Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Until recently, getting the best Android smartphone Samsung could offer was a straightforward process involving no more than three simple steps. Step one was to get a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Steps two and three were to settle the bill and to brag about your new handset on social media. Now, however, the highly-anticipated Galaxy S6 is about to hit the shelves worldwide. This changes things quite a bit as Samsung's new flagship is no less awesome of a smartphone when stacked up against the Note 4. That's why we don't want to be in the shoes of someone torn between these two Galaxies.
What makes picking a favorite among the two such a tough decision? Well, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 offers a larger screen, a bigger battery, and expandable storage. It is fast, it is good-looking, and it is packed with perks, as any high-end smartphone should be. On the other hand, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is more compact and comes equipped with more power-efficient hardware, not to mention that its design can make heads turn. This kind of situation calls for a thorough comparison – let's see what sets the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 4 apart and what really makes one better than the other.
While the Samsung Galaxy S6 is one of Samsung's best-looking smartphones ever, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 doesn't look or feel bad either.
We feel like we should start by commenting on the most obvious design difference between the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – one of them is clearly bigger than the other in every dimension. That's the Note 4, of course, which is a full-fledged phablet, whereas the Galaxy S6 is a slim smartphone of average width and height. It should come as no surprise that the Galaxy S6 fits better in the palm. Also, it slides effortlessly in a pair of jeans' pocket because of its smaller size. Furthermore, our thumbs can easily reach most of the phone's screen area, aided by the curvier corners at the bottom. In contrast, the Galaxy Note 4 isn't quite as pocket-friendly of a phone, and operating it single-handedly would be a challenge to many people. But in exchange for this inconvenience, the Note 4 provides you with a larger screen, and for many, the trade-off would be worth it.
While the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 draws attention with its size, the Galaxy S6 makes heads turn with its appearance. This has been achieved through broader use of premium materials, which suggests that the days of plastic-made Galaxy S flagships have come to an end. Simply said, the Galaxy S6 is a gorgeous handset, standing leagues ahead of the Note 4 in this respect. The Galaxy S6 features a solid metal frame around its sides – one that won't bend under every-day pressure, Samsung promises. On the front and back sides of the phone we find layers of Gorilla Glass 4, which are resistant to physical damage, and an optical layer underneath the glass sheet creates a unique reflective effect. On the downside, fingerprints stick instantly to the phone's surface, and we're not entirely sure how well that Gorilla Glass 4 back will endure the tests of time.
Like the case is with the Galaxy S6, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4's sides are reinforced by a sturdy metal frame. Its back side, however, is made of plastic, textured to emulate the look of leather. The material isn't as fancy or fashionable as the S6's glass surface, we have to admit, but it doesn't look or feel bad either. It provides sufficient grip, it is immune to fingerprints, and it should prove durable over time.
Now seems to be a good time to mention that the back of the Samsung Galaxy S6 is tightly sealed. In other words, the glass plate will be hard to replace if damaged, and the user does not have access to the phone's battery should they ever need to replace it. The Galaxy Note 4, on the other hand, sports a removable back, behind which resides a user-replaceable battery.
Both the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 4 stick to Samsung's traditional button layout, with power and volume buttons on their right and left sides respectively, where they're easy to reach. These keys are made of metal and respond with an excellent click when pressed. Identically, under both phones' displays we find a physical “home” button, accompanied by capacitive keys for the “back” function and for listing recent applications.
Speaking of buttons, both smartphones have a fingerprint scanner embedded in their home button. It serves as an alternative to a traditional lock screen PIN or pattern, but can also be used for logging onto websites, for authorizing PayPal payments, and to replace a Samsung account's username and password. There's a huge difference between the two phones' fingerprint scanners, however. On the Galaxy S6, you simply touch the scanner to have your fingerprint read, while the Galaxy Note 4 requires you to swipe down on the scanner. The latter solution works, but it is unreliable compared to the S6's touch-based scanner, as our first-hand experience goes to show.
