Apple’s latest iPhone 5 is already available in its initial markets, and in the words of my colleague Darcy LaCouvee, it truly is an engineering marvel. And that’s coming from a die-hard Android fan. After all, the iPhone 5 won against the Samsung Galaxy S3 in our drop tests.
But not everyone is going to drop their phone from ear-level on a cobbled Hong Kong pavemenet. Let’s see how well the iPhone 5 stacks up against another flagship smartphone — this time, the Samsing Galaxy Note. While we’re sure this won’t exactly be an apples-to-apples comparison, we will look at the benefits and disadvantages of each device.
One of the biggest arguments for buying the Samsung Galaxy Note is its bigger screen. At 5.3 inches, you definitely have bigger space to work on, which makes it easier on the eyes to read e-books and websites. You also get a bigger display for playing games and doing artwork or notes with the S Pen.
The iPhone 5, meanwhile, has a marginal improvement over its predecessor in terms of screen size, at 4 inches, which gives you a 0.5 inch increase in size diagonally. The iPhone 5’s advantage, however, is its resolution. At 326 ppi versus the Galaxy Note’s 285 ppi, you have a smoother and crisper display with the iPhone 5’s Retina Display, and with a bit more screen real estate (as opposed to raw size).
Additionally, there’s the argument of screen size versus usability. Apple designers wanted the iPhone to be usable one-handed, so the screen was stretched by height, but retaining the same width as the previous iPhone, which means your thumb should, in theory, still be able to reach from corner to corner.
Build quality and design
The iPhone 5 retains the same distinctive rounded corners as the iPhone 4S, although the height has been increased. The new iPhone also sports an aluminum back instead of glass, which should help distinguish it from the 4S. The iPhone 5’s integrated display (meaning no additional capacitive layer is needed since this is integrated), contributes to its thinness. Apple also used a new proprietary connector on the iPhone 5, which helped give way to the thinner design.
Our Android Authority drop tests showcase how durable the iPHone 5’s aluminum construction can be. The iPhone 5 has survived ear-level drops with only cosmetic scratches on the body.
The Samsung Galaxy Note, meanwhile, features a polycarbonate construction, which means the phone is not as structurally rigid as the iPhone 5, but offers some flexibility over its Apple counterpart. The Note also offers a removable battery, which can be a plus for users who want to be able to switch battery packs in times of emergencies.
Comparing specs on two different platforms is like comparing apples to oranges, especially with the Samsung Galaxy Note being a 2011 device. But the Note does have some advantages over the new iPhone at least in terms of raw specs.
In the processor department, the Note offers a faster dual-core Samsung Exynos/Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor clocked at 1.4 or 1.5 GHz (depending on market). The iPhone 5, meanwhile, features an Apple A6 dual-core processor clocked at 1 GHz. In terms of actual performance, though, we know Apple has optimized its A6 platform for iOS, which should offer real-world improvements, especially given how Apple tightly controls its OS and app platform. As a side-note, analysts point out that Samsung very much likely produced the A6 for Apple, judging from due markings on the chip.
Elsewhere, both devices come with 1 GB of RAM and an 8-megapixel camera. The iPhone 5’s rear cam features backside-illumination, which means better performance in low-light situations. The iPhone also has an advantage in internal storage, with the highest-spec’d model coming at 64 GB.
The Galaxy Note trumps the iPhone 5 in some hardware specs, such as the presence of NFC, better front-facing camera resolution and bundled S Pen stylus. The Galaxy Note also has a higher-capacity battery, and is rated at 13 hours of talk time, versus the iPhone’s 8 hours. The Note’s storage is also expandable with microSD.
Software and ecosystem
Apple’s iPhone 5 launched with its latest iOS 6, which comes with at least 200 identified features and improvements over iOS 5. These include improvements to SIRI, the much-awaited Passbook application that acts as a virtual wallet, and FaceTime over cellular connections.
The Samsung Galaxy Note, meanwhile, still runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich. An upgrade is due by October, depending on carrier and region, although users can expect performance improvements, better notifications, better camera software and the inclusion of Google’s Smart Now voice-based interface, among others.
The iPhone 5 is a clear winner when it comes to content such as songs, movies and videos from iTunes. The iTunes App Store also trumps Google Play in terms of raw application count, at about 700,000 versus Android’s 600,000. It may also be noteworthy that Android has been criticized for malware and virus risks associated with a fast-growing platform.
However, if Maps are a big thing for you, then you should note that iOS 6’s built-in maps drew some flak for inaccuracies and lack of features. You can either wait for Google to release a native Google Maps app for iOS 6, or use the mobile web Google Maps app via the browser.
Video comparison: Galaxy Note vs iPhone 5
Pros and cons
iPhone 5 pros
- Great build quality
- Thinner and lighter than predecessor and competitors
- Latest iOS 6
- LTE battery efficiency
- Almost global LTE support
- Updated SIRI voice assistant
- iTunes apps and content
iPhone 5 cons
- Higher price, starts at $649 unlocked
- Smaller screen than the Galaxy Note (if screen size is an issue)
- Apple Maps inaccuracies
- Lack of NFC support
- New charger/USB connector (support for older accessories necessitates $29 accessory)
- Limited customization (unless jailbroken)
Galaxy Note pros
- Bigger screen
- S Pen and built-in stylus-specific apps
- Cheaper at $520 unlocked (given its age)
- NFC payments with Google Wallet
- Google Play content
Galaxy Note cons
- Bigger screen and physical size can be a usability issue for some (no one-handed operation)
- Age – the Galaxy Note was launched October 2011
- No Jelly Bean support yet
Surely, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison (more like an apple-to-note one), especially given that the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Note are different class devices. The iPhone 5 is a smartphone, while the Galaxy Note is a tablet-smartphone hybrid. As such, the “phablet” will be geared toward users who want a bigger screen and the ability to interact with the screen using a stylus.
The question here would be your purpose for buying a phone or phablet. The iPhone should be adequate for any smartphone user, be it a first-time one or a smartphone aficionado. The Galaxy Note’s main advantage would be its tablet-like size and functionality, including S Pen support. If you really intend to buy a phablet, though, you might want to wait for the recently-launched Samsung Galaxy Note 2 to ship, as it’s just around the corner.
Your choice should also be dependent on the platform you’re already using. If you’ve been a long time iPhone user, then better stick with the apps and services you’re already using. But if your digital life deeply integrates Google services like Gmail, Google Maps and the like, then the Android platform would be the better option.