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A Samsugn Galaxy Note 2 replaces my 5 year old ENV3 feature phone

(C) Samsung 2013 All Rights Reserved 

I have long waxed and waned about how "Smartphones Suck", with poor battery life, overpriced data and security issues that combine to what amounts to carrying a spy satellite in ones pocket with a battery that dies after 1 day.
After spending quality time with a Asus Nexus 7 over the last year or so I came to appreciate the virtues of Android Jelly Bean, and this gave me pause to seriously consider an android smartphone. Alas after a lot of research I found one that I can live with, the gigantic Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (GN2).

Hello Android!

Yes the Galaxy Note 2 is going to become my next phone, or Phablet (something akin to the offspring of a phone and a tablet). If you read the reviews online and talk to people who operate a GN2, it will become obvious why the GN2 is much more than an iPhone competitor. To understand why I choose the GN2 over the iPhone 5 I will go with a list of key points.

1. When I learned that Google and Tesla are partnered at a deep level financially, I decided to get an android phone.

2. After playing with a Nexus 7 tablet for more than a year I have come to appreciate the new versions of Android.

3. Many people I interact with regularly love the Galaxy Note 2, and the raving reviews and very high average review scores from many sources online with lots of end user feedback that is positive was very encouraging.

4. I love Wacom tablets and never purchase one except a Bamboo that I got my wife (the artist). The Note 2 has the Wacom pen / digitizer technology built in, and for me this was a strong selling feature. I love to doodle, but find myself not doing it much lately. Perhaps this phone with the built-in Wacom fun will end that dry spell for good!

5. Having a decent camera with a big review screen is a solid plus.

6. Reasonably acceptable battery life from the 3,100 mAh battery in the GN2 actually makes sense.

7. I don't talk on the phone much and find that I use my iPod Touch more than my phone; this means two devices all the time, and I would love to consolidate my pocket space by switching to just using the GN2.

8. Because of a special deal I am able to get the data fee essentially waved because of a very kind and generous close family relative :) Alas this was the one hurtle holding me back for a long time and when the cost of the data became a non-issue the upgrade because an easy choice.

9. Its clear that carriers are going to remove the subsidy prices and I wanted to get the $700 phone for $200 while it is still possible.

10. I have wanted to experience the deep black and vivid hue of a full color OLED screen and never have. So this will be my first device to sport such a display technology, aside from the Fitbit One :)

11. There are android bicycle tracking apps that I have wanted to use for years and have not been able too, now that speed bump is gone too :)

While I generally have almost no use for mobile data, there are a few instances where I would find it very useful and helpful. Connecting to free wifi works but is cumbersome and slow on my old iPod Touch.

My first smartphone was going to be an iPhone 5, but Apple lost my business when they started sealing batteries into everything they sell. I am willing to jump off of my Apple ecosystem ship because Apple betrayed their customers with hot glue. If you care to understand what I mean go take a read of ifixit's teardowns of Apples latest thin and light mobile computer devices. Hey Apple, its not eco-friendly to build your devices in a way that renders them essentially disposable when the battery no longer performs adequately. Yea, and paying $100+ to change the battery in a device that has depreciated %90 makes absolutely no sense: can anyone say Apple Tax with me ?

All about the Batteries: 

The main problem with almost all smartphones that I found repulsive was anemic mismatched battery sizes. Yes a 1000mAh battery at 3.6v is fine for an energy efficient feature phone from 5 years ago, but a handheld quad core laptop computer (smartphone) with such a battery is nothing but a poor design.

In order for a smartphone to have somewhat normal, acceptable and usable battery life, the battery needs to be approximately 3000mAh or roughly 2.2 to 2.6 times larger than what most smartphones of today have. No wonder so many people experience poor battery run times and terrible battery calender life performance.

Samsung for example makes really nice smartphones (very computationally powerful) and then puts these poorly undersized 1500mAh batteries in them (overrated as 1800mAh) and people see these batteries fail after less than 2 years. Yea, all of that CPU/ GPU horsepower and RAM gobbles down those little batteries hard. If you get 18 months from the OEM battery in a Galaxy SII, SIII or SIIII consider yourself lucky.

Shallow Cycling Between %30 and %80  Extends Useful Life

Lithium phone batteries are like paper-clips in terms of how they like to be shallow cycled. Phone batteries like to be kept between 80% full and %30 full, where the user accesses roughly half the battery charge capacity.

Charging the battery to full is like bending a paperclip all the way one way, and letting the battery get critically low is like bending the paperclip all the way to the other. If you only bend the paper clip a little bit each way it can be bent like this thousands of times. If you bend a paperclip all the way one way and the other it will fail quickly. If you shallow bend the paperclip lightly it will survive longer. If you keep a lithium phone battery between 30% and %80, then it will also last a lot longer than if it was charged to full and drained to empty on every cycle.

Lithium phone batteries do not have memory. If the phone battery is half full, plugging it in for 20 to 30 minutes to boost the charge level to 80% is really good for the phone. The goal is to keep the charge state around %60 full on average, so not much more than %80 at the most and not much lower than %30 at the least.