As other members of Samsung's Note series and unlike the Samsung Galaxy S6, the Galaxy Note 4 is equipped with an S Pen – a digital stylus made primarily for note-taking and drawing. It's a standout feature, there's no denying that, but not one the majority of Note 4 owners would use on a daily basis.
With their high pixel density and accurate colors, both phones' screens are a pleasure to look at. The Galaxy S6, however, is a step ahead.
As it's clear to see, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 stands out with its larger display, also protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass 4. It measures 5.7 inches in diagonal and dwarfs the screens of most other smartphones currently on the market. Anyone who spends a lot of time surfing the web, watching videos, or playing games on their handset will appreciate having such a spacious screen at their disposal. At 5.1 inches in diagonal, the display on the Galaxy S6 is not tiny either. Its size is perfectly adequate for a contemporary flagship and suitable for the needs of the majority of users.
Size aside, there's a number of traits the screens on the Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy S6 have in common. First and foremost, they're both packing the same number of pixels – 1440 by 2560 of them – which results in sharp and pixelation-free visuals, as we'd expect out of a high-end handset. As a matter of fact, the 577 pixels per inch produced by the Galaxy S6's display is an industry-leading figure. The Note 4 is somewhat behind with its 515 PPI, but in all honesty, our eyes can't really detect much of a difference in the level of details produced by both screens. High-res graphics look equally stunning on both handsets.
The two phones' panels are of the Super AMOLED variety, which explains the wide viewing angles, the contrasty images, and the saturated colors they produce. And speaking of colors, both phones let you tinker with their screens' settings. One may choose between several different display modes, depending on the kind of color reproduction they prefer. Adaptive Display mode, enabled by default, automatically adjusts the color range, sharpness, and saturation of the display depending on what's being shown on the screen. It throws color fidelity out the window, however – colors are vivid and saturated, but not exactly accurate. Alternatively, there's the so-called Basic mode, which is present on both phones and designed to deliver utmost color precision. With this mode enabled, we ran our usual set of screen benchmarks to test how accurate the two screens could actually get.
Long story short, the display on the Samsung Galaxy S6 isn't just spot-on with its accuracy. In terms of color reproduction, this is the most precise AMOLED screen we've ever tested – a title that belonged to the Galaxy Note 4 until now. The S6's screen produces a color temperature of around 6550K, which is extremely close to the 6500K reference point, and its color saturation sweep chart shows how color fidelity is retained across shades and hues. But the Galaxy Note 4 does not lag far behind with its display. As we implied above, it still ranks among the most accurate AMOLED screens out there, and although it is now outpaced by the Galaxy S6, it still looks pretty darn good.
We can't complain about the outdoor visibility of either phone's screen. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 produces over 450 nits of brightness, all while reflecting a minimum amount of sunlight at the user's eyes, which allows the phone to be used comfortably on a sunny day. Same goes for the Samsung Galaxy S6, which outputs over 550 nits of brightness – an impressive figure for an AMOLED display. Besides, the excellent minimum brightness of both screens, hovering around 1 to 2 nits, allows them to be looked at comfortably at night.
Interface and functionality
The most refined version of TouchWiz yet powers the Galaxy S6. The Galaxy Note 4 should, ahem, take note.
At a glance, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4 seem to be running the same software. Both have Android 5.0 Lollipop installed with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface and its extra features on top. But in actuality, the Galaxy S6 has the upper hand when it comes to software – the TouchWiz build it ships with is the latest, fastest, most refined version of Samsung's custom interface, and the more we use the two handsets side by side, the more the difference becomes evident. The Galaxy S6 presents us with a simpler, more intuitive, better organized interface focused on features that matter and make sense. On top of that, the new TouchWiz is more responsive, although still not completely lag-free.
