Head-To-Head: Apple iPad Mini Vs. Samsung Galaxy Note II10:00 AM EST Mon. Dec. 17, 2012
It may seem like the Odd Couple at first, but upon further examination, maybe it isn't. Apple's iPad Mini and Samsung's Galaxy Note II occupy something of a middle ground in their respective company lineups. The iPad mini lives in the mid-way point between the iPhone 5 and the full-size iPad. The Galaxy Note II operates in the "phablet" product category its predecessor, the Galaxy Note, helped to coin. It's clear that both these products are blends, so to speak, of their brothers in arms. It's what each takes from its siblings that makes the products interesting.
It's a rare battle in today's mobile market that we see more that's different than the same. Here, we will be taking a close look at those differences: Will it be the cellular-enabled Korean phablet, or the diminutive Cupertino tablet? Read on to decide who wins in the Galaxy Note II vs. iPad mini battle.
In the Samsung corner, we have the Galaxy Note II's 5.5-inch, 1,280-x-720 screen, which calculates to 265 ppi. The display is a Super AMOLED HD panel, which stands for active matrix organic LED and means it doesn't use the Pentile sub-pixel arrangement. Like its predecessor, the Note II is fully compatible with Samsung's S Pen stylus, advantageous for content creation.
The iPad mini's 7.9-inch screen offers a one-handable iPad experience, but at 1,024 x 768, the resolution is substantially lower than the Note II's, which puts the iPad mini at about 163 ppi, a substantial 102 fewer pixels per inch than the Note II, according to the Test Center's calculations. The screen is an IPS LCD, meaning it should have stellar viewing angles and work well in direct sunlight.
From a purely technical standpoint, the advantage goes to the Note II. However, depending on your content consumption preference, keep in mind that the Note II's 16:9 aspect ratio makes it ideal for watching video, whereas the iPad's 4:3 radio is better suited to reading.
At the weigh-in before the fight, the Galaxy Note II with its trim, plastic frame that echoes the Galaxy S III, tipped the scale (barely) at 6.35 ounces. The iPad mini strutted in with a larger screen and an attractive but weighty aluminum backing that brought the tablet's total weight to 11 ounces.
The dimensions of the two devices also prove surprising. Both are slender machines, but it's the iPad mini that is the thinner of the pair. The Note II is 0.37 inches in depth compared with the mini's substantially thinner 0.28 inches. The Note II measures 5.9 x 3.2 inches compared with the mini's 7.9 x 5.3 inches.
The Galaxy Note II is a spec-list bear. It charges into battle with a potent quad-core Exynos processor running at 1.6GHz, supported by 2 GB of system RAM and storage configurations of 16, 32 and 64 GB, any of which can be supplemented by another 32 GB on a microSD card. The Note II's battery is a hefty 3100mAh, ensuring long lasting performance in the field, even on cellular networks.
Less well armed is the iPad mini, whose innards are much like those of the iPad 2. A dual-core A5 runs at 1GHz and is backed by a comparatively paltry 512 MB of RAM. Like the Note II, the mini is available in 16-, 32-, 64-GB variants, but with a key difference: Apple's tablet cannot expand its storage. The mini's battery offers 4400mAh, more than a third greater than that of Note II.
The raw specs of the two devices paint a clear victory for Samsung, but Apple's close integration of hardware and software make the overall performance of the mini quite good in spite of Samsung's muscle advantage.
Here comes the true line in the sand, and where Samsung puts the "ph" in phablet. The cellular connectivity of the Galaxy Note II includes phone functionality as well as LTE data services. The iPad mini is only offered with cellular data, not that we imagine many of you are wishing you could talk on the nigh 8-inch device. There is a key advantage for Apple though; the Note II has no Wi-Fi-only variant. It's with cellular or not at all. The Note II with 16 GB of storage costs $300 on contract at any of the four national carriers (except T-Mobile's inexplicable $379), and its off-contract price is a steep $800.
This cellular difference factors in with price as well. The iPad mini ranges in price from $329 for a 16-GB Wi-Fi model (add $100 for each storage tier), all the way up to $659 for the 64 GB with LTE data functionality (subtract $100 for each storage tier with LTE data). In other words, Samsung's device starts at $300 with Wi-Fi, cellular and LTE radios; Apple's starts at $459 with the same.
Cameras on tablets have always trended toward the ridiculous. While they might come in handy for scanning QR codes and the occasional receipt for an AR app, tablet cameras are almost always mediocre. That continues with the iPad mini. The mini has a 5-MP camera that barely meets quota in today's fast-moving world of specs. The much-touted Panorama software of iOS 6 is missing here, as is HDR mode, but happily, 1080p video capture did make the cut.
The 8-MP sensor on the Note II is a higher-quality snapper, capturing clear pictures in the outdoors. But like many smartphone cameras, it struggles indoors and in low-light conditions. The Galaxy Note II does have a panorama mode as well as the innovative Best Face feature demonstrated here. We'd call cameras a toss-up.
The iPad mini has the iOS you know (and maybe even love). The only advertised accoutrement that Apple added to iOS 6 for the mini is a new algorithm that detects the difference between a finger resting on the screen and a touch that the mini is meant to respond to. Other than that, it's iOS 6.0.
Samsung, on the other hand, has decked out the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean running on Note II with loads of proprietary software. And for once, in an Android device, that's actually a good thing. S Note is the software that allows the Note II to recognize handwriting from the included S Pen. The S Pen has neat tricks like the ability to cut a user-defined image from a Web page and paste it elsewhere and draw on PowerPoint presentations, and it includes a customized email signature with an actual signature. It's a small detail, but don't we say that it's the little things that count?
Well, the Galaxy Note II is simply the more impressive device. It's a feature-packed phablet with a phenomenal screen. It's cheaper (on contract) than the iPad mini, and it fits in your pocket (kinda). It's not terribly often that we write that Apple has been out-innovated, but in this showdown, it's clearly the case.
The iPad mini has the benefit of the wealth of apps in Apple's App Store. And while the device and iOS 6.0 are laudable, it's just an iPad 2 in a smaller, more attractive chassis. And in the small-tablet wars of 2012, that's simply not enough. Expect a refresh of the mini in April, perhaps then it will stand up to its Korean competition.