With its new Galaxy Note5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+, Samsung is doubling down on big-screen smartphones. Unveiled in early August, the Note5 and S6 Edge+ both pack beautiful 5.7-inch displays.
But slapping a big screen on a phone and calling it a day just doesn’t cut it anymore, especially when there are already plenty of other phones on the market — including Apple’s excellent iPhone 6 Plus — with big glass.
The Note5 and S6 Edge+ both add plenty of other compelling new features, in addition to their large displays. So if you’re in the market for a tall phone, they should definitely be on your shortlist. Here’s why.
Size and sharpness
Samsung didn’t do a whole lot to clearly distinguish the Note5 and S6 Edge+ from each other. Both are available in the same color schemes, they’re both made of the same materials, and they’re nearly the same size. The Note5 is just a hair thicker and heavier than the S6 Edge+.
Like their smaller counterparts (the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge), the Note5 and S6 Edge+ come wrapped in glass and metal frames rather than the plastic nonsense Samsung previously used to cover its phones.
As noted, both phones’ screens measure 5.7 inches. They both offer incredibly sharp visuals, thanks to their high resolutions (2560x1440). And they both use the same Super AMOLED (active matrix of organic light-emitting diodes) screen technology that makes them easy to see in direct sunlight.
As a result, both movies and websites look fantastic on both phones, with intensely vibrant colors. Even little things like the phones’ wallpapers and icons look great. Both screens compare favorably with the iPhone 6 Plus’s 5.5-inch display.
Like those on the S6 and S6 Edge, the screens on the Note5 and S6 Edge+ both rock a glossy coating that makes the phones shimmer in sunlight. Unfortunately, that coating also has a tendency to pick up fingerprints, which can turn the screens into smudgy messes; I found myself regularly wiping off the phones with my shirt to get rid of greasy marks.
The biggest difference between the screens on the Note5 and S6 Edge+ is that, while the Note5 has a normal flat screen, the display on the S6 Edge+ curves at its edges; it looks as though the image onscreen is cascading off the phone and into your hand.
For that reason, despite all their other superficial similarities, I’d have to say the S6 Edge+ is the more attractive of the two. There’s just something about that curved screen that makes it look classier — more exotic, even — than the Note5. And I loved the way images seemed to float off the phone’s sides. It’s a subtle touch that makes a big difference.
Inside, the Note5 and S6 Edge+ are seriously powerful smartphones. Both come with 8-core processors and 4GB of RAM — a step up from the 8-core processors and 3GB of RAM found in the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge.
As a result, I didn’t really see much of a difference in performance between the Note5 and S6 Edge+. Games and apps all ran equally well across the two devices. Things like the camera app launched extremely quickly. I’ve been using the Galaxy S6 for a while now, and while it performs well, there are times when it lags when I switch between apps.
The fingerprint readers on the Note5 and S6 Edge+ seemed to detect my prints faster than the S6’s and S6 Edge’s readers, which makes using them far more convenient.
The iPhone 6 Plus runs incredibly well, and based on anecdotal evidence is as fast as the Note5 and S6 Edge+ when it comes to switching between and opening apps.
The Note5 and S6 Edge+ are available with 32GB and 64GB of storage, which is a bit odd when you remember that the S6 and S6 Edge come in 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB configurations. (The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are available with 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB.) What’s more, like the S6 and S6 Edge, the Note5 and S6 Edge+ lack micro SD card slots, so you can’t expand that storage. That said, I think 32GB and 64GB are the sweet spot for most buyers. If you need more than that, there’s always the cloud.
Battery life on both the Note5 and S6 Edge+ is excellent, thanks to their large 3,000-mAh batteries. Unfortunately, those batteries aren’t removable. Still, they offer faster charging than standard smartphones; you can fully charge both of them in about an hour and a half.
The Note5 and S6 Edge+ both come with the same fantastic 16-megapixel cameras as the S6 and S6 Edge. They also both include optical image stabilization, which ensures that your photos come out clear even if the camera shakes.
