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Summary:

It’s not often I buy a mobile gadget and get a bonus, but that’s how I feel about the S-Pen in Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2. I never thought I’d use the digital pen, but I’m finding more uses for it every day; here are a few.

grey-galaxy-note-2

I have a confession to make. Although the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 comes with an improved digital pen, I didn’t buy the device for that reason. I would have bought it anyway because I thought the 5.5-inch smartphone could replace both a phone and a small tablet. See why it’s possible in my first-look video. As it turns out, I’m using the S-Pen after all; not for the majority of my day, but more than I thought I would. Why? Between Samsung’s software and the second digitizer in the display, which enables mouse-like hover modes, there are a number of handy features.

I’d argue that there are almost too many functions because I keep finding more and more the longer I use the new Note. Luckily — and rather timely — Samsung has put together an article showing some of the “bells and whistles” of the Galaxy Note 2 and many of those involve the pen. Aside from the standard note-taking and handwriting recognition features, here are a few other pen functions worth sharing for folks considering buying this part-smartphone, part-tablet, which will be hitting U.S. carrier stores as early as next week:

  • If you’re going to sketch on the smartphone, the updated Pen Settings allows you to save pen configurations. It’s as if you had a number of pens on your desk and you switched between them; tap the button on the S-Pen and you switch virtual pens.
  • Color picking is available in the Pen Settings by tapping on an image and “capturing” the color where you tapped. I like the blue color of the Samsung default background, for example, but didn’t know exactly what color it is. Using the color match feature, I simply tapped on a screenshot of the background to change my pen’s ink to that exact color.
    S-Pen color picker
  • Sketch effect lets you use the pen to choose clip art and a visual look or effect for that art. I could see it being helpful for folks using clip art a bunch, but it’s not something I’ve had a big need for.
  • Idea Sketch is pretty handy although I doubt I’ve scratched the surface of the features here. I generally used this to manipulate or annotate screenshots on the Galaxy Note 2. You can capture the whole screen by holding down the Power and Home buttons simultaneously, but holding the pen button and outlining on the screen captures the part I want. And the resulting image is easy to get into Idea Sketch; tape S-Note after snagging some of the screen with your pen and it’s there.
  • Air View is one of my favorite features and it’s only possible due to the second digitizer in the display. When you get the S-Pen about a half-inch from the screen, the device sees the pen and shows a little dot on the display; much like a mouse. This opens up a bunch of features: Hovering at the top or bottom of a list, for example, turns the dot into an arrow and the list will automatically scroll. Hover over an image album and it virtually expands to show images inside the album.
    Galaxy Note 2 Air View
    Hover on a video timeline during playback to preview the video at that point in time. Hover on a calendar event and more details appear. I find that I’m using various hover features far more than I expected as they can be time savers. And this feature aids in palm rejection so that you can ink on the screen while resting your palm.
  • I’m finding S-Pen handy when using two windows at one time on the screen. The level of tap accuracy is as good — if not better — than a fingertip and since the pen is much thinner than a finger, it’s not visually in the way.
  • Heavy S-Pen users will appreciate the pen gesture commands. Holding the pen button while swiping it up from the bottom of the display brings up a Quick Command window that comes pre-loaded with pen gestures: Web search, email, call, maps, etc… In the settings you can customize your own commands that either use an installed application or adjust a phone feature. You could, for example, make a pen gesture that shuts off Wi-Fi or mutes the device. If you’re holding the S-Pen a bunch during the day, this is handy.
    Custom S-Pen gestures
  • Pulling the S-Pen out of the phone can — and does by default — open up a special home page of ink applications, which is smart. And the phone is intelligent enough to know when the S-Pen has been left behind; when the phone is too far from the pen it assumes you’ve left the pen behind and a warning message appears. It appears that the Galaxy Note 2 doesn’t constantly check for this — it’s likely based on both time and proximity — and you can disable the feature to save battery life. I’d rather not have to replace my S-Pen, however, I’m leaving it on.

There’s actually even more that the S-Pen can do and I’m finding new uses every few days or so. Samsung has pop-up instructions that appear as needed when there’s a pen option available; of course, you can choose not to have these pop up again in the future, but I’ve left them on; there’s simply so much this thing can do. I consider this a bonus since I never thought I’d use the pen anyway.

