Samsung Galaxy Note 2 vs Google Nexus 4

December 24, 2012
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The first Nexus device was the HTC Nexus One which ran on Android 2.1 Eclair and then was upgraded to Android 2.2 Froyo. The Samsung Nexus S then followed with Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The third Nexus came in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which introduced the merged Android OS for phones and tablets, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. And, to represent the latest Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, Google worked with LG to create the latest Nexus device known as the LG Nexus 4 E960.

But, it is not the only Jelly Bean phone around. In fact, Samsung has one — a phone-tablet or phablet, to be precise. The successor to the Samsung Galaxy Note GT-N7000, Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note 2 GT-N7100 a larger screen, quad-core processor, amazing display, and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

Each of the said devices pushes boundaries, but apparently in different ways. Which of them stands out and has what you need in a phone? Read the rest of this article and find out. You can also skip to our comparison video below.

Physical Build and Design

Dimensions and Weight

Nexus 4 Galaxy Note 2
Height 133.9 mm (5.27 in) 151.1 mm (5.95 in)
Width 68.7 mm (2.70 in) 80.5 mm (3.17 in)
Thickness 9.1 mm (0.36 in) 9.4 mm (0.37 in)
Weight 139 g (4.90 oz) 183 g (6.46 oz)

Nicknamed a “phablet,” the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is unsurprisingly taller and wider than the Nexus 4. Ironically, although it carries a bigger body, the Galaxy Note 2 has almost the same thickness as the Nexus 4.

I find both phones light and easy to carry around. The Nexus 4, though, has a smaller chassis which makes it more portable than the Galaxy Note 2. Some users may find the Galaxy Note 2 big for their small hands or too huge inside their tight pants’ pockets.

Front

Both phones have simple and distinct front designs. On the Galaxy Note 2, you can find the physical Home button with silver lining at the bottom, flanked by the Menu and Back capacitive buttons. The silver Samsung logo, speaker grille, notification light, light sensors, and the front camera are located at the top.

I particularly like the glossy, gray front bezels with brushed metal finish. This metallic finish shines when tilting the phone at a certain angle. Although the phone is primarily plastic, this polished front makes the handset look like it has a metallic chassis. A gray plastic frame surrounds the front.

Meanwhile, the Nexus 4 bears a more minimalistic and mysterious frontal design than the Galaxy Note 2. There are no logos or physical buttons here. The screen is all glossy black and flat, interrupted only by the speaker grille. The notification light hides in the middle of the bottom bezel and can be seen only when it lights up. The light sensors and front camera are located at the top bezel. The front screen is surrounded by a silver plastic frame.

Both phones have top and bottom bezels wider than the left and right bezels. This allows you more screen to use in portrait and easy handling while in landscape.

Sides

Locations of ports and buttons on both phones are the same.

The Volume Rockers are on the left side. The Nexus 4, however, also has its SIM tray here. You need a pin to open this tray. The Galaxy Note 2’s SIM tray is located underneath the back cover. The 3.5-mm headphone jack sits on the top side of both phones. A small hole for the microphone can also be seen here. The right side contains the Power button.

The standard Micro USB port on both phones are located at the bottom side. Another hole for the microphone is also located here. The Nexus 4 has, along this side, two torx screws which hold the chassis in place. The Galaxy Note 2 also has its S Pen cradle at the right-most end on this side.

Back

The back covers of both phones have distinct designs. Both exude an air of elegance.

To make up for its minimalistic front, the Nexus 4’s back panel is glamorous and fabulous. The back panel is adorned by tiny glittering crystals, also known as LG’s Crystal Reflection Method. You can see these crystals when you tilt the phone at certain angles; this also creates a floating 3D illusion on the logos. The glittering crystals, LED flash, and the rear camera are protected by a layer of scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass 2. The glass layer is flat and is interrupted only by the speaker grille at the bottom and the flash housing on top.

The glossy brushed metal esthetic of the Galaxy Notes 2’s front extends to its back and makes the back cover look like a metallic back plate. But, when you remove the back cover, the back panel is actually just plastic, albeit thin yet durable. You can find the rear camera housing and LED flash on top. The loudspeaker grille and the S Pen cradle are located at the bottom-left portion. The Galaxy Note’s NFC tag is embedded underneath the back cover.

Unlike the Nexus 4’s unibody design, the Galaxy Note 2 has a removable back plate and a removable battery, too. This allows me to customize the Galaxy Note 2 with custom back covers or change the battery when it wears down.

Display

  • Nexus 4
    • 4.7-inch True HD IPS+
    • 768×1280 pixels
    • 318 ppi pixel density
    • Corning Gorilla Glass 2
    • Zerogap Touch Technology
  • Galaxy Note 2
    • 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED screen
    • 720×1280 pixels
    • 267 ppi pixel density
    • Corning Gorilla Glass 2

Both phones use different screen technologies: HD Super AMOLED screen on the Galaxy Note 2 and True HD IPS+ LCD screen on the Nexus 4.

