RIKL ReviewTM - Samsung Galaxy Note II
I just surprised myself when I looked up the date of my BlackBerry Storm RIKL Review. It was over four years ago! I'm not unduly keen on upgrading to the latest cellphone. Although incremental improvements are made monthly, getting used to the operation and idiosyncrasies of a new phone is burdensome even for a three-pen nerd. So, between the Storm of yore and the Note II of this past week, I have had only one intervening smartphone, the Droid X. I somehow neglected to review it and I somehow think I'll be forgiven.
Gimme Gimme Gimme Consistency
Even longer ago, more than six years, I wrote a blogitem lamenting my inability to get a single gadget to do what I wanted. What I wanted then seems almost trivial now: A cellphone that incorporated a decent camera, a music player, and, well, a cellphone. I have been consistent in my wantings over the years, and have been duly rewarded. My Droid X has been largely satisfactory in all particulars. I might have kept it longer were it not for Note II envy and the fact that the buttons on the Droid X were one by one losing their functionality due to mechanical failure. I finally gave in a week ago, when a new want overcame my vexation with Samsung and Verizon.
The "flaws" in the Droid X, disregarding the mechanical failure, were lack of memory and insufficient screen size. I do a lot of reading on my iPad but of course it's awkward to carry around. The screen of the Droid X has excellent resolution and good brightness, but it's just too small for comfortable book reading. And the Droid X memory, with 8GB internally and limited to a 32GB supplementary card, maxed out at 40GB. Despite all the lovely new iPods that Apple has introduced, I stick with my "Classic" because it alone has sufficient memory — 160GB — to contain the bulk of my music. The Note II has been boasting from its initial announcement both 64GB internal memory and room for 64GB card, giving a total of 128GB. Not quite as good as the iPod Classic, but with some judicious pruning I felt it would be adequate. And, of course, the Note II has a much larger screen.
I had to do more of this than I had hoped. It turns out that the version of the Note II with 64GB internal memory, mentioned on the Samsung web site at the product's introduction and still touted there to this very day doesn't actually exist. Samsung says so and Verizon says so. Disappointed as I was and remain, I'm still a lot happier with the 32GB extra storage, and I shall just have to cope. Eventually, perhaps, the 64GB unit will appear, probably right after my 14-day return privilege expires. In my pruning, I made sure I had Appaloosa and left off Ambergris. At the other end, I've got some Zappa but no Zarkons. Long before I've had a chance to listen to all the music that I did manage to fit, they'll have a product with more memory and I won't have to ditch any New Potato Caboose.
The Music Player
So, how about a review of the music player? It works! You plug in the earphones and listen to the music. I'm not used to the controls and settings yet, but I have little doubt that I will become so before too long and be content with the Note II as a music player, if not entirely so as a keeper of the library.
What about the camera? It works, too. From the Motorola Q (appalling) to the Storm (OK-ish) to the Droid X (pretty good) to the Note II (even better), I've gotten less and less unhappy with the quality of cellphone photos. Every few years I upgrade my real camera, too, and there's no comparison between the photographic quality between categories. There's just so much resolution and quality you can get with a tiny cellphone lens. On the other hand, the modes, capabilities, and features of the Note II are pretty stunning. Here, for example, is a panorama. I took this picture today, just a few minutes ago. it's the first panorama I ever captured*, and was able to use the on-screen setup without referring to the manual.
Samsung has recently introduced an Android camera with a real lens. I'm ready to be amazed at what that category will have become when it's time to upgrade my camera in a few years.
What's left? I know. It's a telephone. Like all cellphones it sounds terrible and always will until the carriers start to use their data capability to provide toll quality instead of employing whatever gruesome compression algorithm is currently in use. By now you've heard not just from me but even from overcommunicating young people that "nobody uses the telephone any more." For once I was in the vanguard of that movement. I think I've made one call on the Note II and don't really remember anything about it.
The Note II next to the Droid X, already a fairly large cellphone. Even a carefully positioned Droid can't fully eclipse just the screen of the Note.
