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Big smartphone smackdown - which ones are worth your money?

With the super-sized Galaxy Note 4 just about to hit the market, we take a look at the best 5.5 inch plus smartphones on the market right now.
September 23, 2014

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is the new big name in the supersize smartphone market segment, but there are several other worthy competitors already, or soon to be, in the market too.

We’re going to look at the best new 5.5 inch and above smartphones in the business, and decide which is the most feature packed for your money. Our contestants are: the 5.5 inch LG G3, the similarly sized Oppo Find 7, the colossal 6 inch Huawei Ascend Mate 7, and Android’s first 64-bit smartphone – the 5.5 inch Desire 820.

Let’s start with the biggest feature in this category – the display.

With all that extra screen real estate, supersize smartphones benefit the most from a higher resolution display. For that extra sharp image, 2560×1440 is quickly becoming the new standard in this tier of the market. However, in reality the difference between 1440p and last generation’s 1080p is less pronounced than the jump in pixels per inch would suggest.

Display PPI Mobile size

If you are looking for that notch up in image clarity, or fancy playing back some higher resolution content on your large smartphone display, then the Galaxy Note 4, LG G3, and Oppo Find 7 are probably your best choices. The Ascend Mate 7 fits in nicely with some of last year’s larger devices, as far as PPI goes, while the Desire 820’s 720p display will show a noticeable drop in clarity compared with these other models.

Display to Body Ratio Mobile size
Bezels are slimmer this time around too, with smartphones pushing past the 85% mark.

At the same time that display resolution has been growing, bezel sizes have been shrinking. Huawei’s Ascend Mate 7 has even managed to surpass LG G3’s impressively slim design, and takes its place as the handset with the highest display to bezel ratio. The Note 4 has also made a remarkable improvement over the Note 3 in this regard, from 75 to 84 percent in a single generation. As a result, all of these handsets are incredibly sleek in appearance.

Of course there’s more to a smartphone display than just pixel counting. The type of display technology used plays a huge part in the reproduction of colors. Huawei and LG have been touting the improved blacks available with their new LCD displays, but Samsung’s Super AMOLED display in the new Note 4 handsets are the best at accurately reproducing colors, according to detailed a Display Mate test.

While all of the manufacturers have improved their displays this time around, Samsung continues to keep its nose out in front in this category. Round 1 goes to the Note 4.

Peeking under the hood

The Galaxy Note series is also well known for its high-end internal hardware, and this year’s offering doesn’t disappoint. Here’s a breakdown of the key components:

Large phone spec table

There are two 64-bit SoC’s making a debut in our line-up; the Exynos 5433 in Asia, and the HTC Desire 820 in a slightly wider range of markets.

The two versions of the Galaxy Note 4 will both offer up suitable CPU performance for high-end Android applications, and the Exynos 5433’s Cortex-A57 high performance CPU cores give it an extra boost above the pack. But the more important development in the Snapdragon 805 and Exynos 5433 SoCs is the more powerful GPUs. The 1440p display resolution in these devices is going to put a lot more stress on the GPU when gaming.

The Snapdragon 805’s Adreno 420 offers around 40 percent higher performance than the Snapdragon 801’s Adreno 330, which makes the Galaxy Note 4 a nippier performer in certain applications than the G3, Find 7, and other Snapdragon 800 powered devices like the OnePlus One. The ARM Mali-T760 in the Exynos version offers up a marginal improvement over the Adreno 420’s performance too.

The HTC Desire 820’s 64-bit processor is the weakest of the pack, both CPU and GPU wise. The Snapdragon 615 offers eight energy efficient Cortex-A53 cores, compared with the Note 4’s 4-by-4 Cortex-A57 and A53 design. The CPU performance is still good, but the Adreno 405 GPU is the real weak link here. Fortunately, the lower 720p resolution display in the Desire 820 will make performance more acceptable, at the expense of some image quality.

Huawei’s Ascend Mate 7 is an interesting piece of kit, featuring an in-house designed Kirin 925 SoC and a whopping 4100mAh battery. It features four 1.8GHz Cortex-A15s and four low power Cortex-A7 cores in a big.LITTLE configuration, along with a Mali-T628 GPU. The GPU doesn’t quite push out the same performance as the Adreno 330, making this a slightly less powerful solution. However, the Mate 7’s lower resolution display should keep performance pretty much on par with the likes of the LG G3 while gaming.

Features Galore

While memory configurations and storage options are pretty constant across the range of devices, each smartphone has its own unique perks, which may sway your choice.

Each of the phones features a high resolution rear facing camera, but the best results are somewhat subjective. In our hands on time we found that the Galaxy Note 4 and LG G3 came out slightly on top in the widest range of scenarios.

If you’re a big selfie taker, the higher resolution front facing cameras on the Desire 820, Ascend Mate 7, or Find 7 might suite your tastes. The Find 7’s 50 megapixel camera shooting mode is an interesting option for the photographers out there, as it the LG G3’s lightening fast laser assisted autofocus and optical image stabilisation.

The Note 4’s stylus is a nice touch that isn’t included with the other options, as is the fingerprint scanner. The Mate 7 also features a fingerprint scanner, and a few other interesting features. The unique SoC allows for the use of a hybrid SD/nanoSIM tray, which can be used to turn the phone into a dual SIM device or further expand the handset’s storage. The combination of a big.LITTLE SoC and huge battery means that the Mate 7 can last two days even under heavy usage, according to Huawei.

The Verdict

On balance, the price tag of each device pretty much reflects where they stand. The Galaxy Note 4 just about edges out every other device on the hardware front, but has a rather hefty price tag to match. Flagship smartphones like the LG G3, Oppo Find 7, and even the OnePlus One, offer up a plenty of high-end features in a large screen device at a slightly more reasonable price. None of which will disapoint.

The Huawei Mate 7 doesn’t feature a full range of ultra high end components, but is a really excellent choice considering that it costs less than the other big names. The Mate 7 has the right components where it counts, and also has the largest display size of the bunch, which sets it apart from the pack of 5.5 inchers, and the huge battery is a major point in this handset’s favour.

Despite not managing to keep pace with the other flagships, the HTC Desire 820 is a great budget option for those looking for a larger device for browsing the web, watching videos, and taking snaps. I wouldn’t recommend the 64-bit SoC for heavy duty gamers, but the chip boasts solid CPU performance and will be future proofed with the upcoming 64-bit Android-L update.

If you pressed me for a decision: the Note 4 redefines the high-end again and is clearly the best you can buy, but the Ascend Mate 7 is worthy of a very honourable mention due to its tremendous value. What are your personal picks in the 5.5 inch plus market?

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