I knew Samsung had a hit on its hands the first time I saw the original 5.3-inch Galaxy Note at IFA in Berlin last year. I immediately loved the monster smartphone and I knew others would too. Even though initial reviews poo-pooed it as a too big to be a phone, too small to be a tablet, I knew there would be a big market for a device with so much screen but small enough to put in large pockets or in a purse. As Apple is showing with its bigger iPhone 5 and smaller iPad mini, there is no one size fits all solution and people are after devices in the middle.

Samsung offloaded 5 million of these things in the first month of sales and  Samsung Exec JK Shin expects Samsung to sell three times as many of the Galaxy Note 2. I believe the Note 2 will sell well because it is significantly improved in almost every way:

Starting with the SuperAMOLED display which has been elongated and increased to a gorgeous  5.5 inches, the phone is very slightly longer and narrower than its predecessor making it slightly easier on the pockets. The screen reaches further toward the edges as well meaning you get as much screen as possible in this form factor. As with most Samsung phones, the color on display is beyond vibrant and blacks are as deep as you’ll see anywhere. You’ll enjoy significanly more pixels on the Note than even the iPad Mini (1280×720 vs 1024×768)

The version I was sent for review was a T-Mobile version which didn’t get to show of LTE but network speeds were very impressive and call quality was as good as it gets.  I think Samsung also juiced the speaker on this update because I was able to do a speakerphone conversation from about halfway across the room without complaints on the other side.

The camera is the same quality as the Galaxy S3 which is to say excellent in both video and stills. Reviewing media on that big 5.5″ display is a pleasure. Samsung’s phone app beats stock Android with a bunch of features and sharing option including face recognition.

Just like my original Note, I didn’t find the improved, larger stylus that useful in day to day usage. I know Samsung is pushing stylus use as a differentiator and I was able to clumsily use the much-improved Stylus for a number of tasks including the much improved S Note app, but in my day to day life, it doesn’t factor in very much. The one thing I do enjoy doing is taking a picture, writing a note on it and then sending it off with some personalization. I imagine the Stylus would come to become a better tool with more practice.

Android 4.1.1 flies on the Note 2 even with the heavy Touchwiz overlay. Lag is rare and even running two apps next to each other (an admitted hack) seems to work OK. Gaming is great too with the Samsung’s Gamehub filling that niche.

I also didn’t find much use for Samsung’s S Voice, the Vlingo-powered Siri-ish voice assistant. I much prefer Google’s Voice actions which you need to dig down a little to find.

Wrapup:

It is really unfortunate that the Note 2, or all of Samsung’s devices really, don’t come in pure Android variety or the option to remove the Touchwiz overlay.  The same things I enjoy about the Nexus 7, I found it hard to enjoy on the Note 2 – Google Now for instance..  Perhaps it is just that I need to use my brain differently with Touchwiz but why should I have to when switching between Android 4.1 devices?

Otherwise, this is a great phone/device. If you are an original Note user, this is a great update. If you have room in your pockets or purse for a large phone like this, certainly give it a look.

The device will be available in retail stores and online at www.T-Mobile.com and paired with a qualifying T-Mobile Value voice and data plan and two year service agreement, the Note II will cost an out-of-pocket down payment of $249.99 with 20 equal monthly payments of $20 per month via T-Mobile’s Equipment Installment Plan (EIP). The Value plan paired with EIP is offered at T-Mobile retail stores. Customers can also purchase the Samsung Galaxy Note II at T-Mobile retail stores and online for $369.99 with a qualifying T-Mobile Classic voice and data plan and two year service agreement.

AT&T announced yesterday that they would also carry the Note 2 available Nov. 9, Pre-orders Begin Oct. 25.