Two manufacturers pulled out all the stops last year to release a device which represented absolutely everything about their respective brands.
BlackBerry released a productivity beast with an innovative keyboard. Samsung released a phablet that easily beats any it has released in the past. But which is the best for you? Let’s find out in this dogfight.
On the surface, and in the most obvious ways, these two smartphones are miles apart in terms of looks. But when you look closer, they’re surprisingly similar. Both have metal chassis supporting the rest of the phone, giving them a sturdy and durable build. They’re both glass on the front, and plastic on the back. But there are some differences, clearly.
Neither phone is small, that’s a given. At 90.3mm wide, the Passport is 11.4mm wider than the Note 4, but is 25.5mm shorter and less than 1mm thicker. It also happens to be 20 grams heavier. And there are both benefits and disadvantages to its size and weight. First off, the BlackBerry feels incredibly sturdy and well-made. More so than the Note 4. And while neither device is a one-handed phone - thanks to their size - the Passport feels better being held in two hands thanks to the slightly grippy finish and curved edges on the back. The bendy, thin and flimsy plastic back on the Note 4 really does nothing to encourage faith in its solidity. But, once clicked in place, you almost forget about it.
Samsung should be praised for the way it’s somehow made a device with a huge screen feel smaller than it looks. It’s a slim and well-shaped device with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 on the front, vs. BlackBerry’s Gorilla Glass 3.
That said, I have to give the design round to BlackBerry on this one. And while I prefer the classic black and metal accents on the Passport, and detest the pin-stripe finish on the Note 4, and rippled plastic on the back, those had nothing to do with my decision on this round. It’s all about fit and finish and durability. Everything about the BlackBerry feels sturdier. Even the buttons feel more solid when you press them.
The two displays couldn’t be more different. On the one-hand we have a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED screen boasting a resolution of 1440x2560 pixels. The BlackBerry: 1440x1440 pixels on a 4.5-inch square LCD panel. And neither is a poor display, quality wise. But at 515ppi, the Note 4 has 62 more pixels per inch than the BlackBerry. It’s also noticeably more vivid and its contrast levels are fantastic. Blacks look incredibly dark, and colors are full of life.
That said, the LCD panel on BlackBerry’s flagship is impressively accurate. Colors are natural, whites don’t change color depending on viewing on angles. At least, not enough to make for a poor experience.
It’s only the shape that lets down the BlackBerry. It’s not good for anything except reading-based tasks like browsing, email and messaging. For apps or watching videos, it’s really frustrating to use.
For that reason, this round goes to the Galaxy Note 4. It’s much better for media consumption, and also makes for great productivity thanks to being able to have more than one window on screen at the same time.
Performance and Battery Life
Here’s a round that might surprise you. Since it’s loaded with Qualcomm’s impressive Snapdragon 805 series chip, you’d assume that the Note would wipe the floor with the BlackBerry in daily use. But it doesn’t. There’s noticeable delay sometimes when launching the multitasking screen or opening up the app drawer. With a processor this powerful, you expect instant, super-fast load times. And - while generally you get those - it’s not consistent. It’s almost an old cliché now, but there’s still evidence to support the theory that TouchWiz isn’t entirely efficient. I’d love to see this thing fly on stock Android 5.0 Lollipop.
As for the BlackBerry, native apps, user interface interactions are all fluid and fast. Whether you’re swiping to get to the hub, or go back to the home screen, it’s instant and fast. It’s rather fantastic. The only time it struggles is when you try loading an Android app that’s not quite optimized for BlackBerry. And the reason for this speediness? Snapdragon’s 801 series quad-core chip and 3GB RAM, which - on BlackBerry OS 10 - makes the device fly.
What’s more, it connects to networks - both cellular and Wi-Fi - with more consistency. As has almost always been the case with BlackBerry devices.
And it’s a similar story in battery life, but the difference isn’t as noticeable. I can get two days of use from both phones with light to moderate use. So you’re not going to struggle on that front if you buy either device. But the BlackBerry seems - once more - to get me consistently longer out of every charge. And it’s no surprise. It has a lower resolution, smaller screen and a 3,450mAh battery vs. Samsung’s 3,220mAh cell. So this round goes to the BlackBerry.
Simply put: No contest. And it’s not just the on-paper specs that have the Note 4 as the better camera of the two. Real-life performance is also better. Images are better, especially in low light. What’s more, taking pictures on the Blackberry can be a struggle thanks to the square display. Colors, sharpness and - of course - video quality is superior on the Note 4. Saying that, BlackBerry lovers will be pleased to see that this is easily the best camera the company has ever put on its phones. It just so happens that the Note 4 has one of the best cameras on the market.
S-Pen vs. Keyboard
Both phones have innovative and useful input methods. BlackBerry’s keyboard is easy to type on and offers a reassuring click. But also hides its magical touch sensitivity which enables you to scroll through lists and documents without touching the screen. The Note 4 has an S-Pen which can also be used for writing, taking screen shots, drawing, and - with Air Command, perform a number of handy tasks on the fly. Which one of those two is better? I can’t say. I love handwriting as much as I love typing on a physical keyboard. So I’ll leave that one for you to decide.
There’s no denying that - as an overall package - the Note 4 is going to be the best phone for most consumers. It’s powerful, capable of multi-window multitasking and has an incredible camera. It’s also going to be better for media consumption and gaming. So, in that regard, the Note 4 is the winner. But for those who want a pure productivity beast that’s reliable, fast and don’t care for too many bells and whistles, the Passport is an awesome choice.