So what can you do with the Galaxy Note 2 pen, anyway?

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.