  1. I’d like to hazard a prediction here… I think the likelihood of seeing a built-in s-pen on the galaxy s4 or 5 is highly likely. As more people begin to use this phone/feature I think the usability and accuracy that it provides will be desired on more phones; especially when talking about smaller form factors where it can be difficult to accurately tap a small button… As long as they can make it fit I don’t see why not…

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    1. I doubt we’ll see this on the S line. While there are many benefits, there’s a lot of people that simply don’t like using a stylus, or don’t want to use them. The Note has become a popular line, but it is still niche, and that niche are those users that really see themselves using a stylus creatively or for business purposes. Users that don’t fall into these groups are probably not going to want a stylus, and a 4.5+ screen is plenty big enough for them to use their fingers to open and play Angry Birds.

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      1. I agree. I think its great that Samsung can do a scattergun approach to phones so that something like the Note can hit the market. Even though the original Note has sold millions world wide, and has a healthy following here in the State (I count myself in that category), I just dont see it hitting the kind of saturation the iPhone or SG 3 will achieve.
        I’ve pretty much ditched my iPad which I had integrated into my daily work routine. The note does pretty much everything I want, and even though the screen real estate is small in comparison to the iPad (or tablet of your choice), its great for taking hand written notes which I then shoot into Evernote.
        Even though I’ve only had this phone since February, I’m seeing myself replacing it with the Note II.

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  2. Kevin, will you be doing a full review of the Galaxy Note 2?

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  3. I can see Real estate, Law enforcement and Airline professionals adopting to the Note 2.

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    1. Any one that works remotely in the field…IT guys, pharmaceutical reps, insurance adjusters, the list goes on…

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    2. This playlist on YouTube shows a bunch of applications for in the field professionals:

      I’m looking forward to writing on pdf’s without carrying a huge tablet around or waiting to get back to the office. And don’t talk about taking notes that I can actually keep track of on the go. Idea capturing and the list goes on. I haven’t been this excited about a phone since I switched from a flip phone to a palm treo.

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  4. Google should make such Wacom pens work by default with stock Android and Nexus devices. I’d like to buy a tablet that supports one, but I’d like it to be a Nexus tablet not a Samsung Touchwiz one.

    The main problem with the S-pen being supported only by Samsung and only by a few of their devices, is that it creates a much smaller ecosystem inside that Android ecosystem, which means many 3rd party apps that could use the pen, won’t bother to do it. If Google would support it at the OS-level, in all Android devices, then we’d see a lot more drawing apps (and not only) have support for such pens by default.

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    1. Thomas Boehnlein Sunday, October 21, 2012

      From the Android 4.0 API: “Android now provides APIs for receiving input from a stylus input device such as a digitizer tablet peripheral or a stylus-enabled touch screen.

      Stylus input operates in a similar manner to touch or mouse input. When the stylus is in contact with the digitizer, applications receive touch events just like they would when a finger is used to touch the display. When the stylus is hovering above the digitizer, applications receive hover events just like they would when a mouse pointer was being moved across the display when no buttons are pressed.”

      It’s already there but the manufacturers need to start adding the extra hardware to their devices that make active stylus like the S-Pen possible.

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      1. Nice catch Thomas! Hopefully other OEMs take advantage of that support because it’s useful in a number of situations.

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  5. Don’t forget you can also use the pen to ‘hover’ in the browser – invaluable for sites that display fly-out menus that don’t work with regular tap events.

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  6. Can you sync S note with Mac or PC laptops? I use evernote because it is platform indifferent.

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    1. ncing, though not as natively as htc models

      You have to download an app for mac – directly from android.com, so it’s official

      It’s quite a simple program. Frankly speaking, it lacks some of obvious features

      Being old school heavy mac user, I’ve always been curious in alternative system and now it is really worth it

      Because now it’s the first time we are talking of a new interface augmentation since the touchscreen..

