Does size matter? iPhone 5 vs. Galaxy S3 vs. Galaxy Note 2

In this edition of Ask Maggie, CNET's Marguerite Reardon offers an iPhone fan advice on switching to either the Samsung Galaxy S3 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. She also explains why the Virgin Mobile iPhone can't roam internationally.

Size matters to some smartphone consumers.

While Apple may have already sold millions of iPhone 5 smartphones since its launch in September, not every iPhone fan is thrilled with the new design of the device. And some say the iPhone 5 falls short of expectations, especially in the size department.

In this edition of Ask Maggie, I help one such reader decide if it's worth the hassle of switching from Apple iOS to Google Android for a bigger smartphone. And I provide some insight into which Samsung Android phone is right for him. Also in this Ask Maggie, I explain to another reader why the iPhone 4S from Virgin Mobile can't be unlocked or even used internationally.

Samsung Galaxy S3 or Samsung Galaxy Note 2?

Dear Maggie,
I have been an iPhone user and fan since the first generation iPhone in 2007. I currently have the iPhone 4, which I purchased on Craigslist a year ago because I didn't want to get locked into a two-year contract. I was waiting for the new iPhone 5.

But I have to admit that I have been disappointed with the new iPhone 5. I was definitely hoping for a larger screen and not just a taller screen. My question to you is as a big Apple fan, who also uses a Mac computer daily for work and for home, should I consider some of the other Google Android phones that have the large screen I really want?

I'm considering the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note 2, which is leading the top of my list right now based on my research. Or do you think I should get the iPhone 5, which is in last place right now in my thoughts. Can you share any advice and/or suggestions as I want to make sure I get what I think is the best phone that will last me at least two years until my contract expires.

I'm a 6'1 big man with fairly large hands so the screen size of both the Galaxy S3 and the new Galaxy Note 2 really appeal to me. I've heard that there is free third party software that will work seamlessly to sync my music, etc. from iTunes to either one of the Galaxy Android phones that I am considering.

Thanks for your help!
Ward

Dear Ward,
When it comes to big phones, Google Android is your best option. And the biggest of them all is the Galaxy Note 2. While Apple has made the iPhone 5 taller, it is nowhere near the size of some of these "big" android phones on the market today. So if screen size is your main criteria, then by all means go with an Android device.

The iPhone 5 is slightly taller than the iPhone 4S, the previous generation of the iPhone. CNET

I've written previously about the perils of switching from the iPhone to an Android phone. But you are correct about there being apps and other ways to make this transition easier. And in theory you should be able to move most, if not all, of your contacts, music and pictures from your iPhone and iTunes account to your new Samsung smartphone.

Samsung offers some suggestions for making this transition.

Contacts: The best way to move your contacts to a new Samsung device is to save those contacts to the Apple iCloud and then export those contacts from the Internet to Gmail and from Gmail you can populate your phone with all your contact info.

Music: To load your music from iTunes onto a Samsung Android phone you have a few options. Samsung says if you're using a PC it's as easy as creating a new "Music" file for your Galaxy smartphone and dragging and dropping your music into this file. (Since you have a Mac, you'd have to download the Android File Transfer software from android.com/filetransfer.)

The other option is to create a Google Music account. That way you can load all your music to the cloud and play it on any Android device you own. But uploading music to Google Music can take a while. My husband Mark has about 7GB of music and it took him all day to upload all his music to Google Music. But once the music is there, you'll have lots of flexibility moving the music around to different devices you want to use in the future. But it requires an Internet connection to access your music.

The final option is to use syncing software like DoubleTwist. You should be able to download a free version of DoubleTwist that will let you transfer your music via USB cable. The company makes you pay $10 for an app that will allow you to sync your music from iTunes to your Samsung device over Wi-Fi.

Photos: There are also ways to sync your pictures from your iPhone to the Samsung devices. The first thing you'll have to do is transfer your photos from your old phone to your computer. And then you should be able to transfer those photos to your new phone.