Which brings us to the large screen. This was the main cause of my Note II envy. When I went to the local Chinese restaurant for take-out, I used to fetch with me the iPad for reading. Last week, I left the iPad home and read a story on the Note II. The restaurant was busy — Christmas time — and the wait was unusually long. The "printing" on the Note II was bright, sharp, and easy to read. When my food came, I just put the Note II in my pocket and didn't have to do the iPad dance at all. I haven't yet read a full novel on the Note II, but I don't think it will pose any problem. Just as the best camera is the one you have with you, so is the best e-reader. WooHoo!
Don't be disappointed that I haven't said more about the Note II's features. It takes Samsung and Verizon 223 pages just to enumerate them and give a brief description of each. (That's a bit of an exaggeration, actually. The last 40 or so pages of the manual are legal blather of value, perhaps, to those disappointed that the world didn't end a few days ago.) I haven't even mentioned the "S-Pen" whose usefulness or lack thereof may become clear to me as I plow through the glossed-over parts of the manual. For example, did you know the Note II does video? Navigation? S Beam? (!) Chat? And on and on. This product cries out for a review as long as the manual. And, thanks to some flawed predictions, we'll have all of 2013, a happy one of which you are hereby wished, to contemplate the Samsung Galaxy Note II's panoply of features.
Flaws and Crapware
No RIKL Review would be complete without some whining about the subject of the review. While this RIKL Review is unlikely ever to be complete, there are two issues that I'm sure are not related to my profound ignorance of the newer and the more obscure features of the Note II. The first issue is crapware. The Note II comes loaded with apps carefully selected by Verizon and Samsung to waste space, clutter the screen, and irritate the customer. Two I immediately picked out for removal were a football game and something called "Zappos" which, upon investigation, seemed to be selling shoes. If you have the patience to read this item, you will immediately divine my level of interest in purchasing shoes on my cellphone. One of the first things I did after firing up the Note II was to find the instructions for removing these and other apps I felt I was unlikely ever to use. The instructions were specific but incomplete. They left out the fact that these pre-installed apps cannot be uninstalled without "rooting" the phone and invalidating the warranty. I was so angry about this that I actually called Verizon on the telephone, but the inevitably polite customer representatives told me that they can't be removed and thanked me for my "feedback." I found a poor but partial solution: Create a "folder" and put all the crapware in it, and then consign the folder to the farthest home screen. It doesn't recover any resources, but at least I don't have to look at the icons.
The other flaw, misfeature, infelicity, or whatever you want to call it, is strictly in the hardware. The Droid X, with which I have years of familiarity, has a number of buttons arrayed around it's relatively flat and perpendicular periphery. The buttons are either on the top or on only one side. Thus it is possible to naturally pick up the phone and press any button with only one hand, applying an opposing force opposite the button to prevent the phone from sliding and to avoid applying any torque that will cause it to rotate in your grip. Alas, the Note II has its power button on the right and volume buttons on the left, almost precisely opposite each other. Any attempt to pick up the phone with one hand places a finger on one button and the opposing thumb on the other button. Applying force to one button also causes the opposing one to be depressed, resulting in an unintended operation. Furthermore, the unnecessarily slender and tapered sides, so allegedly fashionable, prevent a good side-to-side grip. While you are pressing one button and accidentally pressing the other, the phone also tends to rotate around the portrait axis, depending upon which finger happens to be gripping the side of the phone more precariously. "Fashion and style!" He cursed. "Give me a brick any day."
A Lamentable Observation
One of the reasons I bought the Note II was its notional ability to be expanded to 128GB of storage, even though that isn't available quite yet. I considered a few other products, but was dismayed to find that other manufacturers seem to be emulating Apple and failing to provide memory card sockets. Perhaps the temptation to charge an extra $200 for 64GB, as opposed to about $50 for a 64GB micro-SDHC card is overwhelming. Even Google has left the memory card slot off its latest tablet, as did Nokia with their Windows 8 phones. Listen, greedy guys, and I have nothing against greed: How about, instead of leaving out the memory card socket, put in two of them instead? Or even four! They cost almost nothing, take up little room, and they will make your product ever so attractive to people with lots of photos, books, music, videos, or just the compulsion to carry their data in their pocket for when the economy collapses on 09 February 2014. (Whoops - did I give that away? I promised not to tell, so forget where you heard it.) I know it's an ineluctable temptation to force people to overpay for internal storage, as Apple does. Except...I just bought an Android, not an iPhone.
*Not counting the Microsoft "Photosynth," an altogether different beast.