Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gloomy Sunday (on a Tuesday)

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Ah well... I did listen to the song on Sunday and meant to post it earlier... but just got caught up in some stuff.




Gloomy Sunday is a beautiful song... the lyrics are supposedly depressive. Depends on how one looks at it. But, this song has a past... a disturbing past. 
Originally, it was composed by Hungarian composer Rezső Seress. Lyrics were written by László Jávor, and in his version the song was retitled "Szomorú vasárnap" 
The song was first recorded in Hungarian by Pál Kalmár in 1935.

The translation of the original lyrics courtesy Wikipedia are...

"Szomorú Vasárnap száz fehér virággal,
Vártalak kedvesem templomi imával,
Álmokat kergető Vasárnap délelőtt,
Bánatom hintaja nélküled visszajött,
Azóta szomorú mindig a
Vasárnap Könny csak az italom kenyerem a bánat...
Szomorú Vasárnap.
Utolsó vasárnap kedvesem gyere el Pap is lesz,
koporsó, ravatal, gyászlepel Akkor is virág vár,
virág és - koporsó Virágos fák alatt utam az utolsó
Nyitva lesz szemem hogy még egyszer lássalak
Ne félj a szememtől holtan is áldalak..."


"On a sad Sunday with a hundred white flowers,
I awaited for you my dear with a church prayer,
That dream chasing Sunday morning,
The chariot of my sadness returned without you,
Ever since then, Sundays are always sad,
tears are my drink, bread is my sorrow... Sad Sunday.
It's the last Sunday dear, please come along,
There will even be priest, coffin, catafalque, hearse-cloth.
Even then flowers will be awaiting you,
Flowers and coffin under blossoming (flowering in Hungarian) trees my journey shall be the last,
My eyes will be open, so that I can see you one more time,
Don't be frightened from my eyes as I'm blessing you even in my death... Last Sunday."

The original translation though melancholic, is also a little weird. 
The disturbing part about the song is that it has become something of an urban legend... and is said to have driven many a listener to suicide. 
In my opinion, the veracity of these claims are arguable... even if the song could be connected to a few suicides it may not be proved it was directly responsible to instigate a person to commit the act... the fact may be that the person already in a suicidal mood would listen to songs that complement the mood and this might just as easily be one of the songs they listened to... just as easily as it could have been 'Don't Worry, Be happy'.

I listened to the English version of the song by Billie Holiday... the video which I have put up above... and the lyrics here...
Sunday is gloomy,
My hours are slumberless
Dearest the shadows
I live with are numberless
Little white flowers
Will never awaken you
Not where the black coach of
Sorrow has taken you
Angels have no thought
Of ever returning you
Would they be angry
If I thought of joining you?
Gloomy Sunday
Gloomy is Sunday,
With shadows I spend it all
My heart and I
Have decided to end it all
Soon there'll be candles
And prayers that are said I know
Let them not weep
Let them know that I'm glad to go
Death is no dream
For in death I'm caressin' you
With the last breath of my soul
I'll be blessin' you
Gloomy Sunday
Dreaming, I was only dreaming
I wake and I find you asleep
In the deep of my heart, dear
Darling I hope
That my dream never haunted you
My heart is tellin' you
How much I wanted you
Gloomy Sunday




Friday, October 26, 2012

V/H/S – Movie Review

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Last night, with nothing productive to do I decided to pick a random horror flick to watch and picked out V/H/S.






******************  Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! ******************

It is an anthology flick… a collection of 5 short stories with a 6th main arc. All of the stories including the main arc have been shot with handycams of the late 90s or early 2000s… so don’t expect HD video! As the name indicates, the footage is of VHS quality with all the video artefacts and shaky camera angles seen in videos of yore.

The main story arc is ‘Tape 56’ – The story revolves around ‘found footage’ in several VHS tapes. And all this is framed within the parent video footage which also seems to be ‘found footage’. :D

Tape 56 is about a bunch of hooligans who’ve been sent by someone (not shown or heard, only spoken about) to pick up a tape from a large, seemingly empty house. One of the gang films their whole break-in on a video-cam  During the break-in they find an old man, dead and stinking, in front of a bank of telly screens and loads of VHS tapes in the basement. While searching for a particular tape, the guys watch some tapes on the VCR in the room with the dead man. The other stories are all the different tapes they watch.


The first one is ‘Amateur Night’

This one centers on the immature need of some guys to film their sexual conquests… making amateur porn. It has the usual elements involved… 2 guys high on stupidity and alcohol, a third nerdy guy who tries to fit in, late night pub hopping, drunk girls, the usual drug snorting and a cheap motel / hotel room. The nerdy guy is made to wear glasses fitted with a spy-cam which then films their whole ‘adventure’… which is simply picking up a wasted girl or two from a pub, taking them to the room in the hope of some wasted sex and filming all of it. They land up at a pub and get friendly with a girl… and we see the whole thing through the spy-eyes of the nerd. Amidst getting sloshed, a very creepy looking girl comes up to our ‘spy’ and tries to get acquainted… in an even creepier way, with a whispered (almost hissed) ‘I like you’. From here this story is easily predictable…  to most viewers it would be easy to see that the whole story is hinged on the creepiness of the said girl. And the story hardly surprises you when it turns out that she is some Species like monster who then proceeds to kill/eat the guys… except our spy who she seems to like.

