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iPhone 6 Plus vs Galaxy Note 4 - which phablet is best?

Katharine Byrne
4 Nov 2014
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We compare Apple's big-screen iPhone 6 Plus with the successor to the original phablet, the Galaxy Note 4

The iPhone 6 Plus is the first big-screen iPhone, built purely to take on the rising popularity of phablet smartphones running Android. The best way to see whether Apple has designed a winner is to compare it with the best phablet around, Samsung's Galaxy Note 4. So just how good is the iPhone 6 Plus?

This is purely a specification comparison, which can only tell part of the story. We've highlighted the differences as they appear on paper and included benchmark results where possible to point out any gaps in performance.

DESIGN

Dimensions: The iPhone 6 Plus is a huge handset by Apple standards, measuring 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1mm and weighing 172g. That's impressively thin for a 5.5in handset, but also quite heavy, as similar-sized Android phones such as the LG G3 only weigh 149g by comparison. 

Still, the iPhone 6 Plus beats the Note 4 on almost every front in this regard, as the Note 4 measures 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm and weighs 179g, making it shorter, fatter and more weighty in the hand.

iPhone 6 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4 side by side

The Note 4's shorter chassis may make it a bit easier to use one-handed, but Apple's new Reachability feature on the iPhone 6 Plus means you'll always have the top of the screen within reach regardless of the size of your hand. This new gesture control makes the entire screen slide down to the lower half of the screen, which could potentially make it one of the most user-friendly large-screen phones ever made.

Materials: The iPhone 6 Plus has an anodised aluminium rear panel, a curved glass front and a stainless steel Apple logo on the back of the phone. It's a world away from the hard edges of the iPhone 5s and Apple says it should feel like one continuous surface.

The Galaxy Note 4 also has a slightly curved glass front, but it only has a metal frame. On the back of the phone you'll find Samsung's divisive faux leather material acting as the rear cover. The metal frame does make the Note 4 feel like a premium handset, but we suspect the iPhone 6 Plus will trump the device.

DISPLAY

Screen size: The iPhone 6 Plus has a large 5.5in screen, which is a big step up from previous iPhone models and even the normal iPhone 6's 4.7in screen. This shouldn't affect how easy it is to use one-handed, though, thanks to Apple's Reachability feature discussed above.

iPhone 6 Plus Reachability

The Note 4, on the other hand, has an even bigger 5.7in screen. We've always found phablets difficult to use one-handed, but Samsung's managed to make the Note 4 feel much more comfortable to use thanks to its curved edges. 

Resolution: The iPhone 6 Plus has a Full HD 1,920x1,080 resolution while the Note 4 has a massive 2,560x1,440 resolution. With its 515ppi screen you might think that the Galaxy Note 4 has a sharper screen than the iPhone 6 Plus, which has 'only' 401ppi. However, it's important to note that there's a limit to ppi, after which you can no longer spot differences.

Apple refers to this as a Retina display, which means you can no longer see individual pixels when viewed from a normal difference. With the iPhone 5S and iPhone 6 the pixel density for Retina is 326ppi, so both phones here are way above that. We'll need to wait until we can see both phones in the flesh, but at the moment, more resolution certainly doesn't mean a better screen.

Screen technology: The Note 4 has a Super AMOLED display, which has several advantages over LCD and IPS. With AMOLED, individual pixels can be turned off when displaying absolutely black images, so they not only use less power but contrast ratios are significantly higher as well thanks to its deeper black levels. 

The iPhone 6 Plus, on the other hand, uses an IPS panel. Apple has traditionally used ordinary LCD panels in its iPhones until now, but IPS technology generally produces much more accurate colours and provides much better viewing angles. While we've yet to test each phone side by side with our colour calibrator, we've yet to see an IPS panel best an AMOLED display. 

iPhone 6 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4 side

Apple has also said the iPhone 6 Plus will have a "dual-domain" pixel structure, which is meant to improve viewing angles further. This essentially means the subpixels in the display have a slightly skewed arrangement so they can deal with uneven lighting more efficiently. However, according to AnandTech, this skewed structure can lead to blacks appearing slightly purple, so we'll have to wait and see whether Apple's display will fall into the same problem. 

OPERATING SYSTEM

Apple ships the iPhone 6 Plus with iOS 8, it's latest mobile OS. It ships with a raft of new features, including a better camera app and a Health app for monitoring and tracking your fitness. It also supports Apple Pay for contactless payments, which is currently only available in the US. Perhaps more interesting are the features that let it integrate with other products.

Continuity lets you answer your phone from your iPad or, coming soon, your Mac running OS X Yosemite. It also lets you send SMS messages through your phone using your iPad or Mac. With Handoff you can finish a task that you started on one device on another. For example, you can start writing a text message on your iPad, then finish the job on your iPhone. For people that own multiple Apple devices, this makes iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 Plus a great choice.

Samsung has Android 4.4 (KitKat) on its handset, which is a stable and well-featured OS. It doesn't have the same integration features as iOS 8, but that's the only big major difference. The Note 4 will get an upgrade to Android L, which brings a brand-new look to it and tons of new features.

Both operating systems are well featured and there's not much between them. For more information see our iOS 8 vs Android L comparison.

