Apple iPhone 6 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Two tech giants, two giant phones – but which will we crown king of the phablets?
Apple iPhone 6 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4

A few years ago, asking somebody what a “phablet” was would have got you nothing more than a blank stare (and possibly, if you were a nerd at a stereotypical American school, a Chinese burn for asking such a dumb geek question).

But right now the world has gone mad for huge phones, so much so that even Apple, a company that once insisted nobody wanted a phone that had a larger than 3.5in screen, has produced a pocket-stretching flagship device with a 5.5in display: the iPhone 6 Plus.

Samsung, on the other hand, was way ahead of the curve, releasing what may well go down in history as the first phablet ever: the Galaxy Note. Now in its fourth generation, the Note series is considered the gold standard of big phones, largely (no pun intended) due to its S-Pen smart stylus and multitasking abilities.

So, the Apple iPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Two phablets, two operating systems, two bitter rivals. Which is the better big phone? Read on and we’ll tell you.

READ MORE: Apple iPhone 6 Plus review

READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review

Build and design

The iPhone 6 Plus is prettier, but the Samsung Note 4 is better designed

Given the respective companies’ past form, you might think a design dust-up between Apple and Samsung is always going to end with the former company winning. But looking at the two phones, this is a closer run thing than many might have predicted.

The iPhone 6 Plus looks almost identical to its little brother the iPhone 6, except it’s obviously much bigger. In fact, we’d say it’s a touch too big on reflection, considering its screen size: we’d have expected miniaturisation specialists Apple to do a better job of keeping the phone as small as possible.

With a seamless, curved metal body, it’s quite comfortable to hold despite its size, and it’s just 7.1mm thin and reasonably light at 172g. But there’s something decidedly un-Apple about the feel and look of this phone: it’s a little lacking in terms of “premium-ness” when compared to past iPhones.

The Galaxy Note 4 isn’t much thicker (8.5mm) or heavier (176g) than the 6 Plus, despite its larger screen dimensions – Samsung has done a fine job of keeping it as small as possible – and from the front it’s an elegant-looking device. That said, the faux leather back panel shows that Samsung’s design department hasn’t shed its propensity for naff ideas, and the protruding camera lens and other bumps here and there cut down on the sleekness somewhat.

Even so, the sheer unnecessary size of the iPhone 6 Plus has us plumping for the Note 4 in this round.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 4

READ MORE: Apple iPhone 6 vs HTC One (M8) - the weigh-in

Screen

If rich colours and oodles of detail are your thing you'll love the Note 4
The iPhone 6 Plus screen is fantastic, but hardly boundary-pushing

Both these smartphones sit snugly in the phablet category thanks to their generously-proportioned displays. The Apple iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5in screen while the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 offers a slightly roomier 5.7in screen. It might not sound like much of a jump, that 0.2in, but the Note 4’s display does immediately seem a fair bit bigger than its counterpart’s.

There are differences beyond the size, however. The iPhone 6 Plus uses IPS LCD technology, and boasts a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (that’s a pixel density of 401ppi, spec fans). Samsung has shot for the moon with its own screen, which uses AMOLED technology and offers a resolution of 2560 x 1440 (515ppi). That’s 2K resolution, baby!

Comparing the two screens side-by-side, we find the Galaxy Note 4’s to be superior at rendering fine detail (as you’d expect) and deep, inky blacks. If your viewing habits tend towards video, photos and games, it won’t let you down one bit. It’s not without minor issues, and for our money the iPhone 6 Plus offers better contrast (meaning it’s better for web pages, ebooks and the like) more realistic colour reproduction, purer whites and wider viewing angles.

But overall, the resolution and richness of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s display put it firmly in first place in this round.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 4

READ MORE: Meet the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge - the 3-sided Note 4

Camera

Both phones offer strong photo and video performance

If we’re going on megapixel counts, the Galaxy Note 4’s 16MP rear camera looks mightily more impressive on paper than the iPhone 6 Plus’s 8MP snapper. But we know better than that, don’t we – and in reality the two phones offer quite similar photographic performance from the main cameras.

In good lighting the results from each camera are pretty much neck-and-neck, and the Note 4 feels quicker to focus. However when the lights dim and the sun goes down, any photographer would much rather have the iPhone 6 Plus in your pocket. Both phones feature optical image stabilisation and dual-LED flashes to aid low-light performance, but the iPhone consistently delivers sharper, punchier pictures with a better tonal range.

On the video front, the Galaxy Note 4 has the advantage of being able to shoot 4K footage, while the iPhone 6 Plus is limited to 1080p. However, the iPhone can shoot ultra-smooth slo-mo footage at 120fps or 240fps, which we think will get used a lot more than 4K recording. The Note 4 can do 120fps video, but not 240fps.

Front-facing camera-wise, the iPhone 6 Plus sports a 1.2MP camera capable of taking 720p video, while the Note 4 ups the stakes with a wide-angle 3.7MP camera with a f/1.9 aperture – making it inordinately better for selfies.

Overall, we think the iPhone 6 Plus delivers a better camera experience than the Galaxy Note 4, but both phones are strong performers when it comes to snapping photos and capturing video.

