The Galaxy Note 5 may be the hot new big phone right now, but the last huge phone on everyone's mind — the Nexus 6 — is still around and very much a fresh device. Though the Note 5 is merely weeks old at this point and the Nexus 6 has been on shelves for about 10 months, these are both high-end devices that directly compete for attention and space in your pocket.
For those reasons, we're going to compare the Note 5 and Nexus 6 — read on.
Hardware, specs and features
You can't get around it, these are both big phones. But Samsung and Motorola tackled these phone designs in different ways, and there actually isn't much shared in terms of looks between the phones. Both incorporate a metal frame that wraps around the phone, slimming on the sides and getting a bit wider on the top and bottom, and while the exact location of ports and buttons differs a bit both phones are pretty traditional in their layouts.
These are both big phones, and they each approach design differently.
And that's where the visual similarities end. The Note 5 has gone with a full glass back that curves sharply on the sides but is flat in the middle, while the Nexus 6 instead has a gently-curved plastic back. Looking at the front of the phones the first thing that stands out is just how small the bezels are on the Note 5, as well as how much crisper and brighter its display is (though it's the same resolution as the Nexus) — reinforcing in your mind how dominant Samsung is in phone displays.
You get a fingerprint sensor in the home button under the Note 5's display, but the Nexus 6 instead has more versatile on-screen buttons as well as front-facing speakers that are much louder than the Note. Both phones are pretty easy to hold onto, for their size, but with the Note 5's slightly smaller screen and tiny bezels it comes out on top in terms of one-handed usability. Anyone who has held a Nexus 6 knows it basically can't be used with one hand, and while both phones are pretty nice looking (of course there's some personal preference involved here) you can't argue the Note 5 is easier to handle overall.
Of course there's also a straight-up spec comparison to be made, for those who like to see all of the numbers together. Considering the Nexus 6's age it actually stacks up pretty well against the Note 5, with the exceptions being it has a last-generation processor, a lower megapixel camera, 1GB less RAM, and lacks the fingerprint and heart rate sensors of Samsung's latest.
|Category||Galaxy Note 5||Nexus 6|
|Operating System||Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, TouchWiz||Android 5.1.1 Lollipop|
|Display||5.7-inch QHD (2560x1440, 518 ppi) Super AMOLED
Gorilla Glass 4
|5.96-inch QHD (2560x1440, 493 ppi)) AMOLED
Gorilla Glass 3
|Processor||Exynos 7420 octa-core (2.1GHz quad + 1.5GHz quad)
|Snapdragon 805 quad-core 2.7GHz|
|Storage||32 or 64GB, UFS 2.0
|32 or 64GB
|Rear Camera||16MP, f/1.9, OIS, phase detection auto focus
4K video, slow motion video
|13MP, f/2.0, OIS, Dual LED ring flash
4K video capture at 30fps
|Front Camera||5MP, f/1.9||2MP|
(network bands vary by market)
|Connectivity||802.11ac Wifi, 2.4/5GHz, MIMO (2x2), 620Mbps
Bluetooth v4.2 LE, ANT+
NFC, Location (GPS, Glonass, Beidou)
|802.11ac Wifi, 2.4/5GHz
NFC, Location (GPS, Glonass)
|Sensors||Accelerometer, Proximity, RGB Light, Geo-magnetic, Gyro, Fingerprint, Barometer, Hall, HRM||GPS, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer, Ambient light sensor, Barometer|
|Charging||Micro USB 2.0, Adaptive Fast Charging
Qi wireless, Powermat wireless, fast wireless charging
|Micro USB 2.0, Quick Charge
|Dimensions||153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6mm||159.26 x 82.98 x 10.06mm|
|Colors||black sapphire, white pearl, gold platinum
(colors will vary by market)
|Midnight blue, Cloud white|
Software, performance and battery life
Though both the Note 5 and Nexus 6 run Android 5.1.1, there are pretty sharp visual and functional differences between them. Samsung has stuck with its heavy use of bright blue and green colors along with extra animations — and while the latest iteration of TouchWiz is edging gently over to Material Design ideas, it's nothing like what you get on a Nexus 6. The Android you get on the Nexus 6 is far simpler and a bit more intuitive, with less getting in your way and fewer superfluous features to turn off. Everything is a bit more muted (in a good way), and easier to understand.
