In mid-September I fell for the hype and upgraded my iPhone to iOS 6. Overall it is a good upgrade for the iPhone and given it is all but the same version that ships with the new iPhone 5 not a bad option for 4S owners not looking to upgrade their hardware.
But two things proved problematic. More than problematic. Annoying, with the new operating system.
The first was dealing with podcasts. I very much bought into Apple's move away from wired syncing and with an unlimited 3G data connection the Apple podcast app seemed like a goodun'. But the Apple podcast app is arse. It crashes incessantly sits there saying "preparing to download" but does nothing and then won't download new podcasts over wifi. Instead downloading over 3G. Which, with an unlimited connection, is OK, but in the two weeks I was using iOS 6 I churned through about 4GB of data. having come from my Samsung Nexus S and the relative ease of Beyond Pod - my pod catching app of choice, it was a wee bit of a downer.
The second fail should come as no surprise to anyone following these things. The removal of Google Maps on iOS and its subsequent replacement with a piss poor attempt at mapping by Apple was pretty much the last straw. Particularly irking was the lack of public transport information. OK I get Apple's idea of letting other apps deal with PubTrans but not even marking the subway lines on your map? Nah-uh! The good work done with the camera (The panorama works extremely well), mail (unified inbox, tagging etc) and even the Passbook App, which has great potential in Korea when you have a bajillion different loyalty cards, all undone by the most useless maps in the world.
Will maps improve on iOS? Sure, give it time. Hopefully they will also look at the dreadful English transliterations of Korean street names, but it leaves me in something of a quandary in the meantime, given that Google Maps has improved exponentially in Korea over the last 12-18 months.
So on Tuesday I found myself at the KT store in Gwanghwamun pawing over the display model of the Samsung Galaxy Note II, and eventually convinced myself to get one.
Now I am not one to bitch about Korea. But there are two institutions that I loathe dealing with. the first is the bank. (More on that soon) and the phone company. For a long time foreigners and phones have been an uneasy coupling in Korea. And once upon a time KT (then KTF) used to be particularly difficult to deal with. Nowadays not so much. And despite a 45 minute wait to actually get to the counter the whole process of paying off the rest of my iPhone, cancel one plan and get another only took about 20 minutes.
Minus the spanner I threw in the works.
As mentioned above, I use a lot of data, and despite 3G being somewhat slower than the new 4th generation LTE is more than adequate for my constant Twittering, Facebooking and occasionally tethering my computer to the network for a bit of Internet on the go. So I (somewhat hopefully) asked if I could get the Note II on a 3G plan. There is no technical hurdle to this sorcery, indeed I considered getting the 3G version of the Note II on the grey market. The 4G model itself defaults to 3G when it's outside of a 4G area (albeit a rare occurrence in Korea) so why not?
Simple answer - KT wants your money!!!! (Not that I am totally against that). When getting an LTE handset you have to get an accompanying LTE plan. Unlimited 3G connectivity is available on a 4G device for an additional ₩10000 a month but doesn't cover streaming of video and audio content. (No Google Music for you!)
So not happy about that. I ended up settling for the 6GB plan and will end up paying about 15 bucks more a month (including the ₩1000000 for the handset over 30 months). I have been paying attention to my data use very closely over the last three days as you'd expect - 120MB over that time so I think 6GB should be sufficient.
And golly it's fast! Opening the Facebook app for instance is great with content appearing almost instantly.
Overall the process of going into KT changing plan, paying off a handset and getting a new one was pretty easy, customer friendly and much smoother than it used to be. Unfortunately the staff don't seem overly knowledgeable about the phones their selling or the technology involved. The whole 3G/4G thing was a bit bewildering to the poor girl who had to deal with me. I dare say that is a symptom of the customers they usually deal with (i.e. normal people), and not necessarily ineptitude.
So there's a 823 word rant without actually getting to the phone....
The Galaxy Note II is a beast with a giant 5.5 inch screen, 2GB of RAM and a quad core processor. That's better specs than most low end laptops and something of a step up from Apple's A4 and whatever under powered processor is in my Nexus S. In terms of performance it's fast and responsive, the display is fantastic and despite all these power hungry elements the enormous battery lasts the whole day.
Despite its exterior being plastic it has a cool brushed metal look, and should prove more durable than the iPhone which, after I took it out of its OtterBox enclosure I was constantly panicking about scratching, denting and ultimately smashing either the glass on the front or the glass on the back. (I originally thought about getting the white version but because its plastic it does look a bit cheap. The granite titanium adamantium unobtanium (or whatever it's called) blue version looks much nicer.)
