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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  • jigglywiggly - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    is samsung in a contest to creating the ugliest looking soap bars?

    They had it right with the GS2, then they just decided to fuck it with the GS3
    Reply
  • Skiddywinks - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    That's because the SGS2 was basically an iPhone 4/4S, and they aren't allowed to make similar shapes, it would seem.

    Don't blame Samsung, they want to give you what you want, they just aren't allowed. I do agree though, I do prefer the SGS2/iP4 shape.
    Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Yeah its amazing how much my wife's GSII is mistaken for an iPhone in the line at ****bucks.

    I know what you mean, though, and its sad Samsung is basically banned from making "attractive" looking phones. Because appearantly, Apple invented attractive looking phones?
    Reply
  • aegisofrime - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I'm sorry, but anyone who can mistake the GS2 for an iPhone is an idiot.

    I mean, the size difference alone should be a dead giveaway. How about the rectangular home button vs the round home button on the iPhone? How about that big Samsung logo plastered on top of the GS2?

    The only resemblance the two have is the shape. I simply cannot see how anyone can confuse the two.
    Reply
  • sleepeeg3 - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    They confuse the two, because the average consumer doesn't know anything beyond iPhone. They think all phones are iPhones. When someone owns one of the more popular alternatives, the question I always get asked, "is that an iPhone?" Reply
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    When I had the SGS2 a lot of people around me asked if that was the new iPhone. But most of them thought that iPhone was a generic term like "PC" or "Console".
    I now have a Galaxy Nexus and find it and the new Samsung phones to be just as attractive.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, February 01, 2013 - link

    I am amazed by the constant artsy fartsy droning on how a device looks, and how all people are expected to agree, with of course, the iPhone as the "beautiful one".
    Of course it's brainwashing, just like all the lemmings want their computer parts and cases black - a thousand websites all have the drones exclaiming the same thing - black black black.

    So, anything BUT the sad sorry rectangle of the iPhone is great by me. It's a freaking rectangle - and worse yet, the stupid public pubes in charge of the PC worshipping of a rectangle always claim thinner is also better.

    Thinner is not better, especially when gripping. It's better in their lemming brainwashed gourds and not IRL, but their estrogen doused public opinion persona would have them believing anything peer pressure desired them to, so of course we have that thin to win crazed insanity everywhere as well.

    It's a freakin rectangle. That's super, superior styling to these god for saken morons - it's amazing they can even drool.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I'm sorry, but anyone who can mistake the GS2 (and GS1 for that matter) for an iPhone is an idiot. Reply
  • PeteH - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Depends. I can understand it at a glance, but not upon close inspection. Reply
  • n13L5 - Wednesday, November 07, 2012 - link

    I agree on the weird soapy curve of the S3, but the Note 2 looks more like a large SII, which is fine by me.

    By the way, in Boost mode, the Galaxy Note II works extremely well as a portable guitar amp. You just get a toggle for gain, rather than a knob for fine adjustment of the level of distortion :D
    Reply

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