Mobile Technology

iPhone 6 Plus vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 4: A closer look

Gizmag goes hands-on to help you decide between the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Gizmag goes hands-on to help you decide between the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (left) and the iPhone 6 Plus (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (left) and the iPhone 6 Plus (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Gizmag goes hands-on to help you decide between the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Gizmag goes hands-on to help you decide between the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The iPhone is all metal, while the Note 4 has a plastic (faux leather) back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The iPhone is all metal, while the Note 4 has a plastic (faux leather) back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The iPhone is about about 17 percent thinner (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The iPhone is about about 17 percent thinner (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Like in previous years, the Note's stylus slides into a handy slot when you aren't using it (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Like in previous years, the Note's stylus slides into a handy slot when you aren't using it (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Unlike the last few iPhones, which had angular edges, the 2014 iPhones have rounded sides (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Unlike the last few iPhones, which had angular edges, the 2014 iPhones have rounded sides (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Both phones will make their presences felt in your pocket (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Both phones will make their presences felt in your pocket (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The 6 Plus weighs 172 g (6.07 oz) (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The 6 Plus weighs 172 g (6.07 oz) (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Apple showed the 6 Plus' iPad-like potential with its Mail app, but third-party developers haven't been following suit as much as we'd like (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Apple showed the 6 Plus' iPad-like potential with its Mail app, but third-party developers haven't been following suit as much as we'd like (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Reachability lets you reach top-level targets on the iPhone's huge screen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Reachability lets you reach top-level targets on the iPhone's huge screen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The 6 Plus takes up plenty of space in hand (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The 6 Plus takes up plenty of space in hand (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The 6 Plus is the first iPhone with a home screen that rotates into landscape mode (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The 6 Plus is the first iPhone with a home screen that rotates into landscape mode (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
iPhone 6 Plus (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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iPhone 6 Plus (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Activate Reachability by lightly double-tapping the Touch ID sensor (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Activate Reachability by lightly double-tapping the Touch ID sensor (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The iPhone 6 Plus is only 7.1 mm (0.28-in) thick (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The iPhone 6 Plus is only 7.1 mm (0.28-in) thick (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
iPhone 6 Plus (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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iPhone 6 Plus (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Action Memo on the Note 4 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Action Memo on the Note 4 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The Note 4 has an excellent camera, including a zoom mode that looks crisper than a crop (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The Note 4 has an excellent camera, including a zoom mode that looks crisper than a crop (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The Note's S Pen is still one of the chief differences between it and other phablets (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The Note's S Pen is still one of the chief differences between it and other phablets (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Samsung's Multi Window (split-screen multitasking) on the Note 4 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Samsung's Multi Window (split-screen multitasking) on the Note 4 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Galaxy Note 4 with S Pen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Galaxy Note 4 with S Pen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Like the Galaxy S5, the S Pen has a heart rate sensor below its rear camera (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Like the Galaxy S5, the S Pen has a heart rate sensor below its rear camera (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Note 4 and S Pen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Note 4 and S Pen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Behold, the S Pen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Behold, the S Pen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
It's amazing how much the Note's metallic band (on the phone's edge) gave it a premium aura (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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It's amazing how much the Note's metallic band (on the phone's edge) gave it a premium aura (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Both screens are huge, but the Note 4's (left) is 7 percent bigger screen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Both screens are huge, but the Note 4's (left) is 7 percent bigger screen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
By clicking the S Pen while hovering it near the Note's screen, you get a handy pop-up menu called Air Command (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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By clicking the S Pen while hovering it near the Note's screen, you get a handy pop-up menu called Air Command (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

Before this year, comparing the Galaxy Note to the iPhone was kinda like comparing Shaquille O'Neal to Rhea Perlman. But with Apple's first phablet arriving this year, the iPhone and Note are fighting in the same weight class. Join Gizmag, as we take a hands-on look at the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4.

No matter what else we say in this comparison, the most important thing to ask yourself is which platform you prefer. Both phones are outstanding, and if you already know what you like, I see no reason why either of these phablets should make you switch sides.

If you own an older iPhone, then the 6 Plus is going to feel less like an upgrade, and more like a completely new device. It feels as much like a tiny iPad mini as it does an iPhone on steroids.

... and though the Galaxy Note 4 doesn't, at first glance, look like a huge upgrade over the Note 3, I found that first impression to be deceptive. The Note 4 shows us Samsung at its best: worrying less about the wow factor, and simply making a better phone.

