Galaxy Note 2 vs Galaxy Note 3: what’s the difference?
Samsung’s Galaxy Note range is superb – there’s no denying that – but it doesn’t come cheap. Perhaps you’ve decided that the Note form factor is what you’re looking for in your next phone, but you’re not sure whether you should go for the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 or its newly released successor, the Note 3. Even if you’re still deciding whether or not a Note device is right for you, or if you’re considering an upgrade from the Note 2, this post will be useful to read to understand the different features that are available across the two devices. We have the SIM free versions of these two handsets available to buy on the Clove website. You can view the Note 2 here or the Note 3 here.
First of all, let’s have a look at the main differences at a glance:
- The Note 3 has a larger display: 5.7″ compared to 5.5″
- Despite its larger display, the Note 3 is smaller overall thanks to its reduced bezel
- The Note 3 is more powerful – it has a faster processor and more RAM
- The Note 3 has more internal storage: 32GB compared to 16GB
- The Note 3 has wireless charging capability via official accessories
- The Note 3 has better battery life
- The Note 3 has a better camera and video recorder
- The Note 2 is heavier
- The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is cheaper
- The Note 3 has a newer version of Android
Read on for a detailed breakdown of the two most recent Note handsets
We’ll start by looking at the display seeing as it dictates what is one of the biggest talking points surrounding the Note devices: their overall size.
Samsung has once again increased the screen for its latest Note device. However, because it has reduced the bezel around the display, the overall device footprint has still been reduced; the Note 3 measures 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3mm compared to the Note 2′s 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4 mm.
Samsung must feel that these are the optimum dimensions for the experience that it is trying to create with the Note range. Other manufacturers have now released devices with display sizes that tower above the Notes; the Sony Xperia Z Ultra has a 6.44″ display and the HTC One Max a 5.9″, but Samsung hasn’t wanted to increase the overall size of its device.
In terms of screen resolution, the Note 3 easily outclasses its predecessor. Its got a full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution, which improves significantly on the 720 x 1280 display of the Note 2. Both screens have super AMOLED technology, which Samsung itself developed, and look great when playing back movies. Overall the Note 3 has the sharper and more vivid display.
One other aspect of the display that Samsung has improved is the sensitivity. The Note 3 has a better Wacom digitizer and is therefore more responsive to touch and stylus usage. Thanks to this the Note 3 can still be used with gloves on.
Whilst it’s added a bigger screen and battery to the Note 3, Samsung has managed to reduce its overall size and weight, cutting it down to 168g from 180g on the Note 2. This is an impressive feat and ensures that the Note 3 doesn’t feel too heavy in the hand. Even though its only 12g heavier in total, the Note 2 is also an extra millimetre thicker than the Note 3 and the two factors combined do make it feel more cumbersome overall.
After picking the Note 3 up for the first time, you’ll be surprised at how light it does in-fact feel. Your brain naturally assumes that a larger device should weigh more, which is tribute to Samsung’s achievement in creating the Note 3 to be so light.
Both devices can be transported in a pocket when necessary. Naturally, a deeper pocket is more comfortable when transporting such a large device, but it can be done with smaller pockets as well – you just need to be a bit more conscious of it slipping out and being left on a seat somewhere.
Samsung has always ensured that the Note devices offer as much power as possible given the technology available to it at the time of release. We do see big progressions from year to year when it comes to processing power, though, so the Note 3 does pack a stronger punch in this sense. That being said, there is more than enough power in both for day-to-day activities. The need for more power isn’t quite so apparent until you are using resource-heavy apps, such as high quality games.
The Note 2 features a 1.6GHz quad-core processor with 2GB RAM, which still puts it close to, if not ahead of, most other flagship handsets that are currently available. The Note 3, however, is Samsung’s first handset to feature 3GB RAM and has a quad-core processor clocked at 2.3GHz. This helps to ensure the most fluid user experience available and removes any lag, which is important given the multi-tasking nature that is encouraged by the Note range.