Feature-wise, both smartphones ship with tons of goodies pre-loaded as part of the TouchWiz experience. We find the familiar Flipboard Briefing screen at a swipe's distance, presenting us with an up-to-date stream of news. Oddly, switching to this screen is preceded by a noticeable lag on both handsets, which we find annoying. In case you're wondering, you may disable the news panel if you wish to.
As usual, a swipe down displays the phones' notification panel with its customizable toggle buttons and the slider for fine-tuning the screen's brightness. With a two-finger swipe down you reveal the complete list of toggle buttons where you can quickly enable or disable the phone's radios or various modes – although nothing new, this is a handy feature indeed.
One cool perk you'll find on the Galaxy S6 is its native support for themes. These let you give an entirely new look to the phone's interface – you may make it cute and colorful or professional and minimalist, whatever your heart desires. Themes can be downloaded for free from Samsung's catalog.
Another standout feature exclusive to the Galaxy S6 (and its curvy counterpart, the Galaxy S6 edge) is the new Samsung Pay mobile payment system. Once launched, the service will let you use the Galaxy S6 instead of a Master Card of Visa card at major retailers. Again, we can't promise that Apple Pay is coming to the Note 4 anytime soon.
On the Galaxy Note 4, a double press of the home button enables S Voice, which is Samsung's alternative to Siri. In TouchWiz on the Galaxy S6, however, Samsung has assigned a new, much more useful shortcut to the phone's home button – a double press takes you to the phone's camera in no time, even when the phone is locked.
The Galaxy Note 4's S Pen is something you won't find on the Galaxy S6. As we mentioned earlier, it is a digital stylus made for taking hand-written notes and drawing, but it can be used for UI navigation, text input, or cropping areas of the screen and saving them as notes. It's a cool perk, and we'd not complain about having it, but it isn't something many would be using on a daily basis.
The on-screen keyboard is one of the UI elements that hasn't really changed with the Galaxy S6's introduction. Practically, it is identical to the one on the Galaxy Note 4, which actually isn't a bad thing. It is spacious, accurate, and the extra row of numbers at the top comes in handy often. Both keyboards support the swipe input method, which is disabled by default. Typing with two thumbs is more comfortable on the Note 4 as its screen is wider, but the Galaxy S6 is more than adequate for the purpose as well.
Processor and memory
The two performance powerhouses handle anything with ease, although the Galaxy S6 is undoubtedly more future-proof.
Hardware-wise, saying that the Samsung Galaxy S6 is powerful would be an understatement. With the new 64-bit Exynos 7420 SoC ticking inside of it, Samsung's flagship is the new Android smartphone to beat, judging by the tests and comparisons we've performed between it and other Androids. At the same time, the chip's industry-leading 14nm manufacturing process ensures low power consumption and efficiency. Data crunching is performed by an octa-core CPU configuration featuring four high-performance 2.1GHz Cortex-A57 cores and four energy-saving Cortex-A53 cores running at up to 1.5GHz. Graphics are handled by a Mali-T760 MP8 GPU with a 772MHz top clock speed.
With its quad-core, 32-bit Snapdragon 805 SoC, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is no slouch either, although it scores lower on synthetic benchmarks compared to the S6's Exyons chip. This is valid for both single- and multi-core benchmarks, as well as for GPU-intensive tasks. Specs-wise, the silicon features a quad-core Krait 450 CPU cluster with a 2.7GHz top clock speed and an Adreno 420 GPU running at up to 600MHz. Furthermore, the Snapdragon 805 is built on the older and less power efficiend 28nm manufacturing process. We must note that a Galaxy Note 4 model with an Exynos 5433 SoC is also available in select markets, yet its performance is comparable to that of a Snapdragon-powered Note 4.
So, what does all this technical mumbo jumbo mean? Well, first of all, both chips are optimized for handling the high-resolution displays the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4 come with. Also, you can rest assured that both phones are able to run even the newest, most intensive games just fine. Still, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is definitely the more future-proof device among the two.
