The Samsung Galaxy Nexus or the Samsung Galaxy Note; either way you can't go wrong. These two top dog Android smartphones are Samsung's crowning achievements for 2011, and both are solid evolutions of the Samsung Galaxy S II line. In fact, the world "evolution" belittles the giant Galaxy Note: it's a leap ahead into the future of smartphones as they evolve into pocket tablets. And there's the catch, the Note is a large phone that's likely too big for some folks. But it's head and shoulders above other smartphones in terms of hardware.
The Galaxy Nexus, both the Verizon version we use in this video comparison, and the international GSM/HSPA+ model we did a video review of a while back, represents the evolution in software. It's the first phone to run Android OS 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. And it's a pure Google smartphone, which means there are no manufacturer software overlays or carrier customizations (OK, just a few in the Verizon Nexus). You'll also be the first on your block to get OS updates, because Nexus phones are first in line. The Nexus is king of the lab for software.
While the Samsung Galaxy Note will get Ice Cream Sandwich in 2012, it won't have that first in line status for subsequent OS updates and it will run Samsung's TouchWiz on top. Now, some of you prefer TouchWiz to vanilla Android, so wouldn't think of condemning it for it's TouchWiz-ness, but you know your camp: are you a purist or a "give me some manufacturer customizations" type who wants built-in social networking, quick settings access and added video codecs?
This 3 way comparison is complex because the Galaxy Nexus is offered with subsidy by a US carrier (Verizon). If you're eligible for a contract extension or are just joining Verizon Wireless, you can get the Nexus for $299 with contract and required data plan. If you're not up for renewal, it will set you back $649. A US carrier doesn't yet offer the Samsung Galaxy Note, so you'll get it from importers for $650 to $700. Likewise, the unlocked GSM/HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus costs $650 to $700US. For those of you in Europe and Asia, the Nexus and Note are available with contract and cost roughly the same.
The Samsung Galaxy Note works perfectly on AT&T's 3G and 4G HSPA+ 21Mbps network since it has the required bands. It you've got the cash, it's a great match for AT&T (T-Mobile US folks will only get 2G EDGE). Rumors say the Galaxy Note is coming to AT&T, making it a phone to keep your eye on if you'd rather get it with contract at an affordable price. And it might get LTE 4G, which is even faster than HSPA+. Thanks to LTE, Verizon's Galaxy Nexus has faster data speeds vs. the HSPA+ Note, which is particularly important to those who use the mobile hotspot wireless tethering feature.
In terms of hardware, I won't do my usual category-by-category comparison, because the Galaxy Note simply slaughters the Galaxy Nexus. It has a dual core 1.4GHz Exynos CPU (that's the CPU to beat for speed) vs. the capable but not exactly on fire 1.2GHz dual core TI OMAP CPU in the Galaxy Nexus. The Note has 16 gigs of internal storage and a microSD card slot. The Galaxy Nexus has no card slot, and comes with 16 gigs (GSM version) or 32 gigs (Verizon) of internal storage. All have a gig of RAM.
The Galaxy Note has a 5.3" Super AMOLED HD display running at 1280 x 800 resolution (the same as Android 10" tablets) vs. the Nexus' 1280 x 720p Super AMOLED display. The Note's display looks brighter, more colorful and is simply tablet-like it its experience. Gaming is more fun on a huge and vibrant display, as is watching videos.
The Note has a Wacom dual digitizer, a first in a mainstream smartphone. That means is supports both capacitive multi-touch and active pen input from a precise EMR digital pen (included). It's great for pressure sensitive drawing and note-taking too. That's a step into the future. It's a touch screen smartphone and a pocket note pad and sketch book in your pocket.
The Note has the same 8 megpixel rear camera used in the Galaxy S II line vs. the Nexus' 5 megapixel rear camera. The Note doesn't yet have Ice Cream Sandwich's instantaneous shutter, but it takes better photos and videos.
OK, so the Samsung Galaxy Note sounds like the champ, right? There are a few drawbacks. For those of you in the US, it's expensive and there's no direct carrier support (unless AT&T does release it and you can get their version). $650 to $700 is a lot to spend on a smartphone for many folks.
This is a big phone! It's thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus but wider and taller. If you think 4.3" smartphones are marginally tolerable, this is not the phone for you. It's a phablet: a marriage of phone and tablet. I don't mind large phones and have roomy pockets and a purse. You fellas might not have a place to stow it. Thin and light as it is, it lacks the ergonomics of the smaller (but still large) 4.65" Samsung Galaxy Nexus.