Images I took with both phones looked great. Colors were bright and lively, and details looked crisp. Shots from the iPhone 6 Plus (the closest competitor to the Note5 and S6 Edge+) looked brighter, but a bit washed out at times compared with those I got from the Samsungs. Low-light shots taken with the Note5 and the S6 Edge+ looked better than those taken with the iPhone.
Take a note
OK, so the Note5 and S6 Edge+ look the same, with similar screens and the same innards. There are still a couple of significant differences between the two.
For one, like its predecessors, the Note5 comes with a built-in stylus — something that very few other big-screen smartphones, including the iPhone 6 Plus, offer.
Samsung has upgraded that stylus to make it feel more like an actual pen. The top of the stylus even has a tiny button that elicits a satisfying click when pushed. (Every time I used the phone, I found myself absent-mindedly clicking that button so much that I owe my co-workers an apology.)
Samsung also improved the tip of the stylus, giving it more resistance when you write on the screen so it doesn’t slide all over the place. That helps improve accuracy and handwriting.
Meanwhile, the S6 Edge+ has that slick curved display that cascades off its left and right sides. (The Edge+ is essentially Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge on steroids.) But those are about the only real hardware differences between the two.
There are a few nice software tweaks on the Note5 and S6 Edge+.
For example, the S6 Edge+, like the smaller S6 Edge, lets you swipe in from either the left or right side to access a list of your five favorite contacts. You can also assign a different color to each of these favorites; if you get a call from one of them while the Edge+ is face down on a table, its edge will light up with the color of the person calling.
The S6 Edge+ also lets you swipe in from the left or right side of the screen to pull up a list of your favorite apps, which is pretty convenient. Still, it’s not exactly groundbreaking.
When the S6 Edge+’s screen is locked, you can scroll through a handful of apps that Samsung calls Information Stream. These apps are basically the same ones you see scrolling at the bottom of every news channel; they include things like Twitter Trends, Yahoo Sports, and Notifications.
The Note5, meanwhile, gets updated S-Pen apps. My favorite new feature is the ability to take the Note5’s stylus out when the phone’s display is off and just start writing on the black lock screen. When you’re done, you can save your notes as you normally would. It makes jotting down quick notes way easier.
Samsung Pay support
Like the S6 and S6 Edge, the Note5 and S6 Edge+ are both compatible with Samsung’s upcoming Samsung Pay mobile payment system. Like Apple’s Apple Pay, Samsung Pay lets you use your smartphone to pay for items in stores using special payment terminals compatible with near-field communication (NFC).
The only problem is that few U.S. retailers accept NFC payments. Fortunately, Samsung Pay also works with standard credit card payment terminals, so you can use your Note5 or S6 Edge+ to pay for things at virtually any store in the country.
To make a payment with your phone, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to pull up the Samsung Pay menu. You then select your card by swiping left or right and verify that you want to pay with it using your phone’s fingerprint reader or by entering a password.
You then place your phone over the credit card reader, and if all goes well, it will read your phone’s payment information just like a regular credit card.
If you’re thinking about buying the Note5 or S6 Edge+ with Verizon, however, you might not be able to use Samsung Pay. According to a statement the carrier tweeted in late August, Verizon is still “evaluating” Samsung Pay, which means the carrier isn’t sure whether it will support the service.
AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have already signed on with Samsung Pay.
Big, beautiful, and worth buying … maybe
The Galaxy Note5 and S6 Edge+ are large, gorgeous phones with beautiful displays, great cameras, and solid performance. The only problem is that I could say the same about the smaller Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, which both cost significantly less.
The Note5 with 32GB of storage costs $700 for the Verizon model, $740 for AT&T; the S6 Edge+ costs $770 on Verizon and $815 on AT&T. The S6 and S6 Edge, by comparison, cost $580 and $670 for Verizon, respectively.
Still, if you want a smartphone with the biggest screen you can get, you aren’t mesmerized by the iPhone 6 Plus, and budget isn’t your primary concern, you should check out the Note5 and S6 Edge+. But if you want many of the same features as the Note5 and S6 Edge+, don’t care as much about screen size as you do about price tag, you’re probably better off sticking with the S6 or S6 Edge.