Samsung Galaxy Note 7 vs. Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Supposedly, part of the reason for the Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s battery problem was that the company was looking to best Apple in a cycle Samsung believed would be dull. Here’s Bloomberg via Gruber:

So the top brass at Samsung Electronics Co., including phone chief D.J. Koh, decided to accelerate the launch of a new phone they were confident would dazzle consumers and capitalize on the opportunity, according to people familiar with the matter. They pushed suppliers to meet tighter deadlines, despite loads of new features, another person with direct knowledge said. The Note 7 would have a high-resolution screen that wraps around the edges, iris-recognition security and a more powerful, faster-charging battery. Apple’s taunts that Samsung was a copycat would be silenced for good.

Putting aside the tragic recall, I was interested in what colossal advantage the Note 7 had over the iPhone 7+ that caused it to fly too close to the sun, so I took a look at some comparisons online. Starting with the battery, the iPhone 7 Plus has 1,960 mAh rated battery, and the Note 7 has a 3500 mAh battery. Samsung’s battery is clearly better. But what about battery life in real-world use? As an example, consider that for Internet browsing on WiFi, the Note 7 lasts 14 hours according the Anandtech and Apple are advertising the iPhone 7 Plus lasts 15 hours. So despite Samsung’s nearly doubly rated battery, it’s arguably the same as the iPhone. Where consumers really care, which is day to day use, the iPhone is a clear victor. In terms of raw technological specifications, the Note 7 clearly wins.

Moving on to the display:

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has a stunning 5.7-inch QHD Super AMOLED display. It’s the absolute best in the business, bar none. The Quad HD resolution remains the same as before, for a 518ppi pixel density. Where Samsung has improved things is with the inclusion of Mobile HDR, which leads to an even more vivid, high-contrast picture in your videos.

Conversely, Apple’s mobile display technology remains a bit static. The company opts for the same 4.7-inch display with a 326ppi pixel density for the iPhone 7, and a 5.5-inch display with a 401ppi pixel density for the iPhone 7 Plus. It’s also used the same IPS LCD panel technology for years now, and it finds itself trailing Samsung on pretty much all counts.

The Note 7 is definitely better, especially when you consider that Samsung’s bigger and brighter display is also curved. As far as I can tell, the best use case of a display that dense is virtual reality headsets where the screen will be optically zoomed by lenses and right next to your face, meaning the iPhone’s mere 326ppi screen will show its pixels much before the Note 7’s 518ppi screen. I’d argue most users do not care about this, but indisputably the Note 7’s display is better.

What about the camera?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 packs exactly the same camera as the Galaxy S7. We’re talking the same 12-megapixel unit with phase detection, Dual Pixels, OIS, an f/1.7 lens, and a 1/2.6-inch sensor – and we’re not complaining one bit.

[…]

But the real advance can be found in the shape of the iPhone 7 Plus, which adds a second camera to the rear of the device. This dual-lens setup combines a telephoto camera with a wide-angle camera – both 12-megapixel – to create an effective optical zoom option. They can also combine to allow you to alter the focus after the picture has been taken, much like a Lytro light field camera.

So roughly equal here in terms of megapixels, with the only obvious advantage being Apple’s optical zoom. This is something Apple clearly got very right: the camera is something that almost everyone cares about, including the people looking to push the limits of what’s possible with a phone.

What about performance? First of all, RAM:

The Galaxy Note 7 does have double the RAM of the iPhone 7 – 4GB versus 2GB, with the iPhone 7 Plus having 3GB, apparently – but that’s never been a particularly useful metric for comparison.

Double is definitely better. What about CPU? (via John Gruber)

DEVICE SINGLE-CORE MULTI-CORE
iPhone 7/7 Plus 3,450 5,630
Samsung Galaxy S7 1,806 5,213
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 1,786 5,228
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 1,744 5,203
Huawei P9 1,729 4,735
OnePlus 3 1,698 4,015

Apple’s the clear victor in CPU benchmarks. But none of this is really what consumers care about. How long does Angry Birds and co. take to load on both devices? I haven’t tried this myself, but embarrassingly, in real-world app launch tests, the new iPhones lap Samsung’s latest offering:

As you can see in the video, the iPhone 7 doesn’t just completely dominate against the Galaxy Note 7 — it laps it by completing its second run of opening the apps before the Galaxy S7 has even finished its first. That’s despite the fact that the iPhone 7 has a mere 2GB of RAM compared to the Galaxy Note 7’s 4GB. It somewhat confirms Apple’s claim that designing software and hardware together improves performance and means the phone can perform well with less RAM.

I’m beginning to see a trend emerging. With the exception of the CPU and camera, the Note 7 is clearly better than the iPhone in a number of ways. (Not to mention it comes with both an audio jack and a smart stylus and a curved display!) But the problem is that Samsung has been trying to improve the phone when they should be improving the user experience. Instead of worrying about the mAh of the battery, they should have been worried about the number of hours on the web or on Netflix that people can have. What I find most embarrassing about this is that Samsung is blaming Apple’s “dull iPhone” for the Note 7’s bad year, and the iPhone is still arguably better in ways that most users care about. Some of these problems are more with Android than with Samsung: those battery life benchmarks reveal that Android seems to be doing double the amount of work that iOS is doing for browsing the web, and that’s not allowing Samsung’s battery marvels to shine. If Samsung ever launches their own mobile operating system which is only 50% better than Android at most tasks users care about, the iPhone would need to be careful. Until then, Apple can ship phones with half the battery life, half the screen resolution, half the RAM, and the same camera as Samsung offerings, and still have the courage left to remove the headphone jack. I’m very happy with my iPhone 6 Plus, but everyone whose getting an iPhone 7 is getting the best smart phone experience money can buy.

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