Winner: Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Power

The Note 4 is so powerful it can run Samsung's Gear VR headset

Packing the beefy Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad-core chip and 3GB of RAM, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a real benchmark-killer. When reviewing it in October 2014, we ran popular benchmarking app AnTuTu on it and it garnered a score of 45,111 – higher than any other flagship Android phone on sale at the time. There’s some lag when pressing buttons and the slightest hint of a stutter when navigating the TouchWiz interface – both standard Samsung traits, but overall the processing power on board is more than sufficient. Heck, it’s even powerful enough to run Samsung’s Gear VR headset.

On the storage front, it comes with 32GB of space, but this is easily (and cheaply) upgradeable by a further 128GB via micro SD card.

The iPhone 6 Plus comes in 16GB, 64GB and 128GB capacities (all non-expandable) and, while we can’t compare its benchmark scores to the Note 4’s, its unspecified amount of RAM and 1.4GHz Apple A8 processor perform to a similar level. Thanks to Apple’s tight control of iOS and its apps, everything runs silky smooth and without a hitch.

On balance, it’s pretty much impossible to call this round. So we’re calling it a tie.

Winner: Draw

Features

Stylus in spades: it's the wonderful S-Pen
The iPhone 6 Plus now offers a landscape mode

The iPhone 6 Plus is essentially just a bigger iPhone 6 – there aren’t really any phablet-centric features to speak of, unless you count the fact that it can display selected apps in a new landscape format (a few months after launch, we still don't feel like enough apps have been optimised, however). As touched on above, it does have a larger battery than the regular iPhone 6, as well as optical image stabilisation for that camera.

In terms of standout features that we haven’t mentioned already, we have to give it up for the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which works brilliantly and adds an extra layer of security to the device while speeding up unlocking. And when Apple Pay finally arrive, it’ll be even handier.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4, on the other hand... well, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has the S-Pen, and it has Multi Window. The S-Pen is a smart stylus (it slots away in the phone body when not in use), and the version on the Note 4 is the best yet: twice as pressure sensitive as its predecessor, it’s brilliant for sketching and making notes on the huge screen; it also works with a range of special Air Command apps. Styluses are nothing new, of course, but the S-Pen manages to feel more natural to use than others, and the way in which it’s integrated into the Galaxy Note 4 is brilliant.

Multi Window is a “proper” multitasking mode: hold down the back button on the phone and you’ll access a list of apps (mostly from Samsung and Google, but there are also third-party examples) available that can be run side-by-side. You can even move drag and drop text and screenshots between apps.

There’s nothing quite as slick as the Touch ID scanner on board, but the Note 4 does have a fingerprint scanner that doubles as a heart-rate monitor. The phone’s size makes it a little tricky to use for the small-handed lady or gentleman, mind you.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Battery life

The Galaxy Note 4 has a removable battery

A huge 2K screen has to leech the battery like nobody’s business, right? Not the case with the Galaxy Note 4, thankfully. The phone’s removable 3220mAh battery and its energy-efficient Snapdragon 805 processor help give it the most stamina out of all the 2K phones currently on the market, and we’ve found that after a day of normal use will leave you with 10-20 percent battery life left in the tank. In our HD video loop test, it lasted for an impressive 11 hours.

The iPhone 6 Plus doesn’t have to power the dizzying number of pixels that the Note 4 does, but even so we’ve found its battery life to be staggeringly lengthy: you can actually get a good two days’ use out of the handset without needing to reach for that charging cable. Its size means it has space for a larger capacity battery than the iPhone 6, so it outlasts that model too. Truly remarkable.

Winner: Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Operating system

We suspect most people will find iOS the better of the two operating systems

This is tough round to call for many reasons, the main one being that many of us have our favourite OS. It’s like a comfortable old cardigan: we know it, we love it and we don’t feel the same wearing (i.e. using) anything else.

If you love iOS, you’re going to immediately feel at home with the iPhone 6 Plus. A slick, attractive-looking user interface, it’s also easier to pick up and use for a first time user than Samsung’s TouchWiz. And iOS still has a better selection of apps than Android, despite Google Play’s selection getting better and better all the time.

Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, which sits on top of Android 4.4 KitKat (an upgrade to Android 5.0 Lollipop is planned), is much improved over past versions. Formerly, the company was guilty of loading up its phones with bloatware and apps that nobody used, but that tendency has been curbed somewhat of late. We’ve already talked a bit about the Note 4’s Multi Window mode, but overall its UI is solid – it’s just not quite the masterpiece that iOS 7 is.

Winner: Apple iPhone 6 Plus

And the winner is...

Look at it: it's the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, better than the iPhone 6 Plus

This has been a close-run contest, because each of these smartphones is excellent in its own way, but for our money the better model of the two has to be the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. While the iPhone 6 Plus just feels like a bigger version of the iPhone 6 (and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that), the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 makes a real effort at making the most of its screen – which, it has to be said, is a more impressive screen than Apple’s.

All hail the Samsung Galaxy Note 4: king of the phablets.

Verdict: Galaxy Note 4

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