Overcharging is another failure culprit that ruins lithium cell phone batteries quickly. Many people leave their phones plugged in all night long and overcharge the battery. The low cost poorly designed chargers and charge control circuitry in the phone and battery itself causes the anode of the battery to be over stuffed with lithium ions, causing it to swell and crack. After a few hundred abusive overnight charges the anode undergoes a critical failure where the cobalt begins to react out of control and then its all down hill. As they fail they puff up and if they are allowed to continue puffing up and continue to be charged they eventually suffer a "Dreamliner" failure. Yes fire!

So to summarize

1. Shallow cycling between 30% and 80% is the key.

2. Never charge the phone for more than 3 hours.

3. Avoid allowing the battery to become critically low.

4. Heat is also the enemy of electronics. Do not ever leave your electronics in direct sunlight indoor or out. The heat from the sun can fry your devices quickly.

5. A single press of the power button only turns the screen off. In order to turn the phone all the way OFF you have to hold down the power button until a pop up screen appears asking you if you want to power the device all the way OFF, and you have to click or slide this popup in order to turn the device all the way OFF.

6. Turning the Phone off all the way regularly is essential to minimizing glitch formation. Phones should be power cycled (from On to OFF and On again) at least every week, and preferably every day. When devices are repeatedly left in standby or low power states, glitches form. A glitch is an electronic brain fart that causes strange software and hardware errors that ultimately result in device sluggishness and other problems.

Simple Method to Avoid Overcharging 

One useful tip my boss likes to share with people goes like this "When you get home in the evening plug your phone in, when your all done with dinner and cleaning up, unplug it" : this will act like a timer to keep you from overcharging it. If you want to leave your phone on all night (so it can work like an alarm clock) and you find that doing so results in a low battery state in the morning, plug it back in before breakfast and unplug it on your way out the door to work. Yes these methods only work for people that have jobs, and yes the only people that should be operating smartphones are people with jobs. Welfare handout collectors and other "dependents" are not entitled to have a handheld high performance computer phone, and anything who thinks otherwise is a liberal limp noodle that needs to take a hard look in the mirror. For those who are retired my comments do not apply.

Review Forthcoming

I cant give a book that I have not read a review any more than I can review the Galaxy Note II. I threw some money at one and it will arrive soon, and after some time with it I can log back in an give it an honest review. I read a lot of comments and postings online from people about things that they do not own and have not used and it makes me wonder. I do not review things I am not personally familiar with because doing so would sound foolish. I guess the Tesla Model S is the only exception. I think it is the coolest car ever made, but I do not own one and cannot review it as such, yet!

If you are hot and bothered to read a professional review, check out the one on The Verge, with video and the whole shebang!

*** Update 1*** after 18 hours with the phone. Initial Impressions. 

1. Verizon Backup Assistant malfunctions when the phone is in WiFi only mode, but turning mobile data back on resolves the issue.

2. The screen is bright, sharp and crisp with excellent color saturation and contrast.

3. The S pen works great, but I find myself using my finger more often.

4. The phone is beautifully thin and nice looking from an industrial designed perspective but massive once mounted into an Otter Box Defender case. I could care less that Samsung chose to use a lot of engineered plastics in its construction, as the aforementioned Otterbox is entirely petrochemical in nature.

5. The camera is lightning fast, and the LED flash works great with a "flashlight app" that turns the LED flash into a flashlight.

6. The phone is bloated with crapware directly from Samsung and Verizon, and furthermore this junk can only be "disabled" not removed. I spent a few hours figuring out how to free up the RAM memory by turning off and disabling things that I do not need or want to be running on the phone. To that end my favorite app so far aside from Chrome, is the Advanced Task Killer!

7. Sound quality is great for voice calls and good on my older Motorola H12 Bluetooth headset.

8. Even with battery saver mode activated, performance is outstanding. The technical specifications of the handset remind me of a nice laptop computer from 2006.

9. After using it for a few hours my aging 4th gen iPod Touch looks truly small; the large screen seems like it would be great for older people with "reading vision" issues if they are able to fit it in their pockets. Perhaps with a slimmer case or no case at all that would be easier!

*** Update 2 *** after a few days.

While those who see me with it seem to think it is large, "huge" for a phone, I lovingly reminded them that the Galaxy Note 2 is a Phablet (Phone + Tablet = Phablet).

The massive 5.55 inch 16:9 screen seemed really large at first, but after a while it reminded me of smaller Nexus 7. For more than a year I have been playing with a Google Nexus 7 tablet. The Galaxy Note 2 is not much smaller, especially since the GN2 is mounted inside of an Otterbox Defender case. The GN2 is notably thin and lighter and has better battery life.

It appears that the LED backlit LCD screen on the N7 is a power hog in comparison to the S-stripe HD Super AMOLED of the GN2.

After years of using inefficient power hogging computer hardware I began to dream of a larger power efficient affordable full color OLED screen and the Galaxy Note 2 delivers this in a highly mobile and highly power efficient computing platform.

