The Galaxy Note 2: One Giant Step for Android Phones

by Ben Bajarin   |   February 8th, 2013

DSC_26921If you have read much of what I have written here or at TIME, then you may be surprised at some of the conclusions my analysis of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 have yielded. I have not been shy about my affection for the iPhone. The iPhone is by far the most elegant, the most simple, and the most sophisticated mobile phone I have ever used. However, to keep a keen eye on the mobile landscape, I try and use all the flagship Android phones for a period of time as my primary smart phone. Up until the Note 2, I have never felt that Android, or larger phones for that matter, every really presented any significant value to me over the iPhone. That is until the Note 2.

I wrote a somewhat detailed analysis of Apple’s 4” iPhone vs. Android 4.7” phones last year. My conclusion from that analysis was that an Android phone in the 4.5-4.7” range did not present enough value for the tradeoff of one handed navigation. My conclusion is different since using the Note 2.

Related: Apple’s 4″ Plus iPhone 5 vs. Android 4″ Plus Devices

In that analysis I did with the 4” iPhone vs. a 4.7” Android phone I looked mostly at how information was presented. I looked at the web, email, twitter, FB, etc., and found that in most cases the amount of information displayed between the two OSes and screen sizes was roughly the same. The only major difference was that on the 4.7” screen the information was slightly larger. Again my takeaway was that although most information was larger, I didn’t see the value in the tradeoff of one handed navigation and or the robustness of iOS. It simply wasn’t a big enough difference in my opinion. That analysis led me to the conclusion that Android devices between the range of 4.5-4.7 inches were not worth the trade-off of one handed navigation.

Size Does Matter

This realization became clear to me in comparing the Samsung Galaxy GSIII to the iPhone. I used the GSIII for a few weeks but had the same feeling as I did when I compared the iPhone 5 to the Galaxy Nexus. Conclusion being the value of the larger 4.7″ screen was lost on me and it wasn’t worth the trade-offs. However, the Galaxy Note 2 is a different story.

After a few days of using the Note 2, I was struck by how good the experience of Android was on a phone over 5 inches. Oddly enough, it was a similar feeling to how I felt with the Nexus 7. Then these two experiences collided in my mind and I made a realization. I genuinely dislike Android on devices smaller than 5-inches and larger than 10-inches. Yet I like it a great deal on it on devices between 5-7 inches. It is an anomaly I know but that is exactly how I feel. It is almost if Android’s clearest differentiated value over the competition is in the 5-7 range. Both size ranges where iOS is not. Granted the iPad Mini comes close to the Nexus 7 in size, and the iPad Mini is significantly better than the Nexus 7 in my opinion, but I can see why people like and choose the Nexus 7. It is a good value and good experience for the price. Not the best, but for the price, good enough.

The Note 2 size range, however, feels to me like the area where Android really has a clear and distinct differentiated advantage. Again, part of this has to do with the fact that Apple does not offer an iOS device in this range so it is hard to compare. But its still a significant point from a competitive analysis standpoint.

The One Handed Mode Tradeoff

The strongest argument against these size phones is the one-handed operational trade-off and it is a very strong point. If one handed operation is important to you then stay away from devices 4.5-inches and above unless you have Lebron James size hands. But the key conclusion I made is that the trade-off of one-handed operation feels like less of a trade-off with the Note 2 than with any other 4.5-4.7” Android phone I have used. Any phone larger than 4.5” is going to require a trade-off of one-handed operation anyway so why not just go larger and get more value.

Interestingly, I had discussions with folks who owned the Note 2 and specifically many women. They told me that since they have smaller hands, most phones were already hard to use with one hand and therefore they simply wanted the biggest screen possible because they found that valuable. Many were overwhelmingly pleased with the Note 2. This makes my point that if one handed navigation is not that important to you then the value of the screen size experience of the Note 2 is significant.

Although much of my analysis of the 4.7” screen holds true with the Note 2 about information displayed, it is with the Note 2’s size range where bigger actually does feel better. Take Facebook for example. Comparing the Facebook app experience on the iPhone 5 vs. a 4.7” Android phone yields only slightly larger photos and media making the size difference moot in my opinion. However comparing the Facebook experience on the iPhone 5 vs. the Galaxy Note 2 yields much larger photos and media which resulted in quite a different experience. An experience that was definitely more tablet like than phone like.