After the tape ends, we are back in the room of Tape-56 and the cameraman guy watching the tape is missing, the video camera is on the floor… hooligan No. 2 takes his place to watch another tape. The rest of the guys, except the missing one, are all over the basement trying to find the tape they were supposed to get. No one seems to care much that the original cameraman has just gone missing! Weird.


Second tape – ‘Second Honeymoon’

Road trip – check, married couple – check, motel – check, stalker – check, some weird incident that raises suspicion – check. The only twist in the still predictable tale is that… no seriously… there is no twist. Once you suspect one thing the other details fall in place.

Back to Tape-56… The hooligans find a bunch of tapes in the basement and the leader asks hooligan 2 who now wields the camera to watch the tapes to find the one they need, while he finally decides to look for the original cameraman who went missing.


Cut to tape three – ‘Tuesday the 17th’

Once again… a road trip… this time to the woods. 4 friends… 2 guys and 2 girls are on a weekend trip to some woods. One of the girls has arranged the trip and roped in her friends with some luring and fibs. The tricky girl’s boyfriend is filming the trip… mostly. Though at times, weirdly you feel that the director forgot that the 4 of them cannot be in the same frame. Again… usual joint smoking, naughty talk, flirting ensue. The characters are typical… cute girl, hot bored girl, cute girl’s jock boyfriend, the 2nd nerdy fellow who balances the quartet. In the otherwise calm woods, they see some dead animal that’s been disembowelled… this is meant to set the tone for the viewers… a tone of suspense. Really? A dead animal in the woods? Anyway… the cute girl asks her boyfriend to film certain locations to ‘humor her’ as she has some memories associated with them. The viewer is shown fleeting noisy-static filled glimpses of gory images of corpses at the locations the girl points out… over what is being recorded or as if the current recording is over an old tape with the gory imagery. Of course, the kids don’t see it as it would only appear in the tape when viewed later.

By now most viewers are already expecting a) monster stalking the woods b) serial-killer c) some rabid wild animal.

The cute girls acts a little weird and that seems to hint her involvement at some level. She tells them of some incident in the past about some murders in the forest and how she’d escaped. When the others get worried she laughs it off as a joke. The group splits… nerd and hot blonde go off in to the woods, leaving cutey and jock by the lakeside and are promptly killed by something that looks like a video-static filled human. Oh… by the way, the nerd has taken the camera along… conveniently… so it is able to film their deaths. The cutey finds the cam on the forest floor but no bodies and it hardly seems to concern her that her friends are missing… confirming what you have already suspected that she is well in on this. Soon she confesses to her boyfriend that she used them as bait to get to the killer, from her story, who was never caught after the murder of her former friends. The jock gets killed in the process and the cutey escapes with the camera… she has already set booby traps around to catch the killer and even leaves a warning for anyone who might later find the footage to stay clear of the woods… which seals her fate, at least, in the minds of viewers. Predictably, she comes close enough to catching the killer and then promptly dies at his hands… all the while the camera merrily films everything.


Tape 4 – ‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’

This story is completely in the form of webcam video-chat recordings. Emily chats with her doctor-to-be boyfriend about a weird bump on her arm that reminds her of some childhood incident concerning her leg… and about how she believes her house is haunted because of weird incidents that keep happening around her. Her boyfriend does not believe that her house is haunted but plays along… and during the chat sessions, some incidents do get recorded. The viewers’ suspicions are raised when Emily specifically asks her boyfriend if he has been recording the incidents and he denies doing it when clearly he has…or we wouldn’t be watching the footage. It is possible that Emily has been recording the same… but the chat windows suggest otherwise. The ghost as the viewers can see is a small kid. Emily tries to figure out from her landlord if any kid could have died in the house earlier, which he denies. She asks her boyfriend to help her out via video-chat in contacting the ghost to find out what it wants. The boyfriend reluctantly agrees… Emily tries to confront the ghost(s) with her eyes closed so that she wont freak out at their sight… with her boyfriend guiding her by voice as he watches through her webcam. The ghostly kids attack and she faints… and voila… her boyfriend who is supposed to be miles away shows up the next minute and is obviously not deterred by the ghost kids or spirit children or whatever… he then operates on the unconscious Emily and extracts a weird fetus like thing from her body….all the while talking to the spirit children. He seems concerned about Emily… and hints that the fetus is something that grows inside Emily every now and then and has been removed earlier too. Also, the bump on her arm turns out to be some sort of tracking device. The webcam has been filming all of it. He then makes it appear as if Emily has been in an accident…and in the next video-chat with him, she tells him her doc (who he has recommended) has told her that she is schizophrenic and the ghosts are her imagination.

Cut to a different video chat… same guy… different girl… same bump on her arm. Another chance to show boobies!

This story was weird… and not predictable in the conventional sense… This one just raised a hell lot of unanswered questions.

Tape ends and we are again in the main story arc where the leader having not found the missing cameraman stumbles in to the video-room only to find both the dead body and his second tape-watching friend missing. He then sets out looking for them and finds the decapitated body of one of his friends. He is attacked by the dead old man (or his reanimated corpse)… and presumably killed. Back in the video-room the last VHS tape whirs into play…


Tape Five – ‘10/31/98’

So, it’s Halloween night of 1998 and four friends, all guys, dressed up in costumes are off to a party at some strange house they have no previous knowledge about. The huge house seems to be set up like a haunted attraction. The friends do not find anyone in it and assume they are early for the party. They stumble through the somewhat eerily decorated rooms of the house filming away with a video-cam looking for the party. Somewhere in the upper stories of the house they hear loud voices and what seem like chants…and following the noises they find themselves in an attic where a group of men seem to be attacking a bound woman. The four friends try to play hero and rescue the girl when weird things happen around them… the same stuff seen in most ghost movies / exorcism scenes. The guys somehow manage to rescue the girl and escape from the haunted house. They drag the girl to the car and get on the way to take her to the hospital.

