Samsung's Galaxy range of Android smartphones and Android tablets are hugely popular. But the three Samsung Galaxy smartphones we compare here are very different animals. From the budget Galaxy Ace 2, through the iPhone-rivalling Galaxy SIII (or Galaxy S3) to the 5in 'phablet' that is the Galaxy Note II, the Samsung Galaxy phones offer a variety of qualities and features at a varied range of prices.
Galaxy Ace 2 vs Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy Note II: Dimensions
As befits a budget smartphone, the Ace 2 is relatively light and slight. It measures 118.3x62.3x10.5mm and weighs just 118.5g. The more expensive SIII takes things up a notch in terms of overall size and weight, but is remarkably thin and light for a big phone, at just 8.6mm and 133g. It's chassis measures 71x137mm in 2D terms. As you might expect from a phablet the Note II is the biggest of the bunch, but it remains as thin as the much smaller Ace 2, measuring 151.3x80.6x10.5mm and weighing 214g.
Galaxy Ace 2 vs Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy Note II: Screen
The Galaxy Ace 2 has a 3.8in display with a resolution of 480x800 pixels. Our reviewer described this phone as the 'Ford Focus' of handsets, and the display fits the bill: decent, but unremarkable.
The Galaxy S3's 4.8in screen is stunning, by comparison: it has a high pixel density of 306ppi offering astonishing levels of detail. Viewing angles are very good; we found reflections in the screen more of a problem.
The Super AMOLED technology means colours a bright and punchy while blacks are very black. It's partly what makes the screen have such an impact on the eyes but users wanting a more natural look will probably find the screen a bit garish.
The Note II's screen quality is also very good: while listed as a Super AMOLED type, the 5.5in 1280 x 720 display doesn't have the over-ripe colouring we’ve seen from these displays on earlier Samsung phones.
Galaxy Ace 2 vs Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy Note II: Processor, memory, performance
The Ace 2 has a Dual Core 800MHz processor and 555MB RAM. The Galaxy S3 is powered by Samsung's own Exynos 4 Quad processor. It is a 32nm chip based on the ARM Cortex A9 quad-core architecture and has a clock speed of 1.4GHz. Samsung hasn't specified the amount of RAM but our benchmarking app tells us that it has 780MB which the specification sheet would probably tout as 1GB.
The essential innards of the Samsung Galaxy Note II are the same as the Galaxy S III. So inside we find a Samsung Exynos 4412 SoC, using a quad-core ARM processor. Only this time the ARM Cortex-A9 chip is running at 1.6GHz instead of the S III's 1.4GHz.
In terms of real-world performance, the SIII and Note II leave the Ace behind. To gauge the main processor speed, we used the Geekbench 2 test. Averaged over five runs, the Note II scored 1958 points, the highest overall score we’ve seen in this particular test. It comfortable betters the 1659 points we averaged with the Galaxy S III and the 1650 points of the iPhone 5.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace posted a pretty impressive Geek Bench 2 score of 725, which certainly puts it in the more desirable tier of budget smartphones - but nowhere near its brethren.
Galaxy Ace 2 vs Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy Note II: Storage
In terms of storage, all these phones have MicroSD card slots - a huge bonus. The Galaxy Ace carries only 4GB of storage. The SIII and Note II both come in three models - 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. Each is upgradable by a further 64GB.
Galaxy Ace 2 vs Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy Note II: Cameras
Samsung has fitted the Galaxy Ace 2 smartphone with both a rear and a front facing camera. The rear is a bulk standard CMOS 5Mp camera. The image quality of the Ace 2's camera is pretty good for a camera-phone, but not awe-inspiring by any means. If Skype is more your sort of thing than the you'll be pleased to know the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2's front-facing camera isn't too shabby either. It's only a VGA camera, which means its actually less than 1Mp, but it's certainly good enough for video calling.
The Galaxy S3 also comes with dual cameras. The rear facing one is rated at 8Mp and has an LED flash while the front camera is a 1.9Mp shooter which can record HD video at 30fps. Results are good without being mind-blowing. Most pictures are sharp and colours suitably saturated. The camera copes well in a dimly lit room.
The S3's front facing camera produces a brilliantly clear and detailed image with only faint hints of graining.
