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Bigger and better

Without a shadow of a doubt, the Samsung Galaxy Note was one of the big surprise tech stories of 2011, and the sales of the undersized-tablet-oversized-phone proved that what was considered a niche product actually had mass-market appeal — by the bucket loads! With the Note II, did Samsung manage to go one better? I took the…“phablet” — yes, I find it difficult to say the word even now — through its paces to find out.

The first thing you notice is that the Note II is …even bigger than the Note, with a 5.5-in screen up from the original 5.3-in. It’s taken on the aesthetics and the proportions of an oversized Galaxy SIII, so it’s marginally narrower to hold in the hand than the Note, and slimmer by a sliver as well.

Small hands will still find one-handed operation of the Note II a tough ask, but smart software tweaks let you align the keyboard, dialler etc towards one side of the screen, which allows your thumb to cover the entire horizontal area. That said, the taller display means you constantly have to readjust your grip to access different parts of the screen. Occasionally cumbersome, but overall more usable than the Note.

Of course, the ginormous screen size does have its benefits, and the Super AMOLED panel is awesome for everyday use. Watching video on its 720x1280 screen — full screen or on the pop-up window over any other app — is impressive, and using maps and browsing the web benefits greatly with the larger real estate at hand.

Another unique feature I personally loved was the multi-screen mode, which lets you tile two different apps — say a video player and a web browser, or email and maps — and use them simultaneously. While I have to say I wish more apps supported this mode, but this is a stellar example of how Android manufacturers can differentiate their offerings with smart software add-ons.

And then there’s the S-Pen, which is leading the stylus revival charge — the handwriting recognition is excellent and feels very well thought through. Performance in daily use is comparable to leading Android superphones, except with its 3100 mAh battery, this baby lasts all day long, and then some more. And a bonus — the Note 2 ship with Google’s flagship JellyBean OS already installed, which brings with it some much needed under-the-hood enhancements and the class leading voice control and Google Now features.

All in all, hardware and software considered, the Note 2 is a great buy — it’s big enough to be a powerful media consumption and productivity device yet small enough to carry around everywhere. Just be prepared to get some strange looks if you bring this up to your ear for a phone call…

• Rating: 9/10
• Price: Rs 39,900
• URL: http://bit.ly/X4NFe2

Classy kick-off

Buying the latest instalment of the much loved game franchise that is the FIFA series is a little like the new iPhone 5 — it’s very familiar and comfortable, yet better in almost every department. With FIFA 13, Electronic Arts has taken big strides. Be it player stats that now reflect their real-life counterparts, enhanced physics, better teammate and opponent AI(artificial intelligence), a better defending system, and a new Skill Games mode, each of these are well-implemented. Graphically too, there’s been a big leap, and the realism is the best I’ve seen in a sports game this year. What this means is that you have a game which is a blast to play, even though the changes in ball control mean you can easily lose the ball when you’re passing to average players, which leads to a lot of handwringing, hear tearing and cursing mid-game. Much like the real thing, eh?

In the end, FIFA 13 builds on the excellent FIFA12, while doing a great job fine-tuning some of the stuff introduced in last year’s variant, so it isn’t quite as revolutionary. However, if you’re new to the game and love your football, FIFA 13 is exceptionally good, in presentation, depth of gameplay and sheer fun! Go grab it now!

• Rating: 8/10
• Price: Rs 2,999 (Xbox 360 and PS3)
• URL: http://bit.ly/Su9yy8