Samsung lifted the cover off its new ‘big thing’, the Galaxy S5, yesterday, and one thing that it really is is literally bigger. How big? We took the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to MWC to give you a first look comparison between the new, 5.1-inch Samsung flagship against the 5.7-inch Note 3. Suddenly, the difference between a regular smartphone and a phablet doesn’t seem that big, does it?
The Galaxy S5 is also newer than the Note 3 and while it didn’t get that much-hyped Quad HD 2560 x 1440-pixel display, it packs newer silicon and a brand new 16-megapixel camera with new features. Are these good enough reasons to pick one over the other? Let’s find out.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 brings a fresh new design language with a perforated dimpled back with a soft touch feel. It’s plastic, but nothing like the oft-criticized glossy one on the Galaxy S4 and we actually like its in-hand feel. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 features a different, faux-leather finish, but the two are similar in their soft touch feel. We’d say that Samsung has learned from its mistake, and while it’s not shooting for the stars with premium materials, both the S5 and the Note 3 look good and feel nice in the hand.
The elephant in the room is clearly the size difference. The difference between phablets and regular smartphones is growing smaller every year, but it’s still noticeable. The Note 3 is much larger and much more awkward to use single-handedly. For ergonomics and single-handed use, the Galaxy S5 is the much better device. Moreover, the Galaxy S5 is ruggedized and protected from water and dust, a feature the Note 3 does not have.
In terms of buttons, you have the lock and volume keys located in the same places on the S5 and Note 3, and they are similarly good - clicky and easy to press. The Galaxy S5, however, adds two new features. The first one is the swipe fingerprint scanner bundled in the home key and the second one is the heart rate monitor below the camera. The heart-rate sensor is a bit finicky and it took a couple of tries to get it to work, while the experience with the fingerprint reader was better. On the flip side, the Note 3 features the S Pen that the S5 obviously lacks.
We have a 5.1” 1080 x 1920-pixel display on the Samsung Galaxy S5 and a 5.7” 1080p one on the Note 3. Samsung has been improving hugely on its AMOLED displays over the years, and the Note 3 already was a step up from all earlier ones with a brighter than usual screen.
The S5 takes that to the next level with a 500-nit bright display (and that’s very bright, great for outdoor use). Colors on the Note 3 were definitely oversaturated and unrealistic, though, and at first sight the S5 is an improvement with better color accuracy. This is just what our eyes are telling us, though - we’ll be looking forward to testing the two displays in more detail soon.
The Galaxy S5 is rocking the latest Android 4.4 KitKat out the gate and that’s great. What’s even more interesting is the new TouchWiz interface that Samsung puts on top of it. It’s revamped with simpler, flatter icons, and has just become more visual - long text lists are replaced with large round icons, and it feels friendlier to first-time users. Samsung is also focusing on health and fitness with a hugely improved S Health application that now not only tracks your steps and movement throughout the day, but also stores data about your heart rate. Samsung still includes its suite of Android applications that we like - apps like the S Calendar, S Notes, File manager and so on. Overall, though, Samsung seems to have focused on less gimmicky software features and more meaningful innovation.
The Galaxy Note 3 will likely get the new interface via a software update, so here the two devices are on par.
Processor and memory
The Note 3 is by no means an old device, but the Galaxy S5 is just fresh off Samsung’s factories and it’s getting the royal treatment with the latest Snapdragon 801 system chip, while the Note 3 has the slightly less powerful Snapdragon 800. The Note 3, however, ships with more RAM - it has 3 gigs, while the S5 only has 2GB.
In real life, both devices run perfectly smoothly, and on the S5 you can notice less of that typical ‘Samsung TouchWiz’ lag. We’ve seen KitKat bring some speed improvements, and hopefully Samsung’s has done the same with its skin. The real technical difference between the two is in the clock speed of the processor - the S5 one runs at up to 2.5GHz, while the Note 3 - at up to 2.3GHz, and the Adreno 330 graphics on the S5 can also run at slightly higher clocks than the (otherwise same) one on the Note 3.
The Galaxy S5 ship with 16GB of Internal storage, while the Note 3 is much more generous when it comes to storage, bringing in 32GB out of the box. Neatly, both devices feature microSD card extension slots, but the Galaxy S5 is the first that we see supporting up 128GB cards (the first 128GB card has just recently been unveiled). At the same time, the Galaxy S5 enforces Google’s new guidelines (limitations) for recording to microSD cards, so it’d be less versatile in this.
Camera is something Samsung was particularly proud of in the Galaxy S5. The new flagship packs a 16-megapixel shooter with a nearly 20% larger sensor than the one on the Note 3. The exact size is 1/2.5” for the sensor on the S5, and 1/3.06” on the Note 3. The Note 3, in contrast, features a 13-megapixel camera.
Samsung has updated and enhanced its camera user interface with new shooting modes and even allows you to download new ones, plus HDR is now not just for still pictures, but for videos as well. Good news is that all of this should be coming to the Note 3 in the very near future.
For video, both handset can record 4K UHD at 30 frames per second, and that’s absolutely mind-blowing - we have seen 4K recordings on the Note 3 and we came away impressed. Samsung also supports a new Selective Focus feature that allows you to pick the area of focus after you capture an image. It’s a bit finnicky, but when it works it can create a neat bokeh effect to pictures. We don’t expect the Selective Focus feature to come to the Note 3, as it might require the new system chip in the S5, but Samsung has not yet denied this officially.
Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Note 3: first look
Still pondering which one you should get, the Samsung Galaxy S5 or the Note 3? Don’t over-analyze it - the Galaxy S5 introduces tons of nice improvements, but they are mostly gradual, so essentially it boils down to you picking the right phone size for you. If you want a larger screen that’s better for reading and watching videos and checking out images, the Note 3 looks like the better choice. For those who value better ergonomics and live the more active life, the Galaxy S5 is clearly a better fit. So which one is it for you?