By clicking the S Pen while hovering it near the Note's screen, you get a handy pop-up menu called Air Command (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
By clicking the S Pen while hovering it near the Note's screen, you get a handy pop-up menu called Air Command (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

One of the most obvious differences between these two is the Note's stylus. The S Pen gives the Note more of a PDA feel, like a modern-day evolution of the Palm Pilot. There's a sense of precision there that your fingers just can't replicate – and it's a great fit for the phablet form factor.

The Note 4's S Pen is a big step forward from older Notes. No longer do you have to press down hard with the pen; now the lightest of brushes against the screen registers as a swipe. And don't worry, it isn't too sensitive – it just lends a more natural feel to the stylus experience.

Samsung also did a terrific job of refining the software that goes along with the S Pen. The stylus features, for things like jotting handwritten notes and saving content on your screen, have subtle improvements this year (details like dragging a box around your target, rather than having to draw a shape around it, or dropping your notes on your home screen as little post-it-note widgets).

The biggest improvement, though, is S Pen text selection. I'm not sure why Samsung didn't add this to the Note years ago, but you can finally use the stylus to select text, much like you'd do with a mouse on a desktop PC.

Like in previous years, the Note's stylus slides into a handy slot when you aren't using it (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Like in previous years, the Note's stylus slides into a handy slot when you aren't using it (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

The phones are both, of course, huge. Their sizes are also similar, with the iPhone coming in slightly taller (by 3 percent) and about 17 percent thinner. Their weights are also nearly identical. I don't see any reason for these minor differences to sway you one way or the other.

The iPhone has a higher-end build, with its aluminum unibody design, but the Note doesn't feel cheap at all. It has a metal band running around its edge that gives it more of a premium aesthetic than we saw in older Notes. And its back is that same soft-touch pleather material that we saw on the Note 3.

Both screens are huge, but the Note 4's (left) is 7 percent bigger screen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Both screens are huge, but the Note 4's (left) is 7 percent bigger screen (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

Despite the phones' similar sizes, the Note 4 gives you a 7 percent bigger screen. Both displays are enormous, mind you, but Samsung's gives you a better screen-size-to-phone-size ratio.

There is one area where the Note uses its huge screen better than the iPhone does: Samsung's Multi Window and Pop-up Window let you run apps in split-screen or pop-up windows, much like you would on a desktop PC. They're easy to activate, and you can even drag and drop content between certain apps.

Samsung's Multi Window (split-screen multitasking) on the Note 4 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Samsung's Multi Window (split-screen multitasking) on the Note 4 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

The only real downside to Samsung's multitasking is that it's only compatible with select apps. It's a great feature in theory, but since many third-party apps don't play nicely with it, you might find it easier to just switch apps like you would on any other phone.

Screen quality is top-notch in both devices. The Note's Quad HD screen is noticeably sharper, but the iPhone's display still looks crisp. Both have eye-popping and accurate colors with wide viewing angles. The Note's extra pixels give it the overall advantage, but you can't go wrong with either.

Neither phone is designed to be used with one hand, but for those times when you only have one paw free, both have one-handed modes. Samsung's feels a bit clunkier, shrinking the entire screen into a window the size of a smaller phone's display. The iPhone's one-handed mode ("Reachability") slides the screen down so you can reach high-level targets. It's easier to activate (lightly double-tap the Touch ID sensor), but it doesn't shrink the keyboard like Samsung's does.

Activate Reachability by lightly double-tapping the Touch ID sensor (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Activate Reachability by lightly double-tapping the Touch ID sensor (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

Speaking of Touch ID, Apple's awesome sensor is an advantage for the iPhone. The Note 4 also has a fingerprint sensor, and it's quite good: a bit more accurate than it was in older Samsung devices. But since you have to swipe it from one angle, as opposed to just touching it from any angle, like on the iPhone, Apple's is the better choice.

Touch ID also has more third-party app support than Samsung's sensor does. Password managers like 1Password and Dashlane are an especially great fit.

The Note 4 has an excellent camera, including a zoom mode that looks crisper than a crop (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The Note 4 has an excellent camera, including a zoom mode that looks crisper than a crop (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

Both cameras are among the best you'll find in smartphones. I find the Note to take better shots in low-lit conditions (even more so if you turn on its Night Mode setting), while the iPhone takes more colorful flash shots. The Note is also better for zooming, where it merges several shots and combines them automatically into one clearer image.

I can't say selfies are a big part of my life, but if you're one of the many who regularly takes them, the Note 4 has a couple of tricks that could come in handy. Selfie panorama mode lets you squeeze more friends into your shot: just pan the phone back and forth, as it prompts you. There's also a rear-facing selfie mode, that lets you use the Note's higher-resolution rear camera for better self-portraits. Since you can't see the screen, you just hold the phone up, wait for the beep to let you know that it detected your face, and say cheese.

