Both devices break some new ground for the company, with the Note 3 improving its pen functionality and the S5 adding a fingerprint reader and heart rate monitor. The massive Note 3 is a multitasking machine with a slick faux-leather design, while the more compact S5 improves on its predecessor with a water-resistant shell and sharp, 16-MP camera.
Which of these Android heavyweights is the king of the Galaxy? We put the phones through an 11-round gauntlet to find out.
You can’t ignore the size difference between these two stellar Samsung phones. The Note 3 is a prototypical phablet, at 5.95 x 3.12 x 0.33 inches, while the 5.3 x 2.9 x 0.25-inch Galaxy S5 sports a more compact design that works better for one-handed use. However, both devices were slim enough to slide into our front pants pocket, with the 5.9-ounce Note 3 only slightly outweighing the 5.1-ounce Galaxy S5.
Aesthetically, choosing between the two handsets depends on your tastes. The Note 3′s faux-leather back panel is the softer of the two, though the Galaxy S5′s textured plastic rear still provides a decent grip while giving the phone a more cohesive look and feel.
The IP67-certified Galaxy S5 is the only device of the two to provide water resistance, as the handset can endure being dunked in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. The trade-off here is that the S5 has an ugly flap built over its microUSB port, which was a hassle to remove every time we needed to charge.
The two phones have nearly identical button and port layouts (save for the Note 3′s stylus holder), as each device sports a physical home-button flanked by touch-capacitive keys. There’s a slight difference, however, as the Note 3 sports a capacitive Menu button on the left, while the S5 has the more common Recent Apps button.
Winner: Galaxy S5. We give this round to the S5 for its more compact and water-resistant design.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 3 both boast 1080p displays, so the question is: How big do you want to go? The Note 3′s whopping 5.7-inch screen offers tons of real estate, while the S5′s display sits at a still-generous 5.1 inches. The former phone is ideal for watching a video with friends on the couch, while the latter provides plenty of screen space for solo content consumption.
When watching the “X-Men: Days of Future Past” trailer, colors looked similarly brilliant on each device. However, Beast’s fuzzy face looked more detailed on the Galaxy S5, and we noticed slightly better brightness on the smaller handset.
The S5 outshone the Note 3 by a mile on our brightness test, with an average rating of 373 nits compared to the Note 3′s score of 227. The S5 was able to replicate 158.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is a bit more than the Note 3′s 151.1 percent.
The S5 also provided more-accurate colors, with a Delta-E rating of 0.9 (lower numbers are better) compared to the Note 3′s 5.7.
Winner: Galaxy S5. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Both Samsung phones sport sharp screens, but the S5 offers a brighter display and more-accurate colors.
Neither of these devices will replace your stereo system, but we blasted Manchester Orchestra’s “Top Notch” on both to find out which handset boasts superior audio output.
While the distorted, guitar-heavy track sounded a bit muffled on both phones, we could hear the piercing riffs and high-pitched vocals much more clearly on the Note 3. The song sounded significantly tinnier on the S5′s speakers, especially once the tune’s busy chorus began.
The S5 came in a bit louder on the Laptop Mag Audio Test, at 73 decibels, beating the Note 3′s mark of 70. Still, we prefer the latter phone’s clarity.
Winner: Galaxy Note 3. The Note 3′s speakers won’t blow you away, but they provide a richer, more accurate sound than those on the S5.
Running Android 4.3 and 4.4.2, respectively, the Note 3 and Galaxy S5 each don their own version of Samsung’s glossy TouchWiz interface. The S5′s UI looks slightly more refined and vibrant, with circular, multicolored icons in the Quick Settings menu as opposed to the Note 3′s dark and boxy ones.
Settings menus aside, the interfaces have minimal differences. The Note 3 provides a total of five home screens compared to the S5′s four, as the S5′s fifth slot automatically takes you to the customizable My Magazine news feed. You can access the same feature on the Note 3 by tapping the home button while on the home screen.
The two devices have an identical default row of apps on the bottom of the home screen, providing quick access to Phone, Contacts, Messages, Internet and Apps. The TouchWiz interface does benefit from the Note 3′s larger display, as you can pack more app shortcuts and widgets onto a single screen.
