Samsung’s Galaxy S line has sold in bunches, and proved that a non-Apple phone can take the smartphone world by storm. But one of the company’s biggest game-changers is the Galaxy Note. Its super-sized screen and innovative S Pen present a stark contrast to the iPhone’s barely-changed-since-2007 simplicity. Let’s revisit two of the hottest – and most radically different – smartphones on the market, as we compare the specs and features of the Galaxy Note 2 and iPhone 5.
Looking at these size differences, it’s hard to believe that both devices serve many of the same purposes. But, as much overlap as there is, Samsung has established the "phablet" as a new product category in itself. The core question in this comparison is whether you want a classic smartphone, or a smartphone-tablet hybrid that has a productivity-based twist?
Though the iPhone 5's face is larger than any previous iPhone, it’s much smaller than Samsung’s huge Galaxy Note II. The Note is 22 percent taller, 37 percent wider, and 24 percent thicker than Apple’s latest.
The iPhone’s smaller size makes it easily pocketable and comfortable for anyone to hold. The Note II, meanwhile, offers a much larger display while still fitting (if just barely) in most pockets.
Plastic devices can still be well-designed, sleek, and attractive. But if you’re looking for more premium materials, the iPhone’s anodized aluminum wins that prize.
The iPhone 5 is 38 percent lighter than the Note 2. But the difference in size-to-weight ratio is minor, considering the Note’s much larger surface.
Do you want a small, discrete, just big enough display? Or do you want a screen that’s big enough that it potentially voids the need for a tablet? Those are essentially your choices here.
The iPhone has much sharper resolution, but don’t be fooled: the Note 2's display is still terrific. You’ll likely hold it a bit farther from your eyes, so the perceived difference in pixel saturation is minor.
The two phones also employ different display technologies. The iPhone’s IPS screen provides great viewing angles and accurate color reproduction; the Note’s Super AMOLED screen has higher contrast and hyper-saturated colors.
The Note’s Exynos chip looks better on paper, with more cores and higher frequency. In terms of benchmarks: the Note fares better in raw processing tests, while the iPhone scores better in browser tests.
... and in terms of experience? Both phones will handle just about anything you throw at them with ease. We’d recommend basing your decision on other categories – where they diverge much more.
The Note II doubles the iPhone’s 1 GB of RAM.
The three internal storage options are even (and priced accordingly). The Note II does, however, let you expand its memory with a microSD card. The iPhone doesn’t.
There is only one version of the iPhone. If your carrier supports 4G LTE (the fastest mobile data network), every iPhone 5 will take advantage of it. If LTE isn't available, it will default back to “4G” HSPA+ (fast, but not quite as fast).
The Note, meanwhile, offers different 4G capabilities by region. There is a model that supports LTE, and a model that maxes out at HSPA+ (it doesn’t have LTE radios at all). Check with your local carrier for the lowdown.
In terms of raw juice, the Note II’s battery trounces the iPhone’s. In terms of experience, it should also easily outlast the iPhone. In fact, the Note II offers some of the most impressive battery life of any “smartphone.”
Megapixels, schmegapixels. Once you’re over a certain threshold, things like sensor size take on more importance. With that said, both the Note II and iPhone 5 take great shots, and can easily replace a point-and-shoot.
The Galaxy Note II runs Android 4.1.2, which is a full version behind the most recent Android software. Though it retains some features from its Android core (including apps like the Play Store, Gmail, Google Now, etc.), your experience centers around Samsung’s TouchWiz UI.
Samsung has given TouchWiz so many unique features that it’s nearly its own operating system (and it may eventually ditch Android for Tizen on the back-end). On the Note, Samsung has a big bag of goodies, centering around the device’s (included) S Pen stylus.
These include the ability to preview things like emails and videos by hovering the pen over the corresponding thumbnail, multi-window support (potentially providing a huge boost in productivity), and the ability to scratch notes from anywhere. For all of the accusations of Samsung copying Apple, the S Pen provides some truly innovative software features that the iPhone (presently) has no answer to.
iOS, meanwhile, retains Apple’s trademark minimalist simplicity. The company has balked at adding too many new features to its mobile operating system since its 2007 inception. On the plus side, anyone who’s ever used an iPhone will know exactly how to use it. On the minus side, iOS is starting to look a bit stale and unchanging after almost six years.
One big software advantage for the iPhone is that it gets updates immediately after Apple releases them. Samsung has improved its devices’ long-term software support, but it’s still a far cry from the iPhone's always-up-to-date status.
These numbers aren’t set in stone, as carriers and retailers often mix up their pricing (especially with Android devices). But there’s a fair chance that you’ll pay around US$200 – plus a new two-year contract – for the entry-level model (16 GB) of either handset.
Fans of both platforms will argue until the cows come home – and you wouldn’t be crazy for thinking it all sounds a lot like the old Mac vs. PC arguments. We’d recommend filtering out all of the one-upmanship, and simply asking “which phone would I be happier with?” Both have their merits, and we hope this points you in the best direction for you.
To see how these two compare to other top phones, check out our 2013 Smartphone Comparison Guide.
See the stories that matter in your inbox every morning