Phablet deathmatch: Apple iPhone 6 Plus vs. Samsung Note 4

Whether you think of them as superphones or microtablets, the two main contenders are closely matched

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Credit: Thinkstock

Four years ago, Samsung created quite a stir with its original Galaxy Note, a supersized smartphone that many people found too big, but many others loved as a combo smartphone and tablet, giving rise to the "phablet" moniker. This fall, Apple jumped into the phablet fray with the iPhone 6 Plus as Samsung came out with its fourth iteration of the Note.

Both are strong contenders, though they differ in where they shine. On the surface, they look pretty much the same, with nearly identical case sizes. The iPhone 6 Plus is a bit thinner (0.28 inch versus 0.33 inch) and a tad lighter (6.1 ounces versus 6.2 ounces), but the Note 4 has a larger screen (5.7 inches versus 5.5). But the differences become clear in their details and operations.

The scores in this review give the win to the iPhone 6 Plus, since they evaluate the devices as business smartphones, where iOS 8.1 has a decisive edge in terms of applications and security over the Note 4's Android KitKat 4.4. As a business smartphone, there's no question the iPhone 6 Plus is the better device.

But the two devices are more closely matched in their phablet aspects: controls for working with the oversized screen, usability as a microtablet (such as how well they employ their large screens), and entertainment quality for playing games and videos. After all, the appeal of a phablet is that it can act both as a tablet and as a phone. Because of that, we tested the iPhone 6 Plus against both the iPhone 6 and the iPad Mini 3, and we tested the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 against both the Galaxy S5 and the seven-inch Galaxy Tab S.

iPhone 6 Plus one-handed pulldown

The iPhone 6 Plus uses a double tap on the Home button to pull down an app's window, allowing easier access the top of the screen in one-handed operation.

Deathmatch: One-handed operation

A big screen is great on the eyes, but not so easy on the hand. For many people, their hands are smaller than the screens, so manipulating the phablet means using two hands. Sometimes you can't spare both hands to use a smartphone.

Apple's solution is a simple new gesture, which is also available on the iPhone 6: Double-tap the Home button to pull down the screen about halfway, so you can access the controls at the top. Of course, you can't access the controls at the bottom any longer, but the complete display refills the screen as soon as you tap on it, so you don't lose the other features for very long. It's easy and convenient, but limited.

By contrast, Samsung offers more and ultimately better options for one-handed usage via the controls it adds to the Note 4 in the Settings app's Devices section. You have to enable the ones you want to use; none is automatically on like the iPhone's pull-down feature.

The Note's equivalent to the iPhone's pull-down feature is called Reduced Screen Size. When enabled, it lets you use a simple gesture to shrink the screen to a smaller size that will accommodate almost anyone's hand. Everything is smaller, however, so you might need your reading glasses.

Galaxy Note 4 one-handed

The Galaxy Note 4 has three options to aid one-handed use. From left to right: A gesture to reduce the screen size and move it to one side, a slide-out tray that replicates the physical buttons, and a keyboard display that reduces its size and moves it to one side.

The One-Handed Input option moves the keyboard to one side of the screen, so you can more easily type one-handed. The Side Key Panel puts aliases to the Note's

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