Okay everyone it's go time for an upgrade and I gotta say I'm having a much harder time deciding than I thought I would.
Here's the phones in the running currently:
-Samsung Galaxy Note II
-Motorola Droid Razr HD Maxx
-HTC Droid DNA
Things that aren't deal breakers for me and I consider them evenly matched in their own ways:
-Android version (since they're all the same currently)
Things that are deal breakers and/or hold varying degrees of importance (though I can give and take on some issues):
-Overall design quality
So at first I was going to go right for the DNA since it has an awesome screen and yet is quite petite for it's massive screen size. And I like HTC and have owned an HTC phone in the past. But as time wore on I realized that the limited storage (16 GB internal only, minus of course the amount needed for the ROM) is kind of offputting. I think I could do just fine since most of my storage would get by and I don't store a lot of media directly on my phone anyway, but still there are other options with storage galore. I still love the camera though and when I demoed it it was so fast it was pretty great. Sense UI isn't very appealing to me any more though, I got ruined when I tried stock Jelly Bean on my wife's Nexus 7 and now Sense just feels in the way and kind of ugly (especially the lock screen, I'm a huge fan of the stock lock screen).
Next I considered the Razr HD Maxx as the battery life is it's claim to fame and not having to recharge all the time would be great! And I like the general design, it feels solid, and the Kevlar feels premium. The power and volume buttons feel great as well and I like the tactile knobs on the volume keys and the ridged power button. Flat keys just plain suck. It's just beautiful to look at. But the thing that's held me back is the complaints I've heard about camera quality. Nearly every review I've read says the camera is cruddy for everything but direct sunlight. Now I tried the camera in store and it seemed okay, though it is noticeably rougher than the offerings from Samsung and HTC. It's hard to tell until I get it in real action and not taking dumb pictures of the store displays. I do like the UI better though. I used to hate MotoBlur but since Motorola has toned it down it feels much closer to stock, an thus closer to what I want.
Lastly I, at first, didn't even consider the Note II because it seemed so huge! But after demoing it a bit it doesn't seem as unwieldy, though the thought of actually making calls on it makes me self conscious, and I haven't even tried it yet! That screen is so nice to look at though, so much space for movies, reading, web surfing...seriously after going back to the Razr HD it felt so tiny. I think the Note II may just have ruined me for anything sub 5". An the S-Pen is a fun thing to play with too. I was quite impressed that it recognized my handwriting, not gestures, my actual handwriting; plus cursive too! I can see myself having hours of fun with the S-Pen doodling and making notes, drawing diagrams that I usually have to hunt for a pen to get down, and photo editing for some random fun. I also read that you can take a note while in a phone call, so gone are the days when I have to say, "um, wait while I hunt for a pen...oh that one doesn't work let me find another...". I can see myself heartily enjoying gaming on it as well. The things that make me hesitate are the sheer size of course, since it just seems like everything from putting it in my pocket (especially in my jeans that are a bit tighter) to whipping it out in public for calls as I mentioned above. I'm not so much concerned with one-handed use since the Note II seems to work just fine one-handed, and shifts everything to the side for easier use. The camera is also stellar and rivals the vaunted iPhone in every way, perhaps exceeding it in several areas. I'm not a fan of TouchWiz though. It didn't seem as awful as it looks from afar while using it, but it still uses gawdy colors and icons for things. Really other than the S-Pen features I don't like Samsung's extra apps (excepting the split screen feature), and some of their extras make the UIX kind of unintuitive (e.g. menu keys that dim and leave you unsure of what to push, the hardware home key, and not knowing just what will get you to Google Now in a simple fashion). But there are a few extras I found nice, like the RAM clearer that is accessed from the multitasking screen, and I found I missed it when looking at other phones.
So that's my current take and I am still trying to finalize and make up my mind. I found myself repeatedly wishing I could have the S-Pen and camera from the Note II, paired with the Droid Razr's looks and build, in the DNA's 5 inch form factor, with stock Android. If only I could go a la carte on the smartphone features I'd be in heaven.
But what do you guys think? Note II, Droid Razr, and DNA owners care to share cool things, or things you hate? Are you also looking to buy a Verizon flagship and are having as difficult time as me?
Either way I'll likely be sporting a new device before the week is out since there are some sales that end at the end of January so I have to jump now for certain devices. I've leaned every way this month but today I've been leaning Note II or Razr HD, and less DNA...but we'll see what I really get, there is a sale on Wirefly and Amazon for the Razr HD (non-Maxx) for free for existing customers (plus free 2-day shipping) right now and that might just seal the deal unless I just can't shake the longing for playing with the Note II and its ridiculous screen.