Samsung Note 2: A user POV

Beginning of 2013, I blogged about getting the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 which I think is better in terms of size and portability than an iPad mini for a mobile and quasi-road notepad. I bought my Note 2 in Feb and had been itching to blog about my experiences with it.

Bear in mind my article is based on the use of my Android 4.1.2 Jellybean Samsung Note 2 N7105 (16GB 4G/LTE). I put together this blog based on what I think the device do to make my life technically better and will focus on how the device software and hardware work to serve its purpose be it as a phone or a tablet.

Straight off the bat, Note 2 is a beautiful phone. The plastic feel did not dampen my enthusiasm. From the first power on, the colours were vibrant and vivid and comparable to that of iPad 3’s Retina Display I am so used to.

It was great not having to decide what memory size I should get. Something I had agonized for weeks when selecting my iPad 3. I knew 16GB would be what I needed on Note 2 given the fact I had the MicroSD Expansion slot. It would have been better if Android had continue to allow the App2SD feature without rooting.  But nevertheless, it was easy to manage with 16GB of space without video since my iPad’s 64GB is >50% video.

First week of use on Note 2 was rather funny, I did not know how to pick up a call for 3 days. There was no instructional manual telling me to swipe and well, the screen was rather silly showing green and red arrow both ways with a large icon on screen. I ended up defaulting to the home button and 2 soft keys to no avail. Perhaps its my lack of iPhone experience showing.

Note 2 was awkwardly huge to speak into like a regular mobile phone. I find it easier to use either the speaker mode or the headphone mode. I also had to get use to the way I hold it. My thumb would often find its way to the off switch while my middle finger to the volume button. Once I accidentally shut down my Note 2 midway through a call.

Sensitive screen is a good thing but when using the Note 2 as a phone, it is really bad. I have learnt to avoid leaning the screen to my cheek if I want to avoid my face touching buttons on the phone. I now hold the Note 2 at an awkward 45 degree angle to my face, with the speaker pointing to my ear.

Another problem I face is the soft key is so sensitive to touch that it makes playing game a nag. I almost always accidentally touch the soft key during game play. This is where Apple engineering brilliance come into play. No excessive buttons to cause such problems.

Note 2’s rotation is also too sensitive for its own good. It is fast to react but often wrongly. However there is a smart rotation option that determines screen rotation by checking the orientation of your face with the device. It will lag a few seconds or so but is good enough to give a more precise rotation of the device.

Generally, Note 2 is fairly easy to use. The widgets and apps are easy to customize. The sheer number of duplicate apps is unfortunately irritating and making it slightly schizo. I have 7 apps download manager that works like Play, 2 browsers and 3 media players and 2 Voice apps. Many of those installed by Samsung are not removable like DropBox, ChatOn and more. So what I did was to make sure they never get updated to save on my memory space.

Unlike iOS, Android phones works on a file structure which is viewable. People familiar with Windows/Blackberry phones should be accustom to this. You can scroll through the folders to see where your music, pictures and videos are stored. I found it especially useful with video apps. Through this, I can locate where the mp4 are downloaded to and move them from my phone internal storage to the microSD and play off the media player. I can’t do this in iOS.

But with the good, comes the bad too. You also get to see all the garbage that Android downloads or run in the background. With iOS, this is impossible to see/track. However, in Android, you need a few good apps to help clear your cache, clean your history and close your tasks to avoid significant speed compromise.

Emails are a breeze to use, as I had expected. Photo sharing is  surprisingly good, better than iOS. If you have an app that takes photos/pictures, you can automatically choose to share it from Watsapp/LINE to Email to Dropbox/Google Drive.

Browsing on the Chrome is easy and the 4G LTE speed really shows. Note 2 actually loads webpages faster than my iPad 3 4G LTE. I believe that’s due to its faster hardware and cellular features.

Maps and Navigation are two new tools I welcome. I miss Maps on my new iPad (given Apple’s decision to remove all things Google) but Navigation is new for me and makes my phone a default GPS on the go. I like that.

Default Keyboard on the Note 2 is a little fancier than on ios 6. It incorporates gesture input typing. However, what’s lacking is the multi-language option which I can set up easily on ios 6. In the end, I opted for the Go Keyboard which has all the best features you can find in a keyboard with the added benefit of being completely free.

Two highly promoted feature on the Note 2 that I rarely use/have enough reasons to use frequently are Multi Window and S Note. I actually like the S Note. It is a good note taking tool and I use it to write a quick note here and there. The problem I faced when using these 2 tools is how quickly the battery drains. Note 2 is a power guzzler. It drains power like a thirsty bear at a water hole.  A solution to this is necessary if you intend to go on the road with this device.

