They may look awfully similar at a glance, but the new Galaxy Note 5 is a lot more than a bigger version of Samsung’s Galaxy S6. As its name implies, the Note 5 is a note-taking machine with a built-in stylus and a slew of handy software features that make it easy to write directly on the phone’s display. And speaking of displays, the Note 5’s 5.7-inch screen dwarfs the 5.1-inch screen on the S6.
So can the Galaxy S6 hold onto its current spot as our favorite overall smartphone for business, or will the Galaxy Note 5 overtake it when it launches on Aug. 21? Let’s take a look at how the two devices stack up side-by-side.
In terms of design, the Galaxy Note 5 borrows a lot from the Galaxy S6. While last year’s Galaxy Note 4 was made entirely from plastic, the new model is crafted from more premium materials, including an aluminum frame and a glass back – just like the S6. The nice materials will help justify the Note 5’s steep price tag; it’ll go for $299 with a two-year contract.
Samsung did tweak the design of the Note 5 a bit to make its large dimensions more manageable. While the Galaxy S6 has a flat glass back, the Note 5’s back has a slight curve around the left and right edges, which actually makes the device a bit easier to hold in one hand.
That’s good, since the Note 5 really is a sizable smartphone. Weighing 6 ounces and measuring 6 x 2.9 x 0.29 inches, it’s a whole lot bigger and heavier than the Galaxy S6 (4.8 ounces and 5.65 x 2.78 x 0.27 inches).
Measuring a respectable 5.1 inches, the Galaxy S6’s display isn’t exactly small, though it looks downright puny next to the Note 5’s huge 5.7-inch screen. But it a huge screen good for business? It really depends on your needs.
Personally, I prefer the Note 5’s larger dimensions for productivity. The device simply provides more room for screen-intensive tasks like viewing large documents, editing spreadsheets and taking notes with the S Pen stylus. It’s also better for Samsung’s multi-window mode, which lets you run two apps side-by-side in a split-screen view. I like it for certain tasks, like using the calculator app or referencing a Web page while drafting an email, for example. Multi-window mode is also available on the Galaxy S6, but that phone doesn’t have the space to make it feel really useful.
But stylus support is the feature that really sets these two smartphones apart. While the Galaxy S6 – like most smartphones -- is compatible with any basic capacitive stylus, the Note 5’s stylus is the only one that offers pressure sensitivity.
In other words, it can detect how hard you’re pressing down with the tip of the pen, letting you vary your line width and feather your strokes – just like you can with a real ink pen. Pressure sensitivity might not sound like a big deal, but in practice it’s crucial for creating a natural handwriting experience when writing on a digital display.
No other smartphone stylus can match the feel of the S Pen stylus, which ships with all Galaxy Note devices. And reports indicate that the S Pen has actually been improved for the release of the Note 5, offering even better pressure sensitivity as well as a spring-loaded design that makes it easy to retrieve from its slot on the bottom of the device.
Finally, the Note 5 comes with a variety of handy software features to help you take advantage of the S Pen, including screen capture tools, PDF annotation and the ability to jot down quick notes while the Note 5’s screen is off. Even if you tried to make do with a standard capacitive stylus on the S6, you wouldn’t have access to those tools.
We haven’t actually had a chance to test the Note 5’s performance for ourselves just yet, but we expect the device will blow away most of the competition on speed tests. That’s because the Galaxy S6 is already the speediest smartphone on the market, and it runs on Samsung’s octa-core Enoxys processor – the same chip that powers the Note 5. But while the S6 runs on an already impressive 3GB of RAM, the Note 5 is one of the first smartphones to offer a whopping 4GB of RAM. That could translate into even snappier multitasking, and also help apps open and close more quickly.
Regardless, both of these smartphones stand at the top of the heap in terms of overall performance. That’s a perk if you plan on running processor-intensive apps like the recently released Android version of Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet editor.
When the Galaxy S6 launched this spring, some users were disappointed to find that the device has a sealed back, which allowed Samsung to craft a sleeker device but also means the battery can’t be removed or swapped for a fresh one, as with earlier models. For better or worse, the Note 5 is following in the footsteps of the S6, with a sealed glass back and a non-removable battery.
We haven’t yet had the chance to test the Note 5’s battery life, but we do know that its 3,000-mAh battery is smaller than the 3,200-mAh cell that came in last year’s Note 4. Battery size isn’t everything, though, so we’ll have to see how the Note 5 fares with Samsung’s latest mobile processor.
We were a bit disappointed with the battery life of the S6 when we reviewed that device this spring. It ran for 8 hours and 32 minutes on our battery test, which actually beats the smartphone average of 8:26, but falls short of the impressive 9-hour-and-42-minute mark set by last year’s Galaxy S5.
The Note 5 does come with a larger battery than the 2,500-mAh cell found in the S6, but the Note’s larger, power-hungry display will likely even things out.
While the Samsung Galaxy S5 launched with a fingerprint scanner in 2014, it was too unreliable to be very useful. The phone required users to slowly slide their finger down over the scanner, and it often failed to recognize my prints. Thankfully, Samsung remedied those issues with the Galaxy S6, which has one of the best fingerprint scanners on the market.
Now the Note 5 is launching with the same excellent fingerprint scanner, which will let users quickly unlock the device without fussing with a password. It will also give you access to secure folders, which are good for storing private work files.
There’s a lot more to the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5 than a simple difference in size. The Note 5 has been fine-tuned for use with the S Pen stylus, which makes it a great digital notepad for mobile business users. Plus, the big screen provides a lot more room to work on. If those two qualities are important to you, the Note 5 is clearly the superior choice.
On the other hand, the Galaxy S6 is undoubtedly the more well-rounded of the two smartphones. It has a more manageable size, and its 5.1-inch display is still relatively generous in size. And stylus aside, the S6 matches the Note 5 feature-for-feature, with the same fingerprint scanner and multitasking capabilities.
For now, the Galaxy S6 retains its spot as our favorite overall smartphone for business. We’ll have to wait for our full review of the Note 5 to see how it really stacks up.