Some years ago, I wrote a long blog about picking the right smartphone for myself. Since the iPhone 4 is quite dated now, I decided it was time to binge and get the latest the world had to offer as far as phones were concerned.
Quite frankly, despite the awesome usability of iPhones and iOS, the restrictive nature of Apple’s ecosystem was wearing me down. For example, it took several years to get the official Gmail client, or navigation from Google. Nevertheless, I was ready to continue putting up with it, but only as long as the screen size grew big enough to serve my needs.
I’m a big time surfer on the phone. In fact, I use it more as a tablet than a phone. No doubt I hold it to my head a bit, but not quite as much as staring at the little screen. My next phone had to have a decent screen that made reading more comfortable. The corresponding larger size would fit well in my bigger hands and not kill my fingers as much as the 3.5″ iPhone was. It would also be a big plus if it encouraged me to produce content such as actually replying to emails and perhaps the occasional blog post.
When the iPhone 5 finally came out with just a marginally larger screen, it was a big disappointment. I knew right away that I had to look elsewhere. The Samsung Galaxy S3 was the next logical candidate, what with the great reviews it was getting but when I heard of the Galaxy Note and its successor, I was sold.
The smartphone landscape has changed a lot in the last couple of years. Whereas in 2010 the iPhone was only available on AT&T, today it is almost ubiquitous. Similarly, excellent Android smartphones from all major manufacturers are available across the board. Picking a smartphone is no longer tightly coupled with picking a service provider.
I’ve had the Galaxy Note 2 for around three months now and it is just spectacular. The fact that it has a huge screen was the main reason I got it but it has proved itself in multiple ways.
The screen is beautiful and makes surfing a pleasure. No doubt it has the same resolution as the S3 but reducing the font size in some apps allows me to comfortably see a lot more on the screen at a time. Desktop web sites are also legible and readable. As such I rarely used my iPad, mostly relying on my iPhone, both at home and on the go. As simple as it is, maintaining two devices gets boring after some time. With this phone, a 10″ tablet is too clunky and any 7″ tablet is too much of a hassle to reach for. And my old iPhone is suddenly bewilderingly small.
My primary concern with the large size was whether it would fit in my pocket and be easy to carry around. Over the last couple months, I’ve not faced much of a problem here since I’m taller and have big pockets. Women can also throw their phones in their handbags and not be bothered much. However, handling the phone will remain the primary challenge. My wife, for example, even found her S3 with the Otterbox Commuter case too large and cumbersome, good luck with a Note 2. I also initially opted not to put on a case since it would make the Note 2 even heavier and larger. However, this makes owning this phone scarier and almost off limits to the kids save when I’m actively watching. I eventually ended up with a TPU case just to save my mind.
The Note 2’s large size does make it difficult for me to maneuver with one hand but using both hands has been comfortable and ergonomic for me. Further, it makes me use the phone less, especially in circumstances where only one hand is available, such as while driving or walking, making it much less of a distraction. No doubt that’s a twisted logic but it depends on how you look at things. For many people, this fact alone will make this phone impractical. There is a one hand usage optimization for the keyboard but I’ve not used it much since only the stock keyboard supports it. Accessories such as the FlyGrip can make the phone a bit more usable. I’ll share my thoughts on this accessory in a future post.
The next great feature of the phone is the battery. It easily lasts for more than a day despite my more than normal usage. Also the removable battery means you can carry an unlimited supply of juice. I have two batteries and have not been worried about battery life one bit. I do have a task killer running that keeps things running lean but am not paranoid with other settings like disabling the GPS or WiFi radio when not in use. I got a separate charger for the second battery and don’t need to carry a long cable anymore either. Now, putting the phone in a case does complicate this workflow – most sturdy cases are horrendously hard to remove and constantly removing them will make them loose and ineffective. Choose your poison. I settled for a cheap TPU case that’s easy to remove and protects the screen protector with its lip.
Yet another great improvement is Android with its freedom and customizability. I’m allowed to use my phone as a normal computer, download and unzip files, access the file system and what not without having to jailbreak or deal with iTunes. I’m not much for customizing since it is time consuming to setup and painful to recreate. However, the freedom to pick an alternate keyboard, unlike on iOS, is simply fantastic. Which brings me to Swype, a super effective way to type quickly on smartphones. Going back to using this phone with both hands, Swype fits the use case beautifully. In fact, this entire blog was written using this phone with Swype, 90% in one 1.5 hour sitting and my fingers and hands aren’t hurting from all this typing.
All the apps I used on iOS are available on Android and I’m not missing out on anything except for Find My iPhone which is quick and easy unlike the dozen Android solutions I had to try before settling for Avast. Besides this, the transition hasn’t been too drastic. Of course, Android suits me better since I’m more of a power user while my wife still finds her S3 non-intuitive and frustrating since she is so used to iOS. A simple example of this is the number of clicks needed to initiate a phone call.
Since Swype has proved super effective, the S Pen hasn’t seen much usage beyond my kids’ drawings. I’d be okay if it wasn’t included. The handwriting recognition packaged by Samsung is amazing and recognizes my scribbles quickly. It will definitely prove itself to folks used to paper and pen.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 has proved to be a great upgrade for me from the iPhone 4. I’ve made my primary device a lot more capable, better conforming to my needs and now my only device. While it is now a much heavier phone, the larger screen is hard to part with. Perhaps the newer S4 might be a better middle ground – larger but not too large for my hands.
At least we all have a choice.