Camera on this phone is excellent. I take better picture with this than on my iPad 3. The 5-megapixel on my iPad 3 often appears grainy and less than satisfactory. Note 2 on the other hand was making my photos look stunningly professional. Since getting the Note 2, I have added a SanDisk 64GB MicroSD card to my expansion slot for the photos I know I will be taking on this. I also found a slew of nicely design but rudimentary China-Made telephoto lens, micro lens and fisheye lens to take even more professional looking shots.

I can see why the world is so enamoured with Samsung and its Android phones. Android has evolved to become a really good mobile software and a strong contender for the iOS while Samsung makes excellent hardware that complements what the Android does.

Update 6 May 2013

A few days ago I decided to reset my Note 2 and get a feel for doing so.  The original Samsung Kies did not offer too much option and I wasn’t sure it will do a good job. A search landed me to Super Backup. It backs up everything including messages, contacts and apps to files which you can move to an SD card and reload from the app when you have reset your device. This app is a must have for any Android users.

Winning the ecosystem war

Let’s face it. The word ‘ecosystem’ has always been a catchphrase in the world of technology. I find that particular apt now that the war for smartphones, tablet, phablet and pc seems to be heating up again as Apple appears to be losing ground with their sales figures.

Gone are the days where we use mobile phones to make ‘just’ a phone call. It is so much more a part of our lives. The ability to do so is functional features in an absolute perfect ecosystem that is seamless to the end user. You can  jam pack a mobile with the best features but if it fails to have a synergistic ecosystem that makes the end user feels effortless, it has failed.

What has been the shinning feature of Apple products beyond its design is the beautiful ecosystem powering the iphones and ipad. It has redefined smartphones and invented the tablet business for this generation. It’s simplistic design, revolutionary UI and perfect touch sensitivity has made smartphones a reality for day to day use. Prior to Apple, the other smartphones just failed in comparison. Competition find it hard to catch up as it was so out of box and so revolutionary that they had never thought of it much less compete against it.

Fast forward to a decade later, Apple is slowly perfecting its models and offerings (keyword being ‘slowly’) but allowing breathing room for companies like Google and Amazon to catch up. It has largely maintained its lead by innovating into the tablet market 3 years ago and for its first mover advantage. But that advantage is slowly eroding and more is needed.

The passing of Steve Jobs and management shakeup at Apple indicate a need for change and greater innovation to keep a healthy distance with its closest competitor Google and Amazon. To do so, it will need to perfect its mobile ecosystem. It is also the only company most likely to be able to do so, with a close second Amazon then Google. Strange you might think but I will explain.

Apple, unlike its competitors, has the most distinct advantage of an inclusive ecosystem relying on its own for hardware, software and service design. Some of the greatest mobile phone companies have been build on this model – think Nokia and Blackberry. It’s Hardware + iOS software + App store have been all geared towards providing a more seamless ecosystem that is transparent to the end user. That’s why it makes sense for its strategic move to end its partnership with Google and build the new Map software to keep the ecosystem inclusive. With that, it has the most advantage of providing the perfect mobile ecosystem as it slowly perfect all the pieces in its puzzle.

Some obvious gap it still needs to improve is its Maps but beyond that, its cloud backup system and new product offering to complement its existing product. Hence the rumor of Apple building an iwatch sounds plausible as it extends its footprint into our daily lives.

Now why do I consider Amazon a close 2nd and not Google to Apple? Amazon with its kindle is on the right mind set to provide an inclusive ecosystem. The hardware is an extension of its store and a delivery system to push entertainment services to its users while extending all other features applicable to a computer. It would be interesting to see how Amazon intend to push this to the mobile frontier.

Google, on the other hand with Android, is suffering from an identity crisis.It does not design its hardware, relying on companies like Samsung and LG to do so. Often, this cause a gap to the hardware – software synergy. In addition, it do not have a good way to deliver its mobile software in a systematic method causing multiple versions of Android with varying hardware specs in the market. Worst still is Google’s ability to integrate all its services with Android making it a waste. Think of the synergistic effect of a Google phone with the feature of iphone? It’s already 50% there. Google email vs Apple ID, Google Maps versus Apple Maps, Google Drive versus Apple Cloud and more… It is doing it via apps but it needs to integrate it more smoothly into Android that is as seamless as a button tap in Android. To do so, it must first find a wholistic method to unify its products and offerings thus leading back to the ecosystem of  providing product, software and service in a seamless way.

In conclusion, if Apple find an innovative way to dominate the mobile ecosystem and perfect it, we will be hard pressed to find a competitor that will come close to providing the impact it will achieve.