I find myself thinking of GN2 a pocket sized surveillance satellite. It has two microphones, 2 HD camera, an LED flash/ light, LED indicators, inductive field sensors, barometer, magnetometer. It is made of state of the art Corning glass and impact resistant engineer plastics. The highly integrated and optimized mobile computer platform is power efficient and powerful.

The overall user experience is phenomenal. The latest versions of Android are far more refined and elegant than the clunky half baked Android 1.5 of yesteryear. With intense competitive pressure from the IOS + Apple ecosystem offering, Android smart phones of today off class leading performance, design refinement, and positive overall end user experiences.

In the past I made fun of the Android phone landscape because of the iterative heterogeneity and market fragmentation. Inconsistent end user experiences with early versions of android gave Apple and early edge. IOS was highly refined long before Android became "fun to use". Early Android iterations were plagued with lag heavy UI clumsiness. Software optimization of Android within Google obviously rendered refinement and efficiency.

In many ways the larger screen is more fragile and intrinsically less power efficient. If apple had used a screen technology like Samsung, the iPhones  battery life would be even greater, especially considering the relatively by direct comparison small display size of the iPhones screen.

The Galaxy Note 2 is clearly not for people with small hands. Many people are going to expect devices that can be easily used with one thumb of the one hand that is holding the phone. In order to achieve the full utility of the GN2, one must in many instances involve both hands with the UI. People with very large hands will find the GN2 roomy, and probably in many instance easier to use because the UI requires less end user screen precision. People with poor eye sight may also benefit from the GN2.

Many reviewers of the GN2 online are older people, in their late 40's and 50's. I was surprised at the demographic patterns in the reviews available online.

The GN2 smartphone is not a phone, it is a camera, internet portal, software platform, screen/ trackpad touchscreen, keyboard, sensor array, it is an $800 multi function wireless computing platform. The $200 Goggle Nexus 7 is far more of a toy for children.

The Wacom pen interface is an artists tool. I am trying to get my wife Megan to use the GN2 as a medium of expression. It clearly works, but the software makes all the difference. Right now we are playing with SketchBook Pro, from autodesk. Its is a well written art package that delivers a solid user experience on the Galaxy Note 2. I just spent about 45 minutes drawing a small Otto Sniffer Flower Seed in Sketchbook with a tool that feels very much like drawing with a wet pen, one where the ink flows out thin like a water color. The grey scale output gives it a unite pen pencil like look as well.

I will write more about the art software pen combo when I have had more time behind the s-pen amoled setup.

**** Update 3 after about 1 week ****

Great overall impression. I found that many functions, even checking my voicemail on verizons networks requires me to turn on mobile data. I have to share a large chunk of data with several other people, so I try to keep the mobile data turned off, except when I actually need to use it.

Battery life is good, but not great. It seems that 3 amp hours of storage was sufficient in terms of properly sizing the battery to give the phone a solid 3 day battery life under intermittent use. I have not really juiced it from full to empty, but it seems like that might yield 4 to 4.5 days under my daily use case scenarios. I have only used the camera a handful of times, and the pictures seems sharp. Shutter lag is fairly significant, but I will take that with a grain of salt, this is a cell phone not a camera.

Running the Galaxy Note 2 on solar power has been more challenging then I had initially anticipated. My small 20W monocrystaline panel and 420 watt hour solar battery storage system is located a fair distance from my home at another location that I visit once per week. When I arrive at that alternate location I plug a 8ah Lithium polymer use battery charger into the big seal lead acid solar storage battery. The stored sunlight is transferred from the heavy lead battery into the small fragile lithium polymer portable charging brick. Slow/ the charge transfer takes more than 2 hours, and that is me shallow charging the brick from ~%30 to ~%75. I then plug my Galaxy into the solar system and charge it up to 80%, from around 45%. This takes too long to be practical. I will need to relocate my solar power system in the near future. The charge transfer from the Portable LiPo usb charger into the phone is also extremely slow. I guess all this slow shallow cycle charging is gentle on the fragile lithium ion batteries, so extended functional life out of these systems should be observed; but as wisdom says, "your mileage may vary", and indeed it certainly will. It looks like I am able to go a solid week without plugging into anything other than stored sunlight. With all the inefficiencies from charge transfer losses, it makes me dream of radical disruptive battery innovations.

Call quality is good, but certainly not HD. What the big carriers need to do is roll out HD voice over LTE. There is no reason to keep the antiquated voice streaming in place is packet compressed VOIP makes better sense. HD voice has not arrived yet, and I am looking forward to it when it does.

The Otterbox Defender I mounted on the GN2 is great. Its huge and clunky and very protective of the expensive thin fragile galaxy nexus 2. I think people often forget that smartphones are delicate electronics devices. Handheld computer phones do not like water, they do not like prolonged exposure to high heat, they do not tolerate being dropped very well. If you operate a smartphone outside of a rugged case, do so very carefully, and or roll with insurance on your phone.

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