Both displays are actually good, but I find colors on the Galaxy Note 2 more saturated and colorful than those on the Nexus 4. Colors of videos and games pop out from this display, making this screen ideal for media consumption. Meanwhile, colors on the Nexus 4 are slightly subdued but more realistic than on the Galaxy Note 2; this display is less straining to my eyes.

Both phones have almost the same screen resolutions, however, since the Nexus 4 has a smaller screen, images viewed here are more crisp than on the Galaxy Note 2.

The Galaxy Note 2 has Smart features that make its display smarter than the Nexus 4. Smart Stay, for instance, keeps the screen on while you are looking at the screen. Another one is Smart Rotation, which automatically adjusts screen orientation according to your viewing angles. These two features use the front camera and you must have adequate lighting to enjoy the two.

In contrast, the Nexus 4’s screen is not smarter but is thin and responsive. The Nexus 4 uses Zerogap Touch Technology on its screen. This type of screen reduces air gaps, making the screen thinner, brighter, and more responsive to touch. Basically, you have only the glass layer between you and the screen.

Both phones’ displays are clear, visible, and usable under direct sunlight.

Processing Power

Nexus 4 Galaxy Note 2
Chipset Snapdragon S4 APQ8064 Exynos 4412
CPU quad-core 1.5 GHz Krait quad-core 1.6 GHz Cortex-A9
GPU Adreno 320 Mali-400MP
RAM 2 GB 2 GB
Internal Storage 8/16 GB 16/32/64 GB
External Storage none up to 64 GB

Overall performance on both phones is smooth and seamless. The culprits behind this smoothness are the quad-core chipsets that power both phones. The two devices did not choke or lag while I was navigating through homescreens, playing HD games, launching apps, and browsing the Web. However, I noticed some minor jitter while scrolling using the stock Web browsers on both phones, although the flicker is easy to ignore.

In terms of storage, though, the Galaxy Note 2 greatly outweighs the Nexus 4. The Nexus 4 has only either 8- or 16-gigabyte storage capacity. You’re also stuck with that storage capacity because the Nexus 4 doesn’t contain a microSD slot for expansion.

The Galaxy Note 2, in contrast, can give you up to 64 gigabytes of internal storage and a microSD slot that can take up to 64 gigabytes of additional storage, giving you a whopping 128 gigabytes of storage.

Benchmarks

Benchmark Nexus 4 Galaxy Note 2
Quadrant 3984 5918
AnTuTu 14280 13666
CF-Bench 10528 15383
Vellamo Mobile Benchmark HTML5 1131 1832
Vellamo Mobile Benchmark Metal 550 626
Geekbench 2 1636 1989
Linpack for Android Single Thread 39.883 MFLOPS 65.546 MFLOPS
Linpack for Android Multi-thread 91.866 MFLOPS 205.441 MFLOPS
GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt HD C24Z16 Offscreen 26 fps 17 fps
GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt HD C24Z16 Onscreen 26 fps 18 fps
Nenamark 1 58.8 fps 58.2 fps
Nenamark 2 57.6 fps 58.1 fps
An3DBench XL 35911 40857
SunSpider 0.9.1 JavaScript (lower is better) 2298.5 ms 1169.2 ms
BrowserMark 2.0 1873 2211
Google V8 Benchmark Suite 1006 2359

The Galaxy Note 2 outwits the Nexus 4 in terms of CPU and browser performance. Both phones gave a good fight with GPU performance.

Connectivity

Both phones can connect to 2G and 3G networks. Some variants of the Galaxy Note 2, however, can connect to 4G networks. The two phones also require micro-SIMs for you to use their phone capabilities.

Both phones still feature the same stock connectivity feature of most high-end smartphones such as Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth, NFC, and DLNA. Both phones use standard Micro USB ports and cables for transferring files and connecting the phones to their wall chargers.

Camera

  • Nexus 4
    • 8 MP rear
    • 1.3 MP front
    • Photo Sphere feature
    • flexible camera app
    • 8 MP, 5 MP, 3 MP, 2 MP,1.3 MP, VGA, QVGA image sizes
    • scene mode
    • 1080p, 720p, 480p video quality
    • Time lapse recording
  • Galaxy Note 2
    • 8 MP rear
    • 1.9 MP front
    • flexible Camera app
    • 8, 6, 3.2, 2.4, 0.9, 0.3 megapixel
    • various effects and scene
    • Burst Shot, Best Face, Share Shot
    • Voice enabled controls
    • 1080, 720, 480, 240 video quality
    • Slow motion and Fast motion recording

With its large storage capacity, you can store lots of pictures on the Galaxy Note 2; that is what the 8-megapixel camera is for. The Nexus 4 also has an 8-megapixel shooter. The camera app on both phones are simple and provides flexibility to users via camera setting options.