Winner: Draw. The S5′s interface is more attractive, while the Note 3′s is more robust, but both of these TouchWiz devices allow you to enjoy the same general feature set.
The Galaxy S5 and Note 3 sport the same generously spaced Samsung keyboard, complete with trace typing, predictive text and a persistent number row at the top. The only difference is the Note 3′s dedicated “www.” button that becomes a “.com” button after typing a web address, which fits onto the keyboard thanks to the larger display.
Typing on the S5 feels just right with two hands, and we only felt discomfort during brief moments of one-handed typing. The Note 3′s massive display practically requires you to use two hands, as we did some serious stretching when trying to type with our right thumb alone. The Note 3 does compensate for this somewhat, with a one-handed mode that shrinks the virtual keyboard down to a size closer to that of the S5′s.
Using the Typing Master app test, we typed at an average of 16 words per minute with an 88 percent accuracy rate on the S5. We were slower and less precise on the Note 3, averaging 15 words per minute with an accuracy of 79 percent.
Winner: Galaxy S5. The Note 3 and Galaxy S5 boast the same great keyboard features, but typing on the S5 was more comfortable.
To see how the Galaxy S5′s 2.5-GHz Snapdragon 801 processor stacks up to the Note 3′s 2.3-GHz Snapdragon 800, we put both handsets through a handful of synthetic and real-world performance tests.
Both phones took about a second to get from the browser to the home screen, with the S5 (1.02 seconds) only trailing the Note 3 (0.93 seconds) by a few milliseconds.
We then timed how long each device took to open the camera app from the lock screen. Both handsets were fairly zippy, with the S5′s 2.21 seconds barely beating the Note 3′s 2.32 seconds.
The two Samsung heavyweights faced off on our VidTrim test, which measures how long a device takes to convert a 1080p video to 480p. The S5 won the race by mere seconds at 5:07, besting the Note 3′s time of 5:15.
The Galaxy S5 and Note 3 ran similarly neck-and-neck in synthetic tests. The Note 3 scored 2,979 on the Geekbench 3 performance benchmark, marginally outdoing the S5′s 2,927.
Both phones performed well above the category average on the Quadrant test (CPU, I/O and 3D graphics), with the S5′s 24,859 reigning supreme over the Note 3′s 22,383.
The handsets boasted equally impressive graphics scores on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test. The Note 3 (18,808) won this time, edging out the Galaxy S5′s 18,204.
Winner: Draw. The Galaxy S5 has a superior Snapdragon 801 processor on paper, but both devices deliver similarly solid performance across real-world and synthetic tests. This one’s too close to call.
The Note 3 and Galaxy S5 have lots of neat camera features in common, including Eraser for wiping away photobombers and Best Photo for easily finding the best shot in a series.
The S5 stands out with its Selective Focus feature, which lets you easily add a professional touch to your pictures. Choosing near focus puts the emphasis on your subject while blurring the background, and far focus does the opposite. There’s also Virtual Tour, which lets you digitally walk a friend through your house.
The Note 3 has a few out-of-the-box camera features that the S5 lacks, like Animated Photo for making fun GIFs and Sound & Shot for capturing audio to play alongside your photo. However, these extra functions can be downloaded for free on your S5.
Winner: Galaxy S5. The Galaxy S5 has all of the same great camera features as the Note 3, and then some.
The Galaxy S5 (16-MP sensor) and Note 3 (13-MP sensor) are both more than capable of producing sharp shots, so we took them to Manhattan’s Union Square on a sunny day to see how each handset’s camera sensor held up.
For our first test, we photographed a pink tulip tree with a large building in the background. Both shots looked crisp, but colors were a bit richer and brighter on the S5 version.
Next up, we shot photos of a cherry red truck. The truck itself looked equally vibrant coming from both phones, though the S5 exhibited fuller colors when we looked at the blue sign behind the vehicle.
For our final outdoor test, we photographed a brown-haired woman wearing a gray shirt in front of Union Square Park. While colors looked slightly more accurate in the Note 3 photo, we noticed significantly better detail in both the background and our subject’s face in the S5 version.