Web browsing is another good example. I pointed out in my screen size analysis the web experience was nearly moot with the iPhone 5 and other Android 4.5-4.7” devices. However, with the Note 2 the difference in web browsing was significant. Not only were mobile sites larger and easier to read but so were full desktop sites. In fact with the Note 2, I set it to always bring up the desktop site. Never before have I done this on any non-iOS devices. Here is a side-by-side screen shot to scale of the Note 2 and the iPhone 5.

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It was examples like these where the bigger screen truly brought value. What really struck me is that the experience with the Galaxy Note 2 is more tablet like than phone like. This is probably a key point in why I think this form factor is so interesting. It is also one that makes it very hard, for the first time, to actually compare an Android phone with the iPhone.

Samsung has also done some interesting things in software to enable more ease of one hand use which led me to the conclusion that larger phones present the most opportunity for new hardware and software innovation.

Conclusion

In all the cases where I found the value of the Note 2 clearly differentiated was with regards to media. Photos, videos, games, social media apps, and other places were media was a key part of the experience. This is a key point because the use cases I identified where value is clear in a giant phone are exactly the ones that matter the most to the mass market.

My personal conviction is that the value of the 5” plus phones are worth some of the trade-offs of one handed navigation where 4.5-4.7″ devices are not. The primary point being that for devices where one-hand navigation is already difficult like ones above 4.5”, consumers are better off going larger in my opinion.

5″ smart phones are an are where a lot of innovation in hardware and software exists. Perhaps more so than any other smart phone form factor. Particularly around voice automation, smart sensors, gestures, and software.

So am I leaving the iPhone? No, for reasons I finally believe I can articulate and will share in a column soon. However, after using the Note 2, I can honestly say it is the best Android phone I have ever used and the only one I could identify tangible differentiated value.

Related: Apple’s 4″ Plus iPhone 5 vs. Android 4″ Plus Devices

For some deeper audio context to this column, click the play button below to listen to my interview on the Galaxy Note 2 and whether Apple should make a larger phone.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • http://profiles.google.com/lastone1968 LA Stone

    The problem with the way you’re looking at it, is that you’re using the iphone as the experience to be matched, and asking whether or not the Note can meet that experience. You could also ask whether or not the iphone can meet the experience of the Note. Then you could ask, which device does a better job of covering the advantages of the other. Because the Note 2 vs iphone 5 is not unlike a laptop vs an ipad. The way I see it, the Note makes tablets obsolete for some people. It gives creatives a platform to capture all of their ideas wherever they may be. And it does a pretty good job of making a phone call and posting on facebook. The iphone is severely outclassed unless you’re primarily concerned with one-handedness. The Note will definitely lose that contest.

    • benbajarin

      I followed the progression of a typical consumer. Most consumers in the market for a smartphone will consider the competition and the iPhone. As you can see from my key takeaways I concluded that is not possible and this device and category should be treated as its own.

      So we agree, I just followed the logical path to get there. I think for many markets a device like the Note can meet the needs of a phone and a person interested in something like a 7″ tablet but not a 10″ one.

      I’m working on market sizing for giant phones, but all signs keep pointing that its big enough.

  • Relentlessfocus

    I can see the use case argument for a Galaxy Note size phone depending on ones lifestyle requirements and prioities. Understandably women have a natural advantage in that carrying a Note in a purse is convenient in a way that carrying one in a trouser pocket can be awkward (save for guys who wear cargo trousers). Having to keep a Note sized phone in a backpack is clearly more awkward, I guess a bike courier bag (over the shoulder) would work. Where did you carry yours?

    • benbajarin

      Yes, I think pocket-ability is probably a top of mind concern. But myself and quite a healthy percentage of those I talked agreed it was a concern initially then not a big deal once they used it. I had no trouble keeping it in my pants pockets. Both my jeans for casual wear or my slacks for formal wear. It didn’t feel too bulky or large.

  • Kyrke

    For my device uses, I would be tempted by an iPad Mini which could be used as a phone. I would use a headset or on speaker, but I do that with my iPhone now. So thinking about it, Ben, you may have a good point. But as it is, I will just stay with my iPhone and leave my iPad 3 at home unless I know I will need it.

