Apple iPhone 6s Plus vs. Samsung Galaxy Note5: Battle of the Business-Minded Behemoths

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While there are quite a few super-size phones to choose from, the two most popular are the Samsung Galaxy Note5 and the recently released Apple iPhone 6s Plus. Both these devices are loaded with features, which isn’t surprising considering they cost even more than many high-end tablets.

We’ve compared them head-to head, hoping to make it easier for those who can’t decide which is the best for them.

Build & Design

Both devices look professional, but the Note5 is a fingerprint magnet.

Both devices look professional, but the Note5 is a fingerprint magnet.

The iPhone 6s Plus and Galaxy Note5 are quite similar and size and weight; while Apple’s offering is 0.2 inches taller and 0.1 in. wider, these really mean nothing in day-to-day use, especially as both weigh 0.4 pounds. There’s no doubt that these are large devices, as you don’t get a 5.5- or a 5.7-inch display in a tiny package. What matters in a comparison is that nether is much smaller or lighter than its rival.

While many aren’t fond of the term “phablet”, it describes these two well, as they feel like something larger than a phone but smaller than a tablet. They also feel very slick, and both could probably use a case that makes them more grippable.

Both devices look professional, but the casing of the Samsung model is something of a fingerprint magnet, making the device appear less clean than its rival.

Display

Both for its size and the use of AMOLED, the Note5 has the better display, but 3D Touch has much potential.

Both for its size and the use of AMOLED, the Note5 has the better display, but 3D Touch has much potential.

Samsung used an Active Matrix Organic LED screen in the Galaxy Note5, and it gives this phone an advantage. AMOLED displays offer sharp, vivid colors, and are easier to see outdoors than standard LED screens, like the one in the iPhone 6s Plus.

Apple’s screen is no slouch though. At 5.5 inches and a 1920 x 1080 resolution, its pixel density is 401 ppi, so at a normal distance from the eye each pixel is so small it blends into every other one.

The Galaxy Note5 has a 2560 x 1440 resolution, giving its 5.7-inch display a 518 ppi pixel density. While the use of AMOLED technology gives this model a benefit, it’s harder to say whether the extremely high screen resolution does so as well. The iPhone 6 Plus has pixels too small to see, and the fact that its rival’s are even more impossible to see is of limited value, while the processor has to work with all those unnecessary pixels.

Samsung went with a larger screen, and both devices have a 16:9 aspect ratio, which means that the Galaxy Note5 comes out slightly ahead in this area as well, especially as the casing of GN5 is slightly smaller than Apple’s.

The display in the iPhone 6s Plus sets itself apart from its rival by being pressure sensitive, a feature Apple calls 3D Touch, which is also found on the iPhone 6s. This allows the device to sense how firmly the user it pressing on the screen to bring up a collection of quick options. 3D Touch is new and is just being integrated into the iOS, so it can’t yet be called a significant advantage.

Both for its size and the use of AMOLED, Samsung’s offering has a lead in the display category, although 3D Touch has real potential for the future.

Pen/Stylus

Want a stylus? Then go with the Note5.

Want a stylus? Then go with the Note5.

The Galaxy Note5 not only has an S Pen stylus, a great deal of work went into integrating it into the device.  Taking the pen out of its silo brings up an on-screen icon that allows the user to select from a range of applications, most notably the S Note app where users can combine sketching and typing.

The S Pen itself is nicely designed, and relatively comfortable to hold. Even better, it’s able to detect 2048 levels of pressure, so just pressing harder on the screen can result in drawing a thicker line.

By contrast, the iPhone 6 Plus does not have a stylus, and Apple made little or no effort to integrate this type of input.  There are third-party styli on the market like the excellent Just Mobile AluPen Digital, and iOS drawing applications, but there’s no doubt that Samsung has the lead in this area.

Buttons, Ports, and Speakers

Both the iPhone 6s Plus and Galaxy Note5 have large Home buttons that double as fingerprint scanners. These biometric security systems can be used to unlock the devices and to take the place of typing in passwords in a range of applications, including ecommerce apps. In our tests, Apple’s scanner is quicker and more reliable, as Samsung’s will not infrequently take two attempts to recognize a finger.

Neither device has a removable memory card slot; Apple has never supported these but it’s a bit surprising that Samsung decided to eschew one on such a high-end phone.

The Galaxy Note5 has a micro-USB port on its bottom edge, and additional storage can be added through USB drives designed for this port. There are even microSD card readers that can be connected. On the other side of the coin, a number of companies also make external storage drives that can be connected to the iPhone 6s Plus’ Lightning port, including SanDisk.

Both Samsung and Apple placed a single speaker on the bottom edge of their respective products, not an ideal location for getting the most volume out of it. Each of these speakers is roughly capable of putting out the same amount of sound with mostly adequate audio quality. Those who are planning on watching video on one of these — and that’s a popular reason for getting a phablet — should consider investing in a good pair of headphones. Samsung provides some very detailed audio controls on its device, certainly more than Apple.

Using a phone to to monitor health is one of those extras that both the Galaxy Note5 and iPhone 6s Plus support. The Galaxy Note5 goes the extra mile with a built-in heart rate sensor, though.

Performance

Samsung put an octo-core processor in the Galaxy Note5 while Apple uses just a dual-core chip in its iPhone 6s Plus. The Exynos 7420 in the GN5 has two quad-core sets, one running at 1.5 GHz and a second at 2.1 GHz. The Apple A9 processor, by contrast, is a dual-core running at 1.85 GHz.

