T-Mobile’s Samsung Galaxy Note II Review (Part 3)

7/2/2013 11:19:29 AM


As we mentioned, the hardware specs are identical except for some specific changes for the service providers. How about firmware, which is commonly object for unauthorized apps and changes for other providers? We will ask you to erase that surprising look out of your face but let’s be real: now you don’t have. There’s no shock here, while you can wait for the familiar TouchWiz UI running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, all service providers have their own voices about which apps and features would be added into its firmware.

The familiar TouchWiz UI running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

The familiar TouchWiz UI running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

Our important point is to discuss which general apps can be found on Note II. Regardless that you will buy Note from any providers, this will be the first Samsung device coming with pre-installed Jelly Bean. This means you can benefit from features like Google Now (accessed by long-pressing menu button), which is a card-based system via which the phone learn interests, habits and other info when you use it. You can also get access to extendable notification pages, you may have a lot of details about notifications by looking at it. Offline maps are available at custom on Note II. Samsung likes adding smart and supportive features in an effort to differentiate its UX from what the customer may find in competitive interfaces. Most of them are handy but even some frequent TouchWiz users can see that, like Galaxy S III, there’s a little knowledge need to learn. A bunch of gesture controls, S Pen features and proprietary functions… create an interesting experience… once you dig into them. Guides are available through apps but it take a while to get used to what is provided and know what is really useful for you. Warning: if you buy this phone, expect the disappointment in first few weeks when you start making friend with it.

One of the sections needing to be acquainted is gesture control. Samsung has some smart stuff by taking advantages of many sensors used in Note II. This is not the company’s new major because we saw the majority of them have been launched in GS3. For instance, you can scroll up to the screen’s top by double-tapping the phone’s upper edge (one of our favorite tasks); tilting to zoom in/out in the gallery or the browser; panning the phone to move icons on home screens; shaking the phone to look for updates; flipping it to mute; calling any contact listed on screen… They are quite interesting and it’s likely that you can only find some really useful things but there’re available options at your favor.

New with the JB TouchWix UX are some modes. You have Blocking Mode, similar to “Don Not Disturb” in iOS 6. With a schedule specific for you – for example from 11PM until 6AM – you can set a blank list including allowed contacts and disable specific notifications from someone. This is a good idea for anyone who doesn’t want to walk up some times during night sleep just to see incoming emails and other unnecessary notifications. Another new one is the Easy Experience Mode which is not really useful. In general, this mode is how Samsung introduces for first-hand smartphone users before the messy world of TouchWiz. When it is activated, you are brought to a new launcher offering customization pages and large-sized readable functions. Besides, there’s not much to distinguish it from TouchWiz, and it feels like a trick of ad rather than an advantage.

Samsung installed some features taking full advantage of the front camera in an innovative way. Smart Stay, which we focused on in GS3 review, prevents the screen from being blurred when you are reading it. Meanwhile, Smart Rotation (new with Note II and Jelly Bean) will keep the screen’s similar direction as long as you face is staying straight to the camera – though your body is staying at an angle. For instance, you can read something on the phone while lying in bed without worrying that the screen will be change into landscape mode.

Quick Glance is first-time on Note II. This special features shows some basic notifications when you waving at the macro sensors. On paper, this not only save the time but also battery life by just activating a small part of the screen whenever you want to check if there’s any missed call or sms.

Multi-Window mode

Multi-Window mode

Popup Video present here and it looks better on large screen in comparison with we experienced on Galaxy S III. Choose a destined video, press popup button in the right corner in the screen’s bottom and the video will be floating on half of the screen (and you may pinch-to-zoom in order to adjust the size at custom), giving you a free hand to take care of other tasks while watching your favorite movie. Other apps take full advantage of this multitasking ability, for instance, Popup Note (activated with S Pen) and Popup Browser.

Note II is the first device that has ever owned Samsung’s latest Multi-Window mode. A long-pressing the Back button brings a sub menu which can hide some apps, including YouTube, ChatOn, Gmail, Maps, and Internet etc… Drag and drop one of the apps on the screen’s upper half, and repeat the operation to bring the second app to the lower half. As you can see, this gives you a real chance of multi-tasking with some most used apps. Such functions are good at taking full advantage of the large screen space, and in the review of N7100, we realized the quad-core processor helped thins incredibly smooth in this two-screen setting.

This is a problem with Multi-Windows: it won’t be available in any US model by the time of release. Unfortunately, N7100 faces the same issue, as first releases didn’t have pre-installed features until firmware updates would solve the problem a week later. We are still looking forward to Samsung’s response, but feel very disappointed seeing such big feature being neglected.

T-Mobile software

T-Mobile were good at decorating TouchWiz with its own drawers. The provider’s casual apps (T-Mobile account, Name ID, TV, Visual Voicemail etc…) are available, like some other apps and home screen’s utilities, but according to the company, they can be disabled. You also have access to 50GB free storage from Dropbox in the next two years. Now are some bad news: Carrier IQ is activated, FM radio is unsupported and as mentioned before, the Multi-Windows we hoped in the N7100 review didn’t work… haven’t worked by the least.

T-Mobile were good at decorating TouchWiz with its own drawers

T-Mobile were good at decorating TouchWiz with its own drawers

Pull the notification menu down, you will see a continuous notification listing your current usage in the month. You can monitor the amount of minutes, messages and data here, and it is very smart. However, it can be removed and not all people like the way it occupies a lot of space in menu while it can be easily added to the home screen as a utility. (It can be accessed via T-Mobile My Account app, and data usage can be found in settings menu, with normal Android notification configurations). You will see a similar notification on the menu whenever Wi-Fi calling is activated. This special Note II version also includes Need for Speed Most Wanted game. The game is pre-installed with MOGA support, which will be sold in T-Mobile’s store in the November – as well as other retailers do – for $50. We haven’t have any chance playing with MOGA, but we will soon try it and update the review after gaining some impression from it.

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