On why the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is the king of the phablet market

by: Mike AndriciOctober 31, 2012

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.

The LG Optimus Vu series. Or why 4:3 doesn’t work on phablets

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?

HTC’s Butterfly has the specs, but lacks the software

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.

S-Pen: use it or leave it

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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 still rullz

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?

  • Dave McGuire

    To bad none are currently available!!

  • saurabhaj

    I hate when i read Samsung Touchwiz UI is not better,
    to me its the best UI than SenseUI or stock Android OS,
    Its far simple,pleasant,fonts are clean,
    and nothing to do more on it,
    Its not glamorous and not as simple as LG UI,

    • kev2684

      i hate touchwiz too with the GSII. I rooted mine and slapped AOSP on it, but touchwiz on GNote II is really good. it’s not as pretty or polished as vanilla Android, but all the features that came with Touchwiz on the Note II and S III definitely makes it better than stock Android. Note II with vanilla android is just a big ass android smartphone with a stylus. Touchwiz separates Note II and S III from the rest.

      • RaptorOO7

        TouchWiz UI is better compared to Sense and MotoBlur and I have used so many Android devices from LG, Moto, Samsung, Nexus & HTC and I can say TouchWiz has risen to the top with a virtual tie with Nexus Stock UI.

        The only gripe I have is with Google and and so called Android Alliance that was supposed to promise updates for 18 months which went NO WHERE. Between the carriers and OEM’s you are lucky to get one OS update if that. Moto has screwed so many customers over I do not ever plan on getting another Moto device.

        Samsung at least has done better.

  • MrMLK

    As a long time iOS user, I can say that the Note 2 is the first Android phone that tempted me. In fact, I was so taken in by my 30 minutes of playing with it that I have ordered one am currently waiting for it arrive.

    I’m on Verizon, so the next 4 weeks are going to go like molasses.

    • I ordered one too

      • squirtle

        me too, full retail and didn’t even shed a tear

    • dude..u wont regret..trust me..U might just become android fan after this.. .;)

  • The Galaxy Note loses me in a couple of ways:

    1) Price. Its just too expensive. $370 with a contract extension from T-Mobile or $750 unlocked versus $300 for a Nexus 4 unlocked. That’s a hard sell.

    2) Touchwiz. The pen apps and split-screen multi-tasking seem like genuinely useful additions that I wish would get incorporated into the core Android OS, but the reskinning needs to just stop. I don’t mind Samsung building apps to bundle with their phones, but leave the look of the core OS alone please. And for the love of god use the Holo theme in your apps. Above all, DO NOT hire Scott Forstall and put him in charge of your app design, which given their current set of apps seems like the kind of thing they would like to do. Just ugh.

    3) AMOLED screens. AMOLED has a lot of advantages over LCDs… in theory. But they just can’t touch the latest laminated SLCDs in terms of image quality. Color accuracy, brightness, power consumption, and sharpness are all superior on the latest SLCDs. I’m tired of the grainy, off-color whites and light greys on my Galaxy Nexus. I’m ready for a phone with a top-notch beautiful display.

    • Jack12

      I have a hard time believing the Nexus 4 could even be an option for anyone living in 2012. It has a MAXIMUM capacity of 16 GB of storage with NO MICROSD SLOT. That isn’t the bare minimum a phone should have… I can’t fathom how someone could even use a device with that little storage.

      • Why’s that? I have a Galaxy Nexus with only 16 GB of internal storage and no SD card, and I would probably opt for the 8 GB Nexus 4 just to save a little money.

        I don’t need storage on my phone. 8 GB is plenty for the occasional video I might want to drop on there for a long trip. But even then I’ll be bringing a laptop or tablet with me too.

        This is 2012, Jack. It’s the age of the cloud. Upload your books to Amazon, your music to Google, and stream your video from Netflix and Hulu or a Plex Media Server.

        Or, since all these things support USB host, you can plug in a thumb drive or SD card reader with a micro USB host adapter.

        And anyway, you didn’t address a single point I made in my post. :(

        • Ya boiii

          This is the age of bandwidth caps. If you’re like most people, you have ~2GB of data and will blow through that quickly after a day of music streaming.

          Not everyone stays at home and has access to Wifi all day.

          • I purposely spent a month TRYING to reach my data cap. Never turning wifi on, streaming music to and from work every day, and streaming video with no care to limits. And at the end of the month, I was only at 1.5 gigs. So either you stream 24/7 or you are pulling numbers out of your ass.

          • Ya boiii

            Cool story bro, except it has no facts.

            I do have facts, though.

            Last month, I streamed (from Spotify) about 2 hours a day.
            Spotify uses about 1 mb per minute. That’s 120 mb in a day, for just 2 hours of music. That’s over 2GB if you only stream music for 20 days in a month (which is reasonable).

            That’s without using anything else. Data goes really quickly.

            You must have been trying really hard watching 3 videos.

          • I have a grandfathered unlimited plan. It’s the original T-Mobile Android plan that came with the G1.

            I also have wifi at work AND at home that I connect to with my phone.