Now, any viewer who has seen horror movies or read horror stories would know what happens next… they just rescued the ‘ghost’ from an exorcism and now she is going to harm them. This story even provides a hint earlier on in the movie about how the guys would die as they make a short stop near a railway track crossing, before they reach the haunted house. You can easily predict the rest.



And that ends what was one of the most predictable horror movies I have seen till date… with a collection of clichés and expected twists. The whole VHS tape effect gets on the nerves after a while. The shaky filming is normally a good cause for headache… coupled with the blurry filming of the video-tape era, it isn’t the best of experiences. I felt there was at least one sub-story too many in the film. There are better films in this genre and I am not talking about The Blair Witch Project which I did not find scary or impressive… except that it was different in its time.

I would rate this movie a 2 out of 5!



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tu Shaayar Hai

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While browsing through my collection of Hindi songs, I came across the songs of the movie Saajan (1991). It was one of those films with a whole lot of songs in it… a musical in the Bollywood sense of the word. The movie wasn’t all that inspiring… in my opinion, the storyline was a little odd. This was my opinion when I had no clue about love as an emotion except for what I saw on the movie screen. And love according to the world of Hindi cinema was all song and dance in the first half and melodrama, tears and occasional dishoom-dishoom post interval.

Saajan was about a love triangle…*rolls eyes* where the leading lady falls in love with the poetry and philosophies attached to a name (a pen-name) and this name is attached to one of the leading men who is the handicapped, adopted brother of the other leading man. Of course, the other leading man falls in love with the lady and since she is into poetry and whatnot, our man enlists the poet brother to help him woo his lady love… all the while not realizing that his brother is in love with the same lady. Yeah... confusing!

The lady falls in love with the wrong brother believing him to be the poet she always admired… and then there is the element of sacrifice by the adopted poet who decides to hold his peace as gratitude to the family that gave him a home, love and a family name. After a few twists and bends, the lady realizes that the handicapped brother is the real poet and she had fallen for the wrong ’un. A lot of tears and hugs and word-exchanges later, it is the turn of the non-poet brother to play good Samaritan and sacrifice his love for his do-gooder adopted brother. In the end, the lady is united with her poet and his poetry.

Leading lady – Madhuri Dixit
Handicapped, adopted poet – Sanjay Dutt
Other brother – Salman Khan

When I saw the movie, I could not digest the fact that the lady had fallen in love with a name attached to the poetry. I remember the name quite well for various reasons… it was Sagar. Then when she falls in love with the wrong brother, I thought she had fallen for the persona he projected. Needless to say, in the end I was a bit confused about all that love that was being bounced around.
Well, whatever path the movie went it did have some nice songs (Music Director duo – Nadeem-Shravan with one of their best works). I liked most of the songs then and do too now. Some of the songs have nice lyrics too (by Sameer)

Coming back to why this post about a movie that released two decades back… it isn’t the movie… it is one of the songs (as suggested by the title of this post)




I hadn’t really paid heed to the lyrics much because every time I watched the song on TV, I would be mesmerized by Madhuri’s dancing skills. :D But when I did, I realized that some parts of it hit right home… and the very thing I had found odd in the movie has been true in my life.
Here was me being awed by the poetry and philosophy and the attitude behind a flamboyant alias … a name which had no face attached when I fell head-over-heels in love with it.

It’s a different matter that when we did meet up the feelings only deepened and the bonds just grew stronger. I am lucky there are no geometric figures ruining my love story! :D

The lyrics of the song… sung by Alka Yagnik


Tu shaayar hain... main teri shaayari
Tu aashiq hain... main teri aashiqui
Tujhe milne ko dil karta hain... o mere saajna
Tu shaayar hain... main teri shaayari
Tu aashiq hain... main teri aashiqui

Teri har nazm, tera har geet hai yaad mujhe
Jab tak saans chalegi na bhoolungi main toh tujhe
Tere bina jeena nahin khaake kasam kehti hoon
Maine bina dekhe, bina jaane tujhe dil de diya
Tu dhadkan hai... main teri zindagi

Tu shaayar hain... main teri shaayari
Tujhe milne ko dil karta hain... o mere saajna
Tu shaayar hain... main teri shaayari
Tu aashiq hain... main teri aashiqui

Apni betaabi ka main kaise tujhse izhaar karu
Kaise batlaau tujhe jaan-e-jaana kitna main pyar karu
Labh pe koi naam nahi tere siva mere saajan
Mere is dil pe tera hi nasha chha gaya
Tu deewana... main teri deewanigi

Tu shaayar hain... main teri shaayari
Tujhe milne ko dil karta hain... o mere saajna
Tu shaayar hain... main teri shaayari
Tu aashiq hain... main teri aashiqui





Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mind-Rape!

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I usually refrain from posting about social issues on this blog as this is more of a personal space. But, this problem here has become a thorn in my side for so long that it has become personal enough to be noted down.

Every day as I browse the news networks of the internet... of all the violence, crimes and corruption that is rampant in this country, one category of news hits harder home… being a woman, the reports of crimes against women are each like a splash of scalding water on my face. Even worse than that are some of the comments that these articles elicit from the common people who read them. The news about these acts seems to bring out the absolute best in our politicians with their thoughtless remarks and senseless attitude.
Add to that certain factions of society the very existence of which seem to be to keep the women of this country suppressed and hidden within the four walls of a prison.

