Samsung recently launched the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 to rave reviews, pairing as it does the premium design of the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge with the business-orientated features of the Note phablet range.
Given the timing of its release in mid-August, Samsung’s new phone has had a month or so to build up a lead over Apple’s new flagship phone, the iPhone 7. But now that Apple has played its hand, how do the two devices compare?
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While we’ve spent plenty of time with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (and no, it didn’t catch fire), given its recent unveiling, we’ve been able to observe the specs and features of the iPhone 7 only at a distance. Still, that means we already have a pretty good idea of how these two titans will stack up.
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iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – Design
As alluded to already, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 borrows much of its design from the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – which, as regular readers will know, is pretty much our favourite phone design on the market right now.
It has that alluring dual-curve display, an all-glass back (which is also curved), and that shiny finish that changes according to the angle of the light.
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Conversely, the iPhone 7 looks very much like last year’s iPhone 6S – itself a dead ringer for 2014’s iPhone 6 which, even at the time, wasn’t viewed as much of a looker.
There are differences to the iPhone 7, but they’re slight. There’s the rejigged antenna design, which partially rectifies one of the ugliest aspects of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S. As widely advertised, Apple has also done away with the 3.5mm headphone jack – entirely. Not that this has any significant aesthetic bearing. Nor does the iPhone 7’s newly fixed home button.
There’s good news for those who were fans of the all-black iPhones of old. Black is back, and in two shades no less. Out goes Space Grey, and in comes Dark Black and glossy Piano Black – all the better to co-ordinate with those all-black Apple Watch models.
We’d perhaps back the iPhone 7 when it comes to robustness. The iPhone 6S was a surprisingly rugged phone that could stand up to general nicks and scrapes surprisingly well, so we’re expecting the iPhone 7 to be similar. Samsung’s recent designs, on the other hand, seem to scratch and dink if you so much as look at them sharply – and there are reports of the Note 7 being rather scratch-prone, despite the presence of Gorilla Glass 5.
The Galaxy Note 7 will be tougher than the iPhone 7 when it comes to taking a dip, however. The Samsung is IP68 certified, while none of Apple’s phones have been so far. Sure, the iPhone 7 has IP67 certification,
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iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – Display
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has a stunning 5.7-inch QHD Super AMOLED display. It’s the absolute best in the business, bar none. The Quad HD resolution remains the same as before, for a 518ppi pixel density. Where Samsung has improved things is with the inclusion of Mobile HDR, which leads to an even more vivid, high-contrast picture in your videos.
Conversely, Apple’s mobile display technology remains a bit static. The company opts for the same 4.7-inch display with a 326ppi pixel density for the iPhone 7, and a 5.5-inch display with a 401ppi pixel density for the iPhone 7 Plus. It’s also used the same IPS LCD panel technology for years now, and it finds itself trailing Samsung on pretty much all counts.
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That’s not to say that the iPhone 7 display isn’t an improvement over previous models, though. Apple has given it a wider colour gamut, much as it did with the iPad Pro, leading to a more vibrant picture.
We’ll need to go hands-on to be absolutely sure, but we just can’t see how this will be enough to close the considerable gap between the iPhone 6S display and that of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.
Of course, both displays have extra tricks up their sleeves beyond a great range of colours. In the case of the Galaxy Note 7, it takes the form of the S Pen stylus. Popping out of the bottom of the device, it lets you jot down your thoughts and messages in a naturalistic fashion. This time you get an improved 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, too, and you can also use it to instantly translate foreign text or create speedy GIFs from YouTube videos.
As for the iPhone 7, we get a continuation and a development of the 3D Touch technology that debuted with the iPhone 6S. This lets you access further UI elements by pressing a little harder on the screen, and is accompanied by a subtle series of vibrations via a sophisticated vibration motor.
With iOS 10 set to take these 3D Touch elements even further, the iPhone 7 display should provide far more depth and nuance than your average phone.
But more than the Galaxy Note 7? That remains to be seen.
We should take this opportunity to mention one related area of the iPhone 7 that’s unexpectedly taken a leap over the Galaxy Note 7 – its sound output.
While the Samsung phablet is stuck with weedy mono sound from a single speaker, Apple has fitted the iPhone 7 with a second speaker in the earpiece section of the device. That means proper stereo sound for landscape video and gaming.
It’s a shame, really – the Galaxy Note 7’s phenomenal screen should have made it the media king. With a set of headphones, it pretty much is, but if you leave those at home then you’re out of luck.
Conversely, of course, if you have an expensive set of wired headphones, you’ll need a fiddly adapter to make them work with the jackless iPhone 7. You can’t have everything, it seems.
iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – Performance
The Galaxy Note 7 certainly isn't what you’d call underpowered, but it uses the same chip as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. That means either the Snapdragon 820 or Exynos 8890 CPU, depending on where you live.
Both chips are capable, and they nudge ahead of the iPhone 6S’s A9 CPU in a number of areas. But the iPhone 7 has debuted Apple’s next-gen A10 Fusion chip, and it’s looking to be quite a beast.
Apple has continued with its rate of CPU performance improvement. The A9 was 50 to 70% faster than the A8, and now the A10 marks a 30% improvement over the A9.
