Big Screen Battle: Apple iPhone 6 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Smartphone battles won’t get bigger than this. At least for now! Samsung’s successful premium phablet Galaxy Note’s latest iteration Galaxy Note 4 this time faces an all-new, mighty competitor in Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus.
For three years, Samsung’s Galaxy Note series virtually ruled the top-end phablet segment. But with Apple (rather belatedly) entering the segment, Samsung finally may have to worry about retaining its monopoly. In our detailed comparison of the two giant screen phones, we pitted them against each other. Here are the results…
Design Apple and Samsung have taken contrasting approach to design with their respective phablets. While iPhone 6 Plus is all about curves, Galaxy Note 4 is characterized by sharper lines and edges. Neither phablet will, however, win the award for best-designed device of the year.
Like the last two years’ iPhones, iPhone 6 Plus is also made of aluminium and glass which exudes a premium feel. However, there are more misses than hits with its design.
iPhone 6 Plus’s curved body makes it convenient to operate with one hand, but also makes it susceptible to frequent drops. During the time we spent with the Apple phablet, we found that despite the matte-finish back, it is rather slippery and we had to be extra careful during one-hand usage. The curved glass around the screen makes it quite easy to swipe the thumb from the left of the screen to go one step back in apps.
The rear camera of iPhone 6 Plus protrudes a little so it does not rest flat. This design choice, of course, is to keep iPhone 6 Plus as thin as possible, but loses more than a few points for the Apple phablet.
Then there are the awkward plastic inserts on the back for the antenna, which is more of a functionality decision than a design one. In our gold-coloured unit, the white stripes looked like a mistake. On the other hand, the grey inserts in the Space Grey version and white inserts in the Silver model look much better and not as awkward.
Apple has also not made the bezels thin enough, which leads to iPhone 6 Plus (5.5-inch screen) being much bigger in size than Galaxy Note 4 (5.7-inch). It is, however, not as wide as the Samsung phablet, thus making one-hand operation easier.
Samsung has used a mix of plastic and metal in Galaxy Note 4. The aluminium frame on the sides has chamfered edges and sports a white paint job in our white-coloured review unit. The back has a plastic covering featuring faux leather texture, which gives pretty good grip. The back panel is curved ever-so-slightly, to make it fit the curve of the palm a little better.
As we said, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is shorter than iPhone 6 Plus. However, it is wider than the Apple iPhone 6 Plus by a few millimetres, which makes a lot of difference when the phablet is being operated via one hand. Indeed, we found iPhone 6 Plus slightly easier to operate with one hand during our review period.
After placing the speaker at the bottom with last year’s Note 4, Samsung has again moved it to the back, which leads to muffled sound when it is kept face-up on the bed or any similar surface.
Though Galaxy Note 4 looks good, we still can’t say that Samsung has nailed the design part. Plus, it is much thicker and slightly heavier than iPhone 6 Plus.
Despite its (few) flaws, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a better fit for those looking at functionality as well as design compared to iPhone 6 Plus.
iPhone 6 Plus sports a sweet 5.5-inch Full HD (1080x1920p) IPS display, but Galaxy Note 4 tops that with a 5.7-inch QHD (1440x2560p) Super AMOLED screen. While the Apple phablet has colder tones, the Samsung phablet shows rather warmer and vibrant colours (that even seem a little oversaturated at times).
Both high-resolution displays are great, offering panels that never concede a single pixel to the naked eye. As we have said before, a QHD display on a smartphone screen is not necessary as the pixel density is high enough with Full HD resolution, and the same holds true for Samsung Galaxy Note 4. We noticed the effect of the QHD panel only in a few apps and games, where textures appear more detailed, but such instances were few and far between.
Both Apple iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 are top-end phablets and offer the best displays despite the widely varying colour tones. The viewing angles are great, so looking at the display from the sides does not distort colours at all. However, Galaxy Note 4’s sunlight legibility is slightly less than that of iPhone 6 Plus when compared side by side at full brightness.
With both Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus sporting excellent display, it is a personal decision to go for the more vivid Samsung display or the relatively colder Apple panel.