So we have actors-turned-politicians like Chiranjit who can’t even try and ‘act’ sensible and politicians like Mamata Banerjee (there is no point in expecting any kind of rational argument from her) and the Khaps who never fail to spout stupidity every time they open their mouths and that is something they do too often. 
These are just a few examples of people who make these nonsensical remarks.

According to these ‘brilliant’ people, the causes for rape are…

  • Women wearing short skirts.
  • Women interacting with men.
  • Use of mobile phones by women.
  • Fast-food consumption (no kidding… check the screen shot below.)
  • Girls being married off at a decent age.
  • Women going to restaurants and pubs.
  • Women walking in the street (especially if you are in Delhi.)
  • The western culture (because apparently every wannabe rapist does a course in it.)



If you notice, the most prominent cause in most of the reasons above are women. And these are only a few of the inane reasons given.

So according to these super ‘intelligent’ people…
We women seem to invite every man in our vicinity to strip us of our ‘westernised’ sarees / salwar-suits and sexually assault us while brandishing our cell-phones and eating fast-food… all this while we so horribly choose to marry at an age when marriage makes sense.

If you are an infant girl being sexually assaulted… well, you deserved it with your skimpy diapers and bibs!

Married women being attacked… why aren’t you at home hiding behind your husband and preferably wearing a veil covering you from head to toe?

If you are a victim of incest… well, I am waiting for the ‘learned’ people who made all the above brilliant remarks to come up with reasoning for this one.

What pains me so much is that not a single politician or lawmaker or person with influence has suggested that the menfolk and boys be educated and taught to respect women from their formative years. No one has suggested that these victims of sexual assault be sheltered strictly from being stripped of their dignity again and again by the people around them.
People do suggest and hope that laws against sexual assault be made stricter… and when these suggestions are made, the government just sits on them with no evident results.

Of course, when it comes to politicians treating the issue of crimes against women in the most blatantly idiotic manner, we Indians aren’t the only culprits… there are people like Todd Akin in the most ‘liberal’ country of the world… who make statements that reinforce your disbelief in MAN-kind!


Link To Article

Link To Article






Monday, October 15, 2012

The Galaxy Photolab - Sparklers

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A photo post for the day. The theme is sparklers... These pics have been taken with either the Galaxy Note 2 or the Galaxy S2

Let's start with the photos with Galaxy Note II

Rainbow on the Wrist

Amethyst Flowers

Sparkling Amethyst Flowers

Rubies on Chrome

Geometric Sparkles

Of Swirly Purples and Twisting Blues

Purity

The next set have all been snapped with my Galaxy S2 over a period of time.

Aqua Spray

Encrusted

Twin Flowers

Blue Ice

Brocade

Pink Ice

Mom's Gift

Purple Ombre

Magic in Paris

Black Magic

Bling Bug

Blue Ice

Crystal Dew

Ruby Cuff

Solitaire

Night Light

Peacock Love

Trinkets

Bangle Cascade

Bling Tree

Bangle Explosion


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Note II Review – A Personal Experience

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Here comes the sun…
GALAXY-Note-II-SM
Let’s get the boring technical specifications out of the way… you will find the details of this all over the internet. I am just going to jot down the tech specifications that set my pulse raising when I look at a phone.
  • OS – Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean)
  • Display - 5.5" 16M-color Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen of HD (720 x 1280 pixel) resolution (~267 ppi pixel density)
  • Processor - 1.6 GHz quad-core Cortex-A9 CPU, Exynos 4412 Quad chipset
  • GPU - Mali-400MP
  • RAM – 2 GB
  • Camera - 8 MP wide-angle lens autofocus camera with LED flash
  • Storage – 16 GB (versions - 16/32/64GB) internal storage, with microSD slot (so you can add another 64 GB)
  • Battery – 3100 mAh (Endurance Rating of 69 hours according to GSMArena)
  • Connectivity – GPRS, EDGE, Wi-fi (802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot), Stereo Bluetooth (v4.0 with A2DP, LE, EDR), USB (on the go with MHL adaptor), HDMI and TV-out (again with MHL adaptor), NFC and Quad-band GSM & 3G (Phew… those are a whole lot of acronyms)
  • Decent sound quality.
The rest of the bells and whistles can be found here

Before I go into an in-depth personal analysis of my experience with the phone I am going to lay out a template for it. This is to keep me in check from getting carried away with one or two features of the phone and neglecting the rest; also, it should make this post readable.
So here they are:
  • Build quality
  • Display
  • General phone features
  • S-Pen & Special Features
  • Camera & Video
  • Audio & Music
  • Browser & Apps 

Build Quality

If you are looking for glass and aluminium / chrome, I could review my center-table. This baby here is all plastic! And I am glad that it doesn’t use metal for its shell. If it did, then I can’t imagine how heavy it would be and what it would have done to my tennis elbow. It already weighs 183 grams, and is quite a hefty phone to hold. My S2 (all of 116 grams) feels like a feather in my hand after having held the Note 2.

But then I knew what I was getting into when I bought the phone. When the Galaxy S2 was launched I bought it immediately as it was the obvious progression from my old Galaxy S which was beginning to age. Now, I am not a Samsung fan… I had wanted the HTC Desire at that time, but the Galaxy S beat it in the display department and I am all for a pretty face.

