Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4: which is better?

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 RM2500-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.

The Note 4 was Samsung’s first step to upping its game. The game may have been upped but the Note 4 is still no oil painting - despite some cool metal highlights, the back is still that tacky leather-effect plastic that has prompted a few disgusted looks over the past couple of years.

Rejoice, then, that the Samsung Galaxy S6 is a fully reformed character. It's rocking a metal unibody with a Gorilla Glass back. There's no nasty plastic on show to cheapen the expensive vibe. It’s also an awful lot thinner - just 6.8mm thick compared to the Note 4's now chunky-seeming 8.5mm.

There are plenty of excuses for this, though. The Note 4 has a stylus 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.

That's all well and good but the Galaxy S6 is easily the best-looking smartphone the company has ever made. It feels lovely in the hand and you'll be proud to show it off.

Winner: Samsung 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 quite a bit bigger than the 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 and the light-up pixels get you better contrast than any LCD phone, ever. They’re both 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 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.

Both the Note 4 and Galaxy S6 have very good screens, so it's really going to come down to what you want to use the phone for. If you're a bit of a Netflix-on-the-go fan, we’ll think you’ll appreciate the extra size and crispness 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

You might be disappointed with the camera tech of both handsets on paper. Just like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, the Galaxy S6 uses a 16-megapixel sensor - but phone photography is about more than just megapixellage.

Both handsets come with optical image stabilisation, meaning they're both pretty good in low-light situations, but the S6 may just have the edge thanks to its 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 - which is exactly what we found in our review. It's a fantastic camera - easy and fast to work with a really good dynamic range to boot.

The Note 4's camera is good but the S6's is better. In fact, it's one of the best phone cameras out there. 

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: Samsung 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 to that found on all previous Samsungs 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 bits the Galaxy S6 lacks, though.

First, there’s the S Pen. This is a pressure-sensitive stylus that is the Note series’ 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: Samsung 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, plus it packs 3GB of RAM, resulting in some insane Geekbench 3 scores that even outstrip some laptops. It's the most powerful phone processor we've ever tried, and it manages to keep temperatures down while zipping through the tasks we set it. 

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.

That means you can get a day and a half of use from the S6 on a full charge. What's more, when you do come to juice back up, it charges super fast - about 70% in half an hour. Zippy. The Note 4 manages just over a day from a full charge, but only manages to pack 50% into thirty minutes of charging. Talk about slow. 

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6

The winner

The Galaxy S6 isn't just a specs upgrade: it’s a step change for Samsung. The company has really thought about what its customers actually want on this device - so it's hello to a snazzy new look and goodbye to a lot of the annoying TouchWiz bloatware that blights older Samsung phones.

Sure, power users will lament the loss of expandable memory and a removable battery, and if you're looking for a bigger device and more control over your components, then the 2K Note 4 could be a better bet. But for most people out there, the S6 will be the handset for you.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6