We must point out that both smartphones pack 3GB of RAM, which is plentiful by today's standards. However, the Samsung Galaxy S6 relies on DDR4 technology, while the Note 4 has a DDR3 RAM chip. In plain words, DDR4 is both faster and more energy-efficient than its predecessor, which is a welcome improvement.
Some will surely be disappointed to know that the Samsung Galaxy S6 does not offer a microSD card slot for storage expansion, unlike the Galaxy Note 4 and every other Galaxy S flagship before it. What the phone does, offer, on the other hand, is dramatically increased read/write performance of its built-in storage thanks to UFS 2.0 technology. Compared to the Note 4, the Galaxy S6 is two times faster at reading data from its on-board storage, and four times faster at writing it. And faster storage speeds translate to better real-world performance in a number of cases.
To compensate for the lack of expandable storage, Samsung will be offering the Galaxy S6 with up to 128GB of storage, although you may choose to stick with 64 of 32 gigabytes of the stuff and save a few bucks along the way. The Galaxy Note 4, which comes with 32GB built-in as standard, will accept microSD cards of up to 128GB in size.
Internet and connectivity
Flawless performance, no complaints here. With its large display, however, the Note 4 is definitely better prepared for web surfing.
There are two web browsers pre-loaded on both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note 4. One of them is Samsung's own solution, labeled simply as Internet. Multiple tabs, incognito mode, and other essential browser features are on board, along with a navigation strip on the bottom which you may or may not like. Bookmarks are synchronized with your Samsung account, in case you happen to have one. The browser also has this cool feature called Reader mode, which strips a web page of all unnecessary content, leaving only the body of an article for easy reading.
Alternatively, you may use Google's Chrome, which is no less powerful of a browser. It lets you access tabs you have opened on other devices, and the app's built-in data compression feature may save you a significant amount of data when browsing on a 3G/4G connection. Moreover, your browsing data, bookmarks, and history are saved in your Google account, which you're more likely to have.
Whichever of these two browser you pick, chances are you won't be disappointed by their performance. Both run without any issues on the Galaxy S6 and on the Galaxy Note 4. Yet the latter phone is more convenient for web browsing, of course, thanks to its larger display.
As far as image quality goes, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4 perform equally well. However, the Galaxy S6 stands out with its refined camera interface and manual controls.
On paper, the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4 have a lot in common. Both use Sony's IMX240 1/2.6" sensor with 16MP of resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio, backed by a single LED flash. In addition, both cameras feature optical image stabilization for smoother videos and steadier low-light shots. With the Galaxy S6, however, you get a wider aperture of F/1.9 versus the F/2.2 on the Note 4. Therefore, the S6 is expected to have the upper hand when it comes to low-light performance since its wider aperture will be letting more light into the camera. Another differentiating factor is the two cameras' focal lengths. Thanks to a focal length of 28mm, the Galaxy S6 has a wider field of view compared to the Note 4 with its 31mm focal length. We must also mention the new infrared white balance featured on the S6, meant to help with adjusting the shot to the present lighting conditions.
As we mentioned earlier, the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S6 can be launched with a simple double press on its home button. And the launch is almost instantaneous – the process takes under a second as the camera app is always on stand-by. In comparison, the camera on the Note 4 takes slightly longer to open as you have to wake the phone's screen and then trigger the shortcut placed on the lock screen.
Once in the camera menu of the Samsung Galaxy S6, we're greeted by a friendly and familiar interface. In fact, the UI doesn't differ much from the interface on the Galaxy Note 4, which is not a bad thing. The layout is simple, with almost nothing in the viewfinder's way. As before, there's a dedicated button for shooting video – you don't have to switch to a separate menu if you need to shoot a clip, which is convenient. Controls for the flash and for enabling the live HDR mode are placed on the left, where they're easy to reach.
