During the last two years, smartphones have ballooned to gigantic proportions. The most obvious example is Samsung’s “phablet,” the Galaxy Note. But even the company’s standard high-end phone, the Galaxy S4, dwarfs phones from yesteryear. Torn between big and really big? Read on, as we compare Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note II.
The Galaxy S4 is a large smartphone (just look at it compared to the iPhone 5). But next to the Note 2, it looks positively puny – with the phablet measuring larger in every dimension.
In the size department, our best advice is to get your hands on a smaller phone (like the iPhone 5 or BlackBerry Z10), a large smartphone (like the Galaxy S4 or HTC One), and a phablet (like the Note 2). Find your sweet spot, and then narrow your search from there.
Yep, Samsung likes plastic. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can help to keep weight (and cost) down.
Otherwise, the two devices speak the same design language – both borrowing from the Galaxy S3's look and feel.
No surprise here: the much larger Note 2 is about 38 percent heavier than the GS4. Taking their considerable sizes into account, though, both phones are going to feel light in the hand.
If you aren’t sure about stuffing a huge phablet in your pocket, perhaps this category will sway you. The tradeoff is a spacious screen that approaches small tablet territory.
The Galaxy S4’s 1080p screen is much sharper, but those extra pixels may be overkill: don’t expect your eyes to notice as much of a difference as these numbers suggest. The Note 2’s 720p display is outstanding, and - considering you may hold it a bit farther from your eyes – it may be all you need.
Both devices employ Super AMOLED technology.
Both versions of the Galaxy S4 should be faster than the Note 2. If you live in a region where the HSPA+ version ships, you’ll be fortunate enough to have the world’s first octa-core (yes, eight friggin' cores) smartphone.
Both devices are even, with 2 GB of random-access memory (RAM).
Storage is also even, with the same options for internal flash memory and an expandable microSD slot.
You’ll want to check with your local carrier to see if you get the 4G LTE (fastest) or “4G” HSPA+ (fast, but not LTE fast) model of each device.
We haven’t yet put the GS4 through the paces, but the Galaxy Note II gets outstanding battery life. Only the most hardcore of power users would drain it in less than a day.
More megapixels for the GS4, but the Note 2’s 8-megapixel rear shooter takes great pictures.
On the software side, the Galaxy S4 has a ton of new features - like Dual Camera (combine feeds from front and back cameras simultaneously), Drama Shot (burst of pictures that displays as a collage), and Sound & Shoot (records audio clips to accompany still shots).
It’s possible that the Note 2 will soon get these features in an update, but only the S4 ships with them at launch.
The Galaxy S4’s Android (4.2.2, Jelly Bean) is a full version ahead of the Note 2’s Android (4.1.2 Jelly Bean).
Both devices sport Samsung’s “Nature” version of the TouchWiz skin, making the Android core barely discernible (though you do get all the standard Google apps, including Gmail, Maps, and Google Now).
The Galaxy S4 has the updated version of TouchWiz, with Smart Scroll (scroll emails and web pages with facial recognition), Smart Pause (automatically pause a video when you look away), and S Translator (translate foreign tongues in real time). Again, most of the S4’s exclusive software features may eventually arrive on the Note 2 in an update.
The Note 2 won’t, however, get any of the GS4’s infrared-based features (yes, it has an IR blaster). If changing channels on your TV with your smartphone floats your boat, then look no further. The S4 also packs humidity and temperature sensors, which the Note lacks.
What could be more useful than a phone that changes channels and records the heat index? How about Samsung’s S Pen stylus. Not only is it an exquisitely-constructed stylus (complete with a solid, sharp tip), but the company has a ton of software features for it.
These include Multi Window mode (take advantage of the 5.5-inch display by viewing multiple apps at once), S Note (taking notes), and Air View (get previews by hovering the S Pen above the display).
Wrap-upFor all of the differences between these two Galaxy devices, it still comes back to size. A monstrous “phablet” like the Note isn’t for everyone. Nor, for that matter, is a large smartphone like the Galaxy S4.
If, however, you’re open to either size, it may boil down to whether you want a stylus or not. Samsung has pushed the boundaries of what a stylus can do, giving the Note 2 novel input methods that the GS4 lacks.
Of course, there’s also the Galaxy Note III looming on the horizon. At this point, it's only a rumor – and won’t likely release until the second half of 2013. But, considering that the Note II still costs a pretty penny, it may be worth waiting a few more months for an improved model.
If you want to see how the GS4 compares to a much smaller device, check out our Galaxy S4 vs. iPhone 5 comparison.