The Galaxy Note 3 is a phablet: a 6in device with the relatively large physical frame to match. But contrast the iPhone 5S is a svelte and sleek smartphone, offering performance and style in a small and slim package. They are oranges and apples, really - two very different smartphones that share a similar price point and release date. Here we compare the specs and our first impressions of the iPhone 5S and the Galaxy Note 3. (ee also: iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C comparison review: what's the difference between iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C?)
iPhone 5S vs Galaxy Note 3: design, build, display
As is traditional for an 'S' model, the iPhone 5S size, shape, design and weight as the iPhone 5 – although it's now available in silver, gold and space grey. This means it's smaller, thinner and lighter than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 - but you would expect that. The Note 3 is a large screen phablet, after all. Look at it this way: the iPhone 5S is the phone if you want to be able to do everything with one hand. The Note 3 requires two hands, but offers much greater screen real estate. (See also: The best phones you can buy in 2013 and Xperia Z1 vs Galaxy Note 3 comparison review.)
At first glance you might prefer the aluminium build quality quality of the iPhone over the Galaxy Note 3, but looks can be deceiving. Having owned and used an iPhone 5 for a year or so I know that aluminium chips easily, and you need a case to protect your precious iPhone. The Note 3 is less sexy in terms of build, but it is a robust workhorse that doesn't require such cossetting. So for beauty, choose the iPhone: but be prepared to buy a case. If plastic and utilitarian is okay for you, go for the Note 3.
Let's take a detailed look at the design and build of both the Note 3 and the iPhone 5S. (See also: iPhone 5S release date in UK, specs and features: What’s new in the iPhone 5S?)
The first thing that catches your attention with the Note 3 is a stylish leather back cover. This makes holding and gripping the sizable device an easier task than it was with the Note 2. The back is completely removable offers access to the phone's removable battery (a Li-Ion 3200 mAh cell). This is a definite plus for the Note 3 over the iPhone 5S: you can change the Samsung's battery if it degrades, with the iPhone 5S you can only change the phone (or send it to be repaired). See: What's the best phone you can buy in 2013?
The Note 3 remains a big beast in the phone world, however, measuring 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm. The overall shape and appearance has smartened up since the Note 2, with the Galaxy Note 3 sporting a more sophisticated and boxy silhouette in our view. The Note 3 is also a little bit lighter than its predecessor, weighing in at 168g. But this is much bigger and heavier than is the iPhone 5S.
But the Galaxy Note 3 wins back points with the reason for that extra size: the display. The Note 3 now has a 1080 x 1920 pixels, 5.7 inch display which works out at a pixel density of 386 ppi. The new Super AMOLED display on the Note 3 looks incredibly sharp and impressive for a phablet.
By contrast the thinner and lighter iPhone 5S must make do with 'only' a 4in display with a resolution running at 640 x 1136 resolution. That's a pixel density of 326 ppi on a phone that measures 59 x 124 x 7.6mm and weighs a staggeringly light 112g.
Let's be honest, both these devices are well built, well designed and have great displays. The choice is between a bigger and arguably better screen, and a smaller device that is easy to operate with one hand.
iPhone 5S vs Galaxy Note 3: Processor, storage and performance
We can't definitively pronounce on this until we have spent more time with both handsets, but for now we'll focus on the specifications.
Apple is touting the A7 processor as a major upgrade for the iPhone 5S. We've never found the iPhone to have any major performance issues but Apple says the iPhone 5S is twice as fast as the previous model in both CPU and graphics performance. It's the first smartphone with a 64-bit chip inside which at the moment is more a marketing tool than anything else. It does offer a small amount of future proofing.
The iPhone 5S also has an M7 motion co-processor which handles specific tasks to make iPhone 5S even more power efficient. It comes in storage options of 16GB, 32GB and 64GB.
The new Galaxy Note now has a staggering 3GB of internal RAM. Internal storage also now starts at 32GB and tops at 64GB, it has retained its microSD card slot too - a definite advantage over the iPhone. There is also a new Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400 processor under the hood. The end product is a very snappy phablet that is responsive to the touch and quick to open/close apps.
You will be impressed with the performance of both these handsets, we'd wager.
iPhone 5S vs Galaxy Note 3: Cameras
Although the iPhone 5S has the same 8 Mp iSight camera, as previously, it's still been upgraded. A larger active area on the sensor, larger pixels (1.5 microns) and a larger aperture (f/2.2) should lead to better photos. It also has new shooting modes such as slow motion, filters and a burst mode. Plus there's a new dual True Tone flash.
The Galaxy Note 3's rear-facing camera has been upgraded to 13 Mp from 8 Mp, the front-facing has a hefty extra 0.1 Mp now too, making it a solid 2 Mp in total.
Again, both these devices have good smartphone cameras. Neither has great lens glass, however, due to the constraints of smartphone chassis design. So expect high-quality compact camera performance, but nothing like a superzoom camera. We'll have a definitive verdict when we have tested both cameras side-to-side.
iPhone 5S vs Galaxy Note 3: Software
Software is an area where there a huge difference. Android vs iOS is a big debate and with iOS 7 comes a major overaul of Apple's mobile operating system.
On the plus side, iOS 7 now comes with a much needed quick settings feature called Control Center. There are also other tweaks and improvements such as better multi-tasking and lock screen access to the notification centre.
Apple has the strong App Store store on its side but iOS has a distinct lack of customisability which is Android's major strong point. See also: iOS 7 release date, new features, which iPhones, iPods, iPads get it.
iPhone 5S vs Galaxy Note 3: other thoughts and features
We'll mention Touch ID here as it's a major and key feature of the iPhone 5S which the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 doesn't have. Built into the iPhone 5S' home button is a fingerprint scanner which can be used to unlock the iPhone instead of a passcode. It can also be used to authenticate your Apple ID.
On the other hand the Note 3 comes with Samsung's S-Pen (you will call it a stylus, Samsung doesn't). This combined with the extra screen estate allows you to use the Note 3 more like a tablet than a phone.
On the other hand, reviewer David Court had this to say about his first impressions of the Note 3: "The design and internal hardware of the Note 3 are first class, but from my very limited time with the device I just didn't feel that the new features were that impressive or intuitive to use.
"There's no doubting that the Note 3 is a good upgrade and will be hugely useful to business types all over the world, but in my opinion it seems to lack a little polish when it comes to certain pieces of software design."
iPhone 5S vs Galaxy Note 3: Battery life
If you're hoping for a breakthrough in battery life then neither the iPhone 5S nor the Note 3 is it. We'll have more to say when we've spent more time with both devices, but suffice it to say that we are still in the territory of one day's moderate use and then overnight charging.
iPhone 5S vs Galaxy Note 3: verdict
Two very different devices. Both the Note 3 and the iPhone 5S offer great performance in well-designed and built cases. But the Note 3 is much bigger, with a concurrently bigger display. The smaller, better looking iPhone 5S is lighter and allows for one-handed operation. But the Note 3 is more robust. And that's before we get into Android vs iOS - a debate with no end in sight. It's likely that you much prefer one of these devices over the other - but we'll leave that choice to you, now you have the salient facts from our review.