After digging deeper into the phones' camera UIs, however, we came across quite a few notable differences. One of them is the overhaul of the advanced settings screen. On the Galaxy S6, these are placed in a dedicated Pro mode, which, when enabled, lets you control the ISO, white balance, and the exposure compensation value, among other settings. What's more, these are adjusted with a simple slider at the side of the UI, with nothing getting in your way. In contrast, manual controls on the Note 4 are executed poorly. They are found in a menu within the camera's Auto mode and aren't convenient to adjust. That's because you can't see much of the change you've made as most of the viewfinder is occupied by the manual controls menu. This makes no sense, we hope you'll agree.
One ace up the S6's sleeve is its tracking autofocus feature. It does exactly what its name implies, and it works pretty well in good light conditions – focus is locked on a moving object, which can come in handy when taking action shots. Furthermore, the Galaxy S6 gives you true manual control over the focus, while the Note 4's focus can be adjusted manually only if you tap on an object.
As far as image quality goes, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4 perform equally well, more or less. Given enough light, both produce outstanding images with plenty of details and eye-pleasing colors. Some differences in their performance do have to be highlighted, however. The Galaxy S6 produces images with softer detail compared to the Note 4, presumably due to its camera's wider aperture, the way its software processes the image, or a combination of both factors. They're not bad by any means. They're just different in appearance when you crop one or take a very close look. The Note 4's photos are sharper, but noise is a bit more noticeable. That's partially because the camera has to set a higher ISO to compensate for its narrower aperture, we presume. But all in all, we're more than pleased with both cameras' daytime performance.
In low light, we wouldn't say that one of the two cameras is better than the other. On one hand, the Galaxy S6 tends to produce images that appear to have more light in them, but on the other, the night-time images from the Galaxy Note 4 may capture details a tad better. Although results may vary depending on how steady your hand is. The two cameras come with a single LED flash, and it appears to be working well on both devices, providing enough light to fill the frame without skewing color accuracy.
Similarly, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4 produce outstanding videos. Both can shoot 1080p flicks at a steady 30 or a fluid 60 frames per second, or 4K videos at 30 frames per second. What's more, videos are accompanied by loud and clear stereo sound. What makes the S6 stand out is its continuous autofocus. On the Note 4 it works well, but on the S6 it is noticeably faster.
We're happy to see that Samsung has not overlooked the front-facing shooter on its flagship phone. The Galaxy S6 features a 5-megapixel frontal camera with a wide, F/1.9 aperture for improved low-light performance. What's more, the camera supports live HDR for better images in tricky light. But the front-facing camera on the Galaxy Note 4 should not be underestimated. It features 3.7MP of resolution, wide-angle optics, and produces pleasing images, as we know from experience. We should mention that both selfie cameras can produce selfie panoramas by stitching a sequence of images together.
To enjoy the best multimedia experience, the Galaxy Note 4 is the phone to go with. Although the Galaxy S6 does get the job done.
The Gallery application part of Samsung's new TouchWiz interface hasn't really changed much. On both the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4, the app presents us with an overview of our folders where images are present, and once we open an image, we're allowed to edit it to our liking. In the Note 4's case, the S Pen comes in handy if you want to add hand-written text to your images.
Similarly, the TouchWiz Music player on the Galaxy S6 has been left mostly unchanged in terms of functionality. What's different, however, is that its interface and audio adjustments screen have been simplified significantly compared to what we see on the Galaxy Note 4.
If you feel like watching a video, neither of the two phones should have troubles playing one at up to 4K resolution. With their gorgeous screens, both smartphones are ideal for watching flicks, although the experience is more enjoyable on the Note 4 as it offers the larger display.
Samsung has equipped the Galaxy S6 with a single loudspeaker. Its output of 73.7 decibels is decent, yet average at best compared to other flagships. The Note 4, for example, outputs a whopping 85 decibels. On the downside, the Note 4's speaker is placed at the back, and when you're watching videos, for example, the sound is projected away from the user, which reduces the perceived volume. The S6 has its speaker placed at the bottom side, which would be somewhat better of a solution in a similar scenario.
