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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 vs Samsung Galaxy S4

We take a quick look at how the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 compares to the company's current flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S4.
October 24, 2013

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is one of the hottest smartphones of the year, and it’s only natural to wonder how this high-end device stacks up against the competition, including Samsung’s other flagship, the Galaxy S4.

For sure, the Note 3 and the Galaxy S4 belong to different classes, but they also have a lot of things in common, including many of the specifications and most software features. If you don’t mind the size difference and if you don’t care about the S Pen, choosing between the Note 3 and the Galaxy S4 can be difficult. Worry not, we’re here to help.

How do the Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy S4 compare? We take a look.

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As has been the case with most Samsung releases over the past year, the design aesthetics of both smartphones are quite similar, but the Note 3 features a more rectangular design.

Considering the fact that the Galaxy Note 3 features a larger display, at 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm and weighing 168 grams, the device isn’t that much bigger than the Galaxy S4, which has dimensions of 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm and weighs 130g, with the difference in thickness and weight almost negligible.

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While both smartphones are similar from the front and sides (with the same silver rim on both), turning them over is where the separation begins. Moving away from the tired old glossy plastic on most of its smartphones, including the Galaxy S4, Samsung changed things around with the Galaxy Note 3.

The Note 3 features a faux leather back cover, complete with a faux stitch around the edges, which feels soft, and makes it very easy to grip. Granted, it’ still plastic with a different texture, but the change is enough for the Galaxy Note 3 to stand out in a Samsung smartphone lineup that is mostly uniform.

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The key difference here is handling – the Galaxy S4 is a large phone itself, but you can use it with one hand in most situations. Samsung deserves credit for giving it a small footprint, making it one of the smallest 5-inch phones on the market. In the opposite corner, the Note 3 is unabashedly large and, while Samsung equipped it with a one-hand mode, it’s clearly a phone that you need to hands to use.

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If easy handling is important for you, the Galaxy S4 seems like the better choice.

Both the 5-inch Samsung Galaxy S4 and the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 feature a Super AMOLED Full HD (1080p) display, with there being an obvious difference in pixel density because of the size, with 441 ppi and 383 ppi respectively.

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With both displays, we get the same vibrancy and high saturation that leads to bright colors, and a great experience overall. The difference in pixel density shouldn’t mislead you: it’s very hard to observe a difference between the screens of the Note 3 and the Galaxy S4, especially since you’ll likely use the Note from a greater distance.

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The Note 3 outshines, literally, the Galaxy S4. The Note 3’s display has the highest brightness levels of any smartphone, which is especially important for those who use their phones a lot in bright sunlight.

Similarly to the Galaxy S4, there are two versions of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The LTE version features a 2.3 Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, while the 3G version will run on a 1.9 Ghz Octa core processor (quad-core 1.9 Ghz ARM Cortex-A15 + quad-core 1.7Ghz ARM Cortex-A7). The Galaxy Note 3 also boasts 3GB of RAM, an Adreno 330 GPU, and 32GB or 64GB internal storage, which is further expandable via microSD up to 64GB.

On the other hand, the Galaxy S4 features a 1.9 Ghz quad-core Snapdragon 600, or 1.7Ghz octa core Exynos 5410 processor, 2GB RAM, and 16/32/64 GB internal storage with microSD expansion.

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It’s obvious that the Galaxy Note 3 is the more powerful of the two devices, and it’s good to see Samsung drop the 16GB option, and move to 32GB for the base model. The 3GB of RAM on the Note 3 is a world first, and, with all the multitasking that the device is capable of, it’s a welcome addition. With that said, the Galaxy S4 still chugs along quite reliably and there are very few situations when the Snapdragon 600 proc is clearly outdone by the 800 on the Note 3.

Besides the updated processing components, the Note 3 and the Galaxy S4 are quite similar. The two Samsung flagships share the same rich assortment of sensors and connectivity options, from the IR blaster to the barometer. The S Pen is clearly the Note 3’s defining feature, but if you choose to not use it, you will still benefit from Air View and the other little features that exploit the phone’s proximity sensors.

The situation is similar on both sides here: the Note 3 and the Galaxy S4 feature almost identical 13MP rear shooters, with a BSI sensor, LED flash, zero shutter lag and Smart Stabilization. Like the Galaxy S4, the Galaxy Note 3 camera is loaded with features, including Drama Shot, Sound & Shot, Animated Photo, Eraser, Best Photo, Best Face, Beauty Face, HDR, Panorama, and more. Both smartphones also feature the same 2MP front camera.

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If you want a great camera, both devices will deliver the same nice experience; everything you can do on the Galaxy S4, you can do on the Note 3 as well. In bright light, images are great, though the lack of optical image stabilization is a downside in lower light and when shooting moving subjects.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 features a larger 3,200 mAh battery to power the larger display and faster processor, compared to the 2,600 mAh battery of the Galaxy S4. In both cases, the battery is removable.

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Despite its demanding components, the Note remains king of battery life. We found that we could easily go through a day of regular usage, and thus escape from the tyranny of the nightly charge. For some users, the same will be possible with the Galaxy S4, but it’s more of a gamble. The Note 3 takes the lead here.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 comes with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean on-board, which, until the recently announced Android 4.4 KitKat is released, is still the latest version of Android. Most Galaxy S4 units, on the other hand, are still on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, though the Android 4.3 update has begun at the moment of this writing.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Samsung device without TouchWiz UI and its numerous features. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 includes all Galaxy S4 features, plus some new features such as Scrapbook, S Finder, Pen Window, and My Magazine, along with a lot of new (upgraded) S-Pen related apps, such as Air Command, Action Memo, and Screenwrite. You can check out the complete list of features in detail here.

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Without the S Pen features, the Note 3 and the Galaxy S4 are quite comparable, though the big difference is the larger screen on the Note, which, we think, really suits the large elements of Samsung’s overlay. But it’s the S Pen and the slew of associated software features that make the Note 3 special. From the S Finder, which lets you search through your handwritten notes, to the Action Memo, which turns your scribblings into actionable keywords, and the handy Scrapbook, the new features on the Note 3 are great for work on the go.

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 has been on the market for close to six months now, but, as of now, the price you can get it for it’s still the one from launch — around $600 unlocked, and $100-$200 on contract on most carriers. With the holiday season upon us, we may see some price cuts on the Galaxy S4, though it’s not something set in stone.

The Note 3 is clearly more expensive, though not unjustifiably so. You can get the S Pen-equipped device for around $800 unlocked and $150-$300 on carrier contracts.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is an absolute beast of a smartphone, and if the mandatory two-handed use isn’t a concern, is definitely a great choice. Samsung’s latest and greatest phone features the very best specifications on the market, has an impressive display, a competent camera, and pretty much everything you could want in terms of sensors and connectivity.

For the most part, the more compact Galaxy S4 holds its own admirably against its new sibling, though the early 2013 specifications may not cut it for the hardware junkies amongst us. On the software side, save for the S Pen specific features, the S4 is on par with the Note 3, and the same can be said about the camera. The Note 3 leads though in the battery life competition and, thanks to the S Pen, is more flexible and powerful.

The substantial difference of price again levels the scales. Depending on where you get it from, the Note 3 can set you back $200 more than the S4, but for many, the added performance, superb screen, and powerful stylus will more than justify the investment.