Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4: the weigh-in

Samsung vs Samsung, flagship vs flagship. This time, it's personal

Unless you want a phone with a bendy front, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Note 4 are your best bets from Samsung for 2015, but is Samsung’s giant really worth the extra pocket bother?

As the Samsung Galaxy S6 is that bit newer, it gets you a few techy extras, as well as the new-style Samsung phone design. And it has finally, mercifully, rid itself of all that naff crinkled plastic.

But there can only be one winner when you have 50K-odd to spend on a phone and just one spare pocket to fill. Bring on round one:

Glass vs Plastic

The Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy S6 have both come a long way from past Galaxy flagships, all of which felt about as expensive as a pack of crisps.

Arriving last year, the Note 4 was part of Samsung’s first steps to upping its games. It has a metal band around its sides, but the back is still plastic, using the leather-effect texture that has caused a few disgusted looks over the past couple of years.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 is a fully reformed character, with metal sides and a glass back, with no plastic on show to cheapen the expensive vibe. It’s also an awful lot thinner. The Galaxy S6 is just 6.8mm thick while the Note 4 now seems a tiny bit chunky at 8.5mm thick.

There are plenty of excuses for this, though. The Note 4 has a pen lodged in its body: the S Pen digitiser stylus that lets you use the giganto-phone as a sort of mini sketchpad. It also has a bigger battery and, let’s face it, 8.5mm isn’t really chunky.

We do find the Galaxy S6 that bit easier to slip into a pocket, though, and it's easily the most premium, best-looking smartphone the company has ever made. It feels lovely and expensive in the hands, and you'll be proud to show it off.

Winner: Galaxy S6

QHD all the way

Here’s where the Note 4 pulls ahead of the Galaxy S6 - if you prefer bigger sceens. Its 5.7-inch display is way bigger than the Samsung Galaxy S6’s 5.1-inch one.

As both have QHD resolution screens, the S6 has a higher pixels per inch rating, but anyone claiming the Note 4 doesn’t have enough pixels to go around is talking nonsense. It positively steamrolls the iPhone 6 Plus, and no-one calls that phone blocky.

Both phones use a Super AMOLED display, whose light-up pixels get you better contrast than any LCD phone, ever. They’re pretty stunning, and as usual Samsung offers a whole bunch of custom modes, ranging from one with super-saturated colours to another that might look a bit glum to some eyes, but is actually super-accurate. Our eyes are just used to pretty jazzed-up colours these days.

Neither phone gets you the fancy curved edges of the Note Edge or Galaxy S6 Edge, but then you also don’t have to pay the premium to get those bonus show-off points.

Aside from the extra screen size, the Note 4 and Galaxy S6 have very similar screens. If you're a bit of a movies-on-the-go fan, we’ll think you’ll appreciate the extra size of the Note 4, but if your hands prefer more comfortable, pocketable screens, then the S6 might be better for you.

Winner: draw

All eyes on aperture

If you’re expecting a huge jump in this year’s Samsung camera tech, prepare to be disappointed. Just like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, the Galaxy S6 uses a 16-megapixel sensor. Both have OIS too, for better low-light chops.

You have to look as deep as the lens aperture to find improvements that are really meaningful. The Samsung Galaxy S6 has a wider lens aperture, with f/1.9 to the Note 4’s f/2.3.

This means that the hole in the lens through which light reaches the camera sensor is bigger. A bigger hole means more captured light, which should result in better, more detailed low-light photos.

Disappointing? After rumours of a new 20-megapixel sensor in the Galaxy S6, some people will definitely feel a little pang of disappointment, but let’s not forget the Note 4 has a pretty great camera in the first place.

More obvious upgrades have been made around the front, with the ‘selfie’ camera. Where the Galaxy Note 4 has a 3.7-megapixel sensor, the Galaxy S6 uses a 5-megapixel one. All the better for capturing those bags under your eyes.

Winner: Galaxy S6

Features: Older, better?

Samsung is pretty much the grand emperor of phone features, to the extent that most people only use a pretty small wedge of them. It didn’t really need to add much to the Galaxy S6: there really wasn’t that much to add.

Both models have ac Wi-Fi, NFC, 4G, GPS, Bluetooth 4.1, an IR transmitter, and that’s just the ordinary stuff. Both also have a fingerprint scanner on the front and a heart rate sensor on the back.

The Galaxy S6's fingerprint scanner is superior however, and no longer requires an annoying swipe to work. Instead, it handles in a similar fashion to the iPhone 6's Touch ID home button, which is able to scan your digits with a simple, more convenient tap.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 does have a few important bits the Galaxy S6 lacks, though. First, there’s the S Pen. This is a pressure sensitive stylus that is the Note series’s USP. Even more important to some is the microSD slot.

Where the Galaxy Note 4 has 32GB of internal memory and a card slot, the Galaxy S6 has non-expandable memory but either 32GB, 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. It’s very iPhone-like in this respect, and sure to get plenty of Samsung fans annoyed.

The S6 also lacks a removable battery, which was a big selling point in the past for Android power users.

Winner: Galaxy Note 4

Performance: Generation gap

The love affair between Samsung and Qualcomm is over. For years Samsung has used Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, but not in the Galaxy S6. Instead, it uses a chipset from Samsung’s own Exynos line.

If we’re to believe the rumours, it’s because the rival Snapdragon 810 overheated during Samsung’s testing. 2014’s Note 4 uses a Snapdragon 805, which is part of the generation before the Snapdragon 810.

Politics aside, there are some pretty neat technical improvements in the Galaxy S6’s Exynos CPU. First, it has eight cores instead of four. It’s also a 64-bit CPU while the Snapdragon 805 is 32-bit.

It may even be more efficient too. The Exynos chipset is made using transistors just 14 nanometers across while the Snapdragon 805 uses 20-nanometer transistors. Without wanting to get too Honey I Shrunk My CPU on you, the smaller transistors a CPU uses, the more efficient is can be.

Winner: Galaxy S6 

Initial verdict

The Galaxy S6 isn't just a specs upgrade. It’s also a change of strategy - one that power users won't be too happy with.

Apart from the lack of expandable memory and a removable battery however, there's plenty to love about it. It's by far the best-looking smartphone Samsung has ever made, and its metal and glass build is lovely. 

If you can get past those two issues (and aren't after a bigger phablet screen), then the S6 is the handset for you.

For the real tech-heads out there however, the Note 4 might be a better bet, despite some upgrades to the S6's processor and camera.