Samsung Galaxy Note vs Samsung Galaxy S2 vs iPhone

Samsung has a kooky new gadget called the Galaxy Note, with a massive 5.3-inch screen. But how does it compare to smaller smart phones?

Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
4 min read

Samsung is kicking some serious rear-end when it comes to churning out tempting tablets and smart phones -- the Galaxy S2 could be the best Android mobile out there, while the upcoming Galaxy Tab 7.7 has us slavering like hungry wolves. But that's not enough for Samsung -- it's thrown another one into the ring, the Samsung Galaxy Note.

The Galaxy Note is a 5.3-inch Android device that functions as a phone, but that Samsung also insists is a new product category. We're not sure about that, so we decided to pit the Note against the Galaxy S2 and the iPhone 4 (probably the two best mobile phones in existence) to see how it measured up.


The Note looks like every other Android gadget Samsung's got kicking about. A rounded, flat rectangle, the Note has a simple, elegant design and is very thin despite its vast screen, measuring just 9.65mm deep.

There's one design faux-pas in play here though -- a stylus. The Note packs a special pen for prodding at the touchscreen, which is hidden away in the bottom of its chassis. You'll probably lose it in about half an hour, leaving your precious Note with a gaping hole in its underbelly. The Note is also so massive you'll struggle to fit it into particularly tight pockets.

The iPhone 4 is thinner than the Note, measuring 9.3mm across, and is absolutely stunning to look at -- we could marvel at the clean, cool lines and industrial style all day.

Which is handy, seeing as the one thing you can't do on this blighter is make calls -- Apple mucked up the iPhone 4's antenna so that when you hold it in your hands it drops signal. Pretty to look at, but in design terms that's a whopping chunk of fail.

This round goes to the Samsung Galaxy S2, which is 8.5mm thick, trouncing both the Note and the iPhone 4. It's gorgeous elsewhere too, with a frighteningly light body and pleasantly textured back. Some people would complain that it feels too plasticky, but those people are not us.

Best for design: Samsung Galaxy S2


The Galaxy S2 might have impeccable design, but its Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system is just a little bit... peccable. The phone feels slick enough, it's true, and Android is astonishingly flexible, allowing you to do just about anything you want with your phone. But it feels a bit geeky.

You'll occasionally get lost in menus, or overwhelmed by options, and trying to find apps in the Android Market can be a frustrating experience. The extra bits of software that Samsung's thrown in are something of a mixed bag too.

The Note, despite its large size, is running on Android 2.3 as well, rather than Honeycomb, the tablet-specific version of Android. As such it has some of the same problems as the S2, though a sprinkling of cool apps for making notes and doing drawings using the stylus elevate it slightly.

The iPhone 4 wins out when it comes to software, because its iOS operating system is dead easy to use, and jam-packed with apps. It's a little more restrictive than Android, but such little hassle to use that we don't mind going without a few features.

Best for software: iPhone 4


A great operating system is one thing, but without some cool tech inside to make it work, it's worth nothing. Happily, all three of these gadgets are incredibly powerful, smothered in great cameras and great screens. But which one is hardware head honcho?

The Samsung Galaxy S2 is a serious contender, with a 1.2GHz dual-core processor on the inside that keeps everything moving along at a fair lick. Apart from that there's an 8-megapixel camera stuck on the back, which takes brilliant snaps, and the 4.3-inch screen is of the Super AMOLED Plus variety, outputting brain-melting brightness levels and shockingly potent bursts of colour.

But then there's the iPhone 4, whose camera doesn't quite match the resolution of the S2's at 5 megapixels, but takes fantastic shots nonetheless. The iPhone 4's crowning glory though has to be the 3.5-inch retina display, which is so fantastically pin-sharp you'll soon go cross-eyed staring at the screen, trying to discern individual pixels. A magnificent effort.

The Note is way bigger than the S2 and the iPhone 4 -- its 5.3-inch display dwarfs the competition, and is made of the same Super AMOLED Plus goodness that the S2 is slathered in, only bigger.

The processor is so fast at 1.4GHz that it could fill out your tax return, make your bed and organise your sock draw before you had time to say, "No Galaxy Note, I liked those socks where they were."

When we used it the Note felt incredibly slick, and we don't think it'll have any trouble running multiple apps at the same time, playing graphically demanding games or hi-res video. Add to that an 8-megapixel camera that can shoot 1080p video, and the Note is looking like a proper powerhouse, one not to be trifled with.

Best for hardware: Samsung Galaxy Note


Hmm, it seems we've landed ourselves with a three-way tie. But no worries, we can draw a few conclusions from this -- it looks like the Samsung Galaxy S2 wins on the design front, so if you're after something sleek and elegant to wow your buddies with, that's the phone for you.

If you care more about games and apps though, the iPhone 4 is the only choice, and if you want a gadget you're confident can handle anything you throw at it, the Samsung Galaxy Note is the big-screen processing monster you've been dreaming of.

Or perhaps we've got it wrong. Is one of these three gadgets clearly better? Or is there another piece of kit we've missed out entirely that roundly trounces all three of these tech titans? Educate us is the comments section below, or have your say on our Facebook page.