Samsung recently unveiled the latest iteration of its phablet range, the Galaxy Note 3, along with the firm’s first smartwatch, titled the Galaxy Gear. We’ve been treated to a short amount of time with each of the devices to take a look at their features and get a feel for how they work.
Galaxy Note 3
Despite having a 5.7-inch display, larger than that on the Note 2, the Galaxy Note 3 is very slightly smaller overall, having a slimmer form factor too. The device offers an impressive amount of screen space which makes it excellent for more intensive tasks, great for when doing work on the handset.
The S Pen stylus has had a revamp since it was last seen and now controls some excellent features within the Note 3’s user interface. Many of these can be accessed from a menu that appears when you hover the pen over the screen, much like when activating Air View on earlier Samsung devices and named Air Command.
One feature allows you to draw a rectangle on the display and open one of eight apps within it. We did notice that this secondary window appears the same size whatever it is that you sketch out on the screen, but the function is impressive nonetheless. As an example, if you’re looking at a web page and need to quickly do a sum, you can just hover the S Pen over the screen and bring up the calculator rather than having to skip out of your browser and go back to the apps menu.
The S Pen functions also allows you to take quick notes, clip web pages and write across the display and while hovering the pen over the screen is not always as easy as we’d like it to be, the functions are well thought out and useful.
The multi-tasking ethos is taken even further by the multi-window feature of the Note 3, expanded upon since it made its debut earlier in the range. While two apps are both open on the screen at the same time, one of the windows can be expanded to show all the apps that are currently open, so they can be switched between. As with the S Pen functions this allows you to quickly switch to another app without skipping back to the menu.
The small, sketched window that we mentioned earlier can also be opened over the multi-window layout, meaning you can potentially have three apps open on the screen at once. To us, this felt like having a number of programs open on a desktop computer and the Note 3 promises a lot when it comes to the way in which the handset handles a heavy workload.
Along with a few alterations to the Galaxy UI that differ slightly to that seen on the Galaxy S4, such as a minor redesign of the settings menu, the device runs the later Android 4.3. One further big addition that hasn’t been seen on a Samsung handset is My Magazine, a personalised layout of news articles and social network updates.
Activated by a swipe up from the bottom of the display, My Magazine is very much like BlinkFeed on HTC’s recent handsets or third party apps like Flipboard. The service’s design and layout is clear and crisp, with images and text being shown against a clear white background.
News sources and social networks can be filtered and switched between easily, creating a lively and informative feature. We didn’t find it quite as impressive as BlinkFeed, but the fact that it is far less intrusive than HTC’s always-on feature could be an advantage.
On to Samsung’s other recent creation, the Galaxy Gear, a smartwatch that syncs with the Note 3 to add an extra level of convenience to smartphone users. The watch looks reasonably stylish, although we can’t help thinking that while the strap and casing have a certain cool look to them, it is the 1.63-inch AMOLED touchscreen, the most important part of the device’s functionality, that detracts from its overall appearance. Having a comparatively large, illuminated screen on a watch will take some time to get used to.
Controlled by swiping gestures, sets of functions can be activated by moving your finger inwards from different edges of the device. We found these gesture controls to be a little unresponsive and difficult to get the hang of, although spending more time with the device might see us getting used to them.
Trimmed-down and minimal
The UI looks very different to that of the Note 3, offering simplified, minimalist icons that work very well on the small screen. One real success of the Galaxy Gear is that everything on the display is easy to read and understand.
Mounted on the side of the device is a 1.9 megapixel camera that can be operated with a simple tap on the screen. We can’t help but think that there are few situations where this would be more convenient than pulling out the Note 3 and using its 13 megapixel camera, other than those were you had to be discreet. Instantly, this raise privacy issues for others, so it remains to be seen what the public response to this will be like.
We’ll be taking a closer look at both the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear at a later date, but for now we are impressed with Samsung’s phablet and intrigued by its smartwatch. We imagine that privacy concerns will be raised by the presence of the Galaxy Gear’s camera, but the Note 3 excels in several areas and multi-tasking really is at its very core. Testing the two together at greater length will bring a better idea of how they work, but Samsung has certainly not disappointed overall.