Comparing the four Samsung Galaxy Notes
Samsung's Galaxy Note series has been around for four generations now. Maybe you're hanging onto an older model, and wondering if the Note 4 is worth the upgrade? Or perhaps you just want to see how much the quintessential phablet has evolved through the years? Read on, as Gizmag compares the Galaxy Notes I, II, 3 and 4.
For each category, you'll see two rows of devices, ordered from newest to oldest. That is, of course the Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy Note II (Samsung used roman numerals back then) and original Galaxy Note.
Samsung announced every Galaxy Note at IFA, starting in 2011. Going by that pattern, we're probably about seven months away from the Galaxy Note 5 reveal.
When Samsung launched the original Galaxy Note, it was considered to be absurdly large – but it's only 95 percent as tall as today's model, the Note 4. The original Note was, however, wider than the Note 4: by 5 percent.
Weights haven't changed dramatically in the Note line through the years.
The first two Galaxy Notes were very plasticky affairs, typical of Samsung's mobile devices during that era. The Note 3 switched to a faux leather finish (which is still, of course, plastic).
The Note 4's back is also pleather (minus the fake stitching), but the band running around its sides is now made of aluminum and magnesium. It does wonders for adding a premium feel to the device.
The Galaxy Note II took the prize for most color options, with five. Just note that not all of these color options are/were available in all regions and carriers.
That original Galaxy Note's display, which was mocked mercilessly at the time for being oversized, is only 91 percent as big as the Note 4's screen.
Starting with the Note II, Samsung switched from a wider 16:10 ratio (common in Android tablets) to the more oblong 16:9 ratio that's ubiquitous in today's smartphones and phablets.
Screen resolution has picked up with the last two updates to the Galaxy Note line. The Note 4's ultra-crisp Quad HD display is 81 percent sharper than the first Note's screen was.
... one interesting tidbit is that the Note II is the rare mobile flagship that has a lower pixel density than its predecessor.
S Pen (pressure sensitivity levels)
The Note 4's stylus took a big step forward in sensitivity – doubling the 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity that we saw in the Note 3. But it has eight times the levels from the original Note.
If you're hanging onto an older Galaxy Note, you're going to get a much more natural writing experience from the Note 4's S Pen.
Starting with the Note 3, Samsung added a quick shortcut menu called Air Command. Just hover the pen close enough that you see a little dot on the screen, click the pen's button and choose the option you want.
Samsung did refine those options a bit on the Note 4, and added the ability to stash your note as a little Post-It on your home screen (and then drop it in the trash when you finish).
Selecting text with S Pen
You'd think selecting text with the stylus would have been there from the beginning, but Samsung didn't add that until last year, with the Note 4.
... well, technically you could select text before that, but it involved awkwardly drawing a line through the text. On the Note 4, text selection works much like it does on a PC: drag and highlight.
Gear VR compatibility
The Note 4 is the only phone compatible with the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR, our pick for the best virtual reality experience you can have today.
Notes have always had good battery life for their respective time periods. The Note 4 took a big step forward, though, as it lasted twice as long as the Note 3 in our video streaming test (over Wi-Fi, with brightness set at 75 percent).
The Note 4 uses Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 tech, which lets it jump from a dead battery to 50 percent charged in about 37 minutes. You just need to make sure you're using its included charger, or another Quick Charge 2.0-compatible one.
Notes have also had good cameras for their eras, and the Note 4 is one of the better smartphone cameras you can use today (though it could afford to fire up a little faster).
The Galaxy Note 4 also marked the first appearance of Optical Image Stabilization, to help with shaky-handed photography, in the Note line.
These are the internal storage options you saw in each of the Notes.
Each model has also had a microSD card slot, to help augment that internal storage.
The Note 4 has Samsung's swipe-based fingerprint sensor: similar to the one found in the Galaxy S5, but a bit more sensitive.
Heart rate monitor
The Note 4 also has a pulse sensor on its backside.
The US (AT&T) version of the original Note didn't have a physical home button, instead using four capacitive buttons (common among early Android flagships). The international version of that first Note was more like the three later models, with a physical home button flanked by two capacitive keys.
We find the Note 4's orientation, which now includes recent apps, to be the best. Modern Android has phased out dedicated menu keys, and having a quick shortcut to recent apps makes multitasking quicker.
Samsung's split-screen multitasking first arrived in the Note II, though the original Note later received it via update.
This visual only lists the processors for the US (LTE) variants of the Notes, but the recent models also have octa-core Samsung Exynos variants for non-LTE regions.
The global version of the original Note also switched things up, using a dual-core Exynos 4 chip (clocked at 1.4 GHz) in place of the Snapdragon found in the US/LTE edition.
The last two models have used 3 GB of RAM, while the Note II was among the early Android handsets using 2 GB.
Software (at launch)
The Notes have always used Samsung's TouchWiz UI on top of Android. The Note 4 launched with Android 4.4 KitKat, while the first Note was running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which was already creeping up on a year old when the phone launched.
We should start seeing Android 5.0 Lollipop updates before too long, but right now three of the four phones are running KitKat.
Starting price (on-contract, at launch)
Samsung has stuck with the US$300 on-contract pricing for every generation of the Note. Well, at least during their initial runs: you'll find each of them discounted once newer models arrive.
If you're hanging onto one of the old Notes, and are still on the fence about upgrading, you can check out Gizmag's Galaxy Note 4 review.