iPhone 6 Plus vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 3: Decision time

Living with the iPhone 6 Plus, part 6: In our final post-review check-in, Tim Stevens has to make a difficult decision. Which one is it going to be?

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
4 min read


Hello there, dear reader. Welcome to the final installment of this series of soul-searching articles in which I attempt to discern which of my two favorite phablets is superior. In one hand, my trusty Galaxy Note 3 . I chose this phone to test because it's my personal phone, which I've been using since the beginning of the year. It replaced the Note 2 I had previously.

In the other hand, the shiny new iPhone 6 Plus -- which, I should add, is still perfectly flat despite frequent placement in pockets of numerous pants, both loose and fitted.

This isn't the first time I've pondered making the jump from Android to iOS. I seriously considered switching when the 5 rolled around, because there was finally a decent-sized iPhone. I again struggled with the decision with the iPhone 5S. The extra performance, plus the fingerprint scanner, really caught my eye. But, the keyboard disappointed, and I still liked the size of the Note better.

Now, with a bigger phone, with SwiftKey on-tap, with stellar battery life, and with a really great camera, the siren call is even stronger. So why, then, do I keep reaching for my Note when the iPhone 6 Plus is right there?

I've truly been living with these two phones for the past two weeks now, a sort of happy menage a phablet that's seen my pockets a little more full than usual. I've installed all my favorite apps on the iPhone, spent way too much time dragging bobbing icons around to arrange everything just-so and wasted countless hours wooing the Horta and other officially licensed creatures in Star Trek Trexels. (What a terrible, horribly addictive game for a Trekker like myself.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

Of all the apps available on both Android and iOS, and there is of course a huge overlap at this point, every single one I've tried looks better on Apple's platform. If that weren't bad enough, many offer more features, too. Launching an app on the iPhone and then doing the same on the Note feels like returning to a land where aesthetics and design are afterthoughts. I understand why the compromises have been made -- too many screen sizes, too many resolutions, too many devices to optimize for all -- but it's still disappointing to see.

SwiftKey on the Note 3 versus the iPhone 6 Plus. Tim Stevens/CNET

Still, as painful as it is, when I need to get something done, I always reach for the Note 3. The main reason is the typing experience. SwiftKey on iOS is a nice step forward, but it's still miles better on Android. Given the volume of email that I process on a given day, typing efficiency means a lot.

Email in general is a big deal for me. The iOS Gmail app looks far prettier than the Android version, but it's a bit slower to use. Most annoying is that it doesn't download and cache messages. Gmail on Android is constantly retrieving email, storing it for offline access. On iOS, Gmail will send a notification that you have a new email, but if you're offline when you try to read it, you're out of luck. When running between meetings in New York City and checking in while on the subway, that's a major difference in its usability.

And, of course, there's the stylus. As many of you commented when I first professed my affection for the thing, I probably am one of the few people who legitimately use the Note 3's S Pen regularly. Nevertheless, I do, particularly during interviews, which I also record on the Note. A reader, David, was kind enough to write me and tell me about the iOS app Highlight, which lets you tap the screen while recording an interview to mark any notable bits. That definitely helps, but it isn't quite enough to completely obviate the stylus for me.

All that said, there are plenty of times when I reach for the iPhone instead. Whenever I'm taking a photo or video, obviously, the 6 Plus is the natural choice. Whenever I'm casually using social media apps or the like, again, I prefer the iOS versions of those apps. (Lately I've been having a fair bit of fun with Tiiny, which still isn't even available on Android.)

So, it boils down roughly along these lines: Am I getting something serious done? Am I churning through some email, interviewing someone, or working in Google Drive? I reach for the Note. Am I taking a picture, posting something inane to a social network or another, or lamenting my lack of pace on a Strava segment? I reach for the iPhone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Basically what I'm saying is that I really can't make up my mind. If I had to choose one it'd be the Note, because maximizing productivity on a mobile device must be my top priority. However, if I had the means, I'd keep them both. Running off to a meeting? I'd grab my Note. Heading out for a night on the town with some friends? iPhone all the way. And, if I were jetting away for a business trip, I'd keep the pair -- the iPhone full of media, games and distractions, the Note full of email, reminders and other boring stuff.

That's not to say the iPhone can't be a serious productivity tool, or that the Note 3 doesn't do a fine job at whittling away idle moments. Both are excellent all-rounders. It's just that one each feels more optimal for one suite of tasks than the other.

So, if you're making this difficult decision yourself, it might help to think of things this way: business, or pleasure?