Samsung has smartly cast basketball player Lebron James as the lead spokesman for the Galaxy Note II, its even-huger followup to the already-huge (and surprisingly successful) Galaxy Note smartphone, released in 2011.
Hiring Lebron was a canny move (even if it means Samsung is almost assured to sell zero Galaxy Notes in Cleveland because of it) for one very specific reason: The man possesses enormous, gigantic, gargantuan hands. Lebron's hands are way bigger than your hands, hands that can palm a basketball with ease, hands that would stretch out your mittens if you let him borrow them.
The man has huge hands and in them, the Galaxy Note II looks like a normal-sized smartphone. In your hands, the Galaxy Note II looks like a comically-oversized cell phone prop built especially for some miserable Carrot Top routine; in Lebron's, it looks natural.
This veneer of normalcy is paramount to the Note II's success: Because if you can convince people that the dimensions of the device are, in fact, normal, and get them to focus on the performance of the phone itself, then you actually have one of the preeminent smartphones available. Independent of its size, the Note II is fast at loading applications and surfing the web; the screen is beautiful; the battery life is among the best you can get, spanning multiple days on a single charge in my tests.
And yet: You cannot operate it with one hand. It might not fit in your tighter pants or shorts. You might be embarrassed to whip it out at a club or business meeting. There is a chance that the Galaxy Note II is bigger than the entire right side of your face, so that whenever you hold the Note up to take a call, your whole head disappears behind the monolithic wall of your phone. (Only slightly kidding).
I want to show you two photos of the Galaxy Note II, which I have been testing for several weeks, that I think capture the greatest advantage and disadvantage of the Note 2.
The first photo shows the front page of The Huffington Post on the Galaxy Note II next to the front page of The Huffington Post on the iPhone 5. On the Note, you are getting larger photos and text, with links and buttons that are easier to click. The experience of the site does not feel constrained or needlessly shrunken to fit in a screen. The content has room to breathe, and there's no need to zoom in to read any of the text:
The second photo shows HuffPost Tech Editor Bianca Bosker holding both the iPhone and the Galaxy Note II in her (dominant) right hand. With the iPhone, her thumb comfortably reaches the top of the screen and can stretch across the length of the device to strike all of the keys on the keyboard; with the Galaxy Note II, her thumb reaches up just above the halfway point of the phone, and her thumb strains to hit the leftmost keys on the keyboard, making typing with one hand uncomfortable at best, impossible at worst:
This is the central paradox of the Galaxy Note II, the best argument for it and the best argument against it. The Note's screen is huge, but also, the Note's screen is huge. It spans mountains. If Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were in the water with a Galaxy Note II instead of that plank of wood at the end of Titanic, there would have been room for both to float to safety, and Jack and Rose would both be alive today.
Yes, it's large; but it is also, as the kids say, in charge. Independent of its size, the Galaxy Note II has a whole lot of features that make it a legitimate top-flight iPhone alternative and premium smartphone.
The screen, for example, is brilliant, beautiful, and responds quickly to your touch. The large (yet light!) body allows for a huge battery that will easily last you the entire day. Call quality is good. The Android operating system, along with its excellent maps, email, and camera applications, is easy to navigate and control on the large screen. There's also a stylus, which, though I didn't find a reason to use over the normal course of use, is quite precise, for those who do.
And, too, the Galaxy Note II might be an ideal smartphone for seniors. All of the buttons and the text are by default so large that an older user can easily read texts and emails, dial the phone and hit each key on the keyboard.
But then, with the Note II, you can practically forget one-handed use. Just as there are two-handed sandwiches, so too is this a two-handed smartphone. You won't be able to type text messages with one hand or idly scroll the web on the couch with one hand. Almost everything you're going to want to do with the phone -- take photos, make phone calls, browse the web -- you're going to need that second hand.
This is a trade-off, I have no doubt, that many of you are willing to make. For the speed of the Note, and the crisp, roomy display, and the marathoner's endurance of the battery, you are willing to take both hands out of your pockets to use your phone. For others, smaller high-powered smartphones like the iPhone 5, Nexus 4 or Motorola's Droid Razr M are more suitable.
As Lauren Goode at All Things D wrote, it's a matter of personal size preference, and for some the Galaxy Note II will be a non-starter, an instant turnoff. I'd suggest heading to your local phone merchant to try the Note before you buy the Note: You'll want to feel it in your own (presumably average-sized) hands before you commit.