Battery life isn't a concern on either phone, but the Note should last a little longer. In our test, where we stream video over Wi-Fi with brightness set at 75 percent, the Note dropped around 10 percent per hour, while the iPhone dropped about 12 percent per hour.

If your Note 4 does run out of juice, it has a fast-charging feature that can juice it up from 0 to 50 percent in around 37 minutes. It also has Samsung's Ultra Power Saving Mode, that keeps your Note on the grid when it's almost out of juice (it turns your screen black & white and limits available apps). UPS Mode can stretch 10 percent battery into an extra day of uptime.

The iPhone is all metal, while the Note 4 has a plastic (faux leather) back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The iPhone is all metal, while the Note 4 has a plastic (faux leather) back (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

You could say that the Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus are the two best phablets ever made, but I'd take that a step farther: these just might be the two best smartphones ever made.

There are only a handful of things that I'd change about each device:

So far most iPhone 6 Plus apps are like regular iPhone apps that just happen to use more space. I'd like to see developers embrace the phone as more of an iPad mini-mini. With this huge screen, apps can get away with using landscape orientation and side-by-side panels. There isn't much of that right now.

The biggest thing I'd change about the Note 4 is the build quality of the S Pen. The phone itself has a more premium aura this year, and the pen's functionality is better than ever. But the stylus' cheap-feeling plastic just doesn't fit. I would have loved to see an S Pen made of, say, aluminum.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (left) and the iPhone 6 Plus (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (left) and the iPhone 6 Plus (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

We aren't here to declare hard-and-fast winners, but know that both devices are sitting at the head of the 2014 phablet class. If I had to pick one right now, I'd go with the Note: for its stylus, note-centric software features and unique build. But I'd be just about as happy with the iPhone. Flip a coin.

The most important thing is that you figure out which handset is the better fit for you. If you're still on the fence, you can check out our features/specs comparison from back in September, and our individual reviews of the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4.

... and if you want to cast your net wider, you can check out our 2014 Smartphone Comparison Guide.

