Quick look: iPhone 6 Plus vs. Galaxy Note 3

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Gizmag takes a quick hands-on look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (left) and iPhone 6 Plus (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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In 2011, Samsung created the first "phablet" with the original Galaxy Note. Now that Apple has a large-screened smartphone of its own, wouldn't it be nice to plop down the iPhone 6 Plus next to Samsung's flagship phablet (at least until next month), the Galaxy Note 3? Read on, for Gizmag's initial hands-on thoughts.

Both the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 3 are enormous phones. And though we're still getting ourselves acquainted with the iPhone 6 Plus, I think it's safe to say that these are both damn good – quite possibly terrific – mobile devices. If you want a phone with a screen so big that it can (potentially) allow you to offload your tablet, then this pair is a great place to start.

The Note's 5.7-in screen is still a little bigger than the iPhone 6 Plus' 5.5-incher (the Note's display gives you 7 percent more area). If you want not just big, but maximum screen real estate, then it's the better of these two choices.

The Note also makes more economical use of its front face. The iPhone 6 Plus is 5 percent taller, despite having the smaller screen. You get more bezel on the iPhone, and I suspect its Touch ID fingerprint sensor has something to do with that.

The biggest difference, though, is the Note's stylus. We're seeing two fundamentally different approaches to a phablet: Apple's is basically a huge version of the iPhone 6, while the Note is more like a blown-up Galaxy S4 or S5 that also happens to use a pen.

Each approach has its place. I like the sense of precision and control that I get from the Note's S Pen. Its note-taking features (triggered by clicking the pen while hovering near the screen) can make for quick and handy memos, screenshots, searches and adding of contacts.

The stylus also feels right at home on this size of screen. Phablets are difficult for anyone to use with one hand (more on that in a minute), so why not embrace their two-handedness and hold it like you would a pen and notepad? It makes sense.

While the iPhone 6 Plus doesn't ship with a stylus (and can only be used with crude capacitive styluses), it's still a pleasure to use. You don't get the notebook and pen type of experience, but it almost feels more like an iPad mini-mini than an iPhone Plus. Its design aesthetic is similar to the iPad mini, and Apple even threw in a few software touches that were borrowed from the company's iconic tablet.

Open the iOS Mail app on the iPhone 6 Plus, for example, and you'll see two panels. On the left, your list of messages. On the right, the currently selected message. The 6 Plus represents an uncharted (for Apple) middle-ground between the iPhone and iPad – and software touches like this help to accentuate that.

Apple also threw in a one-handed mode to help deal with the conundrum of using a huge phone with one paw. Double-tapping on the home button (lightly, rather than full presses) slides the entire screen down, so you can easily reach high targets. Apple is hardly the first phablet-maker to tackle one-handed mode, but its approach seems to be as good as any.

The Note 3 has a one-handed mode too, though if you're using the stylus, it isn't necessary. In fact, Samsung's one-handed mode switches off if it senses that you're using the S Pen. If you do need it, though, a quick gesture (swiping in and out from the edge of the screen) shrinks the entire display. It looks a bit more awkward than Apple's approach, but it does have the advantage of shrinking the keyboard. On the iPhone, the keyboard slides right off the screen.

The two have very different build qualities. The iPhone sports a beautifully chiseled aluminum unibody shell, with curved edges that are a pleasure to hold (the front glass panel even slopes off a bit). Though it's made of metal, the Plus still feels somewhat light – at least for its size. Compare it to another aluminum phablet, the HTC One Max, and it's practically a feather.

The Note 3, meanwhile, is made of a faux leather plastic, with a faux metal band wrapping around its edge. It sounds a little chintzy and – make no mistake – it won't win any contests for authentically premium materials. But it is very comfortable in hand. And if you allow yourself to (almost) forget that it's plastic, it makes for a snazzy professional-feeling PDA – especially if you're using a folio case, like the one pictured.

Performance is good on both devices, but the iPhone 6 Plus' UI actually feels a bit smoother out-of-the-box. I say "actually" because the Note 3 is toting a quad-core processor and 3 GB of RAM, compared to the iPhone's dual-core CPU with 1 GB of RAM. After rooting the Note and applying a few tweaks, my Note 3's performance is just as buttery-smooth as the iPhone's ... but, out of the box, I do notice ever-so-slightly smoother transitions on the 6 Plus.

Normally we'd delve into camera impressions and battery tests, but since we only recently got our iPhone 6 review units, it's too early to say much on those fronts. I can say that both new iPhones take terrific shots ... but, then again, so do most high-end Android and Windows Phone handsets that I've reviewed in the past year.

Of course the Note 3 isn't the iPhone 6 Plus' real rival. That title would belong to the Galaxy Note 4 (above), which will be hitting store shelves (at least in the US) on October 17. During my brief hands-on time with the Note 4, it looked like a fairly minor upgrade over the Note 3, but that isn't such a bad thing. In fact, the Note 3 is such a terrific device that it would have been nearly impossible to leap too far past it.

I'm a fan of large-screen smartphones, and I think these two – along with the LG G3 – are easily the best phablets you can buy today (the Nokia Lumia 1520 is great too, but Windows Phone's app disadvantage puts it a couple notches behind, in my book). The Plus and Note attack the product category from different angles, but they ultimately meet similar (extremely high) levels of quality. You just need to find which angle – pen and notepad or iPad mini-mini – works better for you.

This was just our quick look, but you can dig deeper by hitting up our Galaxy Note 3 review from last year, and our full iPhone 6 Plus review.

Both the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 3 are available now (though you might have trouble getting your hands on a Plus for at least a few more weeks). The iPhone retails for US$750 full retail or $300 on-contract, while the soon-to-be-supplanted Note 3 is currently hovering around $600-700 off-contract and $200 on-contract.

Product pages: Apple, Samsung

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