Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. Galaxy Note 2

May 6, 2013
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People like what they like. Yeah, that’s something that people (and writers, who don’t count as real people) say, but it also happens to be true. Case in point: the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Remember all your friends who liked the original Note? Yeah, neither does anybody else.

But, as things often do, it took off. It didn’t only take off, but quickly became one of the most popular phones among tech enthusiasts. Why? Well probably because it was big and did an awful lot of stuff.

The Samsung Galaxy S4, on the other hand, is small and does a lot of stuff. As tiny a difference as that may seem, it’s an important one. It’s the difference between people reading this article who may buy one and, well, anyone else who may buy one.

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The question remains: which is the better choice? As the opening may have implied, this is a far easier question to ask than it is to answer.

In a hurry? Check out our video review or jump to the conclusion.

Specs

While both devices have the same amount of RAM and the same options when it comes to the internal storage, the story changes once you look at the processors. While the quad-core 1.6 GHz Exynos in the Note 2 is no slouch, both variants of the S4 have a faster chipset, whether you’re looking at the Snapdragon 600 or the Octa-core Exynos.

As we’ll see in just a bit, the performance proves that the specs in the Samsung Galaxy S4 simply can’t be beat by the Galaxy Note 2.

Build Quality & Design

If you look past all the possible jokes (especially the ones about an unnamed person who may or may not have “said” something at some point), it’s fairly easy to see that size doesn’t matter. The S4 and Note 2 both share a striking amount of physical similarities. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but neither is it a point in favor of either phone.

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Which phone you prefer is going to have a lot to do with how you plan to use it. The Galaxy Note 2’s larger size makes it more difficult to use one-handed, though there are benefits as well, like the aforementioned larger size. On the other hand, users who prefer a smaller form factor are definitely going to prefer the Galaxy S4.

Display

Based on specs alone, it’s easy to just simply hand this category to the Galaxy S4. The 1080p resolution and 4.99-inch display size leave you with a pixel density of 441 ppi. When you compare that to the Galaxy Note 2’s 5.5-inch 720p display with a pixel density of around 267 ppi, it’s even more impressive. If you like your display sharp as a knife, the Galaxy S4 is hard to beat.

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The one thing certain people may prefer about the Galaxy Note 2 is the sheer size of the screen, especially if you plan to often be looking at it from a few feet away. At this distance, any lack of sharpness due to the 720p display is no longer noticeable, but the larger image certainly is.

Performance

To get a solid metric of performance, we ran our usual tests, starting with AnTuTu Benchmark. We ran the benchmark 10 times on each phone and averaged the results, ending up with a final score of around 24,500 for the Galaxy S4 and around 17,500 for the Galaxy Note 2. Note that the chipset in the Galaxy S4 we used was the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600.

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Next we ran Epic Citadel. Having seen decent results in the past on phones with 720p displays, we thought this might be closer than the AnTuTu results, but that wasn’t the case. Running Epic Citadel a few times in High Quality mode, we saw around 58 frames per second from the Galaxy S4, while the Note 2 seemed to struggle, producing only around 45 frames per second.

In day to day use, the performance differences are much more difficult to notice. Both phones were very responsive, though some of the animations used by the Galaxy S4 made it feel slower than it actually is at times. Still, if you want the best performing phone, your best bet is the Galaxy S4.

Software

Both phones run Jelly Bean, albeit different versions. At the time of this writing, the Galaxy S4 runs Android 4.2.2, while the Galaxy Note 2 runs Android 4.1.2. While this gives the Galaxy S4 a slight advantage in the features department, the differences aren’t all that noticeable.

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What is noticeable is all the software that has been added to the Galaxy S4. While we’ve already covered a lot of this when we explained the features, it’s worth a quick mention. Air View and Air Gesture add S Pen-like functionality without using the S-Pen, and Smart Scroll allows you to scroll using your eyes (even if I personally found it to be problematic). S Health is a fitness app that does everything from counting calories to measuring how far you walk in a day.

The Note 2 doesn’t have any of that, and to certain people, that may be a plus, especially if you’re never going to use them anyway. Plus, it has the S-Pen and related software.

Camera

This is another category that easily goes to the Samsung Galaxy S4. Its camera comes with a metric ton of features that the Galaxy Note 2’s camera just doesn’t have. Add the increased megapixel count and the improved image sensor, and it’s tough to make a case for the Galaxy Note 2.

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While not everybody is going to use the slightly gimmicky Dual Shot mode or Drama Shot on the Galaxy S4, other features like Eraser are just too handy to shrug off. While the Galaxy Note 2’s camera isn’t bad by a long shot, taking a look at photos produced by each phone should be enough to prove who the winner is here.

Battery

Being that it’s so much larger, we expected the 3,100 mAh battery in the Galaxy Note 2 to last much longer than the 2,600 mAh battery in the Galaxy S4. That didn’t turn out to be the case.

This isn’t exactly a lab-run test, but during testing and benchmarking over a period of about 6.5 hours, the battery life remained the same between the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy Note 2. Both phones were at the same brightness and running the same apps and tests during the entire time.

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During shooting for the video for this piece, we saw the same results. As the video shows, both phones were running the same software nearly simultaneously. We found a 1 percent difference between the two devices, with the Galaxy Note 2 besting the Galaxy S4, but by an extremely narrow margin.

Video

Conclusion

For the most part, if you’re looking at numbers and sheer power, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is probably the right choice for you. That’s no reason to simply ignore the Note 2, however. If you’re looking for a bigger screen or want to use the S Pen-specific features, then you might want to go for the Galaxy Note 2. In the end, it all comes down to what you want or need out of a phone.

Are you planning to upgrade to the Galaxy S4? Or are you going to get/stick with the Note 2? Let us known in the comments!

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