Samsung Galaxy Note 2 - S Pen Stylus

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams



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Samsung Galaxy Note 2 S Pen

Samsung has completely redesigned the S-Pen for the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. The term S-Pen was introduced with the first Note, shorthand for the digitser styluses that make phone-tablets in this range so special.

The S-Pen is capable of so much more than a standard stylus because of the Wacom digitser built into the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. This lets the phone sense differing levels of pressure from the pointer, and pinpoint the stylus's position when it is some way away from the screen surface.

Both these aspects have improved significantly in the second-generation Note. The first Note can sense up to 256 levels of pressure, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 can discern 1,024 – the same number as the Wacom Bamboo dedicated graphics tablets.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 36

The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 stylus can also be identified around a centimetre from the screen, letting it double as a mouse cursor. In use the new stylus is fantastically responsive.

Arguably more important than these pure specs are the more experiential tweaks Samsung has made. The S-Pen is now an ergonomically-carved, triangular-stemmed design rather than a smooth cylinder, there's a button on one of its sides and – here's the real game-changer – the end is a rubberised nib with a little give to it. This softens its handwriting action, offering a much more smooth and natural feel than the original Note was ever capable of.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 S-Pen stylus is a joy to use, simple as.

Samsung has done a great job of integrating its skills into the interface too. What's most impressive is the sense of immediacy the S-Pen manages. Whip it out of its rabbit hole and you're automatically taken to a bespoke S-Pen home screen. As standard this includes a quick to the S-Note app, but like any home screen you can dress it as you please.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 21

The S Pen home screen

The S-Pen is at its best when used with the Samsung apps built into the phone. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2's ability to identify the pen away from the screen is only presently useful in a fistful of apps. Samsung calls this functionality Air View.

In the S-Planner calendar, it brings up info about calendar events. In the email app it pops-up the first few lines of an email. It brings up similar previews in the Gallery and video player too.

S Planner

The partnership of the powerful hardware of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, the decent software and the honed, optimised Wacom digitiser makes these little feature nuggets feel like a natural additions to the UI, rather than superfluous, frivolous add-ons.

The excellent S-Pen does serve to highlight that a few parts of the Samsung TouchWiz UI are a a bit flimsy and unnecessary, though. For example, you have the option to use accelerometer motion controls to control things such as the movements of home screens and pages within the Gallery. Samsung Galaxy Note 2

Thanks to the Samsung keyboard OCR, the stylus can be used throughout Android

These things have tip-toed along the thin border between pure gimmickery and neat extra features at the best of times, but in the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 they fall right into tech trash can as over-the-top bits of fluff to switch off within the Settings menu as soon as possible.

The S-Pen, though, is an almost unadulterated success. Even in apps without full implemetation of its abilities, it can be used as an alternative to a finger – including casual games like Angry Birds Space. The one issue is that only a very small number of apps can fully appreciate what it's capable of.

Samsung says that the only apps fully certified for the new S-Pen stylus are some of those of the Samsung Apps portal, the secondary app store that sits alongside the Google Play app store within the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. However, we did find a number of Google Play apps that support pressure sensitivity, including relatively high-profile drawing tools like Sketchbook Mobile.

S-Note is the S-Pen's "flagship" app though. Its lightweight name is also a bit misleading as it's now quite a fully-featured suite - although one with an eye on lighter uses. Other than making notes using the Samsung keyboard's optical character recognition, it's intended to let you make mind maps, presentations and little works of art.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 11

You can insert videos, pictures, text boxes and shapes into your notes, veering the app close to something like Microsoft PowerPoint. Samsung supplies a bunch of templates for quick-but-organised notes for things such as meeting minutes and recipes. S-Note also lets you record the creation of a sketch as it's made, in Draw Something-like fashion.

It's also kid-friendly in parts. As well as adding photos and clip art to notes, you can use something called Idea Sketch. This lets you write the name of an object, and then pick a pre-drawn representation of it. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 offers three different cartoon cats, for example. Samsung Galaxy Note 2 10

Which is faster? Cat bus or whale train?

That's not the end of the "S-flavour" features, either. We can't forget about S Voice, the Apple Siri equivalent that was partly responsible for getting Samsung dropped in $1billion's worth of hot water in a recent court case.

A double tap on the central Home button makes the S Voice app pop up. Ask it a question and it'll do its best to work out what you're saying, as long as you have a network connection. All the calculations grunt work is done by Samsung's servers.

