The original generation Galaxy Note I played with was an AT&T model, and as a result was based around the same platform (I call a platform the combination of SoC and baseband) as the Skyrocket, which was AT&T’s SGS2 with LTE. That platform was Qualcomm’s Fusion 2 chipset, the very popular combination of a APQ8060 SoC (45nm dual core Scorpion at 1.5 GHz with Adreno 220 graphics) and MDM9x00 for baseband (Qualcomm’s 45nm first generation multimode LTE solution). The US-bound Galaxy S 3 variants were built around the successor of that platform, which was Qualcomm’s MSM8960 SoC (28nm dual core Krait at 1.5 GHz with Adreno 225 graphics and an onboard 2nd gen LTE baseband). The result was quick time to market with the latest and greatest silicon, improvements to performance, onboard LTE without two modems, and lower power consumption.

The Galaxy Note 2 does something different, and finally brings Samsung’s Exynos line of SoCs into devices bound for the USA where air interfaces are a combination of LTE, WCDMA, and CDMA2000. It’s clear that the Note 2 was on a different development cycle, and this time the standalone 28nm LTE baseband I’ve been talking about forever was available for use in the Galaxy Note 2, that part is MDM9x15, same as what’s in the iPhone 5, Optimus G, One X+, and a bunch of other upcoming handsets. If you haven’t read our other reviews where I’ve talked about this, the reason is that MDM9x15 is now natively voice enabled (MDM9x00 was not unless you ran with a Fusion platform), smaller, and lower power than its predecessor. The result is that there’s finally a multimode FDD-LTE, TDD-LTE, WCDMA (up to DC-HSPA+), EVDO (up to EVDO Rev.B) and TD-SCDMA baseband out there which doesn’t require going with a two chip solution. I could go on for pages about how this is primarily an engineering decision at this point, but the availability of MDM9x15 is why we see OEMs starting to finally ship handsets based around SoCs other than Qualcomm’s and also include LTE at the same time.

Anyhow, for a lot of people this will be the first time experiencing Samsung’s own current Exynos 4 flagship, Exynos 4412, which is of course quad core ARM Cortex A9s at a maximum of 1.6 GHz alongside ARM Mali–400MP4 built on Samsung’s 32nm HK-MG process. To the best of my knowledge, the Note 2 continues to use a 2x32 bit LPDDR2 memory interface, same as the international Galaxy S 3, though PCDDR3 is also a choice for Exynos 4412.

I’ve put together a table with specifications of the Note 2 and some other recent devices for comparison.

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 5 Samsung Galaxy S 3 (USA) Samsung Galaxy Note (USA) Samsung Galaxy Note 2
Height 123.8 mm (4.87") 136.6 mm (5.38" ) 146.8 mm 151.1 mm
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 70.6 mm (2.78") 82.9 mm 80.5 mm
Depth 7.6 mm (0.30") 8.6 mm (0.34") 9.7 mm 9.4 mm
Weight 112 g (3.95 oz) 133g (4.7 oz) 178 g 180 g
CPU 1.3 GHz Apple A6 (Dual Core Apple Swift) 1.5 GHz MSM8960 (Dual Core Krait) 1.5 GHz APQ8060 (Dual Core Scorpion) 1.6 GHz Samsung Exynos 4412 (Quad Core Cortex A9)
GPU PowerVR SGX 543MP3 Adreno 225 Adreno 220 Mali-400MP4
RAM 1 GB LPDDR2 2 GB LPDDR2 1 GB LPDDR2 2 GB LPDDR2
NAND 16, 32, or 64 GB integrated 16/32 GB NAND with up to 64 GB microSDXC 16 GB NAND with up to 32 GB microSD 16/32/64 GB NAND (?) with up to 64 GB microSDXC
Camera 8 MP with LED Flash + 1.2MP front facing 8 MP with LED Flash + 1.9 MP front facing 8 MP with LED Flash + 2 MP front facing 8 MP with LED Flash + 1.9 MP front facing
Screen 4" 1136 x 960 LED backlit LCD 4.8" 1280x720 HD SAMOLED 5.3" 1280 x 800 HD SAMOLED 5.5" 1280 x 720 HD SAMOLED
Battery Internal 5.45 Whr Removable 7.98 Whr Removable 9.25 Whr Removable 11.78 Whr

The Galaxy Note 2 also is one of the first handsets on the market other than Nexus devices to ship running Android 4.1. This puts it at a definite advantage in some tests as we’ll show in a moment, both due to improvements from project butter and what appear to be even newer Mali–400 drivers. I pulled the Note 1 out of my drawer and updated it to Android 4.0.1 and ran all the same tests again.

First up are some of the usual JavaScript performance tests which are run in the stock browser. Anand added a few in, and personally I think we’ve got almost an abundance of JavaScript performance emphasis right now. Again this is strongly influenced by the V8 JIT (Just In Time Compilation) library bundled with the stock browser on Android. OEMs spend a lot of time here optimizing V8 to the nuances of their particular architecture which can make a substantial difference in scores.

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1 - Stock Browser

Mozilla Kraken Benchmark

Google Octane Benchmark v1

BrowserMark

The usual disclosure here is that Android benchmarking is still a non-deterministic beast due to garbage collection, and I’m still not fully satisfied with everything that is available out there, but we have to make do with what we’ve got for the moment.