Phablet-optimized software Samsung has a definite edge over Apple when it comes to phablet-optimized features. With the Note series in its fourth edition, it is not a surprise that the Samsung model is much ahead of the first Apple phablet in dishing out software and features meant to do more with the big screen.
First there’s the S Pen, a stylus that has become the trademark of the Note series. You can write on the screen; select and save details on display to use later; copy web pages, images etc with a few swipes and share with others via email, among other features. If you write contact details (like email ID, phone number, name etc) on the screen, the phone will save it in your address book (or call/message the number, open the email app to send a mail). You can even take a photo of a business card to save the details automatically.
Then there’s the capability to open multiple apps simultaneously. This is definitely one of the best features we have used on Android devices, and boosts productivity significantly. You can, for example, search the web on one window while writing an email on the other. Samsung’s custom software also lets you minimize an active app so that you can use it later.
There are several other features you can use on the Android 4.4 (KitKat)-powered Galaxy Note 4 to make full use of the big screen, such as moving the keyboard to one side of the screen to operate it more easily using one hand.
In comparison, iPhone 6 Plus’s phablet-specific software feels very undercooked. There are two features to make use of the big screen easier – landscape mode view and Reachability. Frankly, we did not find ourselves using the landscape view at all to make it easier to operate during the time we spent with the device.
Reachability, on the other hand, is something we used quite frequently. What this feature does is that it hides the bottom half of the screen so that you can access the content at the top half with your thumb; you can active this mode by lightly tapping the Home button twice in quick succession.
It is a decent feature, but every time you select an option on the screen in Reachability mode, the display reverts to full screen view, and you need to again double tap the Home button to bring the screen’s content within reach. Of course, it makes sense to go back to the full screen view to show its full content, but can be irritating while operating some apps.
This round, quite obviously, goes to Samsung Galaxy Note 4 due to its full suite of phablet-specific features.
Performance Both Apple and Samsung have brought out their big guns with iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4, respectively.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 runs on the 2.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor with 3GB RAM, the best combination available for Android phones in the market right now. In comparison, iPhone 6 Plus’s 1.4GHz dual-core A8 processor and 1GB RAM look like child’s play. But numbers don’t tell the real picture and Apple has never relied on high-end specifications to give great performance.
The hardware-software amalgamation is better in iPhone 6 Plus than Galaxy Note 4. Performing any operation feels more natural and has a fluid feel on the Apple phablet, a result of the closed Apple ecosystem. There is no denying the fact that it is among the fastest devices in the market today, and gives a user experience like none other.
That’s not to say Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a slouch. It is easily the fastest Android device, and easily matches up to iPhone 6 Plus. In fact, switching between apps and swiping across screen feels faster on the Samsung model; it’s just that apps launch faster on the Apple phablet.
Then there’s the difference between the implementation of the software.
With iOS 8, you can and make phone calls and send messages using your Mac, and use Twitter in Safari browser so that opening links is easier. Plus, opening the Control Centre with an upward swipe from the bottom of the screen feels more natural than the downward swipe you need to make from the top of the Note 4’s screen to access similar controls.
The TouchWiz UI of Samsung is easily the most-derided feature in the tech world. Though it has improved since the company unveiled a flatter and less bloated version of its proprietary skin with Galaxy S5 this year, it still feels a little clunky. The software and hardware don’t work as cohesively on Galaxy Note 4 as they do on iPhone 6 Plus, but we did not come across any lag during our usage.
Playing graphics-intensive, resource-consuming games on both phablets delivered a similar experience. All games were just as fast on either device, but Samsung Galaxy Note 4 showed a few more details that iPhone 6 Plus masked due to more available pixels.
Multimedia is a mixed bag on both devices, though iPhone 6 Plus’s experience seems a bit more balanced. Watching videos on the big screens of both phablets is a treat. All popular file formats were supported by the two devices and videos appeared crisp, with the main variation being the colour temperature that we discussed above.
The real difference while playing media content is in terms of sound quality. Though the audio output of both models is similar, the sound quality delivered by Galaxy Note 4 at high volumes is relatively inferior.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s connectivity suite is noticeably bigger than that of iPhone 6 Plus. It lets users share files via NFC as well as Bluetooth, while infrared can be used to control the TV like a remote. On the other hand, Apple has limited its devices to only AirDrop and iTunes, a major limitation in transferring files to devices to other platforms. The relative difficulty of its Bluetooth throwing a fit hooking up to non-Apple devices too remains.
