Apple iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Bigger is better, but which bigger phone is best?

Both the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 7 are all over the news right now: Apple's phone because it's new and exciting, and Samsung's because they're literally exploding.

Horrifying as that may be, Samsung is replacing the dangerous units and will have fresh, safe ones back on the market shortly. Hopefully, it doesn't ruin the Galaxy Note 7's brief stay in the spotlight, because as our full review showed, it's a really fantastic phablet – Samsung's best yet.

But is it better than Apple's best-ever iPhone? We just bestowed that claim upon the iPhone 7 Plus in our brand new review, and much like the standard iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 for slightly smaller hands, the iPhone 7 Plus and Galaxy Note 7 are the two biggest contenders for your big-phone big-money.

So which is the one to get once the Galaxy Note 7 makes it proper return to store shelves? Let's break it down.

Design: Both shine

While it's true that Apple mostly stuck with its existing, monolithic, and ultra-minimal design for the iPhone 7 Plus, there are some new wrinkles. The antenna lines have been nudged to the top and bottom edges to make for a more attractive backing, plus the new colour options are definite upgrades.

Jet Black is gorgeous but a bit too glossy and fingerprint-friendly, but the matte Black has our vote as the iPhone style to get this year. And now the iPhone 7 models are IP67-rated waterproof, which makes it less terrifying to take these pricey devices out in a rainstorm, or handle it within range of a gaping toilet bowl. 

Oh, also? No headphone port. Yeah, you already knew that one, and it's undoubtedly an irritation. You can use the included adapter to plug your current headphones into the Lightning port, use Bluetooth cans, or plunk down cash on some new Lightning-connected ones, but Apple's nudge away from the old standard isn't the friendliest move for consumers.

Another intriguing twist is the new home button, which isn't a physical button at all. It's a non-moving Touch ID sensor packed with haptic feedback, and tapping it gives you a little buzz back that sort of simulates the old feeling. That might feel weird at first, but you'll surely get used to it.

What about the Galaxy Note 7? Well, like the Galaxy S7 before it, Samsung's big phone builds on its predecessor (the Galaxy Note 5) and makes small tweaks, such as the sharp symmetrical backing. Also, the display is curved along the edges now, albeit in a way that's a little less severe than in the Galaxy S7 Edge.

The Note 7 is glossy and certainly looks expensive, although the simplicity of the iPhone 7 Plus is also appealing. It might be round three for this design, but on the other hand, it's iconic Apple. Honestly, we're happy with both. You probably could be too!

Winner: Draw

Screen: Quad HD AMOLED? Yup

Apple made some meaningful, albeit not-initially-obvious upgrades to the display for the iPhone 7 Plus. It's still a 5.5in LCD screen and still sitting at 1080p resolution, but it's also 25% brighter and offers a wider colour gamut, which makes photos appear even more vivid on the display.

All told, it's a better version of one of the most pleasing displays on the market: Apple's screens always tend to have really impressive contrast and brightness, and this is the best version yet.

But matched up against Samsung's own displays, there's really no competition. Samsung has been producing absolute marvels of Quad HD AMOLED screens for the last couple years, and the 5.7 curved one here is nothing short of stunning. The Galaxy S7 might have a slightly higher pixels-per-inch (PPI) count, but you'll never notice the difference. It's an amazing view, really.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Camera: Double your pleasure

Two is better than one, right? Well, that's the case with the iPhone 7 Plus back camera duo, which gives the Plus one very sizeable advantage over the standard iPhone 7 – not to mention the wider smartphone competition.

You can swap between the 12MP standard lens and 12MP telephoto lens at any time, with the latter offering 2x optical zoom and enhanced 10x digital zoom. Add in a brighter TrueTone flash and the wide f/1.8 aperture and the quality of photos can be "staggering at times," as our review asserted.

And it should only become more powerful in time, as Apple is preparing a "portrait" feature via an update that uses both lenses to produce what it claims are DSLR-killing results. We're skeptical, but also hugely excited to see what comes of it. Hopefully, developers also have access to both lenses to try their own neat tricks in third-party apps.

Even now, the iPhone 7 Plus' back camera setup is a strong shot against that of Samsung's latest phones, which have a single 12-megapixel lens that produces some of the absolute best, most vibrant shots we've ever seen on a smartphone.

We'll do some head-to-head shooting for a better comparison, but based on what we've shot with the 7 Plus so far, it's the smartphone camera to beat now.

Winner: Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Power: Fabulous Fusion

The Galaxy Note 7 is running Samsung's lightning-fast Exynos 8890 in most of the world, or Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 in certain territories (like the U.S.), and both are considered to be among the fastest smartphone chips in the world.

