Samsung Galaxy Note II for AT&T hands-on: an S-Pen phablet with 4G LTE (update: video)

AT&T's still keeping us in the dark about a hard date for the Galaxy Note II's release, but at least we know it's real and on the way. Confirmed to ship sometime this holiday season, this variant of Samsung's phablet refresh sports a 5.5-inch 1,280 x 720 HD Super AMOLED display, 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos processor, 8-megapixel rear camera capable of 1080p video capture, beefy 3,100mAh battery and, of course, a refined S-Pen. It's nigh unchanged from both the global and Sprint models we'd gotten hands-on with previously; a trend the OEM sparked off with the release of the GS III earlier this year. And in a move that augurs well for those of you averse to branding, there's no superfluous carrier logo blemishing its smooth white back -- at least, not on the model we handled.

If you thought the original Note was big and unwieldy, prepare to stretch your thumb even further up the display. Samsung added 0.2-inches to this update, while incorporating elements of its "famed" inspired by nature design that conspire to lend this handset a reassuring in-hand fit. On the lower right-hand side, you'll find a convenient slot for the S-Pen which, when removed, triggers an action menu that can be customized to launch selected apps. A large physical home button rests just below the expansive 16:9 screen and is flanked by capacitive buttons for menu and back, while the front-facing camera resides up above and hardware keys for volume and power are placed on the left and right edges, respectively.

On the software front, you're still looking at a TouchWizzed version of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, as well as some carrier-specific apps that come pre-loaded, like My AT&T, CodeScanner, FamilyMap, Navigator and Ready2Go. As you might expect from its quad-core Exynos, performance was smooth... almost buttery smooth, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention a slight hesitancy between pulling out the S-Pen and the launch of that Smart Actions menu. Bear in mind, this is a pre-production model, so most of those kinks should be worked out by the time it launches this holiday season. Check out the video after the break.