Samsung Galaxy Note II Android 4.1.2 Review: Multi Window is the future of mobile multitasking

Daniel Bader

February 14, 2013 9:32pm


It may be difficult to believe, but I don’t own every smartphone on the market. In fact, I no longer own any Samsung devices, having returned my demo Galaxy Note II and selling my Galaxy S III when the Nexus 4 was released.

But I was itching to get back to the Note II when Samsung released the Android 4.1.2 update for Canadians last week. After seeing it demoed by tech writer friends at conferences and hearing Samsung execs wax prolific about its “game-changing” nature, my interest was suitably piqued.

Before we begin, let’s return to the Note II. When it was released to Canadians in November, the Note II was one of the fastest devices put to silicone, and has yet to be surpassed in raw power and battery longevity. The 5.5-inch smartphone was, and still is, too big for some hands but, as with most transitions, the device’s size has been embraced across the phone industry. In short, I see Note II’s everywhere. Granted, I see five Galaxy S III’s for every larger counterpart, but the Note line is gaining traction quickly. It also engenders the type of loyalty rarely seen among smartphone owners; due to its unique position in the market, I’ve observed that once you go Note, you rarely go back.

Android 4.1.2 – What’s New

At a high level, Android 4.1.2 is mainly a bug fix release. It purportedly improves performance and stability, but since Samsung did a number of its own tweaks and optimizations on its version of Android 4.1.1, it’s hard to know what else has been added in the update.

I haven’t noticed any increases in smoothness or battery life so far, but the shipping software rarely left me wanting for either. Samsung advertised this update as primarily bringing Multi Window support to the Note II, along with support for Simplified Chinese input.

Multi Window is amazing

I didn’t expect to enjoy using Multi Window as much as I have. Simply, the feature affixes itself to the Note’s back button, allowing you to bring up a list of compatible apps to open side by side. Unlike the version that shipped with the Note 10.1, the Note II actually runs two apps at the same time, making it easy to watch a YouTube video on the bottom (in portrait) or on the right (in landscape) while surfing the web or scrolling through your Twitter feed.

While the feature will likely be more useful when the Note III is upgraded to a 1080p display — the 1280×720 pixel resolution of the current model doesn’t convey enough information for extensive reference — in its current configuration, Multi Window is fantastically useful.

There are myriad combinations of interesting implementations of Multi Window. Some of my favourite emulate the “second screen” experience while on the go. Buffering a YouTube video or watching a preloaded movie clip while surfing the web works quite well, as you can adjust the size of the two windows to fit the portrait length of the video portion. And because developers can use Samsung’s Multi Window API to make their apps compatible with the feature, there is a growing list of excellent software that can be used side-by-side with first-party Samsung and Google fare.

One can’t forget that the Note II can be used for more than just reference; the S Pen is an incredible tool when paired with Multi Window. Creative types can sketch in one window while looking at a photo in another; scholars can take notes while researching something on Wikipedia or YouTube. Even for simple things like using Lastpass to display a randomly generated password for a web service I rarely use, Multi Window actually saves its users time.

Samsung has a great platform on its hands here: this is the company’s AirPlay, a seemingly minor feature that, with some developer love and a bit of creativity, can be used to facilitate immeasurably useful enterprises. Think about Multi Window being used on multiple devices: two or more apps communicating with one another on a Note II and a Note 10.1, with data and input being shared wirelessly between the two pieces of hardware. Android an facilitate such interaction, and with the proliferation of Wireless-N and Wireless-AC routers, there is sufficient bandwidth to make it happen seamlessly.

If you haven’t yet updated to Android 4.1.2 on your Galaxy Note II, do it. Quickly.

  • domo

    I hope the S3 gets the multi view update soon.

    • Chris Dorner is a hero, God bless you Chris and good work

      OMFG Note II!

    • james

      look for SynergyROM for galaxy s3. it has the feature of multitasking. and its better than what samsung offers. samsung limits it to only some apps. this rom allows all the apps to usable in split screen.

    • pilode

      The Exynos/international S3 has had multi-windows for a while…

  • Larry

    It will be nice when they release Multi Window for the original Note, as they have promised…forever!

    Anyway, good review, looks like a great device but not enough of a difference to make me switch from my original Note.

    • Phil

      Having done extensive testing between the note and the note 2, it all came down to the power of the new note 2 that really pushed the limits. honestly, by rooting the original note, and installing roms, you can make it do everything the note 2 can do, but the problem is still the physical limitation, the hardware (not to say it is bad or anything).

      Either way, picked up the note 2 to really get a device that will push the envelope and I should be able to keep updating and modifying the ROM to get several years out of it.

      (i got 3 years out of the iPhone 3gs before it, so I figure this should last me a while!)

  • note II disappointment

    since doing the update to 4.1.2 – I’ve noticed the internet lags horribly with some sites (wifi or not)
    I love the phone – and it really IS incredible – but this issue has me considering custom ROM’s.

