wrestling with the note II

I have inherited a Samsung Galaxy Note II, Verizon, that’s three years old. I don’t want it, but my Windows phone doesn’t support my workplace app, nor the app of our competition, nor even the mobile version of our website.

I put off thinking seriously about mobile for a long time, and am still not convinced it’s the future, the thing that eats everything else, at least when it comes to my line of work. Geography plays into it as well: up until now, my judgement was that we were in a backwater, even on Verizon. 4G LTE was slow to come to my area, and still isn’t available in some places, and you don’t get good mobile without 4G. But things are changing, and while it took me a long while, I can finally see phones for what they are, little computers with a strong bias toward the consumption side of things. Addictive.

But I hate giving up my Windows phone. Say what you will about Microsoft and the failure of the WinPhone in the marketplace, the fact remains that Windows phones represented the only real innovation since the iPhone debuted. Microsoft walked back some of the more radical (and very good) ideas between versions 7 and 8-8.1, but the big, live tiles remain, as does a fast, intuitive interface. It’s simply easier to do stuff on a Windows phone. If you can find an app for it.

Anyway, the Note II. Here’s what I spent the last two days doing:

  • finding all the settings inside Android’s many, many menus that affect things like battery life, volume, screen brightness and setting everything to modest.
  • Dumping the Samsung interface for Nova Launcher, and disabling as much animation as possible.
  • Figuring out that the Note II out of the box doesn’t give you a plain background option. Finding an app that does.
  • Loading apps, apps, apps. I’m a minimalist, but I find the number of apps on my phone creeping upward, all in the name of work.
  • Trying to figure out why my company’s app won’t play video on my phone, nor display the weather. Checked the app on a new phone running 5.1 (the Note is on 4.4.2) and it has the same problem, so I’m guessing it’s an app issue.
  • Getting a picture I want on the lock screen, which proved harder than I thought. Nowhere was it explained that if you stick a picture in the “pictures” folder (or “downloads,” apparently) the “gallery” – which is what you use to set the lock screen – will be able to find it. And I have to jump back to the stock “TouchWiz” interface to do it.
  • Dealing with battery life. I left the battery I got with the thing on charge overnight and it never got past 80 percent, so I figured it needed a new battery. Bought a replacement, but then realized last night that I was charging the phone with the same charger I used for the Windows phone – and the Samsung has a much, much larger battery. Retrieved the charger that came with the Note – it still took hours, but I got a full charge to start the day.
  • Transferring contacts. I do this by hand, because it forces me to edit and check things. Took an hour or so over two days.
  • Thinking about call quality. I tried to use the phone in a fairly, but not ridiculously, noisy food court Saturday and just couldn’t hear the person at the other end. On the other hand, talking to my office this morning I found call quality to be more than acceptable. I messed with a setting that supposedly mutes background noise at my end, have no idea if it makes any difference.
  • Shut off, uninstalled as much stuff as possible. I use a subset of Google services, and was pleasantly surprised to find I could remove some things. But I don’t think I can get rid of Samsung’s many fine applications without troubling myself to root the phone, which I won’t do. (I know, I know; real geeks root. I find it to be a PITA and somehow contrary to the appliance-like quality these things are supposed to have. I have no issue at all wiping a computer drive and installing Linux, but a phone? It’s just supposed to work without me having to break it.)
  • Figuring out how to answer the phone. I actually missed a call because it wasn’t obvious to me how to swipe at the thing to pick up. I’m now using the home button.

And that’s it, so far. I can see how people spend a whole lot of time customizing their Android whatevers – the system is obviously far more open on a surface level than either the iPhone or WinPhones. But to what end? So much of what you can change feels like rearranging furniture.

And it doesn’t have f.m., which just sucks.

So here’s what I don’t like: byzantine menu settings, the illusion of control without the real thing, the need to go get an app to do something that was built into my WinPhone, lots of junk I can’t get rid of.

Texting strikes me as much less friendly than my WinPhone. I can’t describe exactly how it works on my Nokia 822 (I’m amazed, but I’ve already forgotten a basic feature of something I used every day for the last year) but I know that on the Note II I have to get out of whatever I’m doing, and that I don’t get any clear indicator on screen about whether I’m getting a text or something else, let alone the actual content. Maybe I’m missing something, or switching to Nova has defeated the way it’s supposed to work.

What I do like: I can get all the apps I need, and they’re updated regularly. This is so different from the desert of WinPhone apps it’s actually hard to get used to. What, no weird third party workarounds needed?

What I’m thinking about: size. I’m one of those people for whom no phone is too big, in absolute terms. I have large hands, long fingers and managing the Note II one-handed is no big deal. Nonetheless, there’s a question of aesthetics here; the Note II is the Hummer or ’79 Caddy of smart phones. I look at it and about half the time I just think ugly.

Also, call quality. We’ll see where that goes. I’m old and still use my phone to, ummm, talk to people.



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