While the S5′s rear camera captured some nice shots, the Note 3′s 2-MP front camera is the superior selfie-taker. The self-portrait we snapped on the Note 3 preserved each individual strand of our beard, and the small white buttons on our baby blue shirt came through clearly. By comparison, the selfie we took on the Galaxy S5′s 2-MP front-camera looked blurry and washed out.
Winner: Galaxy S5. The Note 3 might be better for selfies, but the Galaxy S5′s 16-MP rear-camera provided a better overall shooting experience.
The Galaxy S5 and Note 3 will both last you well over a workday on a single charge, but there’s a clear winner here. The Note 3′s 3,200-mAh battery lasted an incredible 11 hours and 15 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), beating the S5′s still-impressive 9:42 by an hour and a half.
Both Galaxy phones sport a power-saving mode for when you’re low on juice, but the S5′s Ultra Power Saving mode takes the cake. This setting strips your display down to grayscale, limits your app selection to the essentials and automatically turns off data usage when your phone is asleep. By comparison, the Note 3′s power-saving mode can limit CPU performance, lower brightness and turn off haptic feedback.
Winner: Galaxy Note 3. The S5′s Ultra Power Saving mode is handy, but the Note 3′s whopping battery life means you can use the phone all day without sacrificing any features.
The S5 takes a “less-is-more” approach compared to the S4, but it’s not without a few neat features. The handset is Samsung’s first to feature a fingerprint reader, which can be used to unlock the device and authorize PayPal payments.
Also new to the S5 is a heart rate monitor, which is located on the rear of the device right next to the flash. This works in conjunction with the S Health app, which you can use to measure your heart rate after an intense workout. The Note 3 has its own version of S Health, which lets you utilize the same pedometer and food-tracking features, but lacks a heart monitor.
One of the Note 3′s biggest selling points is its stylus, and the suite of impressive apps that take advantage of that tool. The Action Memo feature makes your handwritten notes interactive, as you’ll be able to call up a phone number you’ve jotted down or add your scribbled to-do list to your calendar.
Scrapbooker lets you highlight any image, website or video, and keep it in a virtual scrapbook for later viewing, while the Screen Write function lets you mark up whatever you have on screen and share the image. With Pen Window, you can draw custom floating windows for apps like YouTube and Calculator.
The Note 3 and Galaxy S5 both utilize Samsung’s signature multi-window mode, which allows you to split the screen between two apps running at once. However, we found the feature much more useful on the Note 3, thanks its extra-generous screen space.
Winner: Galaxy Note 3. The S5′s fingerprint reader and heart monitor are neat, but the Galaxy Note 3′s stylus features make it a productivity powerhouse.
Despite their many similarities, the Galaxy Note 3′s $299 retail value is considerably heftier than the $199 Galaxy S5. This varies by retailer and carrier, however.
As of this writing, the Galaxy S5 is available for $199 with a two-year contract on AT&T and Verizon; and $0 down on T-Mobile and Sprint with 24 monthly payments of around $27, for a grand total of $648.
You can get the Note 3 for just $199 on AT&T, though Verizon is currently charging the full $299. T-Mobile and Sprint both offer the phone for no money down, if you can handle 24 monthly payments of $29 (roughly $696 total).
Looking purely at face value, you’ll have to decide if the Note 3′s features justify the extra cash. You might find it worthwhile if you want one of the biggest smartphone screens around and a stylus with tons of functionality, but those looking for a more standard smartphone experience will get plenty of value out of the Galaxy S5.
Winner: Galaxy S5. If you can live without the stylus features and a 5.7-inch screen, the Galaxy S5 does much of what the Note 3 does, for $100 less.
Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 3 both earned a rare 4.5 stars out of 5 in our reviews, so it’s difficult to declare one the reigning Galaxy king. However, thanks to its water-resistant design, better display and superior camera, the Galaxy S5 takes this contest in a convincing 8 rounds to 5.
Fitness fanatics will like the S5′s heart monitor and improved S Health app, while the device’s water-resistant chassis will please those prone to spills. The S5′s stunning 5.1-inch display provides tons of viewing space, while still being compact enough to use comfortably with one hand.
The Note 3 is still one of our favorite Android phones, boasting a ton of useful pen apps and a battery that lasts longer than just about any other smartphone we’ve tested. Those looking for a huge display will also prefer the Note. But the Galaxy S5 is a better handset overall.