Which is not to say there aren't a few things that I am still getting used to. First of all, one-handed operation is pretty much out of the question. I don't exactly have dainty girlie hands, but my thumb doesn't stretch all the way across the screen, and there's no hope of my thumb making it anywhere near the top of the screen. In addition I purchased a Samsung NFC back and cover which means I have to open it like a paper notebook to use it, engaging both left and right hands. (Plus I when I lift the cover I expect it to turn on like the iPad Smart Cover.)
Then there is the UI. the Note II comes with the latest iteration of Samsung's Touch Wiz. He majority of my Android experience has been on fairly "Vanilla" versions of Android. HTC's Nexus One, The Nexus S, CyanogenMod 10 and Asus' ever so slight massaging of Ice Cream Sandwich on the Transformer 101. Touch Wiz has a few eccentricities that are difficult to overcome (at least after 3 days). To edit the home screen you need to first hit the menu soft key choose "edit" and then muck about with your icons and what not. The extra step there is a bit annoying. It looks yummy on the big 5.5 inch screen on the homescreen and looking through apps, but dig deeper and stuff starts to look a bit Windows 3.1. Something that looks particularly terrible is the SMS interface. Yellow and Blue on black. Yellow!
I dunno. I have a feeling that it actually looks OK in Korean but when it's in English it just looks gaudy. But after only three days I am yearning for the muted blues and grays (and occasional greens) of the iPhone's message interface.
Likewise what's with the constant pop ups of help text. I have yet to find a way of turning these off, but every time I do something like turn the device on it gives me a big long box of help text talking about data charges etc. (Something I am acutely aware of).
And in a stroke of Irony, the giant homescreen fits one less row of icons than the much smaller Nexus S. I am a wee bit anal about my android devices - they all have the same wallpaper and same arrangement of google search box, weather widget, two rows of folders containing my most used apps and then the dock at the bottom with phone, message, contacts and Camera apps. Despite the size I have to forgo my weather widget!
Much touted by Samsung the Note II also include the new S-Pen, Samsung's stylus. Despite Apple's best efforts I have been a long term user of a stylus with the iPad. The S-Pen is a little cheap feeling compared to the Bamboo Stylus I use for iPad apps like Paper and Moleskine's new app. That being said, the Note II has a really cool feature, when using note taking apps you can toggle the screen input to only the stylus, thus allowing you to rest your palm on the screen and write a little more naturally. It is going to take me some time to get used to writing with it though, the Bamboo's thick rubbery, squishy nubbin being replaced by a hard plastic one.
When you pull the S-Pen from the phone it automatically pops up a note window above whatever else is open which is pretty cool. And if you take the phone and leave the pen behind it sounds an alarm after about 3 feet. That's pretty cool. What I would like to see is Samsung come out with a metal version of the S-Pen users can swap out with the standard plastic one. It may add a bit of weight, but for its size the Note II is surprisingly light.
The camera on the back performs pretty well, 8 megapixels works nicely in good light and not too shabby in low light conditions. The iPhone still beats it but compared to the Nexus S it's much better, and viewing images on the screen? Devine. Apparently it shoots 720p video at 30f/s. who cares. No one shoots video on their phones except teenagers and edgy hipsters pointing their phones at cans of PBR.
Given the data cap, I am going to have to go back to putting my music on an SD card rather than streaming Google music. Samsung's built in Music (and video) players look promising and there are some neat effects possible by hovering the S-Pen over the screen, but I have settled for a warm return to Beyond Pod for my podcasts more than anything else so far.
In a side note, the Google Play Store is now very full of content in Korea. Having launched the Nexus 7 tablet in Korea last week there is now music (shitty K-pop mostly)!and a whole bunch of movies for rent (and buy) on the Play store for between ₩1000 - ₩4000. I am very tempted to rent The Avengers to watch and test out this screen. (Then again I guess I could also just steal it, I mean acquire it through other means).
Finally the neatest feature, which is totally useless but endlessly cool, and which took me ages to figure out, is the screenshot command. To take a screenshot one simply swipes one's palm across the hole screen. Very cool... (I know, I'm easily entertained).
The Samsung Galaxy Note II is available from KT (and SK Telecom I guess) for a smidgen over 1000000 on a 30 month LTE contract.