HARDWARE SHOWDOWN: Huawei Nexus 6P versus Samsung Galaxy Note 5

We’re smack-dab in the middle of a heated smartphone release cycle which means consumers have some really great new devices to choose from. If you are in the market for a new device, the next few weeks will provide you with a number of excellent models to consider. Two such handsets are the Huawei Nexus 6P and the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

The Nexus 6P is the newer of the pair, as the Samsung phone has been on the market for nearly two months. We consider them both brand new for the fall of 2015 and think they match up nicely against each other. Let’s take a look at these two and see how they stack up against each other, starting with a head-to-head chart.

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Software

As you likely know, hardware isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to picking out a smartphone. Software plays an important role in helping decide which model might be best for you. To that end, the Nexus 6P is easily the winner here because it runs the absolute latest in Android. Moreover, it’s a stock build of Android which means it doesn’t have carrier-branded apps or services pre-installed.

Dubbed 6.0 Marshmallow, the newest release brings about a number of new features and native support for others. Google Now On Tap, for example, provides contextual answers and information to users without any effort. Other goodies found in Android 6.0 include support for USB Type C charging and fingerprint verification.

Perhaps one of the best features is the new way in which Android will hibernate apps and services to prolong battery life. As we all know, whether it’s fast charging or wireless, batteries could always use some help.

App permissions get smarter and more intuitive with Android 6.0, too. Customers will find that they have more control over which permissions are granted on an app; developers win with a better user experience that doesn’t ask for all of these requirements ahead of launching the app.

If history is an indicator, the Nexus will win in the long run, too. Google will be quick to deploy software updates in a timely manner with Samsung’s phones often some months behind the curve. Does this matter to everyone? No, but purists and those wanting the best for their money will care deeply about this. Also, it doesn’t help that Samsung devices can sometimes feel slower and more wonky after major software updates.

Customization

The Nexus 6P comes in four color options for 2015 (Frost, Aluminum, Graphite, Gold) while the Galaxy Note 5 gets White Pearl, Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum and Silver Titanium colors. Depending on where you buy the phone you may have less colors to choose from, particularly if you’re purchasing the latter through a carrier.

Storage capacity

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 comes with two storage options: 32GB, and 64GB.  As for the Nexus 6P, it comes with 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB capacities. Depending on your needs, and how much you rely on cloud backups and storage, this could be a moot point. But, if you’re looking for the most storage available, Huawei takes the crown here.

Camera

If you are the kind of person who looks strictly at specifications, then you have to concede this feature to Samsung and its 16-megapixel rear camera. Not simply for megapixels but also for the fact that it has optical image stabilization, too. Then again, until you see real photos and factor in your own needs, this could be a toss-up for average users. Around front, the Huawei packs an 8-megapixel camera to Samsung’s 5-megapixel lens. Again, unless you use the front-facing camera much or have more serious needs, this may not matter much.

Battery

Huawei would win here if it were strictly up to capacity; the 3450mAh battery is considerably higher than Samsung’s 3000mAh unit.  But, Samsung’s comes with wireless charging out of the box. And, as if that weren’t enough, it’s designed for quick wireless charging. Then again, if your battery lasts all day long then it might not matter how quickly it charges if you’re only doing it at bedtime.

Availability

You can pick up the Nexus 6P directly from Google and pair the unlocked phone with any major service provider. Samsung’s phone is also available direct to consumer, but US customers will fork over more money if they want an unlocked version.

Price

Perhaps one of the most important aspects in purchasing a smartphone, the overall cost often determines if a phone is “too rich for our blood”. Moreover, it’s price that helps us determine whether a certain feature is worth spending the cash or if we’re actually content with a little less.

The Nexus 6P starts at $500 for the 32GB version; the 64GB and 128GB flavors are $550 and $600, respectively. For the sake of comparison, the Galaxy Note 5 will set you back about $700 for T-Mobile 32GB version. Bump that up to 64GB and you’re looking at $780 and the phone’s still tied to the carrier. In other words, the Nexus 6P sticker is considerably cheaper and there’s carrier flexibility, too.

Other important aspects

The Nexus 6P comes with a fingerprint reader on the rear, which is used for security and authentication. Depending on what you plan to do with your smartphone, this could be a make-or-break factor. Samsung’s fingerprint sensor is on the home button on the front.

Worth noting, the Nexus 6P comes with a USB Type C charger. Why is that important? Well, we venture to guess you’ll need to get some new cords and chargers for the house and car if you plan to juice up throughout the day. This means some added cost to the bottom line. The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 still uses the micro USB port for charging and works with every single one of those cables we’ve collected over the years.

Samsung has included its own added security features, KNOX, to its phones, but Google has started integrating that into Android at a platform level. While this was a bigger Samsung selling point in the past, it’s one of those things that simply comes with Android today.

One of the biggest differences in the two phones is that Samsung’s comes with a stylus. For those of us who like to jot down notes, mark up images and documents, or simply draw pictures, the Samsung wins big. The technology behind this is smarter this year and gets better over time.

Another key area to consider is the recently launched Samsung Pay service. If you get used to using it for your quick and painless credit/debit card purchases then you’ll want to stay within the Samsung ecosystem. But, given we are in the very early days of its competitor, Android Pay, there’s no reason to try either one out.

Summary

We love that the Nexus line is stock Android and is supported with updates for at least a few years. Samsung has gotten better at rolling out major updates but it’s sometimes a pain in the butt when they do arrive. We’ve had plenty of reports of people complaining of slowness after getting a new version of Android.

The Nexus line is one of our favorites in all of smartphones and we’re super pleased to Huawei partnering with Google for 2015. It might be the first time you’re really hearing of Huawei’s name, but you’re not going to end up with some generic experience. These guys are very good at what they do.

Samsung is still one of the first names in smartphones and you can’t really go wrong with a flagship device. We appreciate that it has been producing better looking (and feeling) models over the last few generations and think they’re sexy as hell.

Which phone is right for you? You’ll have to weigh what’s important to you and decide if it’s worth the extra money to go with the Samsung over the Huawei. If you’re paying for your handset outright, we have to give the nod to the Nexus 6P. But, financing makes it easier to stomach, especially with upgrade options offered by carriers.

Note: Portions of this post’s content is also used in other head-to-head comparisons.
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