The Nexus 4 features the same stock Android 4.1 Jelly Bean camera app with some improvements brought along by Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. Tapping the viewfinder reveals toggle buttons to allow you to change the settings on the camera. You can also take 360-degree photos with Photo Sphere.

The Galaxy Note 2’s camera app also contains the stock camera features of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with new additions by Samsung such as Burst Shot, Best Face, Share Shot, and voice-enabled controls. Let’s see how these two 8-megapixel shooters fare.

Images under bright settings came out good and crisp; however, the Nexus 4 rendered duller colors than the Galaxy Note 2.

In low-light settings, though, both produced dark and noisy images.

Both phones have LED flashes that bring light in low-light situations. The Galaxy Note 2 gave off a whitish light, while the Nexus 4 gave off a yellowish light.

The Galaxy Note 2 has a 1.9-megapixel front camera and the Nexus 4 has a 1.3-megapixel front camera. Let’s see how these front shooters fare.

Both phones produced acceptable-quality photos in bright environments. I find the Nexus 4’s images more vibrant than those from the Galaxy Note 2.

In low-light settings, however, both phones produced noisy images with more noise evident in the Nexus 4’s images.

Both phones can capture and record 1080p videos and lower-resolution videos. The Galaxy Note 2 has an Anti-Shake feature that allows you to capture less-jittery clips. The Nexus 4 doesn’t have this feature, so you will have to keep your hands still when recording videos.

Media Playback

Watching your favorite movies is pleasurable on both phones, as they can play 1080p Full HD videos without choking. The simple video player apps on both phones have basic playback control buttons. However, the Samsung phone has its own features that make movie watching more fun.

The stock Video Player app on the Galaxy Note 2 allows you to multitask while watching a video — with the Pop up play feature, or in a split screen with the Multi Window feature. You can easily locate a particular scene by hovering the S Pen on the progress bar. The camera icon in the player allows you to take pictures right from within the video that you’re watching. You cannot find these features on the Nexus 4.

For listening to music, both phones have simple and flexible music players. The music player apps on both phones have equalizer presets, multi-band equalizer, and sound enhancement filters.

Sound quality is also crisp and clear on both phones, but I notice more distortion on the Nexus 4 than on the Galaxy Note 2 when turning the volume up. Sound output is muffled when you lay the Nexus 4 on its back. Sound quality on the Note 2 is clearer and louder than on the Nexus 4.

Battery Life

To power all these features, the Nexus 4 carries a 2,100 mAh Li-Po battery with 15 hours of published talktime on 3G, while the Galaxy Note 2 has a 3,100 mAh Li-ion battery with published talktime of 16 hours on 3G.

To see how long these batteries last, I conducted our informal battery test on both devices. I turned on Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth; maxed out screen brightness; turned on sync options; and never allowed the screen to turn off. I looped an HD video for the first hour, and another hour was spent browsing the Web.

From a full charge, the Nexus 4 left me with 50% power and the Galaxy Note 2 with 77% power. If I were to extend another 2 hours, the Nexus 4 would most likely run out of battery first, while the Galaxy Note 2 would leave me with about 20% to 40% power.

Software

The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is the first Android smartphone that came with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean out-of-the-box. The phone also uses the feature-rich and nature-inspired TouchWiz Nature UX. The Nexus 4, on the other, is one of the few devices to run the latest version of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.

Lockscreen

Both the Nexus 4 and Galaxy Note 2 feature a simple lockscreen.

Though already on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, the Nexus 4 has the same lockscreen as in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean but with some significant changes. The lockscreen contains several pages that allow you to place widgets — such as Gmail, Calendar, and Messages — on the lockscreen. You can also launch the camera with the Camera widget on the lockscreen. To unlock your phone, tap on the ring lock icon at the bottom and swipe to any direction.

On the Galaxy Note 2, you can have a glimpse of the nature-inspired theme on the lockscreen. Tapping on the screen causes a water ripple effect on the lockscreen. Tap and swipe anywhere to unlock your phone. You can also remove your S Pen to wake and unlock your phone. You can place up to five app shortcuts at the bottom of the lockscreen.

Homescreen

Both the Galaxy Note 2 and Nexus 4 have homescreens that serve as your personal space. Here you can place your favorite apps, place a wallpaper, and decorate the homescreens with widgets.

The Nexus 4 has five default homescreen pages. You can neither add nor remove a homescreen. At the bottom is an app dock where you can place up to 4 app shortcuts or folders and one button for the App Drawer. The Google search bar at the top persists on all homescreen pages.