With the S2, often, I wished for a stylus… because I have nails… they are scary… and touching the screen with my finger held flat to avoid them is an issue.
redclaws
Long, Sharp and NOT smartphone friendly!

Then Samsung launched the original Note with better specs AND a stylus a few short months after I spent my hard earned cash on the S2. It was a bummer. So, this time when the  Galaxy S3 launched with all fanfare I waited for Samsung to trigger their ‘S3 with better specs and stylus’ trap and they did not disappoint me. With the help of a certain someone my Note 2 dream became a reality.

Now, a lot of people have dissed the S3 for its glossy plastic and ‘uninspired’ looks… and labelled it a cheap plastic phone. The Note 2 uses the same cheap plastic which is nowhere cheap and is actually polycarbonate which is still plastic though! I compared the only two available colors – the Marble White and Titanium Grey models. In almost all the pictures of the phone I saw online, the white model looked smarter and the grey version looked sort of bluish and too plasticky!  But, side by side and for real, the Titanium grey looks way better and is much darker than the pics. It is too glossy for my liking but am not going to nit-pick on that. As soon as the accessories are out, I am gonna clothe my phone in a red Ferrari cover (because Bugatti does not do covers and I like cars, horses and the color red) and so the gloss factor does not matter.

The build quality is smooth and non-creaky and does not feel cheap. The Galaxy S felt a bit cheap for the price I paid for it. The S2 was fine and this one is really good. But, it is nowhere close to the gorgeousness that emanates from a Lumia but then one can’t have everything!

The phone is huge at first glance and all glances thereafter. That’s 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4 mm if you want to be all detail-Naziish! The larger width of the phone is an advantage as far as I am concerned. I use my phone A LOT for browsing the web and typing and on social networks and stuff… compared to the 10 minutes of talking I do on the phone daily. With both the S2 and more so with my cute Blackberry 9360 (which admittedly is my go-to phone for everything), my fingers cramp around the small size of the phone. And that hurts a lot. Also, I have never been a one-hand user so this works out to be perfect for me. I find it easier to use with my fingers stretched by its width.

It has the usual ports and minimum buttons around the rim… the volume rocker to the left and the power button to the right, the 3.5 mm audio jack at the top and the microUSB port at the bottom. There are two mics, one at the top and one at the bottom. The top portion in the front has the 1.9 MP front-facing camera, the LED indicator and the sensors – proximity and ambient light. The speaker grill is at the bottom left at the back and so are the 8 MP camera and a single LED flash. The camera is sort of projected out and causes the phone to rest on it. This could be an issue in the long run if the phone is not covered… not so much for the lens which is slightly recessed, but for the shiny lens rim which might get scratched.

There is a slot for the stylus which Samsung calls the S-Pen at the right bottom corner of the phone. It houses this sleek and decently large stylus which is quite sturdy and has a nib with enough play in it, so that you don’t accidentally damage the tip or the screen. Though the stylus is not uncomfortable, it isn’t as sweet to use as the S-Pen on the Note 10.1 (Note 800) tablet. That one is much larger and more pen-like. And if you have a Note 10.1 tablet, you can always use its S-Pen with the phone too (though I would think it weird to own both.)

The phone requires a soft wipe handy… it gets all greasy with finger-prints in no time, especially the glossy back. The screen is more resistant to finger prints and is all sparkly after a simple wipe. I do not have a screen guard on-yet… and with my previous experience, I just might not use a screen guard. The screen-guards get way too greasy too soon. Since, I use the particular SIM in the Note 2 quite rarely for calls, I might just avoid a scratch-guard which otherwise would have been the only protection for the screen against my earrings and my experience with earlier phones has taught me that chemistry is right… diamonds are harder than any Gorilla / sapphire crystal glass! The Note 2 does have Corning Gorilla Glass 2. Going by the videos of the Galaxy S3 drop test, I had my doubts about Gorilla Glass 2’s claim of being stronger. But, the drop tests for Note 2 were good… and I am guessing the Wacom digitizer layer may be acting as an extra binding (this is pure non-technical speculation… please ignore my mumbling.) 

Display

2012-10-12-23-38-03
The display is 5.5” (diagonally measured) of Super-AMOLED awesomeness with an added HD+! What it means to the common man is that it is as brilliant as can be. Deepest of blacks and lovely colors… perfect 'painted on the surface' looks. The much maligned PenTile matrix has been altered for this display and evidently, it makes a big difference. The pictures are much sharper than what I saw on the Galaxy S3 in spite of its higher ppi. My S2 never had a PenTile Matrix so I cannot compare the effective sharpness of the display with it. What I did notice was that the Note 2 is brighter than any AMOLED display I have seen yet… though the Lumia 800 does come close.

The text is super-clear and there is no discernible jagged edges. Though, third party apps not optimized for the HD displays appear a wee bit soft. I did not find any chromatic aberration but then it was never meant to be easily visible. And I am in love with the blacks on the screen… and as you’d see from the screenshots, I did take pains to customize a set of dark, almost black wallpapers with bright bursts of concentrated color. The whites on screen are really good though not as bright as an iPhone. But, I have nocturnal tendencies… so too bright whites and light colors give me a headache.
Overall the phone has an impressive contrast ratio. The viewing angles are excellent and there is no effective color-change… but then, you are hardly going to view the phone at weirdly obtuse angles. The sunlight legibility of the phone is not bad but it is not as good as my Galaxy S2. I researched a bit and found out that the Wacom digitizer layer added for the stylus support is the culprit for this reduced legibility. But, for regular use even in bright sun-light, this is not a major hindrance. Also, another reason I wont use a screen-guard... it drastically reduces the screen’s outdoor legibility.

