Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Note 3: first look

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.


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?

Related phones

Galaxy S5
  • Display 5.1" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 2.1 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, Quad-core, 2500 MHz
  • Storage 32 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 2800 mAh(21h 3G talk time)
Galaxy Note 3
  • Display 5.7" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 13 MP / 2 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, Quad-core, 2300 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDHC
  • Battery 3200 mAh(21h 3G talk time)



1. Ashoaib

Posts: 3309; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

Ugly vs Stylish

4. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Powerhouse vs Powerhouse 1st comment is a troll comment. Not surprised.

9. maherk

Posts: 7029; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

I won't upgrade from my Note 3 for 2 reasons, one is that I am loving the 5.7" screen, and two since I invested so much in it. I got myself 1 white and another black carbon fiber battery doors, leather one, aluminum, and recently I got the tempered glass with champagne gold aluminum sides(check it on ebay, your gonna love it), plus 2 batteries and their charger. Are you planning on upgrading smurf?

19. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Yup. I made a commitment to myself that I was going to buy the S5, iPhone 6 and Note 4 this year. If the M8 sounds good enough, I might pick that up too.

12. Ashoaib

Posts: 3309; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

Ok for instance its a troll comment, can you plz explain how?

22. androiphone20

Posts: 1654; Member since: Jul 10, 2013

Don't bother yourself asking he's just way too sensitive about anything Samsung

23. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Look who's here! Rehashing the same comments over and over again! Did you bring my cookies like I asked?

7. nokia12

Posts: 610; Member since: Nov 19, 2013

last time samsung paid for fake reviews badmouthing competitors and cheat in benchmarks to sell gs4 don't know what will it do this time with gs5

8. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Last time Nokia used a pro camera and claimed it was theirs for a commercial.

38. g2a5b0e unregistered

Zing! +1

11. maherk

Posts: 7029; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

If you have CVS close to you, let your dada drive you there and ask for a cure for hemorrhoid.

15. Ashoaib

Posts: 3309; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

S5's back cover looks ugly no matter what we fans of Sammy says... no matter how we bash the criticism

17. Ashoaib

Posts: 3309; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

Samsung will be saving QHD glory for note 4... I hope they will launch note 4 little earlier as well

25. qerimm

Posts: 4; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

Phonearena got paid from samsung to cover s5 ugly face

30. Ashoaib

Posts: 3309; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

I dont think so... bcoz I were commenting almost something same when they were bragging wonderfulness of iphone 5 & 5s... I think its their job to fully present a top dog although its something called over coverag... but it keep their news section updated

2. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

Is it me or this just a poor comparison - a phablet and a smartphone? Is PhoneArena getting desperate now?

5. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Samsung's flagships (S vs Note) comparison seems logical in my book.

6. JMartin22

Posts: 2391; Member since: Apr 30, 2013

A phablet is just a big smartphone. It's not like you're comparing it to a tablet.

20. darkkjedii

Posts: 31669; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

How are they getting desperate? It's a great new device vs a great current device form the same maker, it's logical.

3. imyourpapi

Posts: 70; Member since: Jan 04, 2014

I'd take the note 3 over s5. Can't wait to see what's in tow for the note 4

14. hellonerds

Posts: 334; Member since: Aug 27, 2013

Yeah I have a note 3.. im sure we will se this on the note 4.. cant wait to get note 4 as im done with my contact with att this year and going back to t mobile. .

10. BigBoss10

Posts: 279; Member since: Aug 31, 2012

The beauty and the beast :D

13. mokhtar

Posts: 405; Member since: Jan 06, 2014

note 3 far better

16. darkkjedii

Posts: 31669; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Awesome combo. Cut yourself with your note 3, and put a galaxy s5Bandaid on it.

21. PorkyBurger

Posts: 585; Member since: May 18, 2013

Wait, like you can cut yourself with Note 3~?! AWESOME.

18. GeekMovement unregistered

I'd take the Note 3 as well.

24. antonioli

Posts: 200; Member since: Sep 08, 2013

"the Galaxy S5 introduces tons of nice improvements"?

26. mmmanuuu

Posts: 403; Member since: Nov 05, 2013

Hulk vs captain america

34. Phonecall01 unregistered

Hulk is pretty strong...But Captain America won't get hurt.

27. ffaarrooqq

Posts: 65; Member since: May 26, 2011

Samsung please work on design. S5 back is looking so cheap against note 3.

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