Remember last year when the Galaxy Note 3 was released and no one even bothered to compare it to Apple’s iPhone 5s? Well that’s because they were fundamentally different devices for about hundreds of reasons one least of which was their size. Well this year things are really so simple, Apple surprised us a few weeks ago by releasing a monster 5.5 inch iPhone and that simple tweak has now put it in direct competition with Samsung’s newest Note. It should be noted that this comparison is not based on specs alone but how these devices perform in the real world. Last weekend I was equipped with both these devices and this is the Smack-down comparison of 2014’s phablet kings.
Used to be that Apple was the king of all things fit and finish especially when it came to Samsung comparisons. But the Korean phone maker has stepped up ‘his’ game this year. The newest Galaxy Note 4 bears a chauffeured chassis made of Aluminum Magnesium with a polycarbonate leather-like back that recalls the expensive notebooks it’s named after. It’s thicker and heavier than the iPhone, bigger in every dimension except height. (GN4: 154x79x8.5 Vs iPhone 158x78x7.1). The Galaxy’s beveled edges are harsher in the hand too. All that put aside, its a phone that wants everyone to know that it’s no cissy — its a mammoth power house — and you better recognize it.
The iPhone 6 Plus takes a subtle calm approach. It’s more slippery yet mush more comfortable to hold and talk on, thanks to the curves that dominate it’s build. With an all Aluminum fuselage and attention to detail that Apple is known for, its feel like the more futuristic of the pair but it also feels more fragile plus also more prone to accidental damage. Aesthetically its not our favorite iPhone ever either with it’s bold antenna design seeming out of place on it’s rounded hardware.
Hardware Winner: Galaxy Note 4
[section label=”SPECS & FEATURES”]
SPECS & FEATURES
Samsung’s approach with the Note family is to see if there is a spec worth offering and if so, to include it. Apple doesn’t think that way, so the Note 4 has a 2k Quad HD display while the iPhone settles for a mere Full-HD 1080p display. The Note packs a larger removable battery and Micro SD storage expansion — not so — with the iPhone.
With the Note you can control your TV or media center via IR (InfraRed), you can measure your heart-rate, blood oxygen level , and you can draw on the screen or scroll like a mouse with the included S-pen. The iPhone offers none of that. If you looking for features above all else you can stop reading this review right now the Note is your device. But hold on — what Apple brings to the table is just alluring to some people — greater simplicity and a focus on tiny details that borders on the obsessive. There is a little switch on the side of the iPhone and when you flip it, your system notifications are muted. The finger print scanner lets you just place your thumb to unlock the phone instead of clumsily swiping across it like on the Note. Apple’s lightening charging cable is proprietary but it’s also reversible so its easier to plug-in in the dark. So are these iPhone features elementary evenly laughably so ? Yes. And they are also part of the reason Apple has sold so many millions of iPhones over the past seven years.
Specs and Features Winner: Galaxy Note 4
Apple’s software reflects these basic values as well. Rather than being endlessly customizable and often needlessly complex, iOS keeps things simple with a straightforward and familiar grid. Okay truthfully speaking not all of us are fans of that grid as it feels a little like prison if you used to tweaking everything on your phone. And on the iPhone 6 Plus frankly it seems less than justified. The most customization Apple permits is relocating folders and apps on your spring board and even then you cant even choose where you want the empty spaces to be. Worse, every app takes up the full 5.5 inch display and not many of them make terribly good use of that space.
The Note 4 on the flip side is kind of the poster child for intelligent use of the screen’s footprint. First of all you can arrange the display however you want ; mix and match widgets and icons, move folders and entire screens around, install a custom launcher, knock yourself out its all possible on the Note. Also with the Note you can divide your apps into moveable windows, collapse them into minimized icons or drop two of them side by side so can see two of them at once. Using Samsung’s s-pen stylus makes the experience even more convenient to use as you can copy and paste text from one app into an neighboring one or drag and drop media from one place to another. That’s a lot of functionality but the reason the Note 4 doesn’t win this comparison by a landslide is because there is a big trade off — the simplicity that Apple has perfected so well is no where to be found here.
Multi window on the Note is great but it’s complex and it can still be temperamental and finicky even in this latest generation of Galaxy phones. The s-pen is very cool but learning it takes time and effort and even then it’s not as intuitive as it could be. In my experience the iPhone takes much effort to learn to use, which is why it appeals to people who see their smartphone more as a means to an end. Once you remember to swipe up for control center and swipe down for notifications you pretty much golden.