      And as we all know, AR goggles and, sooner than we think – lences will be our input interface. So to keep fine input we might have those stilus in our pockets. To draw them in the air….like magic wands

      Thus, stilus migh become a part of that ‘wearable computer’ .. so personally I honor samsung for such a breakthrough

      And i’m glad I actually need to learn about the device. Since long time i search for extended info on the input methods finding such a great reviews

      Thank you for the OP info and interesting comments as well

      One a side note.. the guy in the video up the thread really sells it )))

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  7. Kevin. Do you know anything about the chance the waiting for SGH-i317 LTE version .The same that AT&T will carry ,but unlock ?I need also 24 gig for music.is It better put that in the card or in the RAM ?. I’m concern to slow it down to much.

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    1. Gus, I don’t know anything official about AT&T’s Galaxy Note 2 but I expect we’ll hear details next week at a Samsung press event we have an invite for. As far as music storage, I’d probably put it on a microSD card as it’s just data; apps are better off in memory IMO.

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  8. Can the pen be used for text selection when entering text or composing an email, such as placing the cursor position, dragging to select more text, double-tap to select a word, or triple-tap to select a line, like on some PDAs?

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    1. Yes to cursor position, dragging to select more text and double-tapping to select a word. No to triple tap to select a line or more of text, but there is this method: Hold the pen button and drag over text to select a bunch at once.

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      1. Great to know, thanks!

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  9. Thanks for the article. How would you say that the Note 2 is for taking, say, class notes?

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    1. Not sure I’d use it for class notes, but back in the day, I tended to take a LOT of notes. I’m sure it can be done, but I think this is better for short bits of notes here and there, not large amounts of note-taking. It’s possible, but not sure it’s ideal. I’d think a full-sized tablet with ink support is better.

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      1. MouseTheLuckyDog Wednesday, October 17, 2012

        Like the Note 10.1?

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  10. Top on the article you put the video link. Men..it dasn’t work on my note 2 because flash player required. There is not flash player for note 2 in google play shop. Please help.

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    1. You can side load flash by downloading it from adobe

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  11. As for editing text, are you able to place the cursor and select characters, a word, or words, copy or cut, and then paste text as in a pda? I’m so used to a physical keyboard that allows you to do that.

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  12. How does one bring up the Quick Commands menu?

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  13. I do state inspections, I will be using mine to fill out pdf documents, as stated before I see this making my inspections faster and easier, have not had it in the field yet, though I have been testing the spen on filling out the forms, very excited, love this phone and have only had it since last Friday, still learning it, and discovering something new every time I pick it up. Gave up my 5 week old S3 to get the Note 2.

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  14. can we use s pen as a mouse on macbook?

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    1. Nope, you need a special digitizer under the screen for a device to work with a digital pen.

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      1. i meant to say if there is an app to use note 2 as a wacom pad for drawing on macbook

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        1. Ah… gotcha! No, not that I’m aware of but I’ll dig some more and post if I find one. Thanks!

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  15. I’ve seen artists doing human sketch with it as part of the Note 2 Marketing campaign. I have not extensively try the built-in sketching function/app, I’ve already seen the magic of the pen both from other reviewers and you. I wonder if there’re actually artists who use it for their creation.

    I’m a galaxy s2 user, I always think the built-in apps by Samsung is not providing regular updates to enhance the functionality and user experience. I hope it’s something they would do down the road.

    It’s a phenomenon here in Hong Kong. A little more than a year ago, everyone in the subway played with their iPhones. And now, it’s the Galaxy mobile devices that dominate!

    Congrat to both Samsung and Android for their success so far. And I hope more to come!

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  16. Add nice as it is the pen was very poorly designed. Stop it and the button WILL fall out. I have lost my Button permanently. And don’t think walking into a t-mobile store that the stupid brain dead employeess will just happen to have spare buttons lying around -nope. You will have to be forced to buy a whole new S-Pen, a full 30$. Nice job Samsung.

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  17. Does anybody Know how I can change my ink colour from red back to blue when writing a text message on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 please. I did it when i first got the phone &l changed it from blue to red but I want to change it back but I cant remember how?

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  18. I am truly a dummy when it comes to this phone. If you are not up on your tech skills, you will be in daze with all that this phone does. I give my GS3 children to my children when I need help.Overall it is a great phone and a step up for me coming from the Blackberry.

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