While there are ways to transfer all this information from one device ecosystem to another, I'm not going to lie to you and tell you it's a piece of cake. I have made this transition myself when I moved from an iPhone 3GS to a Samsung Galaxy S3, and even though I had a little cheat sheet from Samsung to walk me through the steps, I still fumbled a bit. For example, the free DoubleTwist software that would have allowed me to sync my iTunes music via a USB cable wasn't working on my four-year-old Macbook, so I had to pay for the app that works over Wi-Fi.

Samsung's Galaxy S3.
Samsung's Galaxy S3. Samsung

And even though I got it to work, it took some time. I think I've mentioned here before how impatient I am. So it wasn't a fun afternoon. Luckily, my husband has a lot more patience than I do. And he was able to get me set up.

If you aren't afraid of putting in a little effort to make the switch from the Apple ecosystem to Google Android world, then go for it.

So which Samsung smartphone should you get?

The Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy S3 are very similar. In fact, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, with its 5.5 inch screen, looks like it's just the bigger version of the 4.8 inch Galaxy S3. And indeed some of the features are similar, such as the 8 megapixel camera and 4G LTE support. But don't let the looks fool you. There are some real differences in the hardware and software. The Galaxy Note 2 is a newer device, and as such it has a more powerful processor.

The Note 2 has a 1.6GHz quad-core processor and comes with 2GB of RAM. The Samsung Galaxy S3 in the U.S. comes with 2GB of RAM and dual-core process. (The international version of the same device has 1GB of RAM and a quad-core processor.)

The Galaxy Note also has a bigger and better battery for longer battery life as compared to the Galaxy S3. The Galaxy Note 2 also comes with the latest Android software Jelly Bean already installed. The Galaxy S3 comes with the previous version of the software Ice Cream Sandwich. S3 users on Sprint and T-Mobile are getting the Jelly Bean update. But AT&T and Verizon S3 customers are still waiting.

What does this mean for you? Based on specs and making sure you have the latest and greatest technology, the Galaxy Note 2 has a smidge more to offer you. So based on specs alone, I'd say buy the Galaxy Note 2. But it's a big device. And the size does not appeal to every consumer.

That said, it sounds like you like the bigger size. If you are already leaning toward the Galaxy Note 2 based on reviews and other things you've read, and you are satisfied with the size, then I say go for it. I think you will be very happy with your decision. Good luck!

Why can't I use my Virgin Mobile iPhone abroad?

Dear Maggie,
I bought an iPhone 4S through Virgin Mobile this summer and was told that I would be able to unlock it and use it in Canada when I moved up here for the winter. I sadly found out today that they will not unlock it and that it can not work in Canada. I find this confusing as all U.S. iPhone use the exact same hardware and components. Furthermore, I fail to see what advantage this would offer Virgin as they would still be my carrier when I return to the U.S. In short why can my iPhone not work outside the U.S. and is there anything I can do about this?

Thank you,
Taylor

Dear Taylor,
I am sorry that you were misinformed when you bought your Virgin Mobile iPhone 4S this summer. But unfortunately for you, Virgin Mobile doesn't unlock the iPhone and it doesn't provide roaming with foreign carriers. The reason it won't unlock the device is because it wants to lock customers into using its network. And the reason it won't even allow you to roam on a different carrier's network is because it's too expensive for the carrier to negotiate such roaming arrangements. One of the reasons why Virgin Mobile can undercut competitors in the U.S. is because it uses only one network, Sprint's CDMA network. It doesn't have any expensive roaming arrangements in the U.S. or abroad.

Verizon iPhone 4S, Virgin iPhone 4, and AT&T iPhone 4
We compared the Verizon iPhone 4S, the Virgin iPhone 4, and the AT&T iPhone 4. Josh Miller/CNET

You are correct that the iPhone 4S is the same hardware that other carriers use . So there may be a way to hack the device to make it work on other networks. But I don't know of any specific software that would do that for you. Perhaps, some Ask Maggie readers may know of a solution. If so, check the comment section below for additional tips from the Ask Maggie community.

It is a shame that you were not aware of this issue with the Virgin Mobile iPhone when you bought it., since the major wireless operators allow roaming and some will even unlock this particular device so that you can use a local SIM card in it to get local service.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

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