Compare any two high-end smartphones, and chances are they'll have a lot in common. There's usually a lot of overlap in screen size, internal components, and feature lists. But the new iPhone 5s and Galaxy Note 3 are about as different as two top-tier "phones" (if you can even call them both that) can be. Let's put the two side-by-side, compare their features and specs, and see what happens.
See what we mean? These phones live on opposite ends of the size spectrum. The Galaxy Note 3 is 22 percent taller, 39 percent wider, and nine percent thicker than the iPhone 5s.
In fact, the difference is big enough that "phone" probably isn't the best description for the Note 3. The Galaxy Note series ushered in the term "phablet," and that portmanteau has never seemed more appropriate than when it's sitting next to the iPhone 5s.
The Note 3 is a whopping 50 percent heavier than the iPhone 5s. You get a lot of perks in exchange for those extra ounces, but you'd be foolish to think this giganto-phone won't make its presence felt in your pocket.
The new iPhone 5s is built almost exactly like its predecessor, the iPhone 5. With the Note 3, Samsung tried something new, with a soft-touch faux leather finish. It's still plastic, but we're happy Sammy finally ditched the glossy and flimsy build found on most Galaxy devices.
Each handset is sold in three different colors. The "space gray" iPhone has a black front, while the gold and silver models have white faces. The front colors of the three different Note 3 models match their backs.
If you were hesitant about the extra weight and huge footprint the Note 3 will leave in your pocket or purse, then maybe this will change your mind. The Note 3 gives you much more screen real estate: 103 percent more display area, to be exact.
The Note's screen is also much sharper. The iPhone 5s only gives you 35 percent as many pixels as the Note 3 does. Just remember that anything in the 320+ pixel per inch (PPI) range is going to look very sharp. Anything beyond that is more of an eye candy bonus than a necessary upgrade.
Steve Jobs famously mocked styluses when he pitched the first iPhone in 2007. For a while there, it looked like he had single-handedly eviscerated the stylus, much like he did Adobe Flash and tablets with USB ports.
But the Galaxy Note line makes a great case for the stylus. The phablets' large screens lend themselves well to Samsung's "scribbling in a notebook" theme, and the company threw in a ton of software that takes advantage of the S Pen. It lets you jot notes (with handwriting recognition), highlight areas of the screen to capture, and achieve a greater overall sense of precision no matter what you're doing.
This is the big differentiating feature in the iPhone 5s. Hiding underneath the home button is a "Touch ID" fingerprint sensor that will learn your unique-as-a-snowflake print. Your fingerprint (and any other print that you teach it to trust) will unlock your phone, but anyone else will need a passcode. It's a great balance of smartphone security and convenience.
More megapixels don't necessarily translate to better pictures, so we'd consider this one an "incomplete" until we put both devices' cameras through their paces. We do know that the iPhone 5s' new camera features larger pixels, a new slow-motion mode, and a burst mode that automatically chooses the sharpest shot. Its flash also sports a second LED (branded as "True Tone"), which supposedly leads to more accurate tones.
The thought of whipping out the gigantic Galaxy Note 3 just to check messages and send texts might sound daunting, but Samsung has an ace up its sleeve. For an extra US$300, you can snag the companion Galaxy Gear smartwatch to pair with your Note 3. It lets you make calls, read notifications, send messages (via voice), snap pictures, run apps, and more ... all on your wrist.
Unless the rumor mill is terribly misguided, Apple will launch a smartwatch of its own at some point, but there's nothing solid on that front yet. Right now you can use the Pebble watch with your iPhone, though its functionality is much more limited than the Gear.
Both devices are going to be ridiculously fast. In fact, we're really past the point of sweating speed differences in high-end smartphones, as their capabilities are beyond the limits of most apps.
The most interesting item here is Apple's shift to 64-bit processing in the iPhone 5s' A7 chip. It probably doesn't mean diddly-squat right now, but it does lay the groundwork for future mobile devices with desktop-like amounts of RAM.
Motion copro-what? Well, Apple threw a new M7 companion processor into the iPhone 5s, the sole job of which is to power the phone's motion sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass). This is good news if you use fitness apps or accessories, as they supposedly won't get the usual battery drain that other smartphones give you.
Let's be honest, though: Apple didn't throw the M7 in just to boost the popularity of fitness apps and trackers. It's almost certainly going to play a big role in that rumored iWatch, whenever it arrives.
The Note 3 blows away the iPhone's 1 GB of RAM, though we aren't expecting any performance problems on the 5s.
The base model of the Note 3 gives you double the storage of the 5s' base model. It also has a microSD slot, though those are becoming less relevant on Android.
Of course both devices also support speedy 4G LTE downloads, provided your local carrier has it. There's also a non-LTE (maxing out on HSPA+) version of the Note 3, though it should mostly be sold in regions that don't yet have LTE.
Capacities can be interesting to note, but there are lots of other factors that determine actual battery life. Stay tuned for more from Gizmag on the best measure of battery life: some old-fashioned hands-on testing.
The iPhone 5s launches with the redesigned iOS 7. Samsung has been keeping up much better on this front lately, as the Note 3 will launch with the latest version of Android, 4.3 (also known as the epic conclusion to the Jelly Bean trilogy). Samsung's TouchWiz UI, as always, makes its presence felt on top of Android.
Local file sharing
One of iOS 7's big upgrades, AirDrop, should be familiar to Mac owners. The iOS version appears to use a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to establish a connection and transfer files with another iOS device.
Samsung has used its S Beam feature as a weapon against Apple in many a commercial. It uses near-field communication (NFC) to transfer files with any nearby Galaxy device. Here you only need to place the phones back-to-back, and tap on the screen to confirm.
Speaking of NFC, Apple hasn't yet bothered including the technology in any of its devices. And it's starting to look like maybe it never will.
This is another perk of having a humongous screen. Samsung's Note series lets you run two apps on the screen at once. In the latest version, you can actually run two separate instances of the same app. This opens the door to things like running two simultaneous chat windows, or popping up a calculator window while you're drafting a message.
Like the GS4, the Note 3 features an IR blaster, so you can use your phablet as a remote control for your TV.
The iPhone 5s has iOS 7's improved version of Siri for voice control. The Note 3 gives you a couple of native options: Samsung's S Voice (last time we checked, it was inferior to Siri) and Google Now (which we prefer over Siri for its speed and predictive abilities).
If you pick up the Galaxy Gear, it also lets you use a scaled-down version of S Voice straight from your wrist.
The above standard prices are in US dollars, and they also require you to sign a blood oath, erm, new two-year contract with your preferred carrier. Remember, though, that the Note's US$300 price is for 32 GB of storage, while the $200 iPhone 5s only gives you 16 GB.
Yep, these two phones are about as different as can be. Based on this initial look, it looks like the iPhone brings greater simplicity and portability, while the Note 3 packs in more features and strives to be more of a productivity-based companion.
Speaking of companions, the wild card here is that Galaxy Gear smartwatch. We're going to hear a lot about wearable computers in the next few years, and the Gear is the most advanced of its kind to hit the market. Gizmag will have much more to say about these two phones – and the Gear – within the next few weeks, so stay tuned for some deeper dives on that front.