Apple might have something to say about that, however. The new A10 Fusion chip is said to be a leap over its A9 predecessor, offering 40% more CPU power and 50% better graphics capabilities – and that's come through in initial iPhone 7 benchmarks, which seem to blast past the competition. And the iPhone 7 Plus has 3GB RAM (vs 2GB in the standard model), which can only help with performance.

Even with 4GB RAM in the Note 7, it sounds like iPhone 7 Plus has greater raw power on tap. In daily use, however, you probably couldn't pick a noticeably speedier phone between them. The iPhone 7 Plus is super-fast on iOS 10, just like the Note 7 is with Android Marshmallow. Both are extremely capable at running glossy games and multitasking, and really anything else you might throw at it.

Once developers have a bit more time with the A10 Fusion chip, we suspect the differences might be a bit clearer, especially when it comes to games. Given the added power, this one goes to Apple.

Winner: Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Storage, battery, and perks: Noteworthy

In a couple of key ways, the Galaxy Note 7 has the advantage over the iPhone 7 Plus when it comes to hardware-related perks. It comes with 64GB internal storage for starters, which can be augmented with a 256GB microSD card.

The iPhone 7 Plus can hit 256GB on its own, albeit at a bonus cost of ₹20,000 over the entry-level model, which has 32GB inside. That's still an upgrade over last year's 16GB starter phone, mind you.

Also, while the iPhone 7 Plus plugs up a hole (the headphone port), the Galaxy Note 7 lets you pull something out of its own with the S Pen. You can use the stylus to scribble down notes, make quick sketches, and even create GIFs from online videos – and unlike the Galaxy Note 5's original model, you can't jam it in there the wrong way and break the phone. Benefit!

When it comes to battery life, there's not a vast difference between them, however. The iPhone 7 Plus has a 2,900mAh cell within while the Galaxy Note 7 sees a boost up to 3,500mAh, but both can give you a strong full day and potentially then some. Perhaps the lower-res screen and efficiency of iOS help make up for the size difference.

In any case, Samsung has enough advantages in this category to take it handily.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Operating system: Choose wisely

The battle between Android and iOS has raged for years, and each side has its strengths and shortcomings – but both are pretty excellent operating systems overall. That's especially true of late.

As we extensively explained this week, iOS 10 is by far the best version of Apple's mobile OS to date, packing in a bunch of power features, welcome tweaks, and a bit of personality to boot. In general, iOS sacrifices extensive customization in favour of incredible, streamlined ease-of-use, but that's not a bad thing for the majority of phone buyers.

On the Google side of things, Android 7.0 Nougat adds some great tweaks to notifications, along with native split-screen and better battery-saving techniques… but you won't find it on the Note 7 right now. You're stuck with last year's Marshmallow along with Samsung's TouchWiz skin, all of which is well and good, but the benefits of the eventual Nougat update could be months out still.

In any case, Android has more appeal for power users – but it falls short on app selection compared to the iOS App Store. Even if Android has the vast majority of major apps, you'll often wait months for games and clever apps to make the leap from iOS to Android, and not everything ends up crossing over.

Still, this is very much a "pick your pleasure" kind of situation. Both iOS and Android are fantastic mobile platforms with loads of great apps and games, and the difference for many users is about mentality as much as functionality.

Winner: Draw

Verdict: A narrow win

Given Samsung's terrible battery quandary, we don't recommend trying to buy a Galaxy Note 7 right this moment. But flagship phone purchases shouldn't be swift decisions anyway, so we're making this comparison in good faith that the safe replacements will have no other deficiencies. You can wait a couple more weeks, right?

Ultimately, if you're looking for a very large phablet right now, these are the two to consider. The Galaxy Note 7 has a more productive edge, offering the S Pen stylus and its myriad capabilities, plus it has the gorgeous Quad HD screen and other perks.

On the other hand, Apple's phablet is its absolute best to date, delivering ample power and a brilliant dual-camera system, not to mention some worthwhile enhancements to the familiar design.

But these are both hilariously expensive and very premium devices, with the Note 7 landing at 59,990 and the iPhone 7 Plus upcharge barely noticeable by comparison. Both are also brilliant devices, but as our best smartphones ranking shows (as of this writing), we're just a hair more excited about what Apple's done between the cameras, iOS 10, and the power-packed punch within.

If we could only have one extra-large, very pricey phone, we'd take the iPhone 7 Plus. But if for some ridiculous reason we wanted two, well, we wouldn't mind keeping the Galaxy Note 7 in our other pocket.

Overall winner: Apple iPhone 7 Plus