At the end of the day, the software question comes down to the old iOS Vs Android debate an eco-system choice that is much bigger than this smack-down. But I will give this crown to the iPhone 6 Plus as it sacrifices versatility for simplicity, capability for cosmetics whereas the Note 4 does the exact opposite.
Software Winner : iPhone 6 Plus
The power gap continues across the optics, where Samsung’s sensor offers double the resolution of the iPhones’ and many more special features in the software. (8MP on the iPhone 6 Plus Vs 13 MP on the GN4) Samsung has toned it’s option density down a little bit with the Note 4 but… Surprise !!! It’s still no where near easy to use as the iPhone’s view finder (Camera interface).
As for which phone’s end results you prefer, well that will depend on your preferences. Those cameras are quite good and if you prefer more authentic tones you might lean towards the iPhone’s less saturated results, but there is no denying that Samsung’s bold vivid colors and higher contrast are big eye catchers. See comparison below.
Samsung’s HDR mode is also much more adroit at pulling light from the darkness. Apples’ doesn’t seem to do anything and since both have Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) they each do well in low light. Though I prefer how Samsung deals with the artificial tones thrown off by light sources like street lights. The Note 4 also seems less susceptible to lens flare a complaint I also see on the iPhone 6 Plus.
Camera Winner : Both are similar
Apple’s A8 processor on the iPhone and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 in the Note 4 are completely different from an architectural standpoint. Fortunately I don’t need to talk too much about that because so far as most consumers go, none of it matters. Both devices adroitly handle processing loads from the benign to the extreme. Of course occasional stumbles from both in everyday use and interaction which is surprising given the amount of power under the hood here but no device is perfect. You will however notice more stutter in the Note than the iPhone. Nothing beats the iPhone especially when it comes to endurance after months of usage Android Phones tend to slow down. But with the Note 4 power horse, I would call this even.
Performance Winner : Both are similar
[section label=”CALL QUALITY”]
Testing the phones on Orange in Kampala, we found the iPhone to be the more comfortable phone to talk on both physically because of it’s soft rounded construction and because it’s ear piece favors clarity over shear volume. Callers also said we sounded louder but less clear on the Note 4. With noise cancelling effectiveness about the same on both devices. As for the speaker phone, Samsung changed the position of it’s speaker on the Note 4 from the bottom to the back as compared to the Note 3 something we didn’t like. But the iPhone’s edge mounted speaker is just as loud as the rear firing speaker on the Note 4 and delivers a fuller richer sound despite having less space to work with.
Call Quality Winner: iPhone 6 Plus
[section label=”BATTERY LIFE”]
When it comes to battery life, both these units will vary according to your usage. For stamina you really can’t go wrong with either of these (GN4: 3,220 mAh Vs iPhone:2,915 mAh ) they are huge phones with large batteries.
Samsung’s battery is bigger in specs but it also has bigger power draws from both the 2k Screen and it’s heavy software. But still the Note does take the endurance prize thanks to the battery being removable and replaceable and also Samsung has it’s special ultra power saving mode available. And once you do exhaust your battery completely, the quick charger that comes with the phone can get you back up to 50% battery life within 30 minutes which is just ludicrously fast. Finally you can bring down the brightness on the Note4’s display to almost nothing to save juice. Which very handy for reading in bed or send whats app texts in dim bar without blinding your neighbours.
With all that said about the Note 4, no phone can beat the iPhone 6 Plus’s battery life in terms of longevity.
Battery Life Winner: iPhone 6 Plus
Outside the most basic fundamentals, these smartphones are nothing a like. So the right buyer for each is easy to figure out. If all you looking for is a bigger display and a longer lasting battery on a straightforward but powerful smartphone, the iPhone 6 Plus is a better fit. It’s got the more polished eco-system and fewer hustles on a whole and it’s software showcases the ease of use that has made Apple a household name.
If simple isn’t your bag, if instead you are a hard-core power user looking for the most raw performance you can fit in your pocket. Or you are a productivity pundit in search of a phone more like a desktop than a mobile device and you don’t mind the complexity that comes with that, the Galaxy Note 4 lives up to it’s vaunted family name and it’s the better phabelt for you.
Either way remember which ever you choose you’re getting an outrageously capable household. The only thing that make one better than the other is how you plan to use that capability and that as always is up to you. But as far as this smack-down is concerned we pick the iPhone 6 Plus for all reasons explained above.