No complaints here. Sound quality through the earpieces of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4 is more than acceptable. Although neither of them is among the best we've ever treated our ears to, if we have to be honest. Both work fine in loudspeaker mode, in case you ever need to use that. On the other side of the line, calls made from the Galaxy S6 are slightly thinner in quality, while the Galaxy Note 4 delivers full, rich audio tones.
Where the Galaxy S6 shines, however, is battery recharge time. It takes just 74 minutes to top its battery cell, which is an outstanding figure. The Galaxy Note 4 requires 95 minutes to go from zero to top, which is not bad either. Both times were achieved using the phones' stock chargers. Another cool perk you don't see on any phone is wireless charging. The Galaxy S6 supports the two major wireless charging standards, while the Note 4 requires a special back cover, sold separately, to get along with Qi charging pads.
It is astonishing how smartphones, as advanced as they've become, are still evolving at a steady pace. When we reviewed the Galaxy Note 4 several months ago, it was hard to imagine how a handset could get any better, yet here we are, holding on to the Samsung Galaxy S6 which gives the answers to our question.
Yes, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is better than the Galaxy Note 4 in many ways. It isn't leading by much, but ultimately, it does deliver a bigger bang for your buck considering that the two phones carry a similar on-contract price tag. Of course, making the choice between the two will be affected by one's priorities, but the number of reasons to go with the Galaxy S6 is greater, in our opinion.
For starters, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is quite the looker. It is a gorgeous handset, probably Samsung's best-looking phone yet, and this alone will draw many potential buyers. We aren't implying that the Galaxy Note 4 is a bad-looking phone, but when it comes to appearance, it is the more conservative handset.
Furthermore, the Galaxy S6 runs on the most refined version of the TouchWiz software, which is undoubtedly smoother and more responsive than ever. It's one of the reasons why the Galaxy S6 feels snappier in real life than the Galaxy Note 4, and it doesn't take an expert to sense the difference. Performance is further boosted by the Galaxy S6's superior hardware, including faster processor, storage, and RAM. And if that's not enough, you get excellent cameras both on the front and on the back of the Galaxy S6.
But as we said above, the Galaxy Note 4 is not lagging behind by much. Phones of this caliber are growing in popularity, and for someone looking for the ultimate phablet, the Note 4 is still the best phone to pick. Size aside, the Note 4's display panel packs just as many pixels as the one on the Galaxy S6 and it is almost as color-accurate.
Hardware-wise, don't expect Samsung Galaxy Note 4's processor and memory to perform better than the hardware inside the Galaxy S6. But don't let this worry you either. The Galaxy Note 4 is still a high-end handset and should not disappoint you with its performance.
Its 16MP main camera won't disappoint you either. It is fast, accurate, and performs well under the trickiest of conditions. The Galaxy S6 is, again, leading in the camera department, but only by a hair.
Another reason to stick with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is that it's likely to deliver better battery life. Sure, its hardware might not be as power-efficient, but the larger battery compensates for this pretty well, looking at our battery benchmarks. Plus, the Note 4's battery is removable and can be easily swapped.
And if you can't let go of your microSD card, then the Note 4 is the phone you should check out. The Galaxy S6 relies solely on internal storage, and larger models will cost you extra. The Galaxy Note 4, on the other hand, plays along well with even the largest of microSD cards, which are a cheaper (albeit slower) alternative.
- More premium build
- Lighter, thinner, and more compact
- Much more reliable fingerprint scanner
- Newer, more responsive TouchWiz version
- Faster processor, RAM and storage
- Larger screen
- Bigger, longer-lasting, user-replaceable battery
- MicroSD card slot makes storage expansion easy
- Bundled with S Pen stylus and Wacom digitizer
- Durable, fingerprint-free back cover