Next up is GLBenchmark 2.5.1 which now includes a beefier gameplay simulation test called Egypt HD alongside the previous Egypt test which is now named Egypt Classic. Offscreen resolution gets a bump to 1080p as well.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt Classic

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt Classic (Offscreen 1080p)

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD (Offscreen 1080p)

Here we see Mali–400 MP4 performing basically the same as I saw in the International Galaxy S 3 which is no surprise — it is after all the same SoC. Other than a slight bump in the Egypt Classic offscreen performance numbers, there aren’t any surprises. We see Exynos 4412 putting up a good fight, but Adreno 320 in APQ8064 is still something to look out for on the horizon. I'd run Taiji as well but we'd basically just see vsync at this point. 

Vellamo 2.0.1 is a new version of the previously well-received Vellamo test developed by Qualcomm initially for in-house performance regression testing and checkin, later adopted by OEMs for their own testing, and finally released onto the Google Play Store. This is the first time the 2.0 version of Vellamo has made an appearance here, and after vetting it and spending time on the phone with its makers I feel just the same way about 2.0 as I did 1.0. There’s still the disclosure that this is Qualcomm’s benchmark, and that stigma will only go away after the app is open sourced for myself and others to code review, but from what deconstruction of the APK I’ve done, and further inspection of the included jS, I’m confident there’s no blatant cheating going on, it isn’t worth it.

Vellamo Benchmark - 2.0

Vellamo Benchmark - 2.0

Vellamo 2’s biggest new thing is the inclusion of a new ‘metal’ test which, as the name implies, includes some native tests. This is C code compiled with just the standard android compiler and -o2 optimization flag into both ARMv7 and x86 code. There’s Dhrystone for integer benchmarking, Linpack (native), Branch-K, Stream 5.9, RamJam, and a storage subtest.

Exynos 4412 and Android 4.1 is definitely a potent combination, which puts it close to the top if not at the top in a ton of CPU bound tests. My go-to application with lots of threading is still Chrome for Android, which regularly lights up four core devices completely. Even though our testing is done in the stock browser (since this almost always has the faster, platform-specific V8 library) my subjective tests are in Chrome, and the Note 2 feels very quick.

Using a 'Phablet' Battery Life Testing
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  • sharath.naik - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I expected the battery life to be much better that what the test shows. Specifically the WiFi browsing time of 6 hrs, when I Phone gets 10. I did not see the brightness level set during this test in the article (or did I miss it), given how much of a effect OLED screen brightness has on battery life, I would have liked know the brightness level set. Reply
  • Mugur - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    They said the brightness was at 200 nits. In my opinion that is somehow misleading, because this is almost max for Note 2 or other OLED screens and 1/3 for LCD ones like iPhone 5. Why not doing a test on max brightness? Reply
  • Spunjji - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    It's meant to be a standard level to make the numbers directly comparable. Furthermore, it would be unfair to penalise a phone with an exceptionally high brightness by running it at such a level during a test when you'd be unlikely to use that mode all the time in reality.

    However, in this instance it does hamper the phone's performance - I run it around the 50% level most of the time and it looks nice and clear that way. However, I wouldn't say it necessarily does so *unfairly*. Just something to bear in mind... additional figures would be nice but time-consuming to obtain.
    Reply
  • Seggybop - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "I know there are big cultural differences associated with the appeal of this chrome ring"

    where can I find this mythical culture that appreciates gaudy chrome trim? as far as I can tell, it's a universally reviled element that does nothing but make a device look cheap.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, February 01, 2013 - link

    Both you ladies should take some more cultural arts classes and brush up on your laughable snobbery. Reply
  • Seggybop - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "I know there are big cultural differences associated with the appeal of this chrome ring"

    where can I find this mythical culture that appreciates gaudy chrome trim? as far as I can tell, it's a universally reviled element that does nothing but make a device look cheap.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Korea or Asia in general possibly... Reply
  • Seggybop - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "I know there are big cultural differences associated with the appeal of this chrome ring"

    where can I find this mythical culture that appreciates gaudy chrome trim? as far as I can tell, it's a universally reviled element that does nothing but make a device look cheap.
    Reply
  • barry spock - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    The longer I spend think about my own subjective limitations, the more I realise that the products from anyone but apple aren't getting a fair go.
    And this one's an interesting product to attempt to not pigeonhole. I'd think of it more as a media device than a phone. And so does the rest of south korea, as I watch them using these things on the subway -- they watch tv on them. They make calls using earbuds -- not holding a thing this size to their heads. And they rarely put it in their pockets -- it goes in a handbag (or a manbag)
    The bit about it not fitting in the F-150's "big Gulp" plastic cup holder speaks volumes about the culture it was written in.

    Different cultures will use these devices differently. I imagine Samsung won't fret if this isn't taken up in droves in the US, because after all, there's always china.

    Also, Anand, et al. *please* give us the ability to mod-down thoughtless comments such as the first one attached to this article.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, February 01, 2013 - link

    That's all we need is you bland one mind fits all nazi book burners to demand the ability to wipe out the 1st amendment when you see fit.
    If you don't like a comment move on, instead of demanding personal power over others.

    I didn't like certain things in your comment above, I'd like to wipe it out, we'd all be better for it.
    Reply

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