11 comments
Vince Pack
My experience with the 6+ has been interesting. Frankly everything about the device is improved with two exceptions - Using it as a telephone still feels a little awkward, even after two and a half weeks. It's a bit like talking into a paperback novel. Size (obviously) is a bit of a shock to the senses; especially in pocket. I'm sure I'll eventually get used to it, but unlike the iPhone 5s, and those before it, I'm always conscious of the 6+'s presence. If you have any pants with shallow hip pockets, be careful - this one is far more apt to topple out. It's happened to me a couple times since getting the phone. All that said, everything else about the device is fantastic. I considered trading for the smaller 6 when it first arrived, but the things I do most (read study notes and surf) are just so good, going back to a smaller screen just wasn't worth losing the real estate. Another thing I've noticed is my iPad mini retina. More accurately, I've noticed it's absence. I really haven't used it at all. I'm sure the battery has run down by now. I haven't done any significant photography since getting the 6+, but I imagine using PSExpress and Snapseed will be close enough to the iPad experience that this thing will take over that duty, as well. Major processing will still happen on the desktop. In short, I'm loving the iPhone 6+ as an "everything except a phone" device. Guess it's finally time to find and reacquaint myself with my old Apple BlueTooth headset...
JonathanPDX
I wish Apple would offer a stylus for their devices (and mouse capability for the iPad). So many times a finger just doesn't cut it...especially if you don't have stylus-sized ones to begin with.
willemco
Overall good comparison but like always Will is reluctant including the real big advantages of (all the) Samsung devices, i.e. the ability to quickly insert a new fully charged battery and start from scratch as well as inserting a new Micro SD when you happen to run out of storage. When Will is reluctant to call a winner then one has to assume that the Note4 has to be the clearly better buy. In my book by a lot more than just a little margin!
Maaen
I am waiting patiently for a six inch Ipod Touch 6.....if there will ever be one. For my phone it is Note 3 at present and sometime soon it will be Note 4. The stylus makes the Samsung Note phones and tablets totally worthwhile......But I have always loved the ipod touch...EXCEPT FOR THE DAMN SCREEN...I complained to Apple four years ago but they were never going to listen to the likes of me.....but now because of what Samsung have done with their Notes 1..2..3..and 4 Apple had to get back some of their lost ground...but they seem to have no regard for the PMP Device and the Ipad Mini they gave us was never portable enough or pocket friendly /purse friendly. Each time I considered buying the mini ipad I just shrugged the thought right out of my head...but there is a very strong need for a BABY IPAD.... I am sure there will be a successful run for the IPhone 6 Plus and the smaller sibling ...but there is a need for a pocket friendly 6 inch Baby Ipad....If only those very clever people at Apple could open their minds and eyes enough to see where the world is moving towards.....Psychologically speaking....us humans need variations of sizes of tablets and phones...we...being humans come in all shapes and sizes...Some of us have large fingers and hands while some have such small fingers.And so, if SENSE were to take over at Apple then they would think of humans first and their shapes and sizes and then think of their needs.... then make devices which suited variety of uses....
Cairn Mitchell
Gorgeous Note display! I have to go get one
Maaen
In my earlier comment I was going to mention about the removable battery and also the micro SD card and then forgot to do so...These two factors make such a lot of sense and they always will to me....I only wish that Samsung would show some real generosity and include a micro SD card bus so you could have two or even three memory cards sitting pretty in a tablet or even the phone and at a whim you could remove one and transfer it to another device to transfer some music files or videos or ebook etc...cloud can work for some people ...but not all.... Samsung could also design in a couple of removable batteries in its tablets...that would make their tablets more saleable and to a much much bigger market base...but there is this stupid fashion of very very thin devices which makes it very easy for these manufacturers to deny us the removable batteries ...little do these very clever people know that the more sensible people will not buy tablets unless they have easy access to removing the battery inside....as for me I first watched YouTube to see how a battery was possible to be removed before I went and bought the Note 8 and Note 10.1 2014 edition. ...Now I am happy in the knowledge that I do not have to fall victim to the sell by date syndrome.... The one exception I will make is for the ipod touch... only because I am stupidly attached to it... possibly because of my music.
gille
Why are reviewers so reluctant to just say, an i phone has lost a particular comparison. Is everyone so afraid to step on apples toes. Criticizing Samsung's pen when apple doesn't have one, complimenting apples build when one cannot swap out batteries, Samsung's screen is better but who cares, they're both good enough. Samsung's screen is bigger, but they are both big enough, both batteries are huge so it's not important that Samsung's is bigger. A coin toss? Is this a review or just how a reviewer keeps a job?
Richard Morley
Got the Note 4 and love It . Spen is Superb
alcalde
Gille, I've seen worse. Back several years CNet or ZDNet was doing a battle between the Nokia N900(?) and an iPhone. It was being done in a basement lab and during the test for phone/voice quality ***the iPhone was unable to complete a call to another phone sitting next to it on the table***. The Nokia had no problem. The battle gave equal weight to categories such as "appearance" and performance. Thanks to this equal weighting (with some categories being subjective) the phones achieved a tie. The reviewer then decided the tiebreaker would be the appearance/style category and gave the win to the iPhone! A phone that was unable to actually complete a single phone call during testing was awarded best phone of the pair! It's not just phones, though. Some car magazines absolutely can't burst the bubble about Germany producing the best cars. One mag had a round-up that included taking American sports sedans onto the Autobahn. In the round-up a German test driver was willing to concede that the American Cadillac CTS-V coupe handled better at fast speeds than the BMW in the comparison. Based on all the scoring, the Cadillac would have won. However, the American writing the piece decided to give the Caddy a lower score in the subjective appearance category for two reasons: 1) a light indicating the manual release for the electric doors, required by the government and a lifesaver if the car should end up in water and the doors short out, and 2) he DIDN'T FEEL THE SOUND OF THE TURN SIGNALS WAS AGRESSIVE ENOUGH. For perspective, the interior of the coupe and sedan models of the Caddy were identical (other than the electric door/light) and the same magazine had given a higher score in a similar test to the sedan's interior. Nowhere in any of the articles about the Caddy in its various incarnations did any reviewer even mention the turn signals. In fact, one commenter stated he'd subscribed to the magazine for over 10 years and couldn't recall any article in that time mentioning the turn signal sound of any car! The points shaved off were just enough to give the BMW a one or two point paper-thin win over the American car! Maybe it's like the case with lemmings going over cliffs - they don't. One documentary crew found such backlash from suggesting that they really don't that they actually asked a producer if they should throw a few over a cliff and film it just to make the viewers happy (the producer rejected that idea). It could be reviewer bias but it could also be not wanting to deal with the backlash of debunking a piece of conventional wisdom, be it the superiority of Apple or BMW or lemmings' migratory habits.
Facebook User
Weak good review but take a side. The S pen and note taking capability is a huge advantage over the I phone. Its not just a pen but the screen has an active digitizer (If I am not mistaken)- big difference You missed one very important feature- removable battery/memory card in the Note. What about the capability to recognize your face from the camera to keep the phone on? Does I phone have that? what about customizing your phone? obviously that is the forte of the Note. I purchased the Japanese ersion of the Edge- a whole different world. I am using the edge for my mostlly used apps and nothing is on my screen.
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