Samsung Galaxy Note II US review: One for all

GSMArena team, 24 October 2012.

S pen features

The S Pen truly is pivotal to the Samsung Galaxy Note II experience. It has a vast array of new features that are a great usability boost over what can be done with just finger tips.

We already covered the contextual page, which comes up automatically when you pull out the S Pen. It's only visible when the stylus is out and its icon is a little pencil, while regular homescreens are still indicated by dots.

Anyway, there's another way to launch apps - with gestures. You press the S Pen button and swipe up to access Quick command. Here you can draw a "@" sign to launch email, "?" to do a quick search, "#" to dial a number or "~" to send a text. Besides the symbol you can add a keyword - what to search for with the "?" or define search range for the "@": recipient, message body or both.

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The Quick command lets you do gestures with the S Pen

You can add new commands too - just pick a function (e.g. enable Bluetooth, there's a long list to choose from) and write on the symbol you want to associate with it.

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Addnig a new Quick command

You can also hover the S Pen over various things to get a better look at - expand S Planner events, preview emails and text, preview videos and even a position in the video timeline.

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Hover over something with the S Pen to launch a preview

The S Pen also lets you quickly snap a portion of the screen and use it in an app - email, S Note, etc. Speaking of S Note, you can launch it by double tapping with the S Pen while holding down its button.

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The floating window version of the S Note app

S Voice and Google Now

Samsung had S Voice as an answer to Siri before Google came out with its own solution. S Voice is the culmination of Samsung's ongoing effort at integrating voice commands, which began with Vlingo back in the day. You may remember the voice activation (saying "Hi Galaxy" to trigger S Voice).

S Voice can do the usual - search the web, make calls, send texts (which Android natively supports and so does Vlingo), but you can also use it instead of the notification area toggles, answer or reject incoming calls, start the camera and take a photo, control the music player and FM radio and stop or snooze alarms all with voice commands.

S Voice on the Samsung Galaxy Note II can accept hand-written queries too, which is great for noisy environments or if you feel silly talking to your phone.

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S Voice has plenty of options

It's also a tool for quickly looking up facts - it's powered by Wolfram Alpha (which handles some of Siri's answers too). It has an enormous database covering topics ranging from Culture and Media to Physics. S Voice can also be used as a calculator.

Samsung has decided to keep S Voice alongside Google's solution as the two do differ in functionality. Jelly Bean has the unspoken Google Now info cards, but it also brought Google's Knowledge Graph, which can answer factual questions.

Google Voice Actions can handle stuff like sending messages (SMS or email), initiating a voice call, asking for directions, taking a note or opening a site. It can't, however, toggle Wi-Fi or control the camera, among other things that S Voice can do. At least not yet.

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Asking Google's Knowledge Graph a question

One big advantage of Google's Jelly Bean is that the voice typing functionality doesn't require an internet connection to work. You can enter text by speaking anywhere you can use the on-screen keyboard - be it the Messaging app or a note taking app - without the need for a data connection as long as you have pre-downloaded the needed language packs (and those only take about 20-25MB of your storage per pack).

Making voice typing available offline also made it faster as it's not dependent on your connection. What's even more impressive is that the transition hasn't cost it anything in terms of accuracy.

Synthetic benchmarks

The Samsung Galaxy Note II is powered by a Samsung-made Exynos 4412 Quad chipset with four Cortex-A9 cores clocked at 1.6GHz, 2GB of RAM and a Mali-400 GPU. We've put it head to head with some of the best quad-cores around.

In Benchmark Pi the Note II is bested only by the quad-core Krait packing LG Optimus G. Given its clock speed, the 1.7GHz Tegra 3-based phones (like the HTC One X+) might also manage to outperform the Note II here, but it's always going to be close.

In multithreaded performance, the Linpack is ahead of all Cortex-A9 based phones we've tested. Again, Krait proves to be better core for core than A9. Geekbench 2 seems to really like Exynos chipsets as it gave them a higher mark than Snapdragon S4 Pro and Apple A6.

We don't have AnTuTu scores for the Optimus G, which leaves the Samsung Galaxy Note II as the king of the hill here. Surprisingly, its Quadrant score is a hair lower than the HTC One X.

Benchmark Pi

Lower is better

  • LG Optimus G
    285
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    305
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)
    330
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    344
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    350
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    362

Linpack

Higher is better

  • LG Optimus G
    608
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    214.3
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    189.1
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    177.1
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)
    160.9
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    141.5

Geekbench

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    2000
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    1845
  • LG Optimus G
    1723
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1661
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)
    1634
  • Apple iPhone 5
    1601

AnTuTu

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    13562
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    11820
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    11735
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)
    11633
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    10767

Quadrant

Higher is better

  • LG Optimus G
    7439
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)
    5952
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    5916
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    5365
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    5170
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    4814

Moving on to GPU scores, we skip NenaMark 2 as most phones hit the 60fps limit and take a look at GLBenchmark instead. We ran the offscreen Egypt tests in versions 2.1 and 2.5 (720p and 1080p respectively).

Mali-400 is starting to age but it's still good enough to push out 720p graphics (the Note II's native resolution) at breakneck speeds. 1080p proves too much for it and while it beats the Galaxy S III (which also uses Mali-400) and the GeForce-packing Tegra 3 (almost two times), the Galaxy Note II still looses to Adreno 320 in the Optimus G and PowerVR SGX 543MP3 in the iPhone 5.

GLBenchmark 2.1 Egypt (720p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • LG Optimus G
    113
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    105
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    103
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    80
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)
    64
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    61

GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • LG Optimus G
    29
  • Apple iPhone 5
    27
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    17
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    13
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)
    9

Browser benchmarks show the Samsung Galaxy Note II is one of the best performers in the web field, coming up shortly behind Apple's new iPhone 5 in SunSpider and BrowserMark but beating all other Androids. Vellamo put's it well above other quad-cores we've tested (though we don't have scores for Optimus G here).

SunSpider

Lower is better

  • Apple iPhone 5
    915
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    972
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    1304
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    1312
  • LG Optimus G
    1353
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1446
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)
    1468

BrowserMark

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 5
    189937
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    185034
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    158953
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    158404
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    147582
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)
    140270

Vellamo

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    2418
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3)
    2078
  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    1890
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1568
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    1468
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