Samsung has called mid-2011 through mid-2012 its “year of innovation.” The five flagship Android smartphones introduced during that year have given competitors like Apple, HTC, Nokia and Motorola a run for their money, and have placed Samsung atop the global list of mobile makers. Samsung believes it can continue the trend, taking all of its new devices and features and combining them into one gigantic smartphone/tablet hybrid, the Galaxy Note 2.
When Samsung refers to its year of innovation it specifically is looking at five flagship devices in its Galaxy series:
- Galaxy S 2
- Galaxy Nexus
- Galaxy Note
- Galaxy S 3
- Galaxy Note 2
The Galaxy Note 2 is … interesting. It is bigger than its predecessor (5.55 inches over 5.3) and runs Samsung’s TouchWiz specifically designed to function with Samsung’s stylus, the S Pen. It will ship with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. What sets the Note 2 apart are its size and the S Pen. Without those two features, the Note 2 would essentially just be a big Galaxy S 3.
I have not been particularly kind to the notion of a smartphone stylus nor the S Pen. If Samsung really wants to differentiate itself from Apple’s iPad and iPhone, I have felt, it needs more than a stylus, smart or otherwise.
Perhaps I was harsh. According to Samsung, the original Galaxy Note shipped 10 million units worldwide. Not as robust as the 20 million Galaxy S III devices shipped since the smartphone’s launch earlier this year, but not a number to dismiss either, especially for a device that is neither smartphone nor tablet (Samsung calls it a “phablet”).
After some hands-on time with the Note 2 last week, I am ready to admit that the S Pen has more merit than I had originally thought. Samsung is focused on creating different types of interfaces and inputs, and the S Pen, while still a bit of a gimmick, has its merits.
For one, it changes the dynamics of how you interface with a touch-screen device. On a desktop, you hover over drop-down icons with the mouse to reveal more information. Hovering on touh screens has been a problem for developers.
The S Pen, through a feature called AirView, functions more like a mouse than a finger on a touch screen. Without touching the screen, the S Pen will create a cursor on the Note 2 that can interact with the screen. AirView is much improved from the original Note, nearly doubling the maximum distance (to about 10 milimeters) of the S Pen’s tip from the screen. The S Pen is much more responsive and provices a smoother experience than the original version.
The S Pen feature is a software-and-hardware design unique to Samsung. The stylus itself (which slides neatly into the case of the device) is nothing but plastic. No batteries or transmitters. All interaction with the device from the stylus originates from the Note 2.
There are about 50 apps that are specifically built for the S Pen. Samsung is targeting high-end developers like Adobe to create functionality for the stylus but any developer that wishes to can build for the S Pen through Samsung’s open software developer kit.
The rest of the Note 2 is part of the evolution of Samsung devices in its year of innovation. When the device comes to market, Samsung will heavily market its AllShare features, which enable you to share media among smarpthones along with new camera features such as a burst mode that takes several pictures quickly and picks the best one for your archives. There will also be a new group-shot burst mode for photos of groups of people.
The Note 2 has been announced globally but details the U.S. version, like hardware specs and telecom carriers, have not been revealed.
Does that mean that the Note 2 is the epic culmination of the year of innovation? If you are on Samsung’s marketing team, it does.
Yet, outside of the quirk that is the S Pen, other companies are creating similar features for sharing and photographing, especially HTC and Nokia.
"Year of innovation” reeks of a desperate attempt to show that Samsung is different and better than the competition, specifically Apple, which won a patent-infringement case against Samsung last month.
The Note 2 is the pinnacle of Samsung’s innovation thus far. But is it a device that stands above anything else coming to the market? The answer is a definitive no.