PERFORMANCE

Processor: The iPhone 6 Plus will use one of Apple's brand new 64-bit A8 chips. Apple says this will have a 25 per cent faster CPU and 50 per cent faster graphics than the current A7 chip in the iPhone 5s, so performance should be significantly improved. For instance, the iPhone 5s scored a super fast 416ms in our SunSpider JavaScript benchmarks, so the iPhone 6 Plus should be even faster.

The Note 4, meanwhile, comes with a quad-core 2.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor. We haven't had a chance to test this processor yet, but considering the Galaxy S5's 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor managed an amazing 391ms, the Note 4 has every potential to surpass it.

Apple's A8 is a dual-core CPU, but that's not a problem: it's not the number of cores that's important, but how efficient they are and how well the OS can use them. One advantage that Apple has is that its SoC and OS are 64bit ready; the Snapdragon 805 is a 32bit processor, so it won't see a speed improvement with an upgrade to the 64bit Android L OS. 

Battery: Apple hasn't revealed the mAh rating for the iPhone 6 Plus' battery yet, but it's promised around 14 hours of continuous video playback and 24 hours of 3G talk time. Apple is usually quite accurate with its figures, but we'll have to wait and see whether our own tests confirm this.

The Note 4 has the same 3,200mAh battery as its predecessor, the Note 3, so we should see similar kinds of battery life. When we tested the Note 3 in our continuous video playback test, it lasted 15 hours and 6 minutes, so it should definitely be able to get you through the day even under heavy use. 

Storage: The iPhone 6 Plus will be available in 16GB, 64GB and 128GB models. Strangely there's no 32GB version, and the phone won't support microSD cards either. The Note 4, on the other hand, is only available with 32GB, but this can be expanded via a microSD card.

CAMERA

The iPhone 6 Plus will have an 8-megapixel sensor with an f2.2 aperture. It comes with Apple's next-generation iSight sensor and has built-in optical image stabilisation. OIS adjusts the lens to take account of hand shake and the iPhone 6 Plus will be the first iPhone to use this feature (the iPhone 6 only has digital image stabilisation). With any luck, it should help you take better pictures that are blur-free.

It can shoot video in Full HD at a multitude of different frame rates, including 30fps and 60fps as well as slow-mo video in 120fps and 240fps. Panoramas can also be up to 43-megapixels.

iPhone 6 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4 camera

The Note 4 has a 16-megapixel camera and also comes with optical image stabilisation. In terms of extra features, Samsung's said the phone will have a real-time HDR (high dynamic range) mode, so you can see the effect live onscreen, and the front camera will be able to take advantage of the phone's extra-wide selfie mode. This lets you take selfies up to 120 degrees in a single image by tilting the phone left and right - something we saw to mixed effect on the Huawei Ascend P7

FEATURES

Apple was the first manufacturer to add a fingerprint sensor to a smartphone, fitting a TouchID sensor to the iPhone 5s. The TouchID sensor returns with the iPhone 6 Plus, letting you unlock the phone in less than a second and make payments on the App Store. The iPhone 6 will also use the same lightning connector as the old iPhone 5s, so you can charge your device with the same cable. 

Siri is built-in to the iPhone 6 Plus, so you can use phone hands-free. Siri's voice control also lets you use your voice to send messages, set reminders and identify songs. The iPhone 6 Plus also has an accelerometer to measure your steps and a new barometer that can tell the difference between cycling and running and calculate distance and elevation, tying in to Apple's new Health app in iOS 8.  

One of the biggest attractions about the iPhone 6 Plus, though, is its eventual compatibility with Apple's brand new Apple Watch. This smartwatch will only work with iOS devices, ruling out any crossover with Android phones. The Apple Watch will be available in two sizes, three finishes and six different straps, making it one of the most customisable smartwatches we've seen so far.

A smartwatch is also a highly practical accessory for large screen phones, as it means you won't have to continually fish it out of your bag each time you have a message or email. Instead, you can use Siri to reply to messages using your voice and read your notifications straight on your wrist. It can also be used a remote viewfinder for a paired iPhone camera. The Apple Watch won't be released until next year, but in the mean time you can read all about Apple's smartwatch in our in-depth Apple Watch article.

The Note 4's key feature is, of course, its stylus. As with previous Note models, the Note 4's S Pen works with Samsung's S note software to let you jot down reminders, and the stylus now supports up to 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. This added sensitivity paves the way for two new brush effects: calligraphy and fountain pen. The S Pen is also made of a new, grippier material, too, making it easier and more comfortable to hold. 

The Note 4 is also the only way you'll be able to try out Samsung's Gear VR headset, as it uses the phone as its main display. It slots into the front of the device to create immersive 3D virtual reality worlds, and so far we've seen it being used with Android games, 360 degree videos and virtual tour guides of famous monuments. You'll have to buy Gear VR separately, though, as the phone doesn't come bundled with it. 

CONCLUSION

The iPhone 6 Plus is undeniably the more desirable looking handset, but the Note 4 has a better crisper screen. There's little to choose between the two handsets when it comes to performance, battery life and storage space.

One of the most important factors is price. Apple has already announced SIM-free UK pricing for the iPhone 6 Plus, and all three versions will set you back a fair amount of cash. The 16GB version costs £619, the 64GB version costs £699 and the 128GB version is an eye-watering £789. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is only available with 32GB of internal storage (but has microSD) and costs £629 SIM-free.