Samsung has done a lot to bring the idea of phablet devices to the smartphone mainstream, with the Note series pushing display sizes way beyond the 5-inch mark. The Korean firm is furthering this range with its latest device, the Galaxy Note 3, a stylish and powerful handset that takes what has been seen before even further. The large smartphone can also be paired up with the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which we’ve taken a look at elsewhere.
- 2.3GHz quad-core processor
- 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display
- 16GB, 32GB or 64GB internal storage
- 13MP camera
- Android 4.3
- 8.3mm thick
- 168g weight
- 3200mAh battery
Design and Build
Samsung has made a big break with the design trends of its recent handsets and replaced the thin plastic backing seen on many Galaxy devices with a leather-effect plate. This may not make the handset look any more premium but it does make it more tactile and easier to grip than earlier devices.
Impressively, despite a boost in display size, the Galaxy Note 3 is no bigger than its predecessor, and in fact comes in at only 8.3mm thick, slightly less than the Note 2. While this difference is tiny, it’s impressive that Samsung has squeezed the bigger display into a smaller package, especially when a phablet device could threaten to be uncomfortably large.
Tucked away in one lower corner of the handset is the S Pen stylus, a revamp of what has been seen on earlier Note devices. The stylus is a little easier to grip this time around, and tucks away snugly in its resting place when not in use. There is still something a little uncomfortable about tapping the plastic pen onto a sheer glass display, but Samsung has done an impressive job of creating the feeling that you are actually pressing something when poking the Note 3 with the S Pen.
On to that display, and the Korean manufacturer has excelled itself with the 5.7-inch Super AMOLED offering that is a sight to behold. Colours are very bold and bright, although possibly a little over saturated, but when images are shown on the device they are incredibly vibrant and detailed.
The overall effect makes the user interface look fantastic, and this alone combined with the size of the Note 3’s screen makes it amongst the best displays around at the moment.
Under the Hood
What the Note 3 has in size, it matches in power, with Samsung having made use of a lightning fast 2.3GHz quad-core processor for the UK version of the device. In everyday use, this means that speeds aren’t something that anyone with a Note 3 have to worry about, with the device being able to handle pretty much anything that’s thrown at it.
Even the most high-spec games that use advanced, 3D graphics work smoothly on the handset, meaning that there are very few hold ups in its performance. Overall, Samsung has surpassed most of its competitors when it comes to processing power and the Galaxy Note 3 leaves pretty much every other handset in its wake.
Similarly, the firm has included a 3200mAh battery with the device, which would normally ensure a long life from one charge. However, since most of the handset’s power usage comes from its display, the Note 3′s battery life is very average.
We certainly didn’t notice any real problems when using the handset, although it does take some time to charge. Moderate use should see it last around a day – don’t let that big battery spec fool you into thinking otherwise.
Operating System and User Interface
The Note 3 sees the advent of Android 4.3, an upgrade on the Jelly Bean platform that has been commonplace on high-end handsets for some time now. On top of this is Samsung’s distinctive user interface, boasting some excellent features that are tailored specifically towards the Note 3 and its S Pen functionality.
Everything is laid out in typically excellent style, with the UI looking both colourful and airy at the same time. The settings menu groups the multitude of options together into sections so it’s even easier to find what you’re looking for. Plus the notifications bar is incredibly detailed, full of options and controls that offer different ways of interacting with the handset.
The most distinctive features are those that work with the S Pen though, and there are many of them. Housed within the Air Command menu, which can be summoned by hovering the pen over the display, features such as Quick Memo and Screen Writer allow you to scrawl words across the display. Impressively, Action Memo can recognise text and numbers, making calls and doing web searches with the information you’ve entered, should you wish.
Further functions include Scrap Booker, which prompts you to highlight a section of the display before capturing a screen shot of it. Pen Window lets you to open certain apps within a small window on the screen, which is useful for bringing up the calculator or doing a quick online search if you’re in the middle of something else. Finally, there’s a general search option that helps you to hunt through documents and notes stored on the device.
Samsung has included the Multi Window feature seen on the Note 2, allowing you to show two apps onscreen at the same time. Couple this with Pen Window and you can have up to three apps displayed on the device at any one time, making for a real feeling of multi-tasking that is like using a desktop computer.
Not to be outdone by HTC with its BlinkFeed homescreen feature, Samsung has included its own news feed and social network update machine and called it My Magazine. Working very much like Flipboard, the service pulls through information from news providers and the likes of Facebook and Twitter and presents it in a grid-like format.
My Magazine can be activated by swiping a finger up from the bottom of the display, much like Google Now on many Android devices. The service can also read content stored on the device, such as notes and photos, but we did find that all of its content is displayed a little randomly. My Magazine may not be an ideal way to search for a specific thing, but it’s great for general browsing.
Camera and Video
Many of the camera features seen on the Galaxy S4 have made the jump to the Note 3, including the range of shooting modes that make taking pictures easy. These include presets for action and close-up shots amongst a wide variety of others, all housed in a wheel-like interface that is very easy to use.
At 13 megapixels, the camera is capable of producing excellent images that are up there with the best being produced by smartphones at the moment. Trying to take shots with a handset this large can be a little tricky, especially when holding it in landscape, and this is a shame considering the quality of the camera here. Nevertheless, images look all the better when shown on the ample display.
Performance and Verdict
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 is an evolution of what has been seen from the Note range before, taking the phablet and S Pen idea and simply improving the specs and features. There aren’t any great surprises here, but this handset is a respectable upgrade of the Note 2.
However, that’s not to diminish its capabilities and the Galaxy Note 3 is amongst the most powerful, high-spec and high-performance handsets available today. While the form factor and multi-tasking focus may not suit everyone we can imagine business users loving this device, with there being plenty of other impressive elements to meet the needs of many other mobile users.