The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 might look like a supersized version of the Samsung Galaxy S III and nothing more, but both offer very different smartphone experiences. For those after the latest and greatest, both phones are flying the flag for Samsung in terms of specs and power. This makes choosing one much more of a decision about which is for you, rather than which is top of the range.
So is the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 better than the Samsung Galaxy S III? In order to help you make a buying decision, we’ve put together a list of everyday activities you might run by the Galaxy S III or Note 2. The result should highlight exactly how each handles, so you can pick out which is the best fit for your pocket.
Making a phone call
A smartphone isn’t much use if it doesn’t feel good or sound good making a phone call. In terms of actual call quality, provided you have good reception, the Note 2 and Galaxy S III both sound the same.
We really couldn’t notice much of a difference at all, other than perhaps that the Note 2’s speaker was marginally louder, but not by much. The same applied when we set the phones to speakerphone mode, as both picked up on us talking and put out a good level of volume from the person we were speaking to.
In the end it really comes down to comfort and how you feel holding either in the hand. The Galaxy S III isn’t small by any means, sizing up at 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6mm. The Note 2 however is very big, 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4mm big, in fact. In practice, you don’t notice when you’re actually speaking to people with it, but others will notice you. Some say it looks stupid, but this is really down to the individual.
Neither was uncomfortable on long calls and the bigger Note 2, thanks to its size, is actually easier to balance on the shoulder, giving you two hands with which to do other things.
Putting it in your pocket
The Note 2 might seem like a giant but, in practice, it isn’t much bigger than the average wallet and will easily fit into even the tightest of trousers or tiniest of clutch bags.
In fact, next to the 4.8-inch screen Galaxy S III, it really isn’t much bigger. Hold it against the iPhone 5 however and the size difference is very noticeable. In the end, if you’re in the market for either of the Samsung phones, you can’t be too bothered about the size of the device.
A noticeable improvement over the last Note is that the included Note 2 S Pen stylus sits tight and sticks solidly into the handset. This means no pulling it out when you stick the phone in your pocket accidentally.
Using the screen
The Super AMOLED displays on both the Note 2 and SGS III are fantastic, provided you don’t subject them to any sunlight whatsoever. They are not phones to be used outside believe us, as even with brightness on full, you are going to struggle to see what you're doing.
Inside is a very different story. Essentially, with the Note 2 you just get more of that beautiful screen to play with. The only time we really found it necessary however was when we were doing one of two things: using the S Pen to take notes (a Note specific function) or browsing the web.
It’s just easier to scroll through websites on a screen that is closer to a tablet in size. We found that with text messaging and other day-to-day smartphone activities, such as sending emails, that there wasn’t much of an advantage.
Samsung has coded some extra functionality into the Note 2 in order to take full advantage of the bigger screen and these deserve mention. First, the fact that it recognises when you take out the S Pen is very handy.
The actual note-taking apps immediately highlight a problem with the size of the Note 2’s screen. It still isn’t big enough, nor accurate enough, to really fit a decent amount of handwriting on to a page. You find yourself constantly making new pages within the app and in the end it seems easier just to go back to standard pen and paper.
So, as far as the screen goes, there’s surprisingly little practical difference - size aside - between the SGS III and Note 2, other than web browsing and a few extras we’ll get to in a minute.
Sending an email
The included keyboard that Samsung ships out with both phones is very good. This makes typing straightforward and easy as well as responsive and accurate. Again the bigger screen would in theory help here, but we simply didn’t find it beneficial in real-world use.
Those with bigger hands might find it useful to be able to tap out emails using the S Pen, saving your screen from grease. In the end though, both the included Samsung apps and Gmail operate identically on both phones.
We do, however, really like the handwriting integration in the included email app. Once you pull the pen out, the Note 2’s home screen will switch app drawers at the bottom, showing which work best with the stylus. Now you can send emails or text by scribbling out words. It takes practice, but in the long run we think might be quicker than text messaging.
Using office apps and working
Email naturally makes up a big part of anybody’s working day. There is a lot more that can be done using your smartphone though. Samsung includes things like S Memo with the Galaxy S III, but goes further with the Note 2, giving you other apps such as Paper Artist and of course the baked-in Note app.
People work differently with their smartphones, but our typical working day tends to involve a lot email, Twitter and text messaging. Most will prefer to use Google Docs, which performs great on the Note 2 and SGS III. If you do want to take advantage of all the S Pen has to offer, then you are stuck to Samsung’s own apps, which simply just aren’t as good.
In the end, both phones are not going to cause issue to your working day. With access to the same app store, you can create a near identical experience on both.
This is one area where we really found the bigger display on the Note to be of benefit. Snapping pics, it felt like we had a vast viewfinder in which to compose and shoot.