Samsung has smoothed out TouchWiz, but it's still not the great experience you get on a Nexus.
Thankfully you can get a more Nexus-like experience on your Note 5 if you so desire, with the addition of apps like the Google Now Launcher and Google Keyboard, but we still have to give the nod to the Nexus 6 for how it does software. And that's before we mention how much faster you're bound to get updates (including security-related patches) on the Nexus 6, and with Marshmallow approaching fast that's a big deal for some. Of course the Nexus 6 lacks features like those supporting the S Pen and exclusive apps from Samsung, but it's hard to say those alone would be worth leaving the Nexus software experience for.
Samsung has clearly fine-tuned its software for the internal hardware of the Note 5 and has all but eliminated the slowdowns present in previous versions. But even though it has a faster processor and 1GB of extra RAM over the Nexus 6, there isn't really an appreciable difference in speed between these two phones. The Note 5 absolutely feels fast and smooth, but so does the Nexus 6 — and whether you're looking at anecdotal evidence or straight-up side-by-side comparisons, you can't find where one phone really excels ahead of the other in software performance.
On the battery front, the Note 5's 3000 mAh cell is smaller than the Nexus 6's 3250, but that doesn't make as big a difference as it would seem. The Note 5 consistently can make it through a day with double-digit battery percentage left, and interestingly the same can't always be said about the Nexus 6. Though it has the edge in capacity, the Nexus 6 is hardly a battery champion — and while it can easily make it through a full day, heavy use can take a big chunk out of your reserves if you're not careful. At least both phones support quick charging standards.
Cameras on completely different levels
The on-paper specs for both of these cameras should put them in the same basic realm of one another — both have high megapixel counts, high apertures and OIS. But this is a situation where the numbers don't tell the whole story, as the Note 5 really kills the Nexus 6 in terms of camera performance.
This isn't even a contest, the Note 5 runs away with camera performance.
Everywhere else throughout the interface on these two phones you can't notice a difference in software performance, but as soon as you try to launch the camera, snap a few photos, edit one and share it out, the Note 5 comes out miles ahead. The Note 5 can launch its camera in about a second and take pictures as fast as you want without any hesitation, as well as switch modes and tweak settings with ease. The Nexus 6 takes several times as long to launch the camera, chugs along through its interface, and if you try to take HDR+ photos (which is the best way to get a good shot out of it) it captures and renders them at a glacial pace.
And while the Note 5 is much faster to capture photos, it also has superior image quality. It's really tough to get a bad shot with the Note 5, even in tough situations and in full automatic mode — but if you need manual controls, it has them, unlike the Nexus 6. Perhaps the Nexus could benefit from manual controls, but we're not sure how much — it can produce a great picture here and there, but the average snapshot just isn't up to par with leading phones of 2015 like the Note 5.
There are higher-level reasons — most of it comes down to licensing fees and restrictions — for why Nexuses always fall behind in the camera department, but the results are clear, and the Note 5 takes the cake when it comes to the camera.
Two big phones with different strengths
Samsung's Galaxy Note line was instrumental in defining the large phone segment, so it isn't surprising that its Note 5 is an absolutely great large phone. At 5.7-inches it gives you tons of room to work, but feels quite a bit smaller than the Nexus 6 even though the screens are similarly sized.
Though with all of its advancements in performance, screen quality and camera, Samsung still can't match the simplicity and fluidity of the software on the Nexus 6. There's something about how well a Nexus works that makes you put up with some other shortcomings, and on the whole the Nexus 6 is still a great phone, for its size, almost a year after it was released.
Of course one point not mentioned earlier is price, where the Note 5 will set you back at least $700 and the Nexus 6 now retails a solid amount less at $499 (well, MSRP — there are deals everywhere). Being toward the middle of its life cycle the Nexus 6 is bound to drop again in price as well, perhaps putting it out of the league price-wise of the Note 5 anyway.
These are two philosophies about how to make a big phone, and with both having their strengths. The Note 5 seems to come out on top when you add up the individual victories, but for the price (and release date) that shouldn't be surprising. It all comes down to what experience you want, and how much you balance that out with its cost.