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A typical S Voice result - not that great

The Samsung Galaxy Note 2's S Voice isn't quite up to the latest version of Siri seen in iOS 6, though. Anything vaguely taxing will send you straight to a web search, making it of limited use.

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Martin Daler

August 30, 2012, 9:53 pm

Curious that you list its size ("it's massive") under 'Cons'. Strictly speaking its size is neither a pro nor a con, it is simply a feature. Whether that feature translates in to a pro or a con depends on the benefit it brings, or the opposite.

Sounds picky, I know, but in this instance it is especially relevant - after all the size of the thing is considered to be its primary benefit by many, the very USP which sets it apart from the crowd and the reason why they buy it.


September 1, 2012, 12:49 am

Your banner statement says 'better than the original in every way'.

Well the screen of the note 2 has a lower resolution. I haven't seen the two phones together, so i don't know if this is noticeable.

Sure, there are improvements in many areas but I do not see enough of an change to warrant replacing a less than one year old note with the note 2 at a cost of around £500. I will be waiting for note 3.

Jon moonbeamsyndicate

September 26, 2012, 5:05 am

No NFC? Are you sure?

Jon moonbeamsyndicate

September 26, 2012, 5:13 am

No, you're definitely wrong about the Note 2 not having NFC- it DOES- the Note 10.1 does not... And Malcy? Isn't the Original Note a 1280x800 PenTile matrix? The Note2 has good old RGB stripe... that's going to look a whole lot better... and effectively be higher resolution since PenTile sort of cuts res in half...
Admittedly though, I was hoping for a 1080P screen on this... was disappointed they couldn't manage that and still get decent battery life...

Martin Daler

October 3, 2012, 2:36 am

why the yen for 1080p screen resolution? Accepting human vision resolution of about 1/60 degree, and assuming the screen width of about 2.7", you would need to hold the device no further than about 8.6" (about two palm widths) from your face to get the benefit.

Much further away and the benefit of all that resolution would be squandered. Whereas at 720 points across the 2.7" screen width you are faced with a viewing distance of just under 13" under the same assumptions.

I suppose both are do-able. I've just had a butchers at my phone and find that I tend to hold it at about a 1.5 foot. Eight inches seems oppressively close, for me.


October 3, 2012, 7:04 pm

Anyone wondering why these comments about NFC are here - they're from the preview article written a while back. If there are any more Qs about the Note 2, fire away.


October 3, 2012, 7:30 pm

Thanks for the excellent detailed review, been looking for something as in depth on this device for a while and consequently have now ordered mine to arrive next week....question is, I was led to believe these devices are not yet LTE compatible and will have to wait for the LTE batch to come out, is that right?

Nick G

October 4, 2012, 2:06 pm

I agree with Martin. "It's massive" is not a Con - it's the entire point of this device! If a user wanted a smaller one, they'd buy the SIII. This should be a "Pro" not a "Con". It's like reviewing an iPad and then complaining it's not as small as an iPod Touch...


October 4, 2012, 2:16 pm

Thanks THX1138, glad it was useful. We've checked with Samsung and the LTE devices are indeed separate. Sounds like they'll be coming to the UK within a week or two though.


October 4, 2012, 2:32 pm

I changed the con so it's a bit more... relevant when the full review came out. The previous con was there on the preview.

I agree the size in its most abstract sense isn't a con, but it is something every potential Note 2 owner needs to consider.


October 6, 2012, 7:34 pm

If you do a follow up worth showing the split screen mode rolled out in a firmware upgrade yesterday, its pretty nifty for multi tasking.


October 7, 2012, 12:54 pm

You state

Samsung includes a second rear with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, one that apes the Pebble Blue finish of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and has an integrated front flap screen protector.

But every un boxing video I have looked at ever is nothing included.


