Battle of the phablets: iPhone 6 Plus vs Galaxy Note 4

Apple's first phablet goes head on against the fourth evolution of Samsung's Galaxy Note series

This is most definitely the battle of the heavyweights, and not just because these are big phones. Samsung is arguably responsible for the creation of the phablet category, and has dominated it with the Note series of devices. Till now, Apple had resisted the urge to make a big-screen iPhone—in the words of its late co-founder, Steve Jobs, “No one is going to buy a big phone." Samsung poked fun at the Cupertino giant on the day of the iPhone 6 Plus launch, on social media, sharing an image that read: “No one is going to buy a big phone. Guess who surprised themselves and changed their minds." We compare the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 4.

DESIGN: Minimalism and the new inspiration

Apple has taken the minimalistic route with the iPhone 6 Plus, and the chamfered edges are a change from the flat sides seen in recent iPhones. The company had similar designs on successive phones—4 and 4S and then the 5 and 5S—which is why a design overhaul now is not surprising. The 6 Plus is extremely thin (7.1mm); the Note 4 (8.5mm) is slightly thicker. On both, the camera protrudes from the surface of the back panel, which makes the thin designs somewhat pointless—the phones actually rest on the camera when placed on a flat surface.

The Note 4 moves away from Samsung’s traditional plastic-only designs (the recent Galaxy Alpha smartphone also signalled the change in philosophy). The metal frame with flat side spines and the faux leather finish on the back make it marginally less slippery. Despite the subtle design changes (compared to the Note 3), Samsung has not really been able to give the Note 4 a distinct personality. The iPhone 6 Plus has a slightly smaller screen, but is otherwise slightly bigger, and is definitely the better-looking of the two devices.

PERFORMANCE: Ecosystem leaders

Previous Note editions were powered by the Exynos processor. The primary reason for the change to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805’s quad core (2.7 GHz) is the chipset’s 4G capability. These networks are rolling out across India as we speak, and this gives the Note 4 some future-proofing.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) makes the dual-core A8 (1.4 GHz) chip for Apple. The A8 offers better system and graphics performance than the A7 (which powered the iPhone 5s), and is more power-efficient as well.

Both processors (number of cores notwithstanding) are very powerful, and can handle any application or game you throw at them. We tested a few apps common on both Android and iOS, and most of them actually open faster on iOS. However, because the iPhone only has 1 GB of RAM, it feels a bit sluggish during serious multitasking. The Note 4 packs in 3 GB of RAM, which allows many more apps to be kept open in the background, without any performance degradation.

DISPLAY: High-resolution canvas

The Note 4’s screen is in a league of its own—the 5.7-inch Super AMOLED panel has a higher than full HD resolution of 2,560x1,440 pixels. The iPhone 6 Plus’ 5.5-inch IPS panel has full HD resolution (1,920x1,080 pixels). Between the two, the Note 4 offers vibrant colours and is perfect for watching videos and photos. However, the 6 Plus is a better device to read text on, because it looks crisper and the white colour on documents and Web pages doesn’t seem unnaturally bright.

SOFTWARE: Slow change

The iPhone 6 Plus comes preloaded with iOS 8.1, the latest version of Apple’s smartphone operating system. Users can now install and use third-party keyboards on the iPhone. Samsung preloads the Note 4 with Android 4.4.4, which is wrapped with their TouchWiz custom interface. The Multi-Window feature is very useful for people who end up working on multiple applications at the same time—both can share the screen space, negating the need for switching. TouchWiz, even though it has been toned down a little bit, still feels out of place on the Note 4. A slight sluggishness is noticeable at times.

STYLUS: To be or not to be?

The Note 4’s S-Pen stylus continues to be its highlight. With its Air Command feature, a whole bunch of options automatically pop up on the screen when you take the stylus out. Each of these leads you to its own separate app, which has even more options. The stylus feature is rather neat when it comes to quickly scribbling your thoughts on an image or a document, or making a doodle as you sit through a boring business presentation. The iPhone doesn’t have a stylus.

CAMERAS: Megapixels don’t matter

On paper, the Note 4’s 16-megapixel camera should be better than Apple’s 8-megapixel snapper. Both cameras feature optical image stabilization, which reduces the blur induced by hand shaking or fast-moving objects. Be it in good light or low light, the iPhone 6 Plus clicks better pictures—with richer colours and much more detailing.

BATTERY: Powering powerful specs

The iPhone 6 Plus has a 2,915 mAh battery, while the Note 4 packs in a slightly bigger 3,220 mAh battery. As a primary phone, both phones last a day on a single charge—the powerful processors and massive screens are the reason for the higher than expected battery consumption. However, the Note 4’s Power Saving Mode can help get a few more hours of usage (up to a day and a half), by throttling the processor (i.e. reducing its speed) and tweaking the backlight brightness.

MONEY MATTERS: Loyalty or flaunt value?

At the time of writing this, the Galaxy Note 4 is retailing for 58,300. The iPhone 6 Plus is selling for 62,500 (16 GB), 71,500 (64 GB) and 80,500 (128 GB).

In the end, the choice boils down to your operating system preference—the customization capabilities that Android offers and, in comparison, iOS does not, or the slickness of use offered by the latter. The Note 4’s stylus makes a lot of sense for business users.

But the Note 4 doesn’t attract as much attention as the big iPhone.