Galaxy Note vs Galaxy S2 vs Galaxy Nexus – the Best of the Best?

November 13, 2011
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2011 has proven to be a very significant year for Samsung. Not only did they release the Samsung Galaxy S2 – a respectable phone with a reputation that holds its own; there’s also a Galaxy Note, the first 5.3” phone-tablet with an S Pen Stylus. Samsung also holds the privilege of releasing the 3rd Nexus phone – the Galaxy Nexus – running Android 4.0, and the first ever Android phone with hardware acceleration. They also clinched the top smartphone manufacturer in Q3 of 2011, as well as surpassed Symbian to become the No.1 manufacturer in South East Asia.

These are causes for celebration – and at the South East Asia Galaxy Note World Tour in Jakarta, Android Authority was privileged to be invited to preview the Galaxy Note and Galaxy Nexus. All these 3 devices have a solid spec sheet, and are similar in some aspects of hardware, but different in so many ways too.

Below are some thoughts I had about the Samsung Galaxy S2, the Galaxy Note, and the Galaxy Nexus after I attended the event. Please note that since there are so many difference between the devices, the focus of this article, mainly, will be to address the hardware differences.

Operating System

We all know that the operating system plays an important role in consumer selection and purchase. With the Galaxy Nexus, you will always have the most up-to-date version of Android – currently at version 4.0, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich, and the soon to come Android 5.0 Jellybean, if that’s what it’s going to be called. Ice Cream Sandwich is guaranteed for the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S2, though it’s hard to say if Jellybean will be a reality. Given the specs of both devices however, it certainly is possible, though it will depend on whether Samsung, or the carriers, will want to provide users the Jellybean experience. Should they give consumers Jellybean on the Note & SGS2, it will inspire consumer confidence – unlike the HTC Desire S, which was totally excluded from ICS even with the 18 months OS upgrade advisory from Google.

The Galaxy Note comes with the S Pen, which works well for those in the creative & business category and ICS would be a great addition as it will also mean that the Mali 400 graphics processor will be fully utilized for memos and sketching. The Galaxy S2 is already considered the best phone at the moment by many, and ICS will improve on what Samsung has already done. On a level Ice Cream Sandwich-playing field, it’s hard to say which device will win. In all likelihood, the Galaxy S2 will fare the best considering its current sales effect, while the Galaxy Nexus will win with Google Purists, and the Galaxy Note among the business savvy and creative group.

Blazing Fast Processors

At 1.2GHz, both the Nexus and Galaxy S2 are very fast phones. The Note has a 1.4GHz chip, and delivers equal performance, but at a higher screen resolution. The SGS2 comes in 2 variants – the I9100 and the I9100G. The former utilizes the Exynos chip while the latter is uses the TI OMAP 4430 chip. The Galaxy Nexus, on the other hand, uses the more powerful TI OMAP 4460 chip while the Galaxy Note is powered by an Exynos processor. Considering all factors, the user experience is consistent throughout all 3 of these Samsung products. Hence, processor speed should not be a necessary motivation for consumers to prefer one device over another.

Camera, Lights, Action

Both the SGS2 and Galaxy Note have an 8MP camera, while the Galaxy Nexus is a 5MP low light shooter. To be honest, I can’t decide which I like better. After a quick hands-on session with the Nexus during the Galaxy Note World Tour, I find the camera acceptable and the instant snapshots a useful too. It feels like a DSLR camera in a compact form. However, once the S2 and Note get the ICS upgrades, consumers might prefer the higher resolution camera. This is still pretty much guess game as we have no review sets of the Galaxy Nexus to compare with.

For videos, all 3 devices are capable of 1920×1080 (1080p HD) at 30 fps; with the low light sensor on the Galaxy Nexus giving it a slight edge for night videos. The Nexus’ 1.3MP front facing camera does the job, but falls short of the 2MP front camera on the SGS2 and Galaxy Note. To be frank, I don’t think 0.7MP makes much of a difference, but camera purists might disagree.

Display

  • SGS2 – Super AMOLED Plus 800 x 480
  • Galaxy Note – HD Super AMOLED 1280 x 800
  • Galaxy Nexus – HD Super AMOLED 1280 x 800

Super AMOLED Plus displays uses the traditional RGB structure, while HD Super Amoled uses a PenTile matrix. Most tech savvy consumers would steer clear of PenTile matrixes, however this stems from a complete misunderstanding of PenTile. I have tested all 3 devices, and all I can say is that Samsung has done an extremely good job with HD Super AMOLED. Apart from crisp, bright and vivid images, you’ll also gain longer battery life with it.

That said, of the 3 devices, I personally prefer the display on the Note. The 5.3inch WXGA 1280×800 display on the Galaxy Note does make everything easier to read – and I suspect the Roboto font from Android 4.0 will make the viewing experience even better. The 5×5 grid on the Note does allow more items on screen, and allows more widgets and apps than before, compared to the 4×4 grid on the Nexus and SGS2. The Galaxy Note’s S Pen also adds a ton more functionality in a way that is unavailable on either the Galaxy S2 or Nexus.

Battery Life

Galaxy Note on the left, Galaxy S2 on the right

  • SGS2 – Li-Ion 1650 mAh
  • Galaxy Note – Li-Ion 2500 mAh
  • Galaxy Nexus – Li-Ion 1750 mAh

I own an SGS2 and had the opportunity to review the Note as well. I generally get about 14 to 16 hours on the Galaxy Note. On average, the SGS2 lasts about 12-14 hours for me. While I haven”t spent enough time with the Galaxy Nexus to definitively say whether or not we have a winner in this department, reliable reports have confirmed that it is quite good, and excellent in fact, for an LTE 4G device.

NFC

Very few devices have NFC for the moment, and the Galaxy Nexus is one of those few. I have no doubt that Western bound (USA) variants of the Note and the Galaxy Nexus will have NFC on board. That being said, in my part of the world, NFC isn’t a budding technology yet. Apart from Android Beam, there aren’t any other usages for NFC here, but it would be nice if manufacturers start releasing NFC capable MicroSD cards that we’ve heard so much about. This might change the trend here in Asia and revolutionize the market.

Wrap-Up

Let’s just assume for a second that all three devices are running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. If this were the case, I would be totally torn between the Galaxy Note and Galaxy Nexus. I find the S Pen to be a big help as an office companion, while the Nexus inspires OS update lust. The SGS2 is a solid device, and since Samsung has confirmed that both the Note and SGS2 will receive Ice Cream Sandwich in 2012 (we’re estimating Q1 2012), there are absolutely no worries about being left behind. It has been an amazing year for Samsung, and if they deliver on their OS update promises, I have no doubt that 2012 will also be another Samsung-dominating year.

Which is the device to rule them all? Let us know in the comments!

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Image Credit for Macro shot of displays: Phone Arena

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