Samsung Galaxy S 4 vs. Samsung Galaxy Note II
Samsung Galaxy S 4 vs. Samsung Galaxy Note II

When it comes to smartphones, a few months can seem like a lifetime. So what happens when the Samsung Galaxy S 4 arrives and takes away all the attention from the Samsung Galaxy Note II, a phone that seemed to possess the best that Samsung had to offer? Is that still true, or is it time to upgrade something fresher?

Hardware & Design

The Galaxy S 4 and Galaxy Note are both composed of plastic with glossy finishes. When you look at the Galaxy Note II, which has a 5.5-inch screen, and the Galaxy S 4, which has a 5-inch screen, you’re adding quite a bit of extra size to get that extra half-an-inch of screen real estate. The Galaxy S 4 manages to have a large screen but still stay comparatively slender, so it’s much easier to hold in one hand. That’s a big advantage over the Galaxy Note II, which is wider, thicker, and more imposing. Bigger is better goes the old saying, but that’s not quite true when it comes to smartphones.

The Galaxy S 4 also earns stripes for having a better display. Both phones have good Super AMOLED Plus displays, but the S 4′s 1080p resolution bests the 720p resolution offered by the Note II. Factor in that the higher resolution is on a screen that’s only slightly smaller, and there’s a clear advantage for the Galaxy S 4.

Performance also yields another win for the Galaxy S 4, which has a 1.9 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 that delivers beastly performance. The Galaxy Note II is no slouch at all thanks to a 1.6 GHz quad-core Exynos processor. Statistics show that the S 4 is the better performer, but the gulf is not wide enough to make someone run out and upgrade. The superior hardware quality of the S 4 is only relevant when it comes to people considering a purchase for the first time. In that instance, there?s a clear gap in performance, and the Galaxy S 4 is on the favorable side of that divider.

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Software, camera, and battery life

Software is an interesting toss-up because there’s no real winner in this regard. As of today, the Galaxy S 4 has an edge because it has Android 4.2 with a better notification drawer, enhancements for the Samsung apps, and far more options on the camera. However, Samsung has pledged that it will try to deliver as many of these same features as it possibly can to the Galaxy Note II. The edge that the S 4 has is diminished when you consider that the truly important features of the new Touchwiz can be had on the Note II with a little patience. Then you have to consider that Air View is present on both devices, but its implementation is more sensible and reliable on the Note II. The Note II also has the S Pen, which opens up new possibilities for text input, drawing, and interacting with the navigation.

Selecting the better camera is easier because the Galaxy S 4 has more options. The S 4 has a 13 megapixel lens and 2 Megapixel front-facing lens, while the Note II has an 8 megapixel and 1.9 megapixel combo. The two have similar software packages, but the camera UI is considerably more sophisticated on the Galaxy S 4. I sometimes find that the Galaxy S 4 takes photos that are a little softer than I would like, but it typically performs well. The Galaxy Note II also takes good shots, but its control of lighting is similar but not quite as good. Considering the similarity of results, the Galaxy S 4 is preferable because of better software.

As for the battery, the newer Galaxy S 4 has a 2,600 mAh battery while the Galaxy Note II has a 3,100 mAh battery. One would think that the bigger screen and older processor might offset the power options, but the extra 500 mAh translates to a noticeable difference in longevity. The S 4 has respectable battery life but the Note II has more staying power. While the Galaxy S 4 can survive a workday on heavy usage, the Galaxy Note II can survive a workday, a commute, and still have a little bit of energy to spare.

Samsung Galaxy S 4 vs. Samsung Galaxy Note II
Samsung Galaxy S 4 vs. Samsung Galaxy Note II

So which phone should you buy? On paper, the Galaxy S 4 is the superior device because of a better design, newer software, and more sensors and options than is typically seen. However, the Galaxy Note II offers the unique input options of the S Pen and has stronger battery life, so it’s not a stretch to say that someone could just as easily prefer that phone. I would caution any Galaxy Note II owner from switching simply to get the fresher software and screen. The endurance of the Note II and its S Pen may be enough to offset the S 4?s software advantages. It just doesn’t seem worth the price and tradeoffs of an upgrade, especially when Samsung will inevitably provide more updates to the Galaxy Note II.

Someone who has neither phone should opt for the Galaxy S 4 because it is a phone that’s much more comfortable to hold and more diverse in options and features. Unless you love the S Pen and don’t mind dealing with that the Galaxy Note II’s Juggernaut-sized proportions, the Galaxy S 4 is the best Samsung smartphone to buy.

Samsung Galaxy S 4 vs. Samsung Galaxy Note II
Samsung Galaxy S 4 vs. Samsung Galaxy Note II

By Andrew Kameka