The Note II has similar cameras to the S3, in this case a rear-facing 8Mp camera with autofocus and LED flash, and a 1.9Mp front-facing camera principally for video calling.
In our review picture quality from the Note II's rear-facing 8Mp camera was rated 'good'. High-contrast areas showed obvious purple fringing, for instance, although the camera is fast in operation.
HD video was more than usable but suffered from focus-hunting issues even in good light. Grain level was low, improving clarity although shot footage could get a little smeary on even slow pans.
Galaxy Ace 2 vs Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy Note II: Connectivity
Both the Note II and the SIII are 4G and 3G enabled, although you have to make sure you get the 4G version of the SIII as the original release offered only 3G in the UK. And, of course, you need to be on a 4G tariff. The Ace II stretches only to 3G.
All three phones offer 802.11n Wi-Fi, although only the Note II offers wireless internet over both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The Note II and SIII also offer NFC, and all three phones offer Bluetooth 4.1. In terms of wired connectivity they all have micro-USB connectors, and a 3.5mm jack for audio.
Galaxy Ace 2 vs Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy Note II: Software
All three smartphones run Android operating systems, but not all Android OSes are built the same, and the differences here are fairly major. The Ace 2 runs Google's Android 2.3 'Gingerbread' OS. There's nothing wrong with Gingerbread, but with revisions its been around since late 2010, and later versions offer much more polish. The SIII runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, generally regarded as a break through for Android in that it is the first non iOS smartphone operating system to feel like a true consumer environment. Because of its bigger screen the Note II takes a slightly different tack, using the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS that is principally aimed at tablets. All three operating systems have been customised by Samsung with the firm's TouchWiz interface.
To an extent Android is Android, and all three phones have access to all key features. But you will notice a difference in finish and usability between the 4.x flavours of Google's OS, and early iterations.
Galaxy Ace 2 vs Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy Note II: Battery
The Ace 2 has a 1500mAh lithium-ion battery, the Note II a 11.78Wh lithium, removable battery and the SIII a massive 2100mAh cell. In use we found that the Ace 2 could handle a full day or usage but not much more. The Note II's battery life was good enough to last two days of sporadic use, a reasonably healthy runtime for a phone tablet hybrid. The S3 is more impressive of all, lasting a full two days of heavy smartphone use.
Galaxy Ace 2 vs Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy Note II: Price
The clearest indicator of the markets at which each handset is aimed is the cost of purchase. So here we'll compare the sale price on the open market, and some selected deals to give you a flavour of the relative prices. Bear in mind that each of these is a very popular phone that comes in multiple SKUs, so there are myriad prices out there. This is just a basic comparison.
The Galaxy Ace 2 is Samsung's budget Android smartphone. Buy a 4GB Galaxy Ace 2 unlocked and SIM free and it will cost you somewhere between £130 and £200. Pick up a contract phone for free from the likes of Vodafone or T-Mobile and it will set you back around £40 a month for a 12-month contract, depending on the amount of texts, call and data. Extend that contract to 18 months and the price drops to around £20-£26, from O2 and T-Mobile. Stretch it out to two years and you can pick up the Galaxy Ace 2 for as little as £20 on a £10 a month contract (that's from T-Mobile). More typically, you'll pay £20 a month for a free handset.
The Galaxy SIII is pitched more at the high end of the smartphone market. Buy it outright and it will cost you around £400 to £450. This is reflected in the contract tariffs: to get the Galaxy SIII on a 12-month contract you'll have to pay something at the point of sale. A typical deal might see you shelling out £35, and then paying £51 a month. Or you could pay £160 up front and then £41 a month (those are both Vodafone deals). At the other end of the scale you could give T-Mobile £300 and then pay just £10 a month. Obviously the details of the tariffs vary.
Get a 'free' S3 on an 18-month contract and you'll pay £46 a month for 1GB of data (with O2). Pay £70 for the phone and Orange will charge you £36 a month for a similar deal. Move up to 24 months and a free phone with unlimited data will cost you £29 a month (from Three).
The Galaxy Note II is a different beast. As a combination of phone and tablet it is definitely a high-end product, but it is noticably different to the SIII. Bought outright on the open market the Note II will cost around £500 to £550. Then a typical 18-month deal would see you spending £120 on the handset and then £40 a month, or £150 and the £36 a month (both T-Mobile).