In the past, Apple has proved skilled at making its processors run very efficiently, and this appears to be the case again, as the GeekBench 3 benchmarking tool gives the iPhone 6s Plus a 4338, slightly higher than the 4307 pulled in by the Galaxy Note5, despite the faster clock speed of Samsung’s chip. That said, both scores are at the top edge of any phone available today.

In real world use, our steady use of these two phones shows they have outstanding performance, and can take on any type of application, from games to productivity.

Samsung put 4GB of RAM in its device, while Apple went for 2GB. There are 16GB, 64 GB, and 128GB versions of the iPhone 6s Plus, versus 32GB and 64GB versions of the Galaxy Note5. As mentioned, neither has a removable memory card slot.

Overall performance is a tie, while kudos are due to Samsung for putting in more RAM, and to Apple for offering a 128GB version.

Software

Android or iOS. Take your pick.

Android or iOS. Take your pick.

At the time of this writing, the Galaxy Note5 runs Google’s Android 5.1.1 Lollipop operating system, while the iPhone 6s Plus has Apple’s iOS 9.02. We could construct a 10-part series comparing the two mobile operating systems and still not cover it all, so hopefully it will suffice to say that Google’s offering tries to give users more options for controlling the appearance of devices, while Apple favors simplicity. Generally, both accomplish the same things, but in slightly different ways.

Apple always releases system software updates for as many of its devices as possible at the same time, so iPhone 6s Plus users can expect to get iOS 10, iOS 11, etc. Samsung, on the other hand, will generally provide at least one major Android upgrade for its most popular models, but not much more than that.

As discussed earlier, the S Pen stylus that’s included with the Galaxy Note5 is accompanied by a suite of software, and there isn’t much comparable on the iPhone. The best example of this is the note taking app that automatically launches when the phone is off and the pen is removed from its silo.

Both Google and Apple offer free applications that can work with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files, and Microsoft offers full versions of Office for iOS and Android.

The Galaxy Note5 includes Samsung’s Split View technology, which allows two applications to run side by side. While this can be handy on a full size tablet, it’s much less useful on smaller screen, and though the GN5 is large for a phone it’s very small compared to something like the Galaxy Tab S2 9.7.

Wireless

The iPhone 6s Plus and the Galaxy Note5 are both available from all of the “Big Four” U.S. carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. The devices have 4G LTE and WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac. Each can function as a mobile hotspot for other computers. There’s also Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, and NFC in both.

No advantage on either side.

Camera

The iPhone 6s Plus has a 12-megapixel camera, but the Galaxy Note5 boasts a 16MP shooter. High resolution cameras like these are generally overkill for quick shots of the kids, but can be handy for those who want to show their pictures on large HD televisions. In addition, they enable users to shoot 4K video.

The highlight of the iPhone 6s Plus’s camera is the new Live Photos feature, which can make pictures into two-second movies. The Galaxy Note5 can do something similar with moving GIF images but the process is a lot more complicated.

On the other side of the coin, Samsung built into its phone the ability to livestream to YouTube, something Apple did not.

Aside from these gee-wiz features, both rear cameras are roughly similar. They take outstanding still images and videos, and can do panorama, slo-mo, and time lapse shots. They have decent LED flashes that are capable of lighting up nearby objects with reasonably good color.

Each of these models has a roughly equivalent 5MP front facing camera for taking selfies. Apple built in a clever feature that uses the phone display’s backlight to allow people to take pictures of themselves in low light.

Neither device comes out strongly ahead in this area.

Battery

The point of having two sets of four processor cores in Samsung’s chip is to give phones running it longer battery life, as the device can run on the slower set when there’s no need for the faster set. However, battery benchmarks show that the Galaxy Note5 only marginally benefits from this.

According to Geekbench 3, the iPhone 6s Plus will last for 7 hours 43 minutes of heavy use on a single charge, while the Galaxy Note5 is up to 8 hours and 7 minutes.

Samsung’s offering has very a narrow advantage in battery life.

Conclusion

Want a big phone? Can't go wrong with either.

Want a big phone? Can’t go wrong with either.

Those who are looking for a large phone with an emphasis on handwriting notes and sketches should definitely get the Samsung Galaxy Note5; they won’t find a better fit.

Anyone who just wants a large phone, on the other hand, wouldn’t go wrong with either the Apple iPhone 6s Plus or with Samsung’s offering. Both devices have similar sizes and performance, and aside from the S Pen, nothing makes one significantly better than the other.

While the AMOLED display on the GN5 is beautiful, it’s not sufficiently better than the iPhone to make it the sole reason to buy this model.

Value

The base model Galaxy Note5, with 32GB of storage, varies between $696 and $739.99, depending on which wireless carrier is offering it. The 64GB version costs $792 to $839.99.

The base model iPhone 6s Plus with 16GB of storage is $749, the 64GB version is $849, and the 128GB one is $949, no matter which carrier is offering it.

The 16GB version of Apple’s device probably doesn’t have enough storage for most people, and prices for the 64GB versions of these two models are close to each other, although Samsung’s model has a marginal advantage.

Apple iPhone 6s Plus Pros:

  • Large, beautiful screen
  • Outstanding performance
  • Long battery life

Apple iPhone 6s Plus Cons:

  • Bulky phone
  • No microSD card slot
  • High price

Samsung Galaxy Note5 Pros:

  • Best display available
  • Good performance
  • Very long battery life

Samsung Galaxy Note5 Cons:

  • Bulky phone
  • No microSD card slot
  • High price

Bottom Line

The S Pen in Samsung’s Galaxy Note5 makes this an ideal choice for mobile note takers. That said, someone just looking for a large smartphone for web, video, or games would be just as satisfied with Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus.

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