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iPhone 6S Plus vs Note 5: Which is the best phablet to buy?

If you’re shopping for a top-end phablet, the iPhone 6S Plus and the Galaxy Note 5 should be right up there in your considerations. But how do they compare with one another?

Samsung arguably won last year’s battle of the super-sized smartphones. We found the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 to offer a slightly more compelling package than the iPhone 6 Plus – though it was a closely run thing.

So what chance does Apple have with the iPhone 6S Plus, which at first glance seems to be very similar to its predecessor?

Better than you might think, as it turns out. These remain the best two phablets available, with unique strengths and weaknesses that make a straight up decision even tougher to come by.

Allow us to explain why.

Related: iPhone 6S vs Galaxy S6
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iPhone 6S Plus vs Note 5 – Design

Both of these phones are two of the best big handsets you can get your hands on, but for very different reasons. Samsung has decided to adopt a more uniform approach with all of its flagship phones, so the Note 5 is basically a Galaxy S6 blown up. We thinks it’s Samsung’s best-looking phone to date, but it’s missing out on some of the Note 4’s character.

With the iPhone 6S Plus, Apple has largely stuck to the same formula that worked so well with the 6 Plus. It has the same aluminium body design and the new rose gold colour isn’t as tacky as it sounds. The 6S Plus is noticeably heavier than the 6S, though. You feel the difference as soon as you pick it up. It takes a bit of getting used to and can make it a little awkward when you’re trying to take a photo with the phone in one hand.

The Note 5 is a more manageable phone to use. That’s largely down to the fact that Samsung has managed to shave some inches off the design. It’s also taken the curved edges from the S6 Edge Plus and S6 Edge and put them on the back of the phone instead. As a result, the Note 5 is even more comfortable than the Note 4 was, so thumbs up to Samsung on that one.

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Other things you’ll inevitably notice are that the speaker, charging ports and headphone jacks are all still at the bottom of the Note 5. The positioning of the volume rocker and standby button likewise haven’t changed. Be warned: the standby button on the Note 5 can all too easily be accidentally pressed when it’s inside your pocket.

To get around that issue you can use the fingerprint sensor baked into the home button, which now supports activation by tap instead of swipe and is far more responsive and reliable as a result. Apple does, of course, have fingerprint security too with its Touch ID setup. Both can support mobile payments (Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, respectively) although Samsung’s service is still only available in the US.

If you care about microSD card storage and a removable battery, then be prepared for disappointment on both fronts. Historically Apple has never supported expandable storage or let you get at the battery. Samsung, however, changed its tune in 2015 and followed in the footsteps of Apple, but it offers wireless charging support as an added extra.

Related: Apple TV apps you should download first
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We mustn’t forget about the S Pen. Samsung’s phone has a stylus and the iPhone 6S Plus doesn’t. Depending on how you feel about scribbling down notes Post-It style, this might not be an issue for you. If it’s something you value, then the Note 5 is the best phone for doing it. It hasn’t massively improved on the Note 4’s S Pen, but remains the best way to capture that experience.

iPhone 6S Plus vs Note 5 – Screen

For pure innovation, the Note 5 still offers the best screen, as Apple has decided to stick with a similar Full HD screen to that featured on the iPhone 6 Plus. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. These are two great smartphone displays to use and you won’t be disappointed if you opt for either.

What about size? Well, the Note 5 has the larger 5.7-inch screen in comparison to Apple’s 5.5-inch one. The screen-to-body ratio is superior on Samsung’s phone, but personally that doesn’t bother us much.

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The two phones opt for two very different screen technologies, with Apple sticking to an IPS LCD and Samsung using an AMOLED display. The Note 5 also offers a higher 2,560 x 1,440 pixel resolution and as a result, is much sharper, with punchier colours and generally a more vibrant place for images and video. Out of the box, colours can look a little over-saturated but you can head over to the settings menu to solve that if it’s really an issue.

