Both devices have roughly the same size. The Apple iPhone 6 Plus is taller but thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which has the bigger screen. For years Apple was concerned about the usability of a device this size, but it has finally come around.
The iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 have roughly the same footprint
The iPhone 6 Plus shares its design with its sibling and has close connections to the iPod touch and the Apple iPad. This means a slender 7.1mm body that's all glass and aluminum. The sides are softly rounded, unlike the squared off sides of previous iPhones.
This makes the iPhone feel like a metal ingot in the hand but it's not without a downside - the round sides offer less grip. We're not happy either with the plastic strops on the back cover. They used to be thinner and better positioned on previous devices, now they just look too intrusive.
The top and bottom bezels are rather thick, making the iPhone 6 Plus taller than average for its screen size. Apple has tried to make up for it in the software - a double tap (not press) on the Home button brings the screen image halfway down to make top controls easier to reach. Even better, Apple took the first steps in capitalizing the extra screen real-estate with landscape mode and split-screen interface options on some apps (but not multiple apps).
Samsung refined its metal-and-leather design in the Galaxy Note 4. This time the rim is actual metal rather than plastic with a metal-like finish. The leather is still faux but, while looks can be faked, the in-hand feel of metal is tangibly more premium.
The Galaxy Note 4 is slightly thicker and taller than its predecessor, but the difference isn't too big. It's nearly half a centimeter shorter than the iPhone 6 Plus despite having slightly bigger screen. Hardware buttons put a lower limit on bezel size but Samsung managed to include its trio of buttons (complete with a fingerprint reader on the Home key) in less space than Apple. The top bezel is smaller too.
Samsung has offered a number of options to improve the one-handed use in software over the years but its real advantage lies in the mature Multi-Window implementation that lets you run two apps simultaneously. Bigger screens offer a better reading and media experience but, equally important, they make apps more efficient to use.
Let's break down the components by function. Apple put a wider aperture on its FaceTime camera but the essential specs - 1.2MP stills and 720p video - were untouched. It clearly has not bought into the selfie craze.
Samsung meanwhile settled on QHD for the front-facing camera's resolution - both for stills (3.7MP) and for video (1440p, three different names for the same thing). It's not quite an 8MP selfie machine but it complements the main camera well with the Dual Shot feature. The above-screen area also houses a gesture sensor used for some of TouchWiz's proprietary goodies.
Apple is losing the selfie race • Samsung's front-facing camera matches the screen's QHD resolution
Below the screen both phones have fingerprint readers. Apple's hardware just requires you to place your finger on the key, while Samsung requires a swipe. The angle of your thumb while you hold the phablet makes this uncomfortable so it takes some getting used to.
Fingerprint readers disguised as Home buttons
Samsung also has two capacitive keys below the screen, which simplifies the UI somewhat - a dedicated Back key means you don't have to reach for the upper-left corner and an App switcher key means the Home key doesn't have to take on multitasking duties. "Simpler is better" may as well be Apple's moto but when one key has so many uses (press, double-press, double-tap, long press) it starts to feel overloaded.
As both devices do an about-face, we find their backs are almost as interesting as their fronts. Apple drew some ire with the iPhone 6 family camera that protrudes from the slender chassis, but Samsung cameras have stuck out the back for quite a while now. At least, it doesn't make the phone wobble like the iPhone's.
The cameras themselves are quite interesting. Apple did a second polish on the iPhone 5 camera by adding phase-detection autofocus and optical image stabilization to the iPhone 6 Plus as the cherry on top of the vanilla iPhone 6 camera. The dual-LED flash is reshaped into a circle but it remains in place.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 camera has a new 16MP sensor with 16:9 aspect ratio. It seems it's a Sony sensor instead of Samsung's own ISOCELL, but either way it's Samsung's first phone camera with optical image stabilization. The higher resolution sensor also allows for 2160p video capture but we'll reserve the "resolution vs. framerate" discussion for a later chapter.
Both phablets have their Power keys on one side and their volume rockers on the other. The iPhone 6 Plus also has Apple's traditional Mute switch, which is by far the simplest way to silence your phone when necessary (in a meeting, in the theater, etc.).
Side-mounted keys, switches and slots
Also on the side is Apple's nanoSIM slot, which can only be opened with a SIM eject tool. Samsung has positioned both cards - that is the microSIM and microSD - below the back cover. The SIM is blocked by the battery so it's not hot-swappable but the microSD is readily accessible.
User-accessible battery and microSD card slot on the Galaxy Note 4
Expandable storage has never been Apple's thing, but we keep hoping for a saner base storage option - your music library alone could top 16GB, plus an iOS upgrade can require as much as 5GB free, which means you'll have to delete stuff. We appreciate the more accessible 64GB option but we still think 32GB should have been the starting point, at least for the iPhone 6 Plus.
Apple has positioned the loudspeaker on the bottom and it's still a single piece. The Galaxy Note 4 has just the one loudspeaker as well, it's on the back, we'll find out which one is louder later on.
Loudspeaker on the bottom for the iPhone 6 Plus and on the back for the Galaxy Note 4
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 4. It may not be as thin as the iPhone, but it's roughly the same size while offering a bigger screen. It's easier to service too, with easily accessible storage and battery.
The Apple iPhone 6 Plus is impressively thin and as an all-metal device gets a bonus point, but bezels remain chunky and the device is completely sealed against user access. Apple does have the better fingerprint sensor.
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