Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Review: The Ultimate Phablet
The new offering from the Samsung Galaxy Note just got better with advanced S Pen functionality, a larger display, latest Android 4.3, a lighter chassis, and upgraded specs.
Android 4.3 Jelly Bean OS
2.3 GHz Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor
microSD expansion capability
5.7 inch Super AMOLED 1920 x 1080 pixels HD
13 MP rear cam with optical image stabilization (OIS), 2 MP front facing cam
3,200 mAh (removable)
Proximity, barometer, temperature & humidity, accelerometer, gyroscope
151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm, 168 grams
Dual Band 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS
microUSB 3.0, 3.5mm headphone jack
S-Pen, IR blaster, 4K video recording
Power & Performance
One of the many highlights of the Galaxy Note 3 is the cutting-edge processor Samsung has installed in the device. With the 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 at its core, the apps fly by.
However, there were rare incidents of the device pausing and stuttering while running some specific apps, like the Gallery App. Together with 3 GB of RAM, throw any graphic intensive games with multitasking at it and the Note 3 handles them with considerable ease.
There is ample storage with 32 GB (or 64 GB) available on the device to store all your games and apps. If that’s not enough, you can increase total memory up to 128 GB using microSD.
Transferring and charging is much faster with USB 3.0. The 3,200 mAh battery retains power up to two days for normal usage while, for multitasking power users, the device can run smoothly for an entire day. Besides, the battery can be replaced (a rare option outside of Samsung smartphones nowadays) instead of waiting for it to get recharged.
With regards to power and speed, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 looks like it blows away the competition—according to the standard benchmark scores. But a report by Ars Technica took a deeper look and found Samsung fiddling with the popular benchmark apps, Geekbench, Vellamo, Antutu, Quadrant, and 3Dmark. So it may not actually be that much better than the LG G2 (which uses the same processor) or the HTC One.
There were similar “issues” with the benchmarks for the Galaxy S4 international edition, but this is the first time this is happening in a U.S. edition, according to the report. What Samsung does is run a “Benchmark Booster” function while the phone is being tested. This causes all the four cores to wake up and run simultaneously resulting in higher performances and this only happens while running the benchmark apps, which shows that Samsung is intentionally trying to rig the scores.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 certainly feels big in your hand. Though the phablet (smartphones larger than 5 inches) is arguably thin and Samsung has offered a settings menu for functioning with just one hand, practical usage with a single hand is nearly impossible.
The construction has a plastic feel, same as with the previous versions. However, there is a fake stitching running around the edges. It’s classy, but still not premium. The body is solid, though, and lightweight.
The back panel has a nice feel to it with a better grip. Slightly larger than the Note 2 by 0.2 inches, the display is awesome with vibrant colors jumping right out of the device. It’s perfect for gaming and videos.
The center button’s still there and the volume can be adjusted from the left side. Samsung’s power button is to the right, while on the top rests the audio jack, microphone (one of three, the other two are on the bottom), and IR port.
To the bottom of the device lies the USB 3.0 port (it comes with a USB 3.0 cable) with the mono speaker. The microUSB port is backward compatible, as USB 2.0 still fits in the slot but doesn’t make use of all the pins. Toward the bottom right edge is the S Pen silo slot; the pen can go in both ways. There is the 13 MP camera with an LED flash on the back and the front-facing 2 MP cam is on the top right corner. The cam can capture slow motion video at a rate of 120 frames per second.
The real improvements, though, are beneath the shiny cover. Starting with the Snapdragon 800 processor, 3 GB RAM, and 3,200 mAh battery, Samsung’s covered pretty much all bases with this heavyweight.
The home button can be frustrating sometimes. S-Voice feature is opened on default when you press the button twice. So, when you need to go to home, the phone waits for half a beat before making sure you don’t press the button twice. Hitting the button frantically hoping for faster responses worsens the situation as different apps and features randomly open up. But there is recourse in the option of removing S-Voice from this home button integration.
TouchWiz & S-Pen
The Note 3 runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and like many manufacturers, Samsung has customized the platform, naming it as TouchWiz, for a “Samsunged” experience with a modified settings menu, custom keyboard, and home screen. Access to Google Play Store and Google Now are not affected by TouchWiz.
TouchWiz provides a host of features like “Air Gesture” where you wave your hand to turn pages in particular apps, and “Smart Screen,” which tracks your eyes and pauses applications when you look away. Some users find the options frustrating, while there are others who absolutely love them. It takes time to get used to them. Users are mainly complaining about the overly cluttered TouchWiz settings menu and the sound effects, which can be turned off.
TouchWiz is practically the same as found on Galaxy S4 with a few additions to support S-Pen. The Multi Window feature is very useful, considering the screen real estate, and it offers a significantly better experience than other manufacturers.
The S-Pen’s major upgrade is the improvement in handwriting recognition. And, if you’re a Pen-artist, you can put up your doodles on the social network, Pen.UP, while Autodesk’s Sketchbook app explores the different pressure sensitivities of the S-Pen.
Whenever the S-Pen is engaged, a new fan of options called the Air Command pops up. This is a relief from the previous versions where the home screen would get rearranged every time you pull the Pen out. Air Command has five actions, namely Action Memo, Scrap Booker, Screen Write, S Finder, and Pen Window. You can either select any or ignore the pop-up.
Urgent notes and contact info can be stored via the Action Memo feature. Pen Window is different: you get to draw a rectangle of any size and select an app (from a list) to open in that space. Its usefulness is debatable.
Scrapbooker can be used to capture images by drawing an outline with the S-Pen. The borders will be sorted out automatically and the resultant image looks great. Scrapbook also captures data of the image like URL, location, caption, and number of likes
Screen Write lets you scribble notes on web pages and maps easily. Finally, S Finder searches content on the device including scribbled notes using optical character recognition.
- Big and awesome display with 5.7 inches & 1080p
- Super fast performance with 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor & 3 GB RAM
- A removable battery and microSD slot
- Nice camera with 13 MP, 4K video recording
- IR port: Can be used as a remote control
- Excellent call quality with minimum background distortion
- S-Pen upgrades
- Works with Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch
- TouchWiz: Cluttered, confusing, & outdated
- Occasional pausing even without engaging memory-intensive apps
- Exchange client connectivity
- Rigging benchmark tests question company integrity
The Note 3 will set you back by $299.99 on a two-year contract with Verizon. They will be available from Oct. 10 with Verizon, from Oct. 4 on AT&T and Sprint. It’s already available with T-Mobile for $199.99, but you’ll have to pay 24 monthly installments of $21.
If you like the earlier models, you will absolutely love the new Galaxy Note 3. It has everything and it’s just better. The success of the big screen and S-Pen shows the huge popularity of these features and there’s no other manufacturer who has quite caught up with Samsung on these fronts yet.