Apple has finally jumped on the phablet bandwagon with the iPhone 6 Plus, pitting it directly with the larger Android competition. Arguably, its biggest rival is Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 which is due to be released across the country on October 29th.
Both devices will be looking to quench the market’s thirst for big-screen smartphones and, as a result, many are likely to be curious as to how the two compare. While they might share the same physical dimensions, the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 4 really are quite different smartphones, especially when it comes to the feature set and underlying software.
We have been testing out the iPhone 6 Plus for the past week and also recently spent some hands-on time (albeit brief) with the Galaxy Note 4. In the lead up to the full reviews, here are some early impressions on how both devices stack up against each other.
The iPhone 6 Plus is made with anodised aluminium and stainless steel with an ion-strengthened glass screen. Apple has continued to evolve the iPhone design with some subtle changes, such as, how the edges of the glass screen curve down to meet the edges of the metal bezel, giving the impression of one continuous surface - a manufacturing technique we first saw on the Nokia Lumia 930.
While most of the design changes are welcome, there are some missteps, such as, the excessive use of antenna lines on the back, which look a little garish particularly on the gold and silver models. The premium metal finish coupled with the larger form factor also makes the device rather slippery, making a case a mandatory purchase.
The Galaxy Note 4 marks Samsung’s first small step towards metal smartphones with an aluminium frame as opposed to the fake chrome trim of its predecessors. It too has a scratch resistant glass screen but the rest of the handset is all plastic and looks almost identical in appearance to the Note 3. The faux leather back cover makes a return which, while not as premium as the iPhone 6 Plus, does make the handset easier to grip.
Despite the '#bendgate' kerfuffle, when it comes to premium hardware design and overall build quality, the iPhone 6 Plus is hard to beat.
The iPhone 6 Plus measures in at 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1 mm versus the Galaxy Note 4’s dimensions of 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5 mm, making the iPhone 6 Plus taller but not as wide as the Note 4.
However, the iPhone 6 Plus trumps the Galaxy Note 4 when it comes to overall thickness with a 7.1 mm profile and is also slightly lighter at 172 grams.
Both the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 offer the best displays on the smartphone market with wide viewing angles, accurate colour reproduction and high contrast levels. However, the stunning 5.7-inch Quad HD (2560 x 1440 resolution) AMOLED panel on Samsung’s latest phablet is simply brighter, richer and sharper than Apple’s LCD based screen.
At 1920 x 1080 pixels, the 5.5-inch display on the iPhone 6 Plus might not be as sharp, but it does offer additional screen enhancements such as an improved polariser, which enables you to view the smartphone display more clearly while outdoors in the sun and wearing sunglasses.
Under the hood
In terms of specs, the Note 4 is equipped with the latest piece of silicon from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 805 quad-core 2.7GHz processor and an Adreno 420 graphics processor in addition to 3GB of RAM. On the camera side, Samsung is using the same 16-megapixel sensor from the Galaxy S5 but the low light performance has been improved and, crucially, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) has been added for shake free video recording which now supports resolutions of up to 4K. There is also a 3.7 megapixel front-facing camera with a wide angle lens allowing for fitting more people in the shot.
In terms of raw numbers, Apple might not have as much clock speed but the iPhone is still the only flagship smartphone in town to have a 64-bit processor. The iPhone 6 Plus rocks the latest A8 chipset with a dual-core 1.4GHz processor, PowerVR quad-core GX6450 graphics chip and 1GB of RAM. Instead of upping the megapixel count which remains at 8MP on the rear and 1.2MP on the front, Apple has chosen to focus on other critical aspects of the camera such as improving low light performance, faster auto-focus and the implementation of OIS hardware.
Other than a landscape mode that allows you to see more of your content in supported apps and the ability to slide down an app window with ‘Reachability’ for easier one-handed operation, the iPhone 6 Plus offers no new features that actually take advantage of the larger 5.5-inch display.
The ’Handoff‘ in iOS 8, does however, offer an incentive to stay in the Apple ecosystem in that it allows iPhone owners to make and receive calls from their iPad or Mac. Handoff also allows you to work seamlessly between Apple devices so you can, for example, start working on an email or document on your iPhone and pick up precisely where you left off from your Mac or iPad with a simple swipe from the lock screen.
The Galaxy Note 4 offers an extensive range of useful software features that leverage the additional screen real estate.
‘Multi window’ allows you to display two apps at the same time in a split-screen style mode, making multitasking a relatively painless process.
The 5.7-inch display also acts as a digital notepad for the S Pen stylus tucked away at the bottom of the device. With the S Pen in tow, Galaxy Note 4 users have access to the best digital writing experience on a smartphone, enabling you to jot down memos, edit documents or draw up mind-maps in a moment’s notice. The new ‘Smart Select’ feature captures content from different sources by simply tracing a selection with the S Pen while ‘Snap Note’ takes a picture of notes on a piece of paper or a whiteboard and converts it to a digital note on the fly for further editing.
The built-in voice recorder has been upgraded and can now record voices from eight distinct directions, enabling playback of specific voices in a recorded group conversation.
The Galaxy Note 4 clearly holds a lot of appeal to the productivity crowd with plenty of onboard features that could make working on the go easier whereas the lack of big screen features on the iPhone 6 Plus suggests a device that is better suited to content consumption with its strong app library and interconnected ecosystem.
The iPhone 6 Plus packs a sizeable 2,915mAh battery while the Galaxy Note 4 offers up a slightly bigger 3,200mAh battery.
In our testing we found the iPhone 6 Plus to last almost two full days with moderate usage, falling in line with last year’s Galaxy Note 3. The Galaxy Note 4 should last even longer thanks to the inclusion of an Ultra Power Saving Mode, which switches the display to greyscale and turns off non-essential features to squeeze a substantially longer runtime whenever the battery drops below 10 percent.
The Galaxy Note 4 also supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology allowing the handset to go from completely flat to 50 per cent in just 30 minutes and a full charge in just 99 minutes. In comparison, the iPhone 6 Plus took us over 3 hours and 20 minutes to go from 20 per cent to full charge.
Price and storage
The Galaxy Note 4 is set to retail for $949, making it $50 cheaper than the iPhone 6 Plus’ starting price of $999. You also get more internal storage for your money with Samsung packing in 32GB for the Note 4 versus the 16GB on the baseline iPhone 6 Plus.
Galaxy Note 4 customers looking for more storage options will be out of luck, however, the handset does support the use of microSD cards of up to 128GBs in capacity.
The iPhone 6 Plus offers more internal storage options so long as you’re willing to plunk down more cash, with a 64GB ($1,129) or 128GB ($1,249) model available for sale.