over the top of the Galaxy Note II to trigger the sensor. Once activated, the screen will light up and show you key information such as missed calls, unread messages and battery level.
Adding yet another functionality to the S Pen, the Air View features allows you to hover the S Pen over certain apps ( Samsung's email client, Gallery, Videos, Messaging and S Planner) and preview the content without opening the app. To activate Air View, go to Settings > S Pen > Swipe right. Air View also enables you to scroll up or down lists by holding the pen over the edge of the screen.
Useful as it may seem, we hope the Air View feature could be expanded to more apps such as Gmail and Google's native calendar app. Moreover, you need the S Pen for the Air View to work. Considering the time and effort taken to take out the S Pen, we felt that it could have been faster if we just use our fingers to access what we wanted to see (where data connection speed is good) unless the situation does allow you ample time to sit back, whip out the Pen and slowly preview several items.
On a large screen like the Galaxy Note II, it would have been a real waste if Samsung did not maximize the real screen estate. Fortunately, the company put the 5.5-inch display to full use by introducing Multiple Windows, a multi-tasking enhancement that allows you to open and run two apps side by side. This is very similar to the Multi-Screen feature on the Galaxy Note 10.1.
As seen above, the Samsung Galaxy Note II is more than capable of running four apps simultaneously on the same screen although there is no real practical use since the Popup Video and Popup Note block out the Chrome browser and Gallery.
We feel that two app windows should suffice for most users. While the Multi Screen feature on the Galaxy Note 10.1 enables you to choose two out six apps, the Galaxy Note II ups the game play by giving you 13 apps. Appearing on a scroll bar on the left, the 13 apps are:
We appreciated Samsung's decision to add more apps to the list, however we could not help but wonder why some of the apps are redundant. For example, there are two email clients in the list, which are Email and Gmail. There are also two browsers in the list, Chrome and Internet.
Facebook, Twitter and Chrome are by default not in the shortcut bar. They only appear in the bar after we had downloaded and installed them on the phone. We tried with several other social networking apps (Path, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr) and popular apps (WhatsApp, Angry Birds, Temple Run, FireFox, Opera Mobile) to see if any of them would appear in the shortcut bar but none did.
Samsung might have its reason to only include Facebook, Twitter and Chrome into the shortcut bar, but we felt it should give users the flexibility to add in their most frequently used apps such as WhatsApp or Instagram, so as to maximize the Multiple Windows feature.
In our previous page, we mentioned that the Galaxy Note II will not suffer the same fate as its predecessor in the aspect of usability. It seems that Samsung is aware that some consumers may be turned off by the large display as it makes it hard for them to accomplish basic tasks such as text messaging and making phone calls easily.
Specially created for the Galaxy Note II, Samsung introduces a new Setting label, "One-handed operation. To put it simply, this setting enable you to customize four basic tasks of the phone - keypad and in-call buttons, the virtual keyboard, calculator and screen unlock.
Due to the extra screen estate, Samsung is able to fit in the row of numbers above the standard QWERTY keyboard which we found to be extremely useful. With one-handed operation mode turned on, it really makes one-handed typing easier (but at the expense of it being less accurate since the keys are smaller).
This is nothing new as we've seen it in the Google Nexus 7, but it's worth mentioning in the review of the Samsung Galaxy Note II. Instead of showing just a new message, the notification panel displays more information such as the content of a message.
The design and software of the Galaxy Note II are not the only areas that received upgrades; the S Pen is also revamped. When you take the S Pen out of its slot, the Galaxy Note II senses it and will bring up a home screen panel specially catered for it. Another set of shortcuts will also appear in the notification panel.
Samsung also incorporated an "innovative way" of launching apps, known as Quick Commands via the S Pen. Pressing the S Pen button and swipe from the bottom of the screen in an upwards direction to activate Quick Command.
Once activated, you can draw a series of signs to launch their respective apps. For example, using the S Pen to draw a "@" sign will enable you to launch the Email app while drawing a "?" will bring you to Google Search.
Do check out our short video below on some of the software features on the Galaxy Note II that were demo-ed before:-