A year ago, the Samsung Galaxy Note was barely taken seriously as a contender in the smartphone race. Several million units sold later, it is a wide spread consensus that Samsung has created and claimed for itself a brand new niche in the smartphone market.
The Samsung Galaxy Note II is every bit what a sequel should be. It is better looking and more powerful than its predecessor, it's easier to handle and has learned some cool new tricks. The display has been upgraded in a couple of important ways, too - it's now larger and has got rid of the PenTile matrix.
Software has been notably improved as well. TouchWiz-ed Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is arguably the most functional combos around and on the Note II it's perfectly smooth, too. The beefed up S Pen usability and integration adds a whole new dimension to the user experience.
That said - you are still not obliged to use the S Pen if you don't feel like it. The Galaxy Note II is a proper smartphone powerhouse even without it and you can think of the stylus as one of the many extras the phablet offers, rather than a vital part of the UI.
The Samsung Galaxy Note II will hit all major US carriers in the coming weeks priced at $299.99 ($369.99 on T-Mobile). This makes it the most expensive smartphone offering in their arsenal, but given the kind of power you are getting, the premium is probably worth it.
With a budget like the above, you can afford every top shelf offering currently on the US market. In case you are willing to shop around, here are some options.
The LG Intuition for Verizon Wireless is the closest thing to a Note II direct rival the competition has to offer. The device's 4:3 screen however simply doesn't work in the phablet class and its stylus is mile away from the Wacom honed S Pen of the Note II. The Intuition is also powered by a more modest dual-core chipset and has a lower resolution display so even at $149.99 with a two-year commitment, it's impossible to recommend over its Samsung competitor.
The LG Optimus G on the other hand, outdoes the Samsung Galaxy Note II in terms of processing power, but runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich rather than Jelly Bean. It also lacks the S Pen functionality and sheer amount of screen real estate the Note II has and packs an inferior (in terms of performance, not specs) camera. At $199.99 though, the LG flagship is well worth a look, particularly if you are not planning on using the S Pen. You can grab one for either Sprint or AT&T.
HTC's upcoming One X+ for AT&T is another quad-core offering right around the corner. The Taiwanese handset boosts Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but its Tegra 3 chipset is unable to match the processing prowess of the Samsung Note II Exynos. Once again though, you are getting a chance to save $100 if you don't need the extra creativity features of the Samsung phablet.
All in all, the Samsung Galaxy Note II is easily one of the most complete packages in the smartphone realm. If its size doesn't make you or your pockets uncomfortable, then you will certainly love it.