  • Samsung Mobile Canada Sucks

    Not impressed. The update killed my battery life. Went from getting 4-5 hours screen time to 2.5-3 hours. Weak sauce.

  • NienorGT

    I wish such features could be made on any Android via an open-source hack add-on.
    Nexuses and AOSP ROMs sure are fast and clean, but look quite skimpy on the feature side =/

  • bubu

    Yeah multi-view is SO genius, let’s make everything on a small tiny screen EVEN SMALLER! Idiots!

    So you bought a Nexus 4 Baaaaader? I feel sorry for you. Don’t expect it to last long, as the glass will crack going from outside winter temperatures to your hand.

  • jerry

    silicon, not silicone

  • note-tee note-tee phone

    Ive actually found that the battery life had gotten alot better since the upgrade.. not sure why? I don’t use the multi too much yet, only because I haven’t found too many users for it, but I gotta say I love showing that feature off! I just wish samsung and flash player got along 🙁

  • Jake

    Hey what is the time and date widget on your home screen?

  • Ry

    If Samsung improved their build quality and screens I’d be more of a fan, but I think they’re overrated, over-SATURATED! Annnd gimmicky. HTC, Motorola and Apple are where it’s at for me. Sorry folks.

    • Raid

      The irony in this statement is too funny. There’s a good chance that Samsung made all the screens of the devices you boast.

    • Ry

      It doesn’t really make any difference whether they did or not, I didn’t say I hate Samsung, I said that I don’t like their Amoled screen or build quality, and that often the features they pack in are gimmicky. HTC and Apple use LCD panels, so if Samsung is making those they should use them on their own devices.

    • bubu

      There’s a good chance you don’t know what you’re talking about!

      HTC has stopped doing business mostly with Samsung. They get their screens primarily from LG and other sources now. Apple also has stopped getting screens from Samsung. Motorola I’m not sure about, but Motorola sales are tiny so who cares.

  • Mark

    I have the note one since the beginning and just ordered a nexus 4.I’m sick of touchwizz… The only thing I will miss from Samsung is the AMOLED screen, not the size of the phone.

  • R.I.P Christopher Dorner God Bless your Soul

    Nexus 4 Life

  • Shūji

    How come my note hasn’t got the update yet? Already tried the software update page and via PC in Kies.

    • slanty eyed asian fellow who has rice on face

      Samsing has no care for you!

  • slanty eyed asian fellow who has rice on face

    You all is so stu pid.

    • slanty eyed asian fellow who has rice on face

      Why you has no intelligences!

  • teflon

    I think its great, my only peeve is that the calendar isn’t set up for it and I think that’s where I would use it the most.

  • Raphael

    I’m in mobility and never got the update…

  • Drea

    I can do split screen on my wife’s ASUS VivoTab with WinRT. Works great as the divider can be slid across the screen and e.g. show our baby monitor on one side and something else on the other.

  • joseph niagara

    yah yah blah blah so why doesn’t my SIII not have this update? Considered one of the best phones Samsung ever made. Sold millions and millions yet I’m stuck on 4.1.1. Beautiful screen, terrible battery life. Blows my 3GS out of the water as a media player but come on now…..update this thing already! I paid the money so let’s not have yet another fragmented android phone people….enough said.

  • KL

    I was really looking forward to this feature since day one. Once installed, I didn’t find it as practical as expected. I guess i’m the only one disappointed that the phone wasn’t one of the apps that supported MultiWindow? Also, if that little tab was more opaque, that would be nice too. For now, I’ve disabled it, but it’s great to have the feature there when need be.

  • Multiwindow works

    Nice feature to have when you need it.

  • Tom

    “Samsung has a great platform on its hands here: this is the company’s AirPlay, a seemingly minor feature that…”

    Huh? Most people I talk to know about AirPlay – it is pretty huge. Few would ever have heard of Samsung’s multi-window.

    I’m not judging them, just saying that AirPlay has been promoted as a major, mot minor, feature.

  • Dave Scott

    “the Note II was one of the fastest devices put to silicone”

    Seriously, silicone? You don’t know the difference between silicone and silicon? Ever heard of Silicone Valley? I didn’t think so. Google the difference.

  • Dan J

    I still don’t understand this… I’ve got 4.1.1 on my Note 2 and I’ve had multi-window since I bought it back in December. Is there something I’m missing?

  • BoXX

    Still waiting on Samsung Canada to release the update to AWS carriers (Wind, Mobilicity, Videotron). Unreal!

  • Gman

    This and Sony SmallApp features are the real show case of android multi tasking.

  • LM

    The multiview looks good, but this is getting out of hand the multiview is out for the s2 and not for the S3 and originial note. Samsung Canada please step your game up and give the ppl the updates for the devices now it’s been long enough with the lies of this month or next month with the releases just release them.

  • Deli

    anyone blaming Samsung for delay of updates after its release internationally needs to look at the carriers NOT Samsung.