We’ll need to run some hands-on tests to be sure, but the iPhone 7 is looking set to be the new mobile CPU champ – at least in a number of the key scenarios (we won’t go into the practical differences between a dual-core and quad-core setup here).
The Galaxy Note 7 does have double the RAM of the iPhone 7 – 4GB versus 2GB, with the iPhone 7 Plus having 3GB, apparently – but that’s never been a particularly useful metric for comparison. Android and iOS are simply too different, and with Samsung applying its own clunky custom skin, Apple’s phones have always felt noticeably smoother than those of Samsung.
iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – Camera
One key battle between these two phones will be for the camera crown.
For several years, Apple made the best smartphone cameras around. It’s still one of the best, and it arguably remains the easiest to use and most consistent. However, for outright quality – not to mention low-light performance – Samsung took over with the Samsung Galaxy S7 (if not the Galaxy S6 the year before).
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 packs exactly the same camera as the Galaxy S7. We’re talking the same 12-megapixel unit with phase detection, Dual Pixels, OIS, an f/1.7 lens, and a 1/2.6-inch sensor – and we’re not complaining one bit.
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Still, this lack of progress has offered Apple a chance to make up lost ground with the iPhone 7’s camera, and it appears to have done just that. We’re a little disappointed that the plain iPhone 7 is only a relatively minor update over the iPhone 6S, although the 12-megapixel snapper does gain OIS (at last).
Both iPhones also get an improved True Tone system, which doubles the number of LED flashes for better, more natural night shots.
But the real advance can be found in the shape of the iPhone 7 Plus, which adds a second camera to the rear of the device. This dual-lens setup combines a telephoto camera with a wide-angle camera – both 12-megapixel – to create an effective optical zoom option. They can also combine to allow you to alter the focus after the picture has been taken, much like a Lytro light field camera.
Apple has also widened the aperture to f/1.8, which makes a big difference for low-light shots.
It remains to be seen how these new iPhone cameras perform against the Galaxy Note 7 in day-to-day shots; Samsung’s effort may not be the best-snapping phablet around for long.
iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – Software
The one area that we can confidently say the iPhone 7 will beat the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, even before we’ve gone hands-on with final iPhone 7 hardware, is the OS.
Put simply, Apple does software much better than Samsung. While the South Korean phone maker has stepped up its game considerably in recent times, it still employs a custom Android UI that inherently compromises the speed and functionality of the Android OS at its core. Not massively, but enough.
Apple’s iOS, on the other hand, goes from strength to strength. iOS 9 borrowed a bunch of features from Android, which means it’s far more flexible and powerful than before, while retaining Apple’s slick performance and peerless app support.
What’s more, the iPhone 7 will debut iOS 10, and it’s set to be better still. In particular, we’re looking forward to vastly improved notifications, lockscreen functionality, and deeper 3D Touch support.
As for the Galaxy Note 7, it runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow – a great OS in its own right. However, it’s already technically out of date, as Android Nougat has begun rolling out (albeit on a select few Nexus devices). It will be updated, but probably not for another two to three months.
The Note 7 UI is the company’s best effort at modifying Android yet, but it’s still a sub-optimal experience, pushing users towards Samsung’s iffy apps and services when there are often superior Google equivalents readily available.
On the plus side, Samsung’s tweaks allow for strong S Pen integration, as outlined above. But if we could get a Note 7 with a stock Android 7.0 experience (plus some S Pen tweaks), then the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus would really be on the back foot.
iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – Storage: Apple gives you more fixed options
These two (OK, three) phones give you vastly different options on the storage front. Samsung has gone with a single, fixed memory allowance of 64GB, which is backed up by a microSD slot for up to 256GB of expansion.
Apple still doesn’t support microSD with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, but it does offer three fixed storage options – and they’ve been dramatically increased over previous years.
At last, the weedy 16GB option is no more. In its place returns the 32GB unit, this time as an entry-level option. We approve, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that this should have happened years ago.
The mid-tier option is a far more capacious 128GB, while the top tier offers a whopping 256GB of fixed storage. If you’re a 4K video-shooting fiend, that’s going to sound mighty appealing.
Of course, the Galaxy Note 7 potentially boasts the most storage for such 4K film makers (although a fast 256GB microSD doesn't come cheap), and that 2K display will do a much better job of reflecting your handiwork when it comes to watching it back on the device.
Galaxy Note 7 vs iPhone 7 – First Impressions
We’ve spent plenty of time with the Galaxy Note 7 by now, but the iPhone 7 has only just been announced, so a definitive comparison isn’t possible at this point.
However, from the announced specs and features alone, we’re pretty confident that Apple’s new phone won’t give the Galaxy Note 7 anything to worry about in terms of screen or design quality.
Where it could make things interesting is with its new camera tech. The Galaxy Note 7 takes awesome pictures, but it’s no better than the Galaxy S7 on that front. The iPhone 7 Plus, meanwhile, has an intriguing (if hardly original) dual-camera setup that could push its photographic nose back into the lead.
Meanwhile, there’s the age-old disparity between the quality of Samsung’s software and that of Apple. If a slick native UI is all-important to you, the iPhone 7 will likely prove the better pick.
We’ll have a much better idea of which phone is the more appealing in just a couple of weeks’ time, when the iPhone 7 hits the shops.