There must exist a great many people who either never use a smartphone single-handed or have much larger hands than me. And I am monstrously insensitive to every last one of them.
How else can I explain the gap between my dislike of ever-larger phones like Samsung's new Galaxy Note II and the popularity of these big-screen devices? I teed off on the first Galaxy Note here and elsewhere, yet Samsung sold 10 million copies of that enormous phone in nine months. And now this model, despite having an even larger display, has sold three million plus.
(To put those numbers in context, Apple says it sold five million iPhone 5s in that device's first weekend. But by any other standard, Samsung's phone-inflation strategy is working.)
The Note II (available on AT&T, Sprint and, soon, Verizon Wireless for $299.99; T-Mobile has it for $419.99 before a $50 mail-in rebate) is built around a 5.5-in. touchscreen. A thinner bezel allows this Android phone to be slightly thinner than the original, 5.3-in. Galaxy Note, but that doesn't make it any less unwieldy.
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That older phone's 5.3-in. display made one-handed use uncomfortable, but landing a thumb on the far corners of the Note II's screen verges on impossible. You need to roll the phone slightly in your hand just to get the other side of that AMOLED screen close enough. Taking pictures one-handed may be even more awkward.
So if you will use this thing, you'll need both hands free. If you accept that requirement, what do you get in return?
Reading and viewing are certainly more pleasant on that larger expanse of glass; with its 1,280 by 720 pixel resolution, you can fairly describe the Note II as an HDTV in your pocket. That extra space also allows you to play videos and view Web pages in small pop-up windows.
Like the original Note, this model includes an S-Pen stylus that you can extract from a well on the side of the phone. It can function as a more precise substitute for a fingertip; if you depress a tiny button on its side, the S-Pen can also bring up shortcut menus and clip selections of the screen as screen captures.
The Note II's bulk also accommodates an extra-large battery. An AT&T model loaned for this review lasted for 10 hours and 19 minutes of Web radio playback with the screen on–better than any other phone I've tested, much less most Android models on fast LTE connections. In a second test, it registered 85 82 percent of a charge after 24 hours left idling on a desk, almost as good as the iPhone 5.
I suppose those could be acceptable tradeoffs for losing the ability to use a phone with one hand. I have zero interest in that, but Samsung's sales numbers require me to accept that some people do.
But then there's the other issue with this phone: Samsung's inability to stop fussing with Android's interface.
Like the Galaxy S III, the Note II ditches Google's standard arrangement of menu buttons, impeding multitasking, confusing experienced users and burying Android's Google Now personal assistant. But then the Note II uses a completely different keyboard than the S III's, trading that model's irritatingly pushy auto-correct for one that doesn't fix your typos at all.