The screen resolution is HD 720p (1280 X 720p), that’s about 267ppi. The screen ratio is 16:9 and that is great news for movies… no more letter-boxing. 

General Phone Features

Strip all the hype and the device in your hand is after all just a phone. It makes and receives calls and sends and receives text messages. Adding the smartness quotient is achieved by combining it with the myriad features of a PDA. And the Note 2 tries to combine the best of two worlds… that of smartphones and all their smart abilities and that of tablets with their extra screen-space and stylus enabled creative functionality.

With my one week of use, I think the Note 2 has managed it all in an excellent manner. The Jelly Bean version of Android lives up to its Project Butter name with the smoothest android experience I have had till date. I am sure the quad core Cortex-A9 with its Exynos backing clocked at 1.6 GHz does add that extra impetus to the proceedings. The Mali GPUs have always been good and even though old by current standards, the Mali 400 is still impressive. Games, Art apps, or even AutoCAD when thrown at it has been delivered perfectly.

The battery life is really nice as expected from a monster battery of 3100 mAh. I use the phone constantly… playing around with the apps, sketching and painting, listening to music for 3-4 hours straight and loads and loads of web browsing… and I hardly ever need to charge it. But, I cannot yet give a complete & detailed battery analysis as there is always a charger nearby and I have never really tested how long it actually takes to drain the battery. But, my usage is abnormal. Since I am on vacation now, I am on the phone 24/7. And I haven’t made or received a single phone call with it! 

Talking about phone calls… the Phone & Contacts are pretty standard JB with a slight TouchWizziness added. JB now allows full-res display pics for your contacts… but Touchwiz keeps a part of the area allotted for the avatars to display their latest updates. Here is a screenshot.

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I am not going to go on about the UI as there are umpteen videos on YouTube for it including the 8 minute long official Samsung ad for the Note 2 specifically for its important features.




I’ll add a few screenshots and explain about them.

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The Lockscreen is quite customizable. I could not take a screenshot, so here is a snapshot taken with my S2. Your time & weather displayed, and in addition to that you have 5 customizable icons for easy access without unlocking the phone. You can also have an owners' info marquee scroll with your info (some of which I have edited out from the image) At the bottom you can enable a ticker with News / Stock / Facebook. The ticker can be expanded by pulling it up giving you access to more articles, stocks or FB updates.

Oh… and you swipe to open… with this melodious ripple sound. I haven’t been annoyed with it yet… but, I can see people getting annoyed with it after a while. It can always be turned off.
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The Note 2 has the usual 7 or less homescreens available as on most Samsung droids. You can designate one of them as the Main screen and pressing the Home key would return you to it. What is an added feature are the buddy pages. These buddy pages are additional homescreens that pop up when a specific accessory is in use or for a specific reason such as roaming. There are 4 additional buddy pages – S-Pen, Earpones, Dock and Roaming. These buddy pages have widgets customized and related to the accessory in use. Even the bottom icon tray has icons related to the accessory. I have been able to check only 2 buddy pages, the S-Pen and the Earphones’ pages. I do not have a dock and my SIM is not on roaming so the other two pages will have to wait.

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The buddy pages are denoted by a small icon representing the accessory in use. If all your buddy pages are active, you could have a total of 11 homescreens… and that’s a whole lot of widget real-estate.

Icons on the homescreen can be put into organized folders and like me, you can fit 9 pages of 5 x 5 rows of icons into one and a half pages of homescreens, thus eliminating any need to ever open the Appdrawer. The folder icons are simple floating trays with the first 4 app icons partially visible as you can see in the screenshot. Aesthetically, I prefer this type of folder icon with all its colors, but the iPhone type of folder icons or the HTC type of folder icons which show tiny images of the first 9 apps within are more practical. Also, the folder making in Android is not intuitive as in iOS… you cannot drag and drop one app on the other to form a folder which ‘magically’ names itself according to the type of apps. I love that in my iPod. But, I sat down and spent an hour or two making all those folders seen in the screenshot and I don’t think Google Play can throw an app at me that does not fit those categories.
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When you open the App drawer, you see three tabs… one for all the apps and the last for only apps you have downloaded and then there is this tab for Widgets which is a nice option to have as it gives you a visual clue of how the widgets would look. Well, works for most of them. You can pinch the app drawer to get a overall view of all the app pages. The apps can be edited (dragged and moved around) or even uninstalled by long pressing them. There are three different view modes – Customizable grid, Alphabetical grid and Alphabetical list. You can also create folders in the App drawer.

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One little issue I came across was that the wallpapers are no longer scrollable. Apparently, Samsung and a few other phone makers have disabled this feature in their droids. I think it is a pity they did… I used to love the 3D feel some of the wallpapers had just because of this scroll-effect. My S2 still has it and I really like it. Of course, this can easily be rectified by using a custom launcher… but I liked it out-of-the-box. Even scrollable live-wallpapers like the lovely ones by DualBoot Games cannot scroll now… but those do have an auto-panning feature. The good part is you can either apply separate wallpapers for the home & lock screens or apply the same for both… static or live.

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 S-Pen & Special Features

This section is going to take quite some space.

