I bought this a few days ago. To be honest, it was a case of gadget lust rather than necessity. If you want to judge me for spending my money unwisely or unjustly, I will not hold it against you. My previous smartphone is still under warranty for a long while yet, and would have been sufficient. If I have an excuse, it is my principle of trying to buy the kind of inventions I hope to see more of in the future.
And this invention, gentle reader, is about as futuristic as you can get on a Norwegian working class budget. It looks and acts like something out of a recent science fiction movie. One could imagine Tony Stark carrying around one of these. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but it gives a hint about how I feel about it. In other words, I am impressed. I am very impressed.
After a couple days, I started writing a lengthy review, listing many impressive features. But it just kept getting longer and longer, and at the same time I realized that there were already many great reviews on it, including several on YouTube where you can actually see it in action.
(I sometimes read positive reviews or watch YouTube presentations of products I already own, so I can feel the happy glow of owning them. Ideally, at the end of the review, I should feel ready to run and buy the product… Except that I already own it. I mean, I have already wasted the money, so why shouldn’t I milk it for all it’s worth? ^_^)
So rather than compete with the expert reviewers, I will just list a few things that impressed me in particular.
Handwriting and “Han writing”: The handwriting recognition impressed me so much that I found myself handwriting instead of using the on-screen keyboard, which is incidentally the best smartphone software keyboard I have ever seen, with the possible exception of Swiftkey 3. And I generally dislike handwriting.
I mean, handwriting was a great invention back in ancient Egypt or wherever they first tried it. And it is very versatile, you can bring a pencil and a scrap of paper pretty much anywhere except the shower. But I have preferred typing for as long as I can remember, at least from the age of six. (Well, with the exception of the few times when I had acquired a new fountain pen or some such.) From shortly after the first IBM PC, I have written by hand mostly in “emergencies”, to jot down a name or phone number or some such. Well, this is like having my first fountain pen again, except it is magic.
The handwriting area is a black slate at the bottom of the screen where the keyboard usually is when you’re writing. Writing with the built in S-pen makes the letters appear in thin white lines. I write a few words without stopping but with spaces between the words. When I stop, the phone pretty much instantly converts the text into typed text in the field where I am supposed to write – a comment field on Google+, for instance, or an email. At this point the slate goes black again so I can start writing from the upper left corner again. Even though my handwriting is ugly – especially after decades of disuse – the only recurring problem is that it occasionally capitalizes the first letter in a word if the letter looks the same when small or large. So for instance it might write Can Spell, but not Take Flight, because I write these letters differently when capitalized. With a quarter hour of practice I have mostly gotten rid of the extra capitals though. I am not sure whether the slate has learned from me or I have learned to write better.
I have failed to enable recognition of Hanzi / Kanji characters (Chinese / Japanese logograms). It was selectable in the phone’s setup, but for some reason it reverted to Scandinavian (my location) handwriting recognition, which incidentally works too. Perhaps you need to go all Chinese / Japanese to get it to work, although I doubt you need to physically be there. The Hanzi keyboard input worked though: You type the English letters which the word begins with, and immediately a long list of relevant signs show up. Chinese writing is far more compact than alphabetic languages, and expanded to 3 lines you get dozens of alternatives. It must be a bit of a nightmare learning all those characters, but man, Orientals must be able to read and write at a crazy speed with this thing.
The English word suggestions can also be expanded to three lines, but with only three words to a line, that is merely 9 suggestions. They are good suggestions though. As I’ve said, I think Swiftkey 3 may be better once it has learned from your writing, but I don’t know yet how well Samsung Keyboard learns from experience, so “the jury is still out” on this one.
Split screen: As the biggest smartphone on the market today, it makes some sense to use that space to run two windows at once. Only certain applications support this, I am sorry to say. You start them from a separate docking are to the left. To bring this up in the first place, hold the back button on the phone a couple seconds, and a small marker will pop up to show you that the pop-up dock is available. Pull on the tab to get to the dock, launch the first program, then hold the next program icon and pull it to either the top or bottom half of the screen. This will tell the Note 2 to run both of them at once. You can do this with movies without slowing down (unless you are streaming on a bad line, obviously). More likely you will want to open a Google search window while writing an email so you can copy some information…
Mouseover: You are probably used to being able to hover your mouse cursor over various fields without clicking and getting a tool tip, a preview or an expansion of a link. With the S-pen, I can do this on my Note 2. I can’t do it with my fingers, alas. Perhaps at some later time? It looks like pure magic: The pen does not even touch the glass (the distance is about the radius of a pinky finger) when the small mark appears in the picture, and if I do this over a feature that supports it (typically Samsung programs, at least at first) the mouseover effect will turn on. This is what Arthur C. Clarke must have meant when he said “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.
Face recognition: Not a Note 2 or even Samsung feature, but part of the more recent Android versions (Note 2 has 4.1, but I think face unlock came with 4.0). Still, it is the first time I have tried it, and it is indistinguishable from magic. When I turn it on, there is a lock screen, but when I see my face in the screen, it unlocks. It will only work with people who look like me, or at least that is the theory. On the down side, it reminds me daily of how ugly my face now looks up close… Well, I am not sure that reminder is a bad thing. If you are young and pretty, you may want to use that sharp front camera for video conferencing instead. ^_^
Power: The battery has very high capacity for a smartphone. You can use the device actively from dawn till dusk and still have some juice left. I mean, like continually watching video or something. For everyday use, it could easily last two days. That is how things should be, of course, but very few competitors come even close to it. And that’s with the big, high-resolution display and a four-core processor that runs everything I can throw at it at full speed. The machine responds immediately and in crisp detail, and it just keeps running. Extremely habit-forming. Don’t borrow one if you can’t keep it.
And here is the review I would have written, except it is not written, it is shown on YouTube. If you have the time, the awesomeness just goes on and on. I did not watch it until after I had bought it though. ^_^