Of course, with the iPhone 6S Plus you do get Apple’s new 3D Touch tech. This is a pressure-sensitive layer built into the display that reacts differently depending on how hard you press it. For instance, you can press harder on the Camera icon to quickly jump into the selfie mode, or use it to show a preview of a link in Safari. It’s nifty, and certainly one for the future, but it really needs more developers to get on board and make use of it.

If you own an iPhone 6 Plus, then you’ll know what to expect from the 6S Plus in terms of the screen quality. While you don’t get the same super-sharpness as from Samsung’s screen, it still delivers where it matters most. It’s bright, has excellent viewing angles and offers great outdoor visibility.

If we had to pick one, we’d be inclined to go with Samsung again.

Related: OnePlus X vs OnePlus 2

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iPhone 6S Plus vs Note 5 – Connectivity

If there’s something you don’t need to worry about with either phone, it’s connectivity. Both feature Bluetooth 4.2 – that’s the latest edition – plus 802.11ac Wi-Fi and support for a load of 4G/LTE bands.

Both also have NFC, though only the Note 5 can use it for anything other than mobile payments. Speaking of which, each phone is backing a different virtual wallet alternative. As mentioned earlier, the iPhone 6S Plus has Apple Pay, a solution already available in the UK that works with all contactless terminals, while the Note 5 has Samsung Pay. Samsung’s version has the potential to be a more complete solution, as it works with all card machines – even those with a magnetic strip readers – but it’s limited to the USA and South Korea currently.

iPhone 6S Plus vs Note 5 – Performance

When it comes to performance, these are two of the best on the market, no doubt about it. Gaming, intensive apps, browsing, emailing – whatever you want to do, the Note 5 and iPhone 6S Plus are top of the class.

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Powering Samsung’s Note 5 is a 64-bit Exynos 7420 chipset, backed up by 4GB of RAM and a Mali T760 GPU. It’s a beefy set-up and it certainly shows in the performance. On the iPhone you’ve got Apple’s latest A9 64-bit chip and 2GB of RAM.

The 6S heralds the first time Apple has upped the amount of RAM in an iPhone, and it makes a big difference. Apps don’t crash quite so much and pages in Safari don’t always have to reload. It’s a welcome addition.

Gaming performance is ace on both, though of course you do have a better selection of games, in our opinion, available on Apple’s App Store. Even the most intensive of titles don’t give these two any issues.

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In terms of benchmarks, the iPhone 6S Plus picks up a score of 4417 in Geekbench’s multi-core test, but this is beaten by the Note 5 and its score of 5014.

iPhone 6S Plus vs Note 5 – Software

This one is purely down to personal preference – are you an iOS or Android person?

iOS 9 is the best version of Apple’s mobile operating system yet, and the iPhone 6S Plus is the best device to experience iOS 9 on. It might look like iOS 8 – and iOS 7 before it – on the outside, but delve a little deeper and you’ll notice it’s much faster, Siri is smarter and it’ll even last longer on a charge.

We do give Samsung a lot of credit for noticeably paring back the once overbearing TouchWiz UI on the Note 5. However, we’re still not fans. It’s much less childish and a lot more in line with Google’s Material Design philosophy, but parts like the notification shade and lock-screen are still a lot uglier than the versions found on standard, unskinned Android, as found on Google’s own Nexus devices.

Related: Android Marshmallow update – When will my phone get it?

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There’s also not yet an official timeframe on when we might see an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow for the Note 5, although rumour has it this could be imminent. The best version of Android yet includes Now on Tap, Doze for conserving battery, and plenty of UI tweaks, but Samsung always seems to take a while getting OS updates onto its devices.

Between Lollipop and iOS 9, the former is still the better all-round operating system, though. It just might be a tough switch if you’re stuck in Apple’s iTunes, App Store, iMessage, etc ecosystem.

iPhone 6S Plus vs Note 5 – Camera

Again, these phones possess two stunning cameras. Probably the best around at the minute. Both are really ease to use, fast and shoot sharp pictures without you having to mess around with settings and menus.

