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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review

It’s certainly open to debate, but I would argue that the Galaxy Note 4 is the most important flagship smartphone Samsung has ever launched. It won’t be Samsung’s fastest-selling phone and it definitely won’t ship the most units over its lifespan. The Note 4 doesn’t even necessarily break new ground like the original Galaxy Note did two years ago.

But 2014 marks the first time ever that Samsung will go up against Apple in the phablet space it helped pioneer, and whether or not Samsung’s Note 4 sales show continued growth could be a telling sign of things to come.

Beginning a product review with a comparison might seem odd, but the simple fact is that the Galaxy Note 4’s ability to compete with the iPhone 6 Plus is the single most important thing about the device. This is a large, powerful, expensive smartphone and nine times out of 10, consumers in most large markets will compare it to Apple’s large, powerful, expensive smartphone when deciding whether or not to buy one.

At 153.5mm tall, the Note 4 is shorter than the iPhone 6 Plus (158.1mm) despite its larger display, which measures 5.7 inches diagonally compared to the 5.5-inch screen on the 6 Plus. The phone is wider and thicker than Apple’s phablet though, measuring 78.6mm wide and 8.5mm thick compared to 77.8mm x 7.1mm for the iPhone.

Samsung’s Note 4 (176g) is also slightly heavier than the iPhone 6 Plus (172g), though I find that the weight is distributed much better. By that, I mean that the iPhone 6 Plus is top-heavy, and it often feels like it’s going to topple over when I hold the phone near the bottom to type. The Galaxy Note 4 does not have that issue.

The display on the Note 4 is Samsung’s best ever, and on paper it crushes the iPhone 6 Plus in every conceivable way. It is Samsung’s first widely available phone with a quad HD (2,560 x 1,440) display, and the pixel density works out to a ridiculous 515 pixels per inch compared to 401 ppi on the iPhone 6 Plus’ full HD display.

In terms of clarity, that dramatic difference doesn’t amount to as much as you might think. I do find that the display on the Note 4 is sharper than the 6 Plus screen, but not to the extent that a 28% discrepancy in pixel density would suggest.

Far more important than ppi counts on paper, the Note 4’s screen is bigger, brighter and more vivid than the panel on the iPhone 6 Plus. As always, Samsung really shines in this area.

Where performance is concerned, both devices can handle just about anything you throw at them in stride. The 2.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 chipset in the AT&T Galaxy Note 4 that Samsung gave me to review is a monster, and it’s supported by 3GB of RAM. The result is a phone that has yet to stammer or bog at all during everyday use.

But the software on these two devices brings us to the Note 4’s most important advantages over the iPhone 6 Plus… and to the 6 Plus’ biggest advantage over the Note 4.

Samsung has spent years creating a phablet experience that has never been more refined than it is on the Galaxy Note 4. The giant screen on the Note 4 isn’t merely a check box, it serves a real purpose.

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