Both iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it is really up to the buyer to select a winner in this segment.
Camera Both Apple and Samsung make great cameras, and this holds true for iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 too. In fact, these phablets actually have the best cameras that the two companies have made till date.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a 16MP rear camera with LED flash, while iPhone 6 Plus has an 8MP camera with dual-LED flash.
In daylight, the Samsung camera takes shots that appear a little too vibrant and don’t have accurate white balance. On the other hand, photos captured via iPhone 6 Plus’s camera show colder but more accurate colours. White balance is relatively better here too.
In terms of details, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is ahead of iPhone 6 Plus. The photos taken with Galaxy Note 4 are full of details and there is nearly no graininess to speak of due to Samsung’s noise suppressing technology. Even when you zoom in, Galaxy Note 4’s photos do not show any loss of details.
Similarly, iPhone 6 Plus’s 8MP sensor does pretty well in capturing details, but it’s just not as good as Galaxy Note 4’s in this aspect. Noise level is pretty low here too.
Photos taken in the dark are better in iPhone 6 Plus as it keeps a balance in the dark and bright tones while keeping the noise down. On the other hand, objects under light appear a little too bright in photos taken using Galaxy Note 4’s camera, while the other effects are similar to that of iPhone 6 Plus’s.
Then there’s the front (or as everyone calls it now… selfie) camera. Samsung’s 3.7MP selfie camera can take photos in three modes – normal, panorama and wide-angle. The photos taken using the selfie camera are pretty detailed, but shots taken in the dark show a little noise. On the other hand, iPhone 6 Plus’s 1.2MP front camera shows decent level of detail, but is better than Galaxy Note 4 in suppressing noise.
Overall, the iPhone 6 Plus camera is a tad better in terms of overall camera performance than that of Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s camera. The difference is not too much, but it’s still there.
Battery Galaxy Note 4 sports a 3,220mAh battery versus iPhone 6 Plus’s 2,915mAh powerhouse. While the latter lasts a little over a day on full charge with moderate to heavy usage, the former tops it by delivering battery life of a day and a half once it is fully charged. The usage patterns includes making 30 minutes of calls (with the SIM on 3G network) and playing YouTube videos as well as games each, couple of hours of web browsing and using Facebook and Twitter. Two email accounts with push notifications were used on both devices and GPS was active at all times.
While Apple does not have any special software to improve battery life, Samsung has several ways to eke out extra juice. The best way is to activate the ultra power-saving mode, which really helps the Galaxy Note 4 last over half a day on 5-10% battery by cutting off various radios and turning the device into a feature phone.
Apart from S Pen, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a fingerprint scanner, heart rate monitor, pedometer, UV and blood oxygen sensor etc. The health sensors are pretty accurate and let you keep track of your activity levels and alert you when the UV radiation around you is too high or your blood oxygen level is too low or high. The fingerprint sensor can be used to lock the phone as well as authorize PayPal payments.
On the other hand, iPhone 6 Plus has a fingerprint sensor and integrated health sensors. The fingerprint sensor unlocks the phone and authenticates contactless payments via Apple Pay (which is not yet available in India). The health sensors track not only how many steps you have walked but can also distinguish how many flights of stairs you have climbed or how much you have run.
Apple’s Healthkit app tracks data from other apps to give you a full view of your health and activity levels, which Samsung’s S Health does not. In this sense, iPhone 6 Plus is a better fit for health nuts.
Verdict iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 are quite different yet very similar. Both have big screens, fast processors, great battery life, excellent cameras, fingerprint scanners and a bunch of health sensors. But the implementation of these features is what sets them apart from each other, as well as other phablets in the market.
In our view, the feature-rich Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a device meant for those who demand the ultimate productivity gadget. On the other hand, iPhone 6 Plus is a device that is made for people who want a big-screen smartphone that works beautifully but is devoid of bells and whistles. It would suit the Apple aficionados more. Between the two, we would go with Samsung Galaxy Note 4.
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