  • http://twitter.com/M_Gauche James King

    The question for me is: What is the maximum appropriate size of a “phablet”? Mobile computing devices seem to have optimal size ranges which determine their best use cases. For instance, laptops tend to be less useful when their screens are significantly smaller than 12″ diagonal. Tablets seem to have an optimum size range of 7″ to 10″ with 8″ seeming to have the best combination of size and portability. One-handed phone use seems to top out at roughly 4.2″ for average sized hands.

    It looks like 5″ is the reasonable minimum size for a phone that discourages one-handed use. I don’t think the maximum size has yet been determined. I wonder how large a phone can get before it has a true tablet’s use dynamics. It’s obviously under 7″ but I think even 6.5″ may put a device beyond the “phablet” range into true tablet territory.

  • mhikl

    Pretty sharp analysis, as usual, Ben. It is important to keep tabs on the competition and I hope Apple is doing the same and is not too proud to improve on trails grazed by them. Facsimile Sam deserves the same assault it uses on others. :)

    I’m am expecting (hoping) the iPhone 6 is more than an iteration of improvements, which is important, but some earth shaking needs to be done. I should like to see a big phone for the shortsighted or vigorous internet user; I’m both. So what if you can’t use it single-handedly, though some do have large paws and might appreciate it for that feature. Some might actually use their phones more for other exercises such as browsing, thinking and composing than walking round with it glued to their ear.

    LA Stone maybe correct: A larger iPhone might cannibalise even the iPad mini, but that may be what will happen with the Note 2 when seen by even an Apple enthusiast.

    On the other hand, with the quality of retina Apple might be able to get the same real-estate on a slightly smaller form.

  • http://profiles.google.com/elouisyoung Eric Young

    I could never go back to iphone. It’s not even worth going into the details of android benefits, because it is literally everything. And it is quite a joke for me to see the obviously hypnotized isheep not able to see the truth. I suggest you try to break free from your hypnotic slumber.

    • jfutral

      Then obviously you should continue to enjoy your Android phone and we are all happy for you, really. No belittling of others for their choices is necessary.

      Joe

      • mhikl

        Joe, I suspect that many complain when they miss the bigger picture. Higher end Android products offer the g-wiz tech that tinkerers desire whilst the majority just want to get on with their interests with a quality product that works without major tech study.

        John Martellaro over at macobserver.com has written a brilliant piece on this, “4 Big Reasons People Love to Hate Apple”, that gives understanding to displeased people such as Eric.

        We live in a great time when the needs of more people are being better met with the variety that makes up the tech market, but still, a vocal minority from both sides of this debate think they know what’s best for everyone.

  • Benmartin1974

    I had been considering ordering a galaxy nexus for a while. I read lots of reviews and this one was useful http://search4reviews.net/ , I got my order last week and am very happy. I Would highly recommend to anyone still unsure,

  • KEM

    Thanks for review. I tend to agree with described factors. I was always using apple devices, until out of curiosity tried 7 inch samsung tablet. I was trying to shoot two birds and see how would 7 inch tablet and android ics would work for me after std size ipad. I was pleasantly surprised i must say. Yes it takes a bit of time to get used to and quality of the tablet inferior compared to apple, but when you factor the price in, it completely changing the picture. It was enough for me to make a decision to go with galaxy note 2 as my new phone instead of iphone5. And i must say i am glad i did. Also, you have not mentioned s-pen in your review. In my opinion this is another substantial factor which motivated me towards note2

  • Cornstarch

    The galaxy note 2 even beats the Ipad 4 in specs: 1.6 ghz quadcore vs 1.4 ghz dualcore, 2 GB ram vs 1GB ram. I can go on but it’s up to you, the consumer, to look on the internet for the informations that points exactly what I listed and more. It’s shocking how Apple uses old technology and calls it new and charge the consumers an arm and leg for them

  • Bye iPhone

    Quad vs dual galaxy wins
    Sync vs drag n drop. galaxy wins
    Micro sd slot vs no memory expansion. galaxy wins
    The fact I can get media off more then one computer without having to delete everything – galaxy wins
    One handed useage iPhone wins who cares
    The best thing I done was get rid of this 4s for my galaxy
    Me and my misses have a kid and when we had iPhones we couldn’t put photos we have from different laptops onto our iPhones, with the galaxy it was simple drag and drop from one plug into the other drag and drop presto. I love you have no limits restrictions on a android device