The S-Pen is a wonderful little tool and it is the highlight of the Note 2. It transforms a bulky smartphone in to a device that is creatively cool and suddenly the large size doesn’t matter anymore. In fact, for me… the Note 2’s 5.5” screen won me over from the Note 10.1 tablet camp.
I almost always use the S-Pen and its integration with the phone’s software is quite deep. This results in a flawless experience, smooth scrolling, precision pointing and of course, some fun with creativity.

I received my first software update as soon as I switched on my brand new phone and this enabled some nice features on the phone… the most important being multi-screen.
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The above pic happened in the first 10 minutes with the phone… immediately after the software update. And the below one came after a while when I got the hang of using the S-Pen.
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The multiscreen feature is a nifty way to use two apps at the same time. Currently, the number of apps that can be used simultaneously are limited but the list isn’t bad to begin with… Android Browser, Chrome, Maps, Messaging, Stock Email, Gmail, Gtalk, Twitter, Facebook, ChatOn, S Note, Gallery, Video Player and YouTube. The feature is enabled by long-pressing the back key (and can be turned off the same way). I did not experience any lag when the apps are used simultaneously as was seen in the Note 10.1 tablet. There is an option to switch the position of the apps or prioritize one app by letting it take up all your screen. It can be activated in either landscape or portrait mode (though I felt the portrait mode to be a more natural way to use it). The multiscreen app selection bar is an auto-hide bar which you can dock on any edge of the screen. The apps in the list can be removed. I tried adding other apps other than those above but I could not find any option that allows me to do so.
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S-Pen has its own dedicated app S-Note, which is a really cool one to use. It is a note-making app with a variety of templates and many different ways to organize them.

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There are other nifty features of the S-Pen… one of them is being able to draw a loop around anything you like on any screen on the phone and take a snapshot of what is within the loop. You can then save the snapshot scrap in to your S-Note or email it or share it in many different ways. Here is a screenshot of the scrap I looped from this blog of mine (a previous post) and the following image is the same scrap pasted in a note. The editing was done with the S-Pen too.

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The last image is a note I made up from several scraps of cake-pops I picked up off the web.

Another S-Pen enabled feature is the Quick Command. You can bring it up by holding down the button on the S-Pen and sliding it up on the screen from the bottom edge. This is an easy way to do a variety of actions using symbols and handwriting… good for small tasks as it reduces the need to look for some apps that do these tasks.
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One of the major S-Pen features is AirView. I cannot really show you screenshots of it… but it is best seen in a video. This is one of my favourite features of the phone. It is intuitive every where it is used. It works especially well in the browser with links and such… works quite similarly to the mouse hover. Within the gallery it expands the album you hover in to a 3X3 matrix showing you the last 9 pics. In the S-Planner (the Calendar app) it expands the tasks and events of the day you hover on without you having to tap it open. The earlier official Samsung presentation video gives a better idea of this feature.

Keyboard

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The Samsung keyboard is a smart keyboard that senses your method of input. If your S-Pen is out when you tap in a text field, it automatically switches to a handwriting recognition mode. At other times the keyboard has a normal QWERTY layout with well-spaced keys and a neat row of numbers at the top which removes the need to long press for numbers. The keyboard supports predictive text and also supports swipe to type. Unfortunately, the Galaxy Note 2 does not come with Swype pre-installed. I prefer Swype to all other options and so downloaded the Beta version and use it instead of the stock keyboard. Of course, using Swype removes the S-Pen sensing ability of the keyboard and no handwriting recognition pops up on its own. The handwriting recognition of the Samsung Keyboard is way better than the similar option provided by Swype. But, on Swype I use the stylus to swipe and type and I am not really missing handwriting recognition.

A feature shown in many a video and missing from my device is the screen-recording function that records whatever you do on the screen including your work with the S-Pen along with your voice input if you so wish to. I am hoping another Samsung update would fix it as it is not just me but no one else has it either. 

Camera & Video

The Note 2 has a good camera. It isn’t the best of the lot for low-light photography but at 8 MP and a decent sensor, it is sharp and clear and the color reproduction is not too saturated as was in the case of my S2. The images are sharp and they have enough detail. It has a whole bunch of features including geotagging, touch focus, HDR mode, Panorama, burst shot (with Best photo), Share shot, face and smile detection with Best faces, low-light mode, digital image stabilization, scenes, effects and several more.

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The shortcuts at the side are editable. And there is a large variety of options to choose from. My bone of contention with Samsung is that in spite of the huge size of the phone they have not provided a dedicated shutter-key. It is quite annoying to have to locate the camera button on the screen once you are done framing your scene… and with this huge a phone, it is also unwieldy. There is also no option to set the volume rocker as a temporary shutter-key or a ‘touch anywhere on screen’ to take the snaps. But, you can appear crazy to people by shouting commands at the phone to take a snap. So you can either command it to ‘Shoot’ or ‘Capture’ or cajole it to ‘Smile’ or inanely say ‘Cheese’ to it… and you should have the pics taken. I did try ‘Shoot’ when no one was around, though I still couldn’t bring myself to say ‘Cheese’ to the cam!

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The video camera user interface is identical to that of the still camera. During recording, you can snap 6MP stills and use the pause button to do a multi-part video in the same file.

The camera can apply various effects to the video and there are slow-motion (1/2x) and fast motion (2x) modes. Touch focus during recording is available, with an AF button to switch back to regular continuous autofocus. The video quality is very good… sharp and detailed.

I haven’t played around much with the camera and video recorder and there are great many detailed reviews of the same on the web and I wont add to that.
 