It’s been long overdue that 32GB is the minimum storage available in a top-end device. While Samsung has always included microSD expansion with its headline Android devices, there are some things, such as games, that cannot be transferred to the microSD card and therefore require internal storage. With the quality of games improving, so the file sizes increase, meaning that a handset with only 16GB internal storage, such as the Note 2, doesn’t have much space left once you’ve installed a couple of games.
With the Note 2 and its 16GB internal storage, you’ll only have just over 10GB of space that you can access as the rest is taken up by the Android install. With the Note 3, there’s an extra 16GB to add to this, so you’ll have approximately 26GB. Both handsets then have an additional 64GB that is available via microSD expansion.
S Pen & TouchWiz
The S Pen stylus is one of the big selling points for the Note range so Samsung is always working to improve its offering. In terms of the stylus hardware, there isn’t much that has changed between the two releases. Aesthetically, the Note 3 stylus does look a bit slicker and has a metal tip to match the outer casing of the Note 3. It’s with software that improvements have really been made and more specifically, the Air Command menu.
Air Command is a list of five options that pop up when the S Pen is removed from its housing. These are talked about in more detail in our Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review, but in brief they extend the functionality of the S Pen and give quick access to some new tools. At the moment it’s not clear if nor when they’ll be rolled out to the Note 2 via an update, but it is possible.
Here’s a quick look at what the Air Command features offer. You may not necessarily use them all, but there may be one or two that have a strong appeal and could sway your decision between the two handsets:
- Scrapbook – quickly save different forms of content to be viewed in one ‘scrapbook’
- Pen Window – draw a window on the screen in which certain apps can be opened and float on top of others
- S Finder – search the Note 3 for files, apps, contacts, Evernote and more. If nothing is found you can then search the web for what you are looking for
- Action Memo – create a quick memo and then link it to an action on your handset
- Screen write – take a shot of your current screen and annotate it using the S Pen
While those features are currently unique to the Note 3, there are plenty that the two devices share. In particular split screen mode is an impressive feature. It enables you to split the screen between two different apps so that both can be viewed and worked on at the same time. There are only certain apps that can be used for this, although it is a strong list of choices, and they are available from a dock on the left of the screen that can be hidden and exposed by holding the back key.
Some of the other features that have received a fair bit of attention since their inclusion with the Galaxy S3 are those that involve eye tracking technology. SmartStay, which stops the display from turning off when you are looking at, is included with both the Note 2 and 3. SmartPause, which stops a video when you look away from the screen, and SmartScroll, which automatically scrolls the content that you are reading when you tilt the device, are included with the Note 3 but not the Note 2. These are a bit more gimmicky than SmartStay and you won’t be missing out too much by not having them.
Another feature included with both the Note 2 and 3 is QuickGlance. When your device is idle and the screen is off, you can sweep your hand over the accelerometer to launch QuickGlance. The lock screen will then light up to display any of the information that you have set to show on it, which by default is missed message and call count, and battery status.
The final feature we’ll mention that is shared between the two devices is AirView. This enables you to preview content when by over it with a finger or stylus. For example, hovering over a video will begin playing it and hovering over a folder will show a pop up of its contents. It will also display the functions of icons within certain apps when hovering over them.
Another new feature that Samsung has included with the Note 3 is one-handed mode. Once activated, a simple swiping gesture can be used to shrink the size of the display window, which can then be adjusted to a size that is comfortable for you. It’s not something that you’d use all the time but can be useful for activities that would otherwise involve you reaching the whole way across the screen (if you were using one hand), such as text input.
The above only touches on a few of the main features of the Note 2 and 3. There are now many features integrated with TouchWiz and it takes a couple of weeks of using a device to gain an awareness of what they all are. With the Note 3, Samsung has included the means to search for features in order to make it easier to find those that you are looking for.
It’s also worth noting that the Note 3 runs a newer version of Android than the Note 2. The former features Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and the latter tuns 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. This does mean that the Note 3 will be upgraded to 4.4 KitKat sooner, but overall the differences between the three are not too vast.