You can use up to seven homescreens on the Galaxy Note 2. A special homescreen — part of a feature called Page Buddy — appears when you remove your S Pen or insert your earphones.

The Galaxy Note 2 allows you to do most things right on the homescreen. You can open the Multi Window to instantly access and simultaneously open two apps at the same time. A Popup Note appears once you remove the S Pen, so you can instantly jot down notes. You can instantly call a contact or search for a keyword using gestures with Quick commands.

Notifications

The Nexus 4, of course, uses the stock notification menu of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Note 2 uses a Samsung-modified version of the stock Android 4.1 notification menu while still keeping the general look and layout of the stock notification menu.

Aside from the usual notification menu, the Nexus 4 has another pull-down menu — although not for notifications. By swiping down from the status bar using two fingers, you’ll pull down the toggles menu, which, naturally, hosts the various toggles for frequently accessed settings.

Frequently accessed toggle buttons are grouped together nicely on the Galaxy Note 2’s notification menu. You can adjust the screen brightness on this notification menu. When you remove the S Pen, recommended app shortcuts for the S Pen appear on the menu. Recommended apps for earphone use also appear on the notification menu when you insert your earphones.

Both phones allow you to remove a single notification by flicking or remove all notifications by a tap of a button.

App Drawer

The Galaxy Note 2 and the Nexus 4 have the same App Drawer design. Your apps are arranged on a 5×5 grid. The App Drawer also contains a dedicated Widget tab that contains all your widgets, which you can place on the homescreen. The Note 2, however, offers viewing options for the App Drawer such as Alphabetical grid, Customizable grid, and Alphabetical list. On the Note 2, you can also hide apps from the App Drawer.

Personalization

Each phone has its own unique set of features that allows you customize the interface.

The Nexus 4 allows you to do the following:

  • Use screensavers while charging or connected to its dock
  • Download and install third-party apps
  • Sideload apps
  • Use live wallpapers
  • Group apps into folders
  • Use widgets on the lockscreen

The Galaxy Note 2 lets you:

  • Choose between two homescreen modes
  • Change the font style
  • Select from 4 screen modes
  • Enable/disable motion gestures
  • Use live wallpapers
  • Download and install third-party apps, keyboards, and launchers
  • Rearrange apps in the app drawer
  • Enable one-handed operation mode
  • Customize S Pen functions
  • Add customized gestures for Quick commands

Keyboard

The Nexus 4 uses the stock Android 4.2 keyboard which introduces swiping gestures for composing your text. You can also use voice to compose messages and you don’t need an Internet connection to use this.

The Galaxy Note 2 has a simple keyboard with lots of amazing features. This keyboard also allows you to swipe to text using the Continuous Input feature. With the S Pen, you can compose your messages by writing on the screen. The keyboard also has gesture mode that allows you to delete, split, or edit words by using gestures. The keyboard also has voice-to-text feature, but it doesn’t work without an Internet connection.

Search

Since both phones run Jelly Bean, the two phones use Google Now as the default search app. There’s also a voice-activated assistant on the Galaxy Note 2 in the form of S Voice. You can tell S Voice to type your messages, set reminders, and even search for the nearest restaurant.

Security

Both phones still feature stock Android security features, such as the following:

  • Various screen lock types such as Slide, Face Unlock, Pattern, PIN, and Password
  • Encrypting the data on the phone
  • Enabling/disabling installation of apps not from the Google Play Store
  • Showing or hiding passwords
  • Adding a PIN for the Google Play Store

Samsung also added some of its own security features, such as the following:

  • Motion unlock
  • Face and Voice unlock
  • Remote controls via SamsungDive

Pricing and Availability

The Nexus 4 is available in 8- and 16-gigabyte storage models that cost US$300 and US$400, respectively.

Samsung claims that the Galaxy Note 2 is available as 16-, 32-, and 64-gigabyte storage models, but only the 16-gigabyte is currently available on the market and costs about US$650.

Video Review

For more info about these two phones, also check out our video review on YouTube:

Conclusion

In sum, the Galaxy Note 2 and the Nexus 4 are both good devices. Both phones have powerful hardware that perform smoothly and fluidly. The displays on both phones are perfect for watching movies and playing HD games. Both phones also run the smoothest versions of Android to date: Jelly Bean. These actually made it hard for me to choose one over the other.

If you’re one of those hardcore users who frequently multitask on their phones or want some features of a tablet on a phone, then the Galaxy Note 2 is an ideal phone for you. If you want to use the phone as a phone that can still play HD movies and games, the Nexus 4 would suit you best.

What do you think of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and the Google Nexus 4? If you have to pick just one, which would you choose? Why? Let us know by leaving a comment and by voting in the poll.

[poll id="198"]

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