The Gallery

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The Gallery app has been revamped completely… at least it is way different from the one in S2. You have a grid view which stacks the albums in neat rows of 3 as in the first screenshot, then you have the Timeline view which chronologically arranges your photos in a cascade sorts as in the second screenshot and then there is the third view – Spiral… which makes no sense to me.

The Gallery can be set up to sync with your Dropbox, Picassa Web Albums, Google+ photos, and Facebook Albums. They would all show up in your Gallery and you can either view all content or view them separately by location. What I did not like is that the Gallery opens to a default of ‘All Content’… I would rather that it remembered the last selection you made.

The Video Player Gallery

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The Video gallery is set to a default Thumbnail view and with the processing power backing it up, the little thumbnails all play the videos simultaneously, albeit at lower frame-rates. If you hover over a video thumbnail with your S-Pen, the video pops up and plays at full frame rate as long as you hover over it. Once you open the video and play it, you can choose to pop it out and it plays in this cutesy little window anywhere, even when you are doing other stuff… so you can watch a vid and take notes or send an email at the same time. Pretty nifty…eh? You may not use the feature always…but it is good to know it is there if the situation ever demands. 

Audio & Music

The sound quality of the phone is very good. Like I said I would not be using it to make calls much… but in my little tests, my bro could hear me well with the wind blowing in my face (and in to the phone’s mic) in the car with the window open. The stock ringtones are clear with all their nature inspired goodness… but I would still prefer a sharp ring that cannot be mistaken for anything else but my phone when I am in crowded places.

The stock Music Player is a simple and neat package. It doesn’t have too many bells and whistles but it has what is important and the sound quality is excellent.
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The default album art is what I have seen from my Galaxy S days. There are a number of preset equalizer settings and they have been given a name ‘SoundAlive’. You can also have custom equalizer settings of your own. There is a Music Square which is similar to something Sony Ericsson offered in their Walkman phones… Swiping your finger across the square matrix would instantly make a playlist according to the moods… I am not sure how effective this is especially with some of the songs in my collection, the mood of which depends more on the lyrics than the tempo.

When the phone is locked or you are outside the Music Player app and the music is playing, you can access it with from the Notifications dropdown menu. And like in the camera you can order your Music Player around to play, rewind or jump songs. You can also set the Music Player to stop playing after a pre-designated period of time.
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The FM Radio looks smart and does what all radios do… scan for stations and play them. You can save your favourite stations in the little boxes below. I didn’t use it much as the radio signal in my area is crappy.
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I also made a custom homescreen page for all my audio requirements. The first widget is PowerAmp Pro, followed by TuneIn Pro and then the FM Radio widget and the Music Player Widget.

Browser & Apps

The stock Android browser is fast and efficient with Jelly Bean. It also has some cool features which I could not take screenshots of.  There is no distracting UI… it is clean and easy to use. All it has is just a row at the top of the screen for the back and forward buttons, the URL bar with a refresh button, the tab switching key and the bookmarks key.
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The browser supports both double tap and pinch zooming along with the two-finger tilt zoom. There are the obvious requirements such as text reflow, find on page, save for offline viewing, request desktop site and so on. If you pinch zoom out beyond the minimum it opens up the tabs view. It also offers an incognito mode. You also have the option to set it in to a power-saving night time mode which renders pages in black with text in white.

The Quick Controls are an easy way to access the settings and other browser buttons which would otherwise take up space on your screen. It is a jog-dial that fans out when you place your finger at the far left or right edges of the screen. (I could not take a screen shot of it so I borrowed one off the web.)

The S-Pen does a good job here with its AirView hover on the links and other elements much like how you would use a mouse on your desktop.

S-Planner

The S-Planner is the Note 2’s S-Pen enabled Planner and it is as detailed as these can get…
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You can use the calendar in the S-Pen handwriting mode by clicking the calendar and pen icon at the top right and scribble your tasks and schedules on to the calendar as you might if it were a paper calendar.

Calculator

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The Calculator has both a simple mode and the scientific mode available in the landscape view. Since the phone is quite large, they have provided a one-handed operation mode where the keypad can be shrunk and placed to either the left or right side of the phone depending upon your chosen orientation. This applies in the calculator and also in the phone’s dialer pad.

S-Voice

S-Voice is Samsung’s version of a voice based personal assistant. I do not use voice recognition on the phone so the effectiveness or lack of it is wasted on me. Nevertheless, what little I used of it seems to show me that it isn’t entirely useless.
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Google provides its own voice recognition which is similar. I did a search for Johnny Depp on it and it showed me the results. So, I guess it works.

Email

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Samsung’s email app has the option to view emails from all your accounts in a single Combined Inbox. You can view emails as independent mails or as a conversation list. In landscape mode, the screen is split in to a list on one side and a viewing pane on the other side. With the abundance of screen-space on the the Note 2, this feature is appreciated.

Clock & Alarm

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The clock has an Alarm, world clock, stopwatch and timer. The alarm can be set with various repeat patterns and snooze modes and with a smart alarm that slowly wakes you up with soothing music (mostly nature based) a predetermined period before the actual alarm jolts you up completely. There is an option for setting location based alarms… they would be activated only when your are in that locality.

Google Apps

The Google apps that come along with the phone are standard and useful apps like Google Maps and Google Now. There isn’t much to say about these apps. Google Now is a well thought out app that uses your browsing history and location settings and such to provide you with information that is relevant to you in the form of cards. Feels a bit creepy at first as you know your movements are being tracked :) … but on regular use it is a cool app.
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Other Samsung Apps

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