Samsung Galaxy Note 2 vs Galaxy S4 – what’s the difference?
For this comparison we’ll take a look at two of Samsung’s best-selling handsets – its flagship, the Galaxy S4 (available to order here), and its second in command, the Galaxy Note 2 (available to order here).
In contrast to other manufacturers, Samsung’s flagship, the S4, isn’t its largest handset in terms of screen size. Even the Note 2, Samsung’s current king of screen size, will shortly abdicate its throne for the Samsung Galaxy Mega.
Now that there are so many different options, choosing the correct screen size will be an important part of your buying decision. However, it’s not just about the display – there are many other factors to consider – so we’ll discuss them all in relation to one another below.
Main differences at a glance
Before we get into the details, here’s a quick look at the main differentiators between the Galaxy S4 and the Note 2:
- Screen size – the Note 2 has a larger display than the S4
- Stylus – the Note 2 includes the S Pen Stylus, the S4 does not
- Camera- the S4 has a better sensor
- Dimensions – the S4 is smaller, lighter and thinner
- The Note 2 has a larger battery and better battery life
- The S4 has a superior screen resolution
- TV Remote – the S4 has a built-in IR Blaster so that it can act as a remote control
- The S4 has newer software features (TouchWiz)
- The S4 has a newer version of MHL for video out
Video Comparison – Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy Note 2
See our full text comparison of the S4 and the Note 2 after the cut, or see the two devices compared in the flesh in this video comparison.
The screen of the Note 2 measures 5.5″ across, whereas the S4 has a display that’s slightly more manageable at 4.99″. The S4 also has the better looking picture thanks to its full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution and 441 ppi. The Note 2 does trail quite far behind in this aspect – it’s got a 1280 x 720 resolution and a pixel density of 267 ppi.
At this stage it’s worth mentioning split screen mode for multi-tasking. Both the Note 2 and the S4 offer this feature, which enables you to display two apps on the screen beside one another. However, it is perhaps better suited to the the larger display and S Pen stylus of the Note 2.
For those that need it, there is no beating a large screen that can be used with the S Pen Stylus. However, if you do not think that you’ll need the kind of functionality that the stylus provides and can get by on a smaller screen, the S4 may be the wiser choice as it’s smaller and lighter. We’ll discuss the size difference more below, but first lets have a look at what the stylus can do.
What can you do with the Note 2′s S Pen Stylus?
If you’re going to consider whether or not you’ll use the S Pen stylus, it’s handy to know some of its use-cases.
First of all, there’s handwriting. The Note 2 is great for signing documents and annotating various files, such as photos, maps and diagrams. It will also recognise handwriting and covert it to digital text if you prefer to use the stylus in place of the on-screen keyboard.
Next, there’s digital art. This is perhaps a bit more niche but still a nice feature even for the occasional user. The S Pen has a Wacom digitiser built into it, which means that the handset can recognise varying applications of pressure. This makes it great for digital paintings and alike (see this video for inspiration).
The main app for use with the S Pen is called S Note. It’s got a rather extensive range of features and can be used for a lot more than just making notes. You can insert your own images, choose from a range of shapes, add videos, text boxes, maps, sketches and more. There are also predesigned templates that you can use for various types of note.
Another nice feature that combines with the stylus is Air View. This let’s you preview the contents of certain apps by hovering over them with a stylus. For example, hovering over an email will preview its text, or hovering over a photo album will load a pop up of the photos that it contains.
Having been a success with the Galaxy Note 2, AirView has been included with the Samsung Galaxy S4, with which you will use your finger to preview content in place of the S Pen.
Finally, you can also use the S Pen for device navigation, swiping through screens and selecting apps as you would with your finger.
It’s worth mentioning that you can also use a stylus for the Samsung Galaxy S3. The official accessory from Samsung is called the C Pen stylus (see our hands-on video here) and there are also third-party solutions available. It won’t quite provide the same experience as the S Pen on the Note 2, but the option is there if you want to give it a try.