October 10, 2012, 11:40 am

It is mentioned in the article that the device is LTE/4G ready but when speaking with a Samsung sales assistant on the weekend, I was told that the version currently on sale does not support 4G


October 24, 2012, 11:05 am

I have bought the Note 2 and can confirm that you do need to buy the LTE version to get 4G. Saying that, considering the prices just announced for a 4G contract then the 3G version will suffice thank you very much. Unless you dont have a home broadband connection and will need to do much more than check email and the odd You Tube vid then 3G is all you need. As for the note 2, well what a great phone this is. Lets be clear, it is big and some may well not be able to cope with that but they will be the ones missing out. The device is blisteringly fast and takes to multi-tasking like a duck to water. There is no lag what so ever. The battery life is amazing. Normal usage will give you two days use with no effort at all. I have tried to run the battery down by hitting it with lots of calls, surfing, screen on full resolution, YouTube vids ect,ect but having taken it off charge at 05:30 it still had 7% battery left at 23:30. As said, normal use will get you two days, which is brilliant considering whats under the hood. The S-Pen is a gem and once you get familiar with all it can do it becomes indespensible. The OCR is the best i've ever seen but despite some advertising to the contrary it will not replace tapping out a quick text with your thumbs any time soon. My favourite use for the pen so far is the screen shot taking. Works like a dream. Before buying this i had a Sony tablet and a Sony phone. If you think you need, like I did, to have the best of both worlds and only have to carry about one device then the Note 2 is for you without question. I now don't even notice the size when using as a phone. That said, the fashion conscious will just discard it without thought i suspect and I don't expect to see any teenagers with one anytime soon. But for a 45 year old with diminishing eye sight and a demand for a phone with a very sensibly sized screen and a battery that actually is up to the job then this is the perfect phone bar none. Until the Note 3/4 comes out and 4G eventually becomes sensibly priced then the Note 2 is really all you could ever need from a mobile device.

Mike B

November 25, 2012, 9:43 pm

I have had a play with the this device in two stores and both times the user interface seemed to be very slow. The second time I played with it I decided to re-boot the unit and then everything came back to, what I would call, a normal operating speed.

Have owners noticed a need to re-boot these devices frequently? Is this just something Android users have to do all the time?


December 24, 2012, 11:18 am

can anybody tell me... how to deactivate automatic pen sensing for Samsung galaxy note 2....?


December 31, 2012, 7:50 pm

It is hard to believe but this business oriented device fails to implement the standard Android 4 spelling checker. So no red wavy line under incorrectly spelt words, only the corrections supplied by the predictive input. Also if you take a photo, and opt to share it via email, you don't get an iOS like option to choose what size image to send! I really don't get why Andriod is so liked as an OS, in its quest to provide customisation it seems to make many things more difficult.


January 17, 2013, 12:24 pm

Nop, coming from nexus S, this device is pure speed!!! It's like a flash, you press, it responds... nothing other device give me this joy of use! Simply passionate!


January 17, 2013, 12:26 pm

oh, and reboot is thing of past, nowadays you can open so many apps, and the note 2 keep the speed!! without any lag at all!!! but mine is 4g LTE, and from Portugal, i don't know if it counts...

Toni F

January 22, 2013, 4:17 pm

I have no lag, no rebooting my note 2 runs smooth evenIwith multiple windows open I haven't a hiccup with this phone and my battery last me up to 12hrs with heavy use. I only have to charge my phone once a day when I use it heavily and on light to med use the battery will last up to two days. I purchased a battery flip case and haven't had to use it yet. I didn't belive that the battery life on this phone was that great but after having it now I'm a believer.

Toni F

January 22, 2013, 4:22 pm

I think you go into settings then go to s pen there you should be able to durable that feature of that doesn't work search the Internet or go to one of the forums they should have the answer there

Toni F

January 22, 2013, 4:28 pm

My son just turned 19 and he and his friends just ditched their iphones for the note 2. I don't know where you're from but you'd be surprised to see how many younger people as well as older folks have or want the note 2. My daughter is 14 and she wants one for her 15th birthday. Grant it I agree it is a perfect phone for those whose vision is failing but I don't see a specific age category for this phone.

swaroop k

February 14, 2013, 8:07 am

"Corning's toughened glass has become the smartphone industry standard,
and the second generation makes it thinner, and even stronger." - the glass is too fragile that it broke when my note 2 fell from office table upside down


May 30, 2013, 9:46 am

i am using Samsung Galaxy Note 2 since last 3 months and trust me its awesome. ! Basic need of Huge battery back up is fulfilled here.! The S Pen stylus does a great job and you wont find any glitches even though you loading thousands of application on your phone.!! Tablet cum Phone. 5/5 Stars.


August 18, 2013, 10:54 pm

there are actually two versions of Note2, the N7100 - international version is NOT a Corning Gorilla Glass. Only the Korean Version is Gorilla Glass.

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