When the first Samsung Note was released, a new market of smartphone was created: the “phablet,” or something between a smartphone and a tablet. These devices are very large; sometimes so large they cannot be easily used with one hand. However, they aren’t quite as large as a tablet, and can be carried around in your pocket…if your pocket is big enough.
Samsung has released the Galaxy Note 3, and it touts a host of new features. Are these new features worth the price of the device, though, or would it be better to wait for the Galaxy Note 4 to come out?
Nuts & Bolts
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 boasts the most powerful processor in the market, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.3GHz with 3 GB of RAM.
The operating system is Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, but reports state that the device will get an upgrade to 4.4 Kit Kat sometime early in 2014, possibly as early as January.
Powering this monster of a device is a 3200 mAh battery, which Samsung claims will provide 25 hours talk time and 22 days standby time. In our testing, the Note 3 lasted well throughout the day, getting us at least 8 hours of pretty heavy usage. If you do run out of battery juice, though, you can carry a spare battery with you because the Note 3 has a user-replaceable battery that can be quickly exchanged with a fresh battery.
This thing is big…really big. The screen is a Super AMOLED display that measures 5.7 inches and supports 1080p with 386 ppi. This screen is larger than the previous Note 2, but Samsung has managed to make the screen larger without making the device itself much larger than its predecessor. This is through the use of the increasingly popular edge-to-edge screen with a very thin bezel on the sides of the device.
We found the Galaxy Note 3 to have an excellent, beautiful display. We saw rich, deep colors and good contrast. The viewing angle capability is also wonderful, with very little problems watching the screen from an angle.
The Galaxy Note 3 has a 13MP camera with an f/2.2 aperture and LED flash. The shutter action and autofocus work quickly, helping to catch those photos in a hurry. Samsung has also packed the camera app with a wide variety of filters to use in taking pictures, including Panorama, Sport, and several others.
Image quality was quite good for a smartphone, even rivaling some point-and-shoot cameras. The ability to add external storage is very nice, since it extends our ability to shoot many photos and leave them on the device.
The front-facing camera is a 2 MP camera with pretty simple features.
The Buttons & Chassis
The capacitive buttons on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 have gotten a much-needed upgrade over the previous versions of the Note. These buttons can actually be pressed using the S Pen. You still have to depress the buttons completely, but at least you don’t have to take the pen out of your hand to do it.
When using the buttons by hand, we found the travel to be quite nice and the buttons to be very responsive.
The plastic back of the Samsung Galaxy Note is still there, but the Note 3 makes some interesting changes. Instead of a plain plastic back cover, the back cover is now textured to resemble leather, complete with faux stitching molded into the device. Up close, it looks a bit tacky, but we found that it made the phone much easier to hold and use.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 ships with 32 GB and a slot for a microSD card up to 64GB. We were very happy to see Samsung keep this slot in the device for expansion and extra storage space.
We’ve always been a fan of the S Pen, since it’s what separates the Note from other devices in the large beast of a phone category. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the old Palm Pilot devices, but every so much more functional. Samsung’s Air Command is very helpful for launching various applications. Air Command is vastly improved on the Note 3, opening up in a subtle fan rather than rearranging your entire home screen.
Handwriting recognition is excellent in the Note 3. Previous attempts at handwriting recognition have almost always been met with mixed results, but Samsung has developed a system that astonishes us with its accuracy, even with poor handwriting.
The next feature we really appreciated is Samsung’s My Magazine feature. It’s powered by Flipboard, and aggregates your news stories, social networks, and stories from other stories and presents them in a beautiful tiled display.
Some features would be nice if we felt like they were finished. Action Memo is nice, but it should be more intuitive and be able to translate notes into calendar appointments and reminders, the way Fantastical can do on the iPhone and iPad. Pen Window, another of the apps, is almost a joke—it’s faster to just find the application you want to run rather than drawing a picture of it, as Pen Window requires.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 is definitely a huge leap forward from the Note 2. The phone is much easier to hold, and less slippery, due to the leather-like texture on the back of the device. The improved camera is very nice, and shoots excellent pictures. Next, the revamped Air Command is much less obtrusive and easier to ignore, if you wish.
The much faster processor gave us performance unlike anything we’ve seen in a smartphone. As hard as we tried, we simply could not get the device to bog down and hiccup in any of our uses. The battery is strong enough to last an entire day with normal usage, and if your usage goes beyond normal you can always swap the battery out with a fresh one—something impossible with most smart devices.
Samsung has kept all of the best features of the Note 2 and improved upon them. While some of the software seems not quite finished, we enjoyed using the Note 3 and would recommend it to anybody who is a fan of the large-screen smartphone.