The last plus point to mention for the Note 2′s stylus is that it is stowed away within the device’s casing, making it nice and easy to transport. Upon removing it from the Note 2 casing, an interface designed specifically for the S Pen will load on the screen.
Being the newer device, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has the superior camera – its 13MP sensor betters the 8MP sensor of the Note 2. This does of course mean that the maximum resolution of photos on the S4 is higher, which takes shots of a resolution up to 4128 x 3096 compared to 3264 x 2448 for the Note 2. The difference won’t be all that noticeable on screen, but more so once the photos have been uploaded to your PC.
Other than the camera sensors, these two cameras aren’t all that different in terms of hardware. Both have autofocus and LED flash and can record 1080p video at 30fps. With the front facing cameras the difference is negligible – the S4 has a 2MP sensor and the Note 2 1.9MP.
In terms of software features, the S4 does have a few exclusives to be offered for the time being, although many will likely be rolled out to the Note 2 via an update in the near future. These include:
Drama Shot – take a burst of photos and combine them into a single frame
Sound & Shot – record a sound clip with your photo
Eraser shot – erase unwanted objects from the photo (this is great in theory but unfortunately the mode needs to be enabled before taking the photo, which defeats the purpose in most situations)
Dual camera shot – take a photo with the rear and front facing camera at the same time, which means that you can photograph yourself whilst capturing others and then stitch them both together.
As we also mentioned in our Samsung Galaxy S3 vs S4 comparison, the S4 has adopted the camera interface of the Samsung Galaxy Camera. This means that a still photo and video are captured using the same interface, so there’s no need to lose time switching between the two during the all-important moment. It’s not certain but this could also be added to the Note 2 at some point.
Overall the Samsung Galaxy S4 has the better camera. The Note 2′s camera performance is pretty much on a par with the Galaxy S4′s predecessor, the S3. That being said you won’t be disappointed with the photos that either takes.
Another advantage of huge devices such as the Note 2 is that they have room for huge batteries, which results in fantastic battery life.
With the Note 2 you will easily get through the day without needing to charge the device, although the S4 also has one of the largest batteries on the market so you can also expect good performance from its battery.
The long and short of it is that both devices will get you through the day even with fairly heavy usage, but you can push the battery of the Galaxy Note 2 that little bit further.
MHL (Video out)
Samsung has been including MHL in its devices for a few years now and has progressed its video out offering with the S4. The differences are not major, but add a bit more convenience and better quality playback.
The S4 uses MHL 2.0, which means that its MHL adaptor does not require a power source. This results in less cables when you are setting it up and therefore a slightly more portable solution. There is the option to power the connection should you so choose though, which will stop the battery from being drained during playback.
For the Note 2, you will need to power the connection. This means there are three cables involved in total – the MHL adaptor, a microUSB charger and an HDMI cable. As mentioned, the microUSB cable can be removed from the equation with the S4 setup, meaning only two cables are needed overall.
The other advantage of the S4 MHL/HDMI adaptor is that it has a higher refresh rate, resulting in a better picture on the display that you connect the handset to.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 comes with a built-in Infrared blaster, which means that it can act as a remote control for other electronic devices around the house. It has settings for many appliances pre-loaded (especially in the cases of televisions), so you should find that it works well out of the box. Samsung has also included a companion app, WatchOn, which will provide schedules and extra information for various TV shows.
The Note 2 does not include an IR Blaster so cannot be easily turned into a TV remote. In all practicality the feature is probably less useful than it sounds, but if it is a feature that you like the sound of, you’ll need to go for the S4 (or the HTC One, which is the other handset that has an IR Blaster).
There’s no getting around the fact that the Note 2 is massive and can be cumbersome to carry. However, for those users that embrace its productivity features, its size is certainly a worthwhile trade off over a handset that’s more pocketable.
If you tend to make a lot of calls with your handset, you’ll need to consider how you feel about holding the Note 2 up to your ear. Dom Jolly jokes aside, it isn’t the most practical for long-lasting calls. However, this shouldn’t necessarily dissuade you as there’s always the option to connect a Bluetooth headset and use that instead.
