Conclusion - The Good

  • Large 5.5-inch display for easy shot composing and reviewing
  • Very responsive camera, near-zero lag and quick shot-to-shot times
  • Fast AF
  • Reliable focus and metering
  • Flexible, customizable native camera app
  • Useful low light mode
  • Effective HDR mode
  • Good quality HD video
  • Manual control over ISO and exposure compensation
  • Good array of retouching options in the Gallery app

Conclusion - The Bad

  • Large dimensions can make handling difficult
  • No dedicated physical shutter button (but can be assigned to volume button)
  • Noise reduction tends to hash low contrast detail
  • Soft low-light images
  • Lack of shutter speed indication limits usefulness of manual ISO capability
  • Unreliable white balance when using flash in mixed light situations

Overall Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy Note II produces photographic output very similar to its little brother, the Galaxy S3. Images are well exposed with colors tending toward the vibrant. Noise reduction takes a toll on detail, even at low ISO levels. Images aren’t quite best-in-class, but are generally satisfying when taken on their own terms. Highlight clipping remains a problem, as with most phones.

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Samsung’s camera app is flexible and feature-rich with a nicely configurable interface. Along with increasingly common HDR and panorama functions, it boasts a low light mode that stacks a burst of exposures to deliver a cleaner image than the standard high ISO settings. However, this only works well with stationary subjects and there's still a distinct lack of fine detail in the low light mode's image output.

The Note II’s two defining characteristics are its size and its integrated “S Pen” stylus. The stylus is useful in productivity applications (especially note-taking apps like Evernote, Papyrus and Samsung’s own S Note) but isn’t terribly relevant from the photo-centric perspective of this review, mainly because third-party photo editing apps aren’t designed for it. This might change if Samsung decides to offer a S Pen-optimized version of Photoshop Touch with future Note models, as it did with the Tab 10.1 tablet.

The Note II’s size is an asset and liability. The big screen is fun for composing shots and sharing photos with others, but with the same resolution as the S3’s display, you can’t actually see any more at one time than on the smaller phone. For users with weaker eyes the Note II’s bigger screen could still be a boon. However, we suspect that many mobile photographers will prefer a phone that makes less extreme tradeoffs in the pursuit of maximizing display area.

Samsung Galaxy Note II
Category: Mobile Phone
Camera and Photo Features
Screen Quality
Ergonomics and Handling
Video Quality
Still Image Quality
Speed and Responsiveness
The Samsung Galaxy Note II comes with an imaging feature set that is very similar to its smaller sister model, the Galaxy S3. Image quality is almost identical too, with good exposure and vibrant colors but a lack of fine detail due to noise reduction. The Note's big screen is great for composing images but at the same time can make handling a little more awkward. The S Pen is useful for note-taking and sketching but with a lack of stylus-optimized apps doesn't give you any advantage when editing your images.
Overall score

Sample Gallery

There are 18 images in our Samsung Galaxy Note II samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.