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Specs wise, the iPhone 6S Plus packs a new 12MP sensor, while the Note 5 boasts the same 16MP camera that impressed us so much in the Galaxy S6. Results are sharp, with accurate colours and fantastic contrast.

Optical image stabilisation is present on both, steadying shots and improving low-light performance. Low light is an area smartphone cameras normally fall down on, but both these devices excel.

Samsung does have the upper hand in a couple of areas, though. We find its HDR mode to be a lot more reliable, the app is much more fully featured with a raft of manual options, and the double-tapping of the home button to quickly launch the camera is a revelation. The iPhone app is simple and quick, but it lacks a load of the deeper options.

With the iPhone 6S Plus, though, Apple has also introduced Live Photos – a nifty feature that captures a couple of seconds’ worth of footage either side of your snap. You can then 3D Touch on the picture and it’ll play the scene back to you. It’s cool, but sharing the results is difficult and we often forget it’s turned on and end up with a load of videos of our feet. iOS 9.1 helped this a bit, but it’s far from ideal.

Both also support 4K video recording and editing – though Apple’s iMovie for iOS is way better than any solution on Android. There’s super-slo-mo support for footage captured at 240fps, too. If you have somewhere to view it, the 4K video looks really good.

Related: Live Photos explained

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It’s very close in this category, though the Note 5 pips the iPhone 6S Plus only marginally thanks to the deeper camera app and better HDR mode.

iPhone 6S Plus vs Note 5 – Battery Life

We expect big phones to deliver big battery performance, and for the most part both of these phablets achieve that.

Interestingly, the cell inside the iPhone 6S Plus is marginally smaller than the one in the 6 Plus – it’s dropped down from 2,915mAh to 2,750, but thanks to a more power-efficient chip and all those battery improvements in iOS 9, it lasts about the same amount of time as its older brother.

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Keeping the Note 5 chugging along is a 3,000mAh cell – a non-removable version, which is a blow for Note 4 users looking to upgrade.

Both phones can easily last the day and in most cases run easily through the majority of the next. The Note 5 does have a much more frugal power-saving mode, though, and it’s great if you need to eke some extra juice out.

The Note 5 has another couple of tricks up its sleeve that the iPhone doesn’t – notably a wireless charger and support for fast charging. Both handy if you need a quick juice-up.

iPhone 6S Plus vs Note 5 – Price

Looking for an affordable smartphone? You’re probably in the wrong place. Both the Note 5 and iPhone 6S Plus are at the top end of the price scale.

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Apple’s flagship device starts off at £619 for the frankly useless 16GB model, so you really should be looking at the 64GB £699 model or the £789 128GB version. That’s a lot of money for a phone.

The Galaxy Note 5, on the other hand, is cheaper, although UK buyers will have to search a bit to find one. It’s available on sites for between £410 and £550 depending on the size and colour you want, so it’s a good bit cheaper than the iPhone 6S Plus. But you can’t wander into a Carphone Warehouse and pick one up on contract.

The Verdict

So which is best, the Note 5 or the iPhone 6S Plus? Both really are standout phones if you’re after a big handset, which makes it all the more disappointing that Samsung hasn’t brought its S Pen-toting Note 5 to the UK as yet.

There are a few ways to look at this. If you care about design, then the Note 5 is more elegant and more manageable than the 6S Plus. While Apple’s phone doesn’t scream beauty, the all-in-one aluminium has a more reassuring feel than the glass back and front on Samsung’s phablet.

In the screen department it’s a case of innovation with the Note 5, and reliability with the Full HD screen on the 6S Plus. Both are excellent screens, but if you really care about having the best place to watch video, you’ll want a Note 5.

There’s very little separating them for performance, and their cameras are some of the best in business for both image quality and ease of use. Where you will find some difference is in battery life. We’d be inclined to say the Note 5 has the ability to go a little further. And its quick-charging technology is one of the best in the business.

We’d go for the Note 5… Unless you live in the UK, in which case getting the Apple on contract might just sway it.

Thanks to Three for lending us an iPhone 6S Plus for use in this article

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