            I’m also not afraid to pick and choose what music and videos I have on my phone at any given moment. I’m old enough to have owned a 128 MB MP3 player (yes, that’s MEGA bytes). Sure was a nice upgrade from a portable CD player and book of CDs. A lot smaller and it didn’t skip if the bus hit a bump.

        • AppleSucksForLife

          If you use cloud you can not access it without internet connection unlike sd card

    • hezh

      You can’t use the display of the Galaxy Nexus, which is pentile, to compare the display used by the note 2 with slcd. Personally I prefer amoled display. I’m still using my Galaxy S2 as in my opinion, the quality is the best.

      • I didn’t realize the Note 2 was not pen tile. That certainly helps quite a bit. That just leaves brightness and color accuracy. Brightness is mitigated by the very dark blacks and high contrast, and car accuracy can be fixed in software.

        I was looking for the “+” on the end of the screen tech (as in Super AMOLED+), but this time around they used an “HD” prefix to indicate an rgb sub pixel arrangement.

        Well that makes the Note 2 a bit more appealing then. Price is the big issue, $70 extra and I have to re-up my contract.

  • fadilkarim

    I totally agree with this article. The LG is just retarded, it’s not even a remote that to the note 2, the HTC is a spec beast but lacks the software and the size! 5inches is more like a big phone, I definitely don’t consider it to be a phablet. That’s why I got my note 2 on t mobile the day it came out.

  • on, the subject of skins, why don’t manufacturers load several different skins so you can choose? isn’t one of the major advantages of android choice? what do you guys think?

    • Josh

      Or better yet, why doesn’t Android support a standard means of replacing the skin independent of the core OS? Think of the customization options that would be opened up if skins could be installed from the Play store like any other app. Think how much faster manufacturers could push updates if the skins they apply were fully decoupled from other device-specific code.

  • tjs

    The HTC 6 inch screen with a minimum bezel size to keep the width close to a Note, and some work on the software and less bloatware than the Note should sell!
    I have a Note, couldn’t wait for the Note 2, and really like it. Note 3 should be the next one I’ll get.

  • RaptorOO7

    After watching the Android Authority video review and the details they covered I put my 1 month old iPhone 5 (and accessories) up for sale on eBay today. Priced to move so I can order the GN2. The benefits of having a true multi-tasking device, S-Pen features will actually save me from carrying multiple devices around (most) of the time.

  • BrianD

    It’s been a week with Note II (switching from AT&T iPhone 4S), this device is basically changing my life style. I do not carry my 2012 Retina Macbook Pro to the meetings anymore, our iPad is collecting dust at home. After getting used to s Pen and TouchWiz for some time, I have been pleasantly surprised how much better my life and work can be with this device. Note II truly redefined what “smart” phone is supposed to do. People just can get this until they have open mind and experience it. I know it is tough – yes I was one of them. I hope more and more people can experience this wonder.

  • Yes.

  • Alex Cordova

    I think that a good alternative that Android Phone Manufactures should use in the future would be give the end user a choice on how they want their phone. Have an option for the first time set up wizard. Where you have an option to select STOCK ANDROID or ANDROID VERSION THAT HAS BEEN TOUCHED BY THE MANUFACTURE lol I think that maybe will help. As far as the Galaxy Note 2, I personally would rather have it the way it is, and reason for it is because it has a lot more features that Samsung have spent time putting on the device, than what STOCK android can give me with the S-Pen

  • Genus Boxx

    I haven’t pick one up just yet, but will in the next few weeks. Good bye 10″ Android Tablet plus separate Android Phone: Hello All in One Super Phablet Galaxy Note 2.

    Anybody heard any news on the Dual Sim Galaxy Note 2 that supposed to be released in China? I been trying to hold out for this version before buying the International GN2, but I have been waiting for the GN2 before it was announced..

  • Tekn0
  • AT&T can Suck it

    I bought a galxnote2 on Tmo crazy fast. It is monkeys to humans. It looks the right size to me now and all other devices look like toys. This is a productivity weapon, an entertainment device , note pad, calendar. The only thing it is missing is a freaking rocket pack and a time machine.

    Dinosaurs ruled the planet until the asteroid! Welcome to the future I will take the extra large jet pack.

  • sguyx

    i definitely love my note 10.1, so if youre buying note II, ibet you will like it. i just wanted to have a tablet as well as having a phone, so i bought a 10.1 and it has almost replaced my laptop :p

  • I got note 2 i may say was amazing for me it’s best as of now.

  • I can’t fucking wait any longer for my Note 2. I’m going crazy just thinking about the beautiful, powerful, and vibrant phone. I had a iphone 4 and hated it. After switching to the galaxy s3 i loved it and decided to stay with andriod.

    • pjhfmd

      my sentiments exactly, cant fuckin wait for mine!!

  • ptsd

    ill be getting a galaxy note II instead of an iPhone 5(waiting for the phone to arrive), does the AMOLED screen of the Note II still need a screen protector? if yes what brand is best? thanks!