No compact has a screen this big on the back and the sensor in the new Samsung’s so good that we found it genuinely refreshing to shoot with it. When taking video, the Note’s screen fills up with everything you’re recording and gives you exactly the same experience during playback.
If you’re after image quality though, we can’t see much difference between them. Admittedly there is a 1.9-megapixel snapper on the front of the Note and a 2-megapixel on front of the Galaxy S III, but really the difference is not noticeable at all.
Once you have your snaps however the Note 2 uses its S Pen for some clever added functionality. If you hold the clicker on the pen, then draw around points of interest on the frame, you can copy that part of the shot to the clipboard and paste it into other apps, letting you edit it later. In practice though it doesn’t add much to the standard gallery app on either but it’s certainly fun to play with.
You wouldn’t be after a phone with a screen as big as the Note 2 or the SGS III if you weren’t thinking about watching video. Again the screen size factor on the Note 2 comes into play here.
For video however, we think the SGS III is more than enough screen real estate and, if you want anything bigger, then a tablet is the thing to go for. Don’t forget you get the clever Samsung pop-up video with both, letting you view video while giving access to some basic smartphone functions at the same time.
Black levels are great, as is screen brightness. The real problem relates to what we mentioned earlier: in direct sunlight it’s hard to see what is going on.
In terms of picking between the two for video, there’s very little in it.
Using the phone on the go
We have already mentioned that both handsets fit nicely into the pocket, but just a word on how they are to use out and about. We already touched on feeling slightly stupid holding the Note up to the ear, but it really isn’t an issue.
The main problem we think the Note 2 poses is its included S Pen, which we can easily see getting lost and left on the seat of a bus or train. The phone does alert you if you leave the pen behind but, once those train doors are closed, it makes little difference.
It isn’t exactly an inconspicuous phone either and, while we know its not best to think this way, people will notice you using it and that might lead to a greater risk of theft. Then again, a bright, white Galaxy S III isn’t particularly subtle either.
Apple made a big stink about how a 4-inch screen was the perfect size for one-handed phone use. Having used an iPhone 5 for a while now, we have to agree with them, as 4 inches is about the limit for using a phone screen with a single finger. But one-digit use isn’t really going to alter the way you use your phone, because all the apps function the same - you just use both hands to interact with them.
Both the Samsung handsets handle fantastically well and texting can still be done pretty easily with one finger on the SGS III. Otherwise you can always take out the S Pen and use the Note 2 with two hands, which feels intuitive and is nowhere near as cumbersome as using something like a tablet. The Note 2 is big enough though that using it one handed is very impractical, near impossible we might say.
Finally a word on battery life. Indeed the Note 2 has a higher capacity battery inside it, but then there is a larger screen to keep running. Even so, it looks like the Note is going to last a bit longer while you are out an about, running down just 3 per cent while we subjected it to half an hour of HD video, compared to around 10 per cent on the SGS III.
We also noticed that the Note ended the day with a bit more charge but crucially, both get you through the day fine. Provided you aren't using them intensely, or have lots of notifications switched on, then neither should let you down in the battery department. If you are concerned however, then the Note 2 is going to last longer.
Social media and sharing
Next up comes another big part of smartphone life - engaging with friends and sharing information. Android’s brilliant sharing menu is built into both handsets and works a charm, so you never need worry about differences between them when it comes to things like posting to Facebook or Twitter.
As for actually using the core social media apps, say Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, again the bigger screen is a bonus in terms of scrolling through feeds and viewing friends' photos.
Phones have been gradually getting bigger for a while now and that puts the Note 2 in a different position from the original 5-inch phablet from Samsung.
Compared to the 4.8-inch Galaxy S III, or any phone of that size, then it just won’t feel that much bigger. It's still a big handset, but it doesn’t appear the gargantuan brick that the original felt like when you first picked it up. Because of this, the Note 2 becomes a much more appealing proposition.
Don’t, however, get the Note confused with a replacement for pen and paper, because it isn’t. Scribbling the odd thing down is fine, but you will struggle to keep proper notes on a screen this size. Nor is it to be confused with a tablet - which again, it isn’t. Some might get away with the Note as a nice compromise but we personally think the screen is just too small to give the same multimedia experience as the Galaxy Tabs.
On the software front, the differences between the Note 2 and SGS III are so negligible that they’re not worth considering and whether or not the S Pen and its apps are of much use is also slightly irrelevant, because you can use the Note quite happily without it.
So, what is the real difference between the two? Well, it's down to that screen, and because the extra space is useful, without looking freakish, it really does feel worth going for the Note 2 over the SGS III, so long as you can handle the extra £100 outlay.
Thank you to Vodafone for the loan of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.