The latest pairing in an age-old rivalry: Our first impressions of two phones a world apart.
It's been a while since you could reasonably say Samsung was straight up copying Apple in its smartphone designs. In the market of 2016, the two camps are very clearly differentiated: Samsung with its glass-backed designs, curved panels, super-slim bezels, big batteries and wireless charging. And Apple arguably doing more with less: shipping super-slim metal handsets with its own tightly controlled hardware and software, where performance and ease of use is king.
Samsung puts a bigger screen in a smaller phone.
In the Note 7, Samsung packs a subtly curved 5.7-inch Quad HD (1440p) panel into a device with a smaller footprint than the iPhone, with a higher resolution and basically no trade-offs in terms of color accuracy, brightness or daylight visibility. The iPhone's 5.5-inch 1080p panel still ranks among the best, but Samsung's been making QHD screens for more than two years now, and its latest is arguably the best we've seen on any smartphone. What's more, Samsung packs a bigger, higher-res screen into a smaller body, making the 6s Plus's bezels seem enormous by comparison.
Galaxy Note 7 vs. iPhone 6s Plus specs comparison
|Category||Galaxy Note 7||iPhone 6s Plus|
|Operating System||Android 6.0 Marshmallow||iOS 9.3|
|Display||5.7-inch 2560x1440 (518ppi)
Dual edge screen
Gorilla Glass 5
|5.5-inch 1920x1080 (401ppi)
|Processor||Quad-core Snapdragon 820 (U.S)
Octa-core Exynos (international)
|Apple A9 chip|
|Expandable||microSD up to 2TB||No|
|Rear Camera||12MP f/1.7
|Front Camera||5MP f/1.7||5MP f/2.2|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac MIMO
Bluetooth v4.2 LE
ANT+, USB 2.0, NFC
|Wi-Fi 802.11 ac MIMO
Bluetooth v4.2 LE
USB 2.0, NFC (Apple Pay only)
|Wireless charging||Yes, Qi wireless
|Input||S Pen stylus
4096 pts of pressure sensitivity
|Passive stylus only|
|Battery||3500 mAh||2750 mAh|
|Water resistance||IP68 rating||Unofficial water resistance|
|Security||One-touch fingerprint sensor
|Touch ID fingerprint sensor|
|Dimensions||153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9 mm||158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm|
Both phones have plenty of power — the iPhone is Apple's own A9 processor and 2GB of RAM, Samsung with a homegrown octa-core Exynos chip or Snapdragon 820 depending on where you buy, paired with 4GB. The nature of Android as an OS means it's more RAM-hungry than iOS, the Note 7's lead on paper shouldn't be overstated. Regardless, you'll need to resort to benchmarks to tell the difference between between the two. Both are blazingly fast in day-to-day usage — though some gaming benchmarks put the iPhone ahead, at least until Vulkan support ramps up.
As for physical hardware, it's a familiar mix of compromises. Samsung's glass back is easy to grip onto, despite the slipperiness of the metal sides, but gets gunked up easily with fingerprints. Meanwhile the iPhone is fashioned from luxurious but slippery aluminum, punctuated by unsightly antenna bands. While both phones make engineering compromises with camera bumps — Apple's is smaller and easier to ignore; Samsung's is less prominent and squared off, and thus less wobbly when the phone is lying flat.
Apple has the edge when it comes to OS updates.
Software is another huge point of contrast. On the Note 7 you've got Samsung's latest TouchWiz UI — tuned up and refreshed from what we saw on the Galaxy S7, atop Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. We're less than a month away from the launch of Android 7.0 Nougat, so there's a good chance that by the time the Note 7 hits in some countries it'll be running an "old" OS. Then again, many current Android phones will be in that boat. And carrier-specific models in markets like the U.S. only add to the uncertainty.
Meanwhile iPhone owners will get iOS 10 on launch day regardless of operator. Although Samsung has been diligent with pushing out Android's monthly security patches to the GS7, only Google's Nexus phones can match the speed with which Apple rolls out OS updates.
When it comes to cameras, we're dealing with known quantities here. The Galaxy Note 7 is a repeat performance of the S7, with the same camera modules front and back. Samsung focuses on low-light performance in 2016, with larger pixels in a 12-megapixel shooter with optical image stabilization behind an f/1.7 lens. Meanwhile the iPhone's 12-megapixel OIS shooter makes do with a less spectacular f/2.2 lens, but still manages to boast one of the best smartphone cameras on the market.
Want photo samples? Check our 2016 smartphone camera shootout, featuring the iPhone 6s Plus and Galaxy S7, which uses the same camera as the Note 7.
Each device also has its own collection of unique hardware strengths. On the Note you get Samsung's S Pen, now with 4,096 levels of sensitivity, giving you the ability to sketch notes on the screen when it's off, easily annotate screenshots, draw your own pretty pictures — or even make GIFs. Samsung also introduces iris scanning in the Note 7, allowing you to unlock the phone or secure apps and files without using the fingerprint scanner. The iPhone counters with a faster fingerprint unlock technology, in the form of Touch ID, along with 3D Touch, which lets you bring up contextual menus and peek into messages and web links with a harder press.
A more important question: How will the iPhone 7 measure up?
Both phones are a world apart in terms of design, internals and user experience, representing two very different smartphone philosophies. But they're also a generation apart — the iPhone 6s Plus is almost a year old, and the Galaxy Note 7 will be going on sale right as Apple's refreshing its iPhones. So we'll save an extended, more meaningful comparison for a future date, with a possible iPhone 7 Plus in-hand.