How do you compare two devices that are as different as the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and the iPhone 5? The simple answer is you don’t. You don’t compare a Ferrari to a Bentley. But what if you have to compare them?
Truth is, many people want to see how the two top smartphones of the moment fare against each other, even if they are polar opposites in terms of… well, everything. With that said, here’s our Galaxy Note 2 vs iPhone 5 comparison, along with a hands-on video review. Enjoy.
It’s a David vs Goliath story here. The iPhone 5 display’s (while a bit larger than the previous generations) it’s still just four inches, which for many (me included) is simply too small. The Note 2 dwarfs the iPhone, with a 5.5-inch display that brings it close to tablet territory.
What the iPhone 5 lacks in size, it makes up in quality. The Retina display (326 ppi) is super-crisp, accurately calibrated, and bright, while the contrast levels are probably the best in class. If you spend lots of time outside, the iPhone 5 is a good choice, thanks to that high contrast rating for ambient light.
But the Note 2’s display is equally impressive. At 1280 x 720 resolution, the massive HD Super AMOLED panel has a lower pixel density than the iPhone, but it still maintains its crispness. Unlike the Galaxy S3, the Note 2 features a true RGB stripe sub-pixel pattern, albeit an unusual one, with oversized blue sub-pixels. Samsung opted for this unique pattern to prolong the lifespan of the display, because blue sub-pixels generally burn out faster than the other colors.
If you are fan of the super saturated colors rendered by AMOLED displays, you will love the Note 2, while the iPhone 5 has a much better color reproduction. I would say that (unless you love AMOLED) the iPhone has the better display overall, but the experience is marred by its diminutive size.
Build quality and design
Another tough department to compare, because people either like or dislike a design. For me, the aluminum and glass iPhone 5 looks better than the Galaxy Note 2, but some of you might disagree.
In spite of its massive size, the Note 2 is thin enough (thinner than the original Note) to feel smaller than it actually is. Yes, it’s still somehow cumbersome to use as an actual phone, but that’s the price you have to pay if you want a tiny tablet in your pocket.
Both the iPhone 5 and the Note 2 passed our drop tests with flying colors (unlike the GS3), even if the iPhone 5 boasts an almost indestructible metal case, while the innards of the Note 2 are protected by a thin plastic cover that is prone to popping out. Using a case is still a good idea.
The iPhone 5 loses durability points due to its anodized aluminum cover being prone to scuffing. If you use it without protection, you will eventually end up with nicks and scratches on it.
If we were to judge the two phones solely by their specs, the Galaxy Note 2 would certainly be the winner. It features 2GB of RAM versus 1GB on the iPhone 5; the Exynos 4 Quad processor on the Note 2 is on par with or better than the iPhone’s A6 chip (see the benchmarks in the video). Plus, the Note 2 has some features that are absent altogether from the iPhone 5, such as removable battery, microSD card slot, and NFC.
With that being said, we don’t recommend that you buy your phone based on spec sheets alone. User experience often depends on the integration between software and hardware, and that is where the iPhone 5 excels. Apple’s smartphone also shines in the camera department, which takes nicer pictures than most other phones currently on the market.
If however, you want to be able to use SD cards, or swap batteries, or use NFC, the Note 2 is the way to go. In addition to all this, the Note 2 totes the S Pen, a capacitive stylus that really adds a new level of usability to the device, and allows you to take full advantage of its massive screen.
Software and ecosystem
Samsung has baked many unique features in the Galaxy Note 2, with an emphasis on the S Pen specific ones. For instance, pulling the stylus out of its slot automatically brings up a notes app, for those times when you need to write something down while talking on the phone (with a headset preferably). Hovering the tip of the stylus over various design elements lets users accomplish tasks easier – for instance, hovering over a folder will bring up a preview of its content.
Perhaps the most impressive software feature of the Note 2 is the multi-tasking mode. You can have two windows open at the same time, just like on your PC. You can watch a presentation and write notes down, without endlessly switching between applications. Multi-window mode is something that we’ve been waiting for a long time in Android, even if Samsung’s implementation needs more work.
iOS 6 shines when it comes to ease of use and fluidity. Apple polished its mobile operating system to perfection over the years, and, if you are looking for that, you can’t get any better. However, many users will find the walled garden model promoted by Apple limiting. Android offers more customization options, and more freedom in general.
Another area where Apple has the edge is the ecosystem. While Google has made great progress when it comes to its app store, for movies, music and other media, the iTunes/iOS combo is still king.
Video comparison: Galaxy Note 2 vs iPhone 5
Note: in the video, we mistakenly tested the iPhone 5 camera in HDR mode. The camera is faster when HDR is off.
Pros and cons
Galaxy Note 2 pros
- The huge screen is great for productive users and media fiends alike
- Powerful hardware and more features; more future-proof
- Great for working on the go, thanks to the stylus and the specific apps
Galaxy Note 2 cons
- Too large and heavy for many users
- Cheaper build
- Android updates are problematic
iPhone 5 pros
- Great build quality
- Pocketable and lightweight
- Great ecosystem
- Simple OS updates
- Easy to use
iPhone 5 cons
- Simplistic and dated operating system
- The display is small
- Less flexible and less customizable
- No microSD slot and NFC
The two phones we compared today are simply too different to claim that one is superior to the other. If you are not turned off by the Note 2’s gargantuan figure, it really is the more powerful smartphone. But if you crave the most polished user experience possible, choose the iPhone 5.
It all boils down to the pros versus cons and what you are willing to sacrifice. You know our choice – what is yours?