The plastics used in the S3 and Note 2 not only make the devices lighter, but they also provide far more flex upon impact, which can help absorb the energy. In most drop test videos, you'll also see that the door of the Note 2 and S3 often fly off upon impact. This helps to disperse the energy from the fall instead of keeping it all within the device.
Of course, individual experiences will vary greatly. One person could drop the MAXX HD or the Note 2 one hundred times and never have any problems, but a different person would drop either one just a single time and due some serious damage. There are a lot of things that go into the build quality of various devices, and there are a lot of factors in their durability.
All of that said, in reality the Note 2 is far more durable than it feels to many people. So, I really wouldn't worry about that at all.
Current lineup: Note 3, iPhone 5S, Note 10.1 2014
Previous smartphones: Note 2, Galaxy S3, One X, RAZR MAXX, Galaxy Nexus, Rezound, Note, iPhone 4S, Bionic, Stratosphere, Charge, Vitality, Incredible 2, Thunderbolt, Palm Pixi Plus, Droid 3, Fascinate, Incredible, Droid Pro, Droid 2 Global, Droid X, Droid, Treo Pro, Touch Pro 2, Touch Pro, Q9m, XV6800, XV6900
Previous tablets: iPad Mini, Transformer TF300, Evo View, Transformer Prime, Transformer TF101, Thrive, gTablet