iPhone 7 Plus vs Galaxy Note 7

NOTE, 11 October 2016: The overheating battery problems outlined below proved insurmountable and Samsung has discontinued the Galaxy Note 7. "We can confirm the report that Samsung has permanently discontinued the production of Galaxy Note7," the firm said in a statement. More here.

Which is better: the iPhone 7 Plus or the Samsung Galaxy Note 7?

Apple's new iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 are two of the latest and highest-profile phablets to hit the market. But which is right for you? In our iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7 comparison review, we put the two devices' design, features and specs head to head, and help you make the right buying decision.

Read next: iPhone buying guide | iPhone 6s Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7

iPhone 7 Plus vs Galaxy Note 7: Design & build quality

Aesthetics are a personal matter, and on the design front it's probably best to check out as many photographs of the two devices as you can and make up your own mind. But rest assured that general build quality, finish and so on is exemplary in both cases.

The iPhone 7 Plus is a beautiful device but it suffers from a lack of aesthetic novelty. Apple's been rocking this design for more than two years now. Aside from a minor visual improvement (the removal of the antenna band from the back surface) and the removal of the headphone port, about which most people feel at best ambivalent, this is the same chassis as the iPhone 6 Plus.

iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Design

iPhone 7 Plus (in the new matt black colour finish)

In terms of dimensions, the iPhone 7 Plus is a little wider, longer and heavier than the Note 7 despite featuring a smaller screen - this is because of the now-somewhat-old-fashioned screen bezels. It is thinner than the Note 7, however. Full dimensions are listed in the specs section.

iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Design

Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Headphone jack

We couldn't avoid that for long. The iPhone 7 Plus, famously and controversially, doesn't have a 3.5mm phono headphone jack, which means you'll need to connect your headphones via the Lightning port or Bluetooth wireless, or by using the bundled adaptor. This is mildly annoying if you've got a nice pair of headphones you'd like to carry on using, but the inclusion of the adaptor soothes our annoyance. (The iPhone 7 Plus's bundled headphones are Lightning EarPods.)

Read more: Best Lightning headphones | Best Bluetooth headphones

iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Lightning port

No headphone port! This is the iPhone 7, by the way (in Rose Gold), but the design is the same on the Plus.

The Note 7 has a standard headphone jack.

Edge display

The Note 7 has something that Apple hasn't yet explored in its iPhones: a curved screen.

In practice this actually means a slight wraparound on both side edges of the display, which looks quite nice but doesn't add a great deal to the way you use the phone.

Overheating and fire safety

...which isn't a sub-heading we like to be using in a comparison review of top-of-the-line smartphones. Sadly, in this article such a discussion is unavoidable.

There have been numerous reports of certain Galaxy Note 7 handsets overheating or even catching fire.

We've had similar incidents with different devices by different manufacturers in the past, including some iPhones, but they have always been isolated, and frequently linked to some degree of customer misuse or misadventure. (There was one case where an iPhone 3GS melted a woman's floor mat more than a year after being dropped in a pool.) But, according to Samsung, there have been 35 incidents of this happening to the Note 7. It's got to the point where Samsung USA has issued an apology, and devices have been recalled.

However, while a case like this inevitably erodes customer confidence, Samsung will replace Note 7 handsets that are affected, and handsets you buy in future should not suffer the same issues.

You can read much more about the Note 7 recall here: Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall & what you need to do now. And here's Samsung's statement.

iPhone 7 Plus vs Galaxy Note 7: Features

Both phones have state-of-the-art feature set, but there are a few areas where one or the other stands apart.

Waterproofing

The iPhone 7 Plus and Note 7 are both certified as water-resistant, but the Note 7 is more so, with an IP rating of IP68 to the iPhone's IP67. IP68 is the maximum IP rating, rated as Dust Tight (that's the 6) and resistant to liquid immersion beyond 1m (the 8). The iPhone 7 Plus is Dust Tight and resistant to liquid immersion up to 1m. That's a point to Samsung by anyone's book, albeit in a close finish.

iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Waterproofing

More on IP ratings here.

Read next: How to dry out a wet iPhone

Cameras

Samsung is behind on specs here, unusually, with its 12Mp/5Mp rear- and front-facing camera combo outshone by Apple's 12Mp/7Mp (although the Note's larger f/1.7 apertures may let in more light and prove more valuable in gloomy conditions). And the iPhone 7 Plus has twin lenses at the rear, enabling a small optical zoom and all kinds of clever depth-of-field effects. Score one to Apple.

Read next: iPhone photography tips: Take better photos

iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Cameras

Stylus

The Note 7 comes with a stylus: the S Pen.

We thought the iPhone 7 Plus might get compatibility with the Apple Pencil, but that didn't happen. You can still use third-party styluses with the iPhone, but it's not quite the same - and you'll have to pay for those on top of the cost of the phone.

iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Stylus

3D Touch

The 3D Touch screen tech introduced with the iPhone 6s makes phones sensitive to more than one degree of touch pressure: you can press the screen to produce one effect, or do a 'hard press' to do something else.