If the Note 2 is the right device for you, you’ll recognise that the productivity boost of a larger screen outweighs the slight inconvenience of a less portable device. If you do think the Note 2 is a bit too big, however, the S4 still has a screen that is large enough to comfortably complete many tasks.
The other factor to consider alongside the size of the Note 2 is weight. At 180g, it’s a fair bit heavier than the S4, which weighs 130g, but is still perfectly manageable.
Both handsets go with a plastic design, but the newer look of the S4 is the more stylish of the two.
The slicker finish of the black S4 is nicer on the eye than the blue variant of the Note 2, which does look cheaper in comparison. The S4 also has a textured rear cover and although it remains polycarbonate, has a more sophisticated look to it.
There’s also a metal seam that runs around the edge of the S4 which again adds a touch more class than the all-plastic case of the Note 2.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is no slouch, but of the two the S4 is slightly more powerful. Both handsets have 2GB RAM (currently the highest amount available in smartphones), but the S4 has a superior processor.
The version of the S4 that we stock at Clove is that which has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, clocked at 1.9GHz, whereas the Note 2 has Samsung’s Exynos 4412 Quad, clocked at 1.6GHz. There is another version of the S4 that has Samsung’s Exynos octa-core chip, but this is only available in select markets, which do not include the UK.
In terms of power, there is little difference between the most common S4 (the quad-core version) and the Note 2.
While there are several memory variants advertised for these two handsets (16/32/64GB), it’s pretty much the case that you’ll only be able to obtain the 16GB variant, especially in the UK. At Clove it’s the 16GB versions that we stock as the larger memory variants are not available to us.
For either of these handsets, you’ll probably find that you want to add a microSD slot – both offer microSD expansion up to 64GB. They each include 16GB internal storage, although not all of this is user-accessible. The S4 has received a lot of attention recently as it only has around 9.5GB available of its advertised 16GB, whereas the Note 2 will leave slightly more than this (around 11.5GB).
Samsung’s custom Android skin, TouchWiz, has received some new features between the release of the Note 2 and the S4. Many of these will likely be rolled out to the Note 2 in a future update, but for the time being they are exclusive to the S4. These include:
- Notification toggles – there is now an entire grid of toggles that can be accessed from the notification bar. These give you the means to quickly turn different features on and off.
- Air Gestures – navigate and control the device with the swipe of a hand. These can only be used in certain apps so the feature is still in its infancy, but a nice inclusion nonetheless.
- SmartPause – the S4 knows when you are watching a video and will pause it when you glance away from the screen
- SmartScroll – the S4 will automatically scroll through content for you when you are reading – no need to touch the screen.
There are also some nice features that have been integrated into the S4 having been a success of the Note 2. You can read about all of the above in more detail in our post about our favourite TouchWiz features in the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Being the newer device, the S4 is more expensive, priced at £445 (£534 inc. VAT). The Note 2 comes in a bit cheaper, priced at £404 (£484.80 inc. VAT). We have both available to order here.
These are both powerhouse handsets that have an incredible list of features to offer. The main question to consider if you’re choosing between the two is whether or not you want a larger screen and if so, are you willing to carry a larger, heavier device as a result.
The Note 2 has the added advantage of a stylus, which can be a big productivity boost for the right user. Previously other differentiators of the Note 2 have been some of its TouchWiz features, such as split screen mode, but these are now included with the S4. The S4 also has a nice large screen, so you’ll still be able to use these features comfortably even without the Note 2 and its stylus.
The added features of the S4 probably shouldn’t be too big a deciding factor as the vast majority will eventually come to the Note 2. However, it’s certainly worth considering that the S4 has a better camera and a slightly nicer design aesthetic overall.
Samsung Galaxy S4 v Note 2 Graphic
If you would like to see the specs of these two devices compared in our graphic table format, please click here.