The rear camera has been stepped up from 8MP on the Note 2 to 13MP on the Note 3 and the front facing camera also gets a minor spec bump from 1.9 to 2MP. The Note 3 also has a faster shutter speed, which (theoretically, at least) should help to take better shots in low light. There’s also a smart stabilisation mode included, which helps to improve image quality when taking a photo in dark surroundings.
You can view some sample photos taken with the Note 3 here. The quality of the photos that it takes are better than the Note 2, but perhaps not enough to warrant an upgrade. We found that it performed well in low light, but even in photos that were fairly bright, we felt that it could have let a bit more light into the lens.
One aspect that may be of particular interest to some is the Note 3′s ability to record video at 4K (3840 x 2160). The Note 3 is the first device to offer this, producing superb quality footage. Recording at 4K makes a big difference compared to shooting in normal HD – a 4K frame is 8MP whereas as normal HD is 2MP. It’s worth noting that you do need a 4K enabled TV to be able to take advantage of the footage when playing it back on a large screen.
For more technical information on the Note 3′s camera, see this post from DPReview.
The Note 2 is made from plastic, which is immediately obvious from its look and feel. The Note 3 is also made from plastic, although this isn’t immediately obvious when encountering it for the first time.
The back of the Note 3 is made from faux leather. This gives it a grippy texture and a more sophisticated look than its predecessor. The metal banding that runs around the outside is also made of plastic, although it does have a metallic appearance to it which gives it a more professional appeal.
The Note 3 has gone back to the more square looking design of the original Note. The rounding of the corners does still exist but it’s not quite as prominent as on the Note 2.
Overall the Note 3 is definitely the more visually appealing of the two handsets and Samsung has done well to address the criticism that it has received of late for its plastic designs.
A new feature that has been included with the Note 3 is Evernote integration. This works well and makes organising files and information much easier. Notes created with S Note can now be saved to an Evernote account rather than a Samsung account and within the Evernote app on the Note 3 there is a shortcut to take you to Notes created with S Note.
The S Finder feature will also search through your Evernotes, which saves you from having to fire up a separate search in the application itself. The Note 3 comes with a year’s subscription to Evernote premium, which adds some additional features such as PDF searching and more storage space.
The Note 3 is Samsung’s first device to include Knox, which is its new security feature. In our testing it ran smoothly and it doesn’t get in the way if you don’t need it. We go into more detail in our ‘what is Samsung Knox?‘ post, but if you need extra security for your handset it’s definitely a reason to choose the Note 3 over the Note 2.
As you would expect, the newer device has the better connectivity options of the two. Most of them are incremental upgrades and shouldn’t be a big deciding factor between the two. One feature that does make the Note 3 stand out a bit more though is microUSB 3.0. This offers faster charging speeds – it takes less than two hours to charge the Note 3 battery if full – and super fast transfer speeds. A movie file will transfer in under a minute and music files will transfer in seconds. If this is a way in which you use your device a lot it may be a feature that you consider to be important.
The Note 3 also has wireless charging capability, although you’ll need to buy additional accessories to take advantage of this as the hardware is not built into the handset itself.
The battery life is very good on all of the Note devices, but has been improved again for the Note 3. The battery is of only a slightly higher capacity, but improvements have been made to power consumption so it does last a fair bit longer. There’s more detail in our Note 3 review, but from a single charge we were getting between 24-48 hours usage. For the majority of users, the Note 2 will also get your through a whole day with heavy usage, but the Note 3 is the better option if you want as much juice as possible.
One of the biggest considerations is always the price. If price is no problem for you, the Note 3 is the better choice. But is the Note 2 still worth it if you’re on a bit of a budget? Absolutely. A year on from release, it’s still one of the most powerful handsets available and will not leave you feeling disappointed.
At the time of writing the Note 2 is £355 + VAT is £495 + VAT. You can view all of the Samsung devices that we have available here.
Edit: SIM limitations. Initially this post did not point out the SIM limitations that are present on the Note 3. These are detailed in this post and are also present on new stock of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.