Despite the fact that the original Samsung Galaxy Note was not the first Android device to carry a large display (the Dell Streak carried 5 inch display of its own and was released back in July 2010, but only to limited success), back when Samsung introduced the OG Note back in June 2011, the Android phablet market was basically non-existent.
Taking into consideration the low previous sales figures in the segment, combined with the degree of skepticism with which many have greeted the idea of a phablet (smartphone with a very large display) at the time, the commercial success of the original Note has surprised many, from bloggers and end consumers to market analysts and even other Android manufacturers.
Fast forward a little more than a year and Samsung’s risk has turned into welcomed profit for the top smartphone manufacturer in the world, and not only that, but it has also created a place for phablets in the Android ecosystem. Samsung has proven that phablets can sell well if properly marketed and designed, and as a result, other Android manufacturers are more than willing to take a try at reaching out to this new market (personally, I see it more like a sub-market of smartphone, but hopefully you’ll get the point).
Out of the top Android manufacturers, only LG and HTC currently aim to take a bit out of Samsung’s complete dominance in the phablet market. I’m sure others are about to follow (Sony is rumored to be working on both a 5 inch and a 6 inch phablet, Huawei are also rumored to be working on a phablet), but if nothing out of the ordinary happens, it looks like all phablet manufacturers completely miss out on what defines a phablet.
LG are really doing their best to copy what Samsung is doing with Android. I get it that the rivalry is as intense as they come between manufacturers from the same country, but LG is currently following Samsung’s footsteps a bit to the extreme.
As far LG’s efforts to copy the Galaxy Note go, it has released a couple of phablets as part of their LG Optimus Vu series (the second one made it to the US as the Verizon LG Intuition). Both of them turned into failures thanks to the insane aspect ratio used by their displays: 4:3.
Although this aspect ratio seems to work on devices that you have to use with both hands (uhm… tablets), LG’s Optimus Vu line is a perfect example on why 4:3 is not a good aspect ratio for phablets, as it makes the device feel too much like a tablet. While the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is 5 mm less wide than the Optimus Vu 2, it uses a display that measures 5.5 across the diagonal, whereas both members of the Vu line use 5 inch displays.
If you’re going to be unable to comfortably use your phablet with just one hand, it should at least have that largest possible display, right?
Although the HTC Butterfly is in plenty ways a better device than the Galaxy Note 2, i find it difficult to believe that it is a better phablet.
The HTC Butterfly gets it right with the display resolution, PPI, aspect ratio and internal hardware. In addition, HTC is also a company that regularly receives positive feedback from its fan base (not to mention that, in contrast with LG, HTC actually has such a thing), so there is that as well. So why isn’t the HTC Butterfly the best phablet around despite being an awesome Android device?
First of all there’s the fact that the Butterfly is currently standing at just 0.3 inches more across the diagonal when compared to the new HTC smartphone flagship, the HTC One X+ (also bear in mind that most other Android flagships of the fall 2012 season use displays that measure at least 4.7 inches across the diagonal). By comparison, the Galaxy Note 2 uses display larger than the Butterfly by 0.5 inches, thus offering 1.4 times the screen real estate. Another thing that we should take into the consideration is the fact that reading ebooks on a 5.5 inch display is to a certain degree easier than reading ebooks on a 5 inch display.
Then there’s the fact that Samsung’s version of Android comes with a unique set of Smart Functions. Smart Stay is awesomely useful for reading ebooks, while S Beam will allow you to transfer files almost instantly between a pair of Galaxy Note 2 phablets or between a Note 2 and a Galaxy S3 (and God knows there’s an awful lot of those around, right?). In addition, the Note 2 comes with the first Android version of true multitasking, also a feat that no other manufacturer has accomplished.
Samsung has managed to come up with features that are actually useful and has layered those on top of Android. Sure, the Samsung Touchwiz UI is not as pleasing as that of stock Android (or maybe even as the HTC Sense UI), but on the Note 2 there’s a ton lot more things you can do. Maybe they are not all that innovative, but regarded as a bulk, it looks like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2 is running some sort of premium version of Android.
Despite all the above, what really makes the Samsung Galaxy Note series unique in every sense of the way is its unique accessory – the S Pen.
The S Pen is more than just your basic stylus. Besides being able to recognize hundreds of different pressure levels, it also has a few buttons that can access specific custom functions. But the best part about it is the way that the S Pen works with the software.
And it’s not just Samsung’s software as the South Korean manufacturer (the better one) has played its cards right and has released the S-Pen SDK so that all app developers can start writing code that uses the unique properties of the “overrated stylus”. And, since Samsung sells a whole lot of S-Pen enabled devices (OG Note, Note 2, Note 10.1), these developers can actually write apps that draw in users.
I’m not partial to Samsung, or any other manufacturer, but as far as phablets go, the Galaxy Note 2 is a complete device, not just a spec powerhouse. And until other manufacturers realize that they need to add genuinely useful features and accessories to their devices, the note 2 will still be the best phablet you can buy.
On the other hand, if you’re on the lookout for an Android smartphone make sure you check out my selection of flagship Android smartphones for the fall 2012 season.
Interested in a compact smartphone? You options are quite limited at the moment, but some gems still exist in that market as well.
What do you guys think: is the Note 2 untouchable as a phablet? Let us know what you think in the comment section below, will you?