The awkward thing is that Apple cannot make this feature fundamental to the iOS interface until virtually all users are on 3D Touch-capable devices, so for the time being 3D Touch is all about handy shortcuts and additional functionality. You can force-press app icons to reveal a quick list of frequently used functions (Google Maps offers 'Directions to Home', for instance, while Messages offers 'New Message' and three favourite contacts - most apps offer something), and force-pressing a link in an email lets you peek at the map, web page or whatever that's linked to, before actually going there.

Give it another hardware generation or so, and 3D Touch is likely to be built into the very foundations of the interface, and could revolutionise the way we use our iPhones. Or we might forget it's there, as even some seasoned tech journalists have been known to do from time to time.

Read more: Best 3D Touch shortcuts

iPhone 7 Plus vs Galaxy Note 7: Specs

Apple devices almost always offer weaker specs for the money than their rivals, and the comparison with the Note 7 is no exception.

The most obvious specs shortfall relates to the screen. The iPhone 7 has a 5.5-inch Retina HD screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a pixel density of 401 pixels per inch (ppi). The Galaxy Note 7 has a 5.7-inch screen with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 at 515ppi - a slightly larger and considerably sharper offering (although we should emphasise that the 7 Plus's screen is itself extremely sharp, and some would argue that 515ppi is overkill).

But because of Apple's near-unique ability to integrate mobile hardware and software - because it makes both - you often find that despite similar or weaker specs on paper, the end results are as good or better. Take the battery: the 7 Plus has a capacity of 2900 mAh while the Note 7 has 3500 mAh, yet the estimated battery life (and Apple's battery life claims are historically reliable) is higher for the iPhone. Partly that will be down to the extra pixels that the Note's battery has to power and the two lower-power cores in the A10 Fusion that kick in when less processing welly is required; partly it will be down to software optimisation.

Here are the full specs:

iPhone 7 Plus specs

  • A10 Fusion chip with 64-bit architecture and embedded M10 motion coprocessor: estimated 2.34GHz (not provided by Apple; based on benchmarks), quad-core processor (although because of the switching function between the two high-performing and two low-power cores, only two cores will show up on benchmarks)
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB/128GB/256GB storage
  • 5.5-inch LED-backlit widescreen Multi-Touch display with IPS technology, 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution at 401ppi
  • Dust- and water-resistant: Rated IP67
  • Twin-lens rear camera: 12Mp wide-angle (ƒ/1.8) and telephoto (ƒ/2.8), OIS, LED flash; 7Mp ƒ/2.2 front camera
  • iOS 10
  • 2900 mAh mAh battery (claimed battery life: up to 13 hours internet use over 3G; up to 15 hours over Wi-Fi)
  • 158.2mm x 77.9mm x 7.3mm, 188g

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 specs

  • 2.15GHz, 1.6GHz, Quad-Core processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage, MicroSD up to 256GB
  • 5.7-inch Dual edge Super AMOLED 2560 x 1440 (Quad HD) screen at 515ppi
  • Dust- and water-proof: Rated IP68
  • 12Mp f/1.7 rear camera with dual pixel, OIS, LED flash; CMOS 5Mp f/1.7 front camera
  • Marshmallow OS/Android 6.0
  • 3500 mAh battery (claimed battery life: up to 11 hours internet use over 3G; up to 14 hours over Wi-Fi) 
  • 153.416mm x 73.914mm x 7.874mm, 169g

iPhone 7 Plus vs Galaxy Note 7: Price & release date

The iPhone 7 Plus is an eyewateringly expensive phablet, with a top model costing £919 and even the entry-level (32GB) model £719. (You can buy the iPhone 7 Plus direct from Apple, or check out our list of the best cheap iPhone 7 Plus deals.) But the Note 7 is a costly bit of kit too: Mobile Fun are taking pre-orders at £749. The Note 7 is only available with 64GB, although remember that you can supplement this with microSD.

The UK launch of the Note 7 has been delayed by the battery recall discussed above. It was supposed to happen at the start of September 2016.

  • iPhone 7 Plus: £719 (32GB)
  • iPhone 7 Plus: £819 (128GB)
  • iPhone 7 Plus: £919 (256GB)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 7: £749 (pre-order)

Read more: Best Samsung Galaxy Note 7 deals UK

OUR VERDICT

A wag on Twitter compared these two phones to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: one doesn't have a headphone port, while the other one literally sets fire to your jeep. Maybe I've not quite done that analogy justice but you get the idea.

In any case the Note 7's overheating battery issue, while something you should take seriously and a likely obstacle to the device's timely launch in this country, needn't and shouldn't put you off entirely: Samsung has acknowledged the problem and recalled affected units, and any handsets that go on sale in this country will be fixed. (You can check by looking at the battery indicator in the status bar. On corrected models, this will be green.)

Specs-wise, both devices have their advantages: the iPhone looks to have a substantially better camera setup (although we haven't had time to test this out fully) and longer claimed battery life figures, while the Note 7 has a larger and sharper screen despite weighing less and having a lower length and width, and is rated to a higher degree of waterproofing.

Ultimately, these are both exceptional-quality and expensive phablets that will meet most users' requirements, and as with most of these head-to-head comparisons, a lot of the decision will come down to your preference for the iOS or Android ecosystem - or the most personal of aesthetic preferences. And remember that the iPhone 7 Plus doesn't have a headphone port, even though the inclusion of a small adaptor makes this less of an issue.

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