Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Android phone
A fantastic display, slim build and fast software make the Galaxy Note 3 a winner
- Excellent battery life
- Thinner & lighter than predecessor
- Great performance
- Many TouchWIZ features are gimmicks
- Gallery app is sluggish
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is best described as an evolutionary device, rather than a revolutionary one. Despite this, its fantastic display, slim build and fast software make it a fantastic option for anyone who's looking for an oversized smartphone.
Price$ 999.00 (AUD)
It's fair to say that Samsung's Galaxy Note range has created, and now defined the oversized smartphone category, otherwise known as the "phablet". Now in its third generation, the Galaxy Note 3 is best described as an evolutionary device, rather than a revolutionary one. Despite this, its fantastic display, slim build and fast software make it a fantastic option for anyone who's looking for an oversized smartphone.
Faux-leather, slimmer design
The faux-leather finish on the back is the clear highlight of the Galaxy Note 3.
Samsung's Galaxy range of smartphones and tablets are incredibly popular, but most of them have long been criticised for a slippery, plastic build. The Galaxy Note 3 appears to be the company's answer to these criticisms. While plastic is still the material of choice, the Galaxy Note 3 has two design features that immediately make it more appealing than past devices. The "serration pattern" on the sides gives it a metallic look, and provides better grip, while the soft, textured back cover is a nice upgrade from the company's usual glossy, slippery plastic.
The faux-leather finish on the back is the clear highlight of the Galaxy Note 3, even if the fake stitching around the edges won't be to everyone's taste. Our black review unit attracted plenty of fingerprints and marks, but the grippy surface means it doesn't easily slip out of your hands, especially when holding the device single-handedly. It's a clear upgrade over its predecessor, the Galaxy Note II. Despite the new finish, the back cover is still removable, so the Galaxy Note 3 once again has a replaceable battery and microSD card slot for extra storage, a real advantage over many competing devices.
This is still a very large phone, but it's slightly more comfortable to hold than its predecessor.
The Galaxy Note 3 has a slightly squarer shape than its predecessor, but there aren't too many other changes. Despite the slight increase in screen size, Samsung has actually managed to make the Galaxy Note 3 thinner (8.3mm) and lighter (168g) than the Galaxy Note II. Make no mistake, this is still a very large phone, but it's slightly more comfortable to hold than its predecessor, and that will come as welcome news to anyone who has used a device of this size.
The Galaxy Note 3 has a left mounted volume rocker, a right mounted power/lock button, and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and Infrared port on the top. Samsung's now standard physical home button sits below the screen on the front and is flanked by capacitive, touch-sensitive menu and back buttons. There's also three microphones on the Note 3 that are used for noise cancellation on voice calls: one on top, one on the bottom, and one of the right side, towards the bottom. We didn't notice a significant improvement in the quality of voice calls, but there are no issues to report for both incoming and outgoing audio during phone calls.
Another new feature worth noting is the micro-USB 3 connector on the bottom, the first of its kind we've seen on a smartphone. The port is much wider than a regular micro-USB connection and means the Galaxy Note 3 will offer much faster file transfers if you have a USB 3.0 port on your PC or Mac. The new port will also charge the device faster through a USB 3.0 port from your computer, though charging from the included AC adapter remains the same speed as always. Thankfully, the micro-USB 3 connector on the Galaxy Note 3 is backwards compatible with regular micro-USB cables, so there's no need to throw out all your old cables.
The Galaxy Note 3 has a 5.7in Super AMOLED display with a full HD resolution of 1920x1080, making it 0.2in larger than its predecessor. The screen is in line with the best on the market today, offering a bright and vivid image, excellent viewing angles and good sunlight legibility. Some colours can sometimes appear a little oversaturated, a trait of AMOLED panels, but overall, the Galaxy Note 3's screen is one of the best on the market, and certainly a highlight of this device.
A Note about the S Pen
The S Pen is now symmetrical.
The Galaxy Note 3 runs the latest Android 4.3 Jelly Bean operating system, but it's again skinned with Samsung's own TouchWIZ UI overlay. The basic interface of the Galaxy Note 3 is much the same as the Galaxy S4, with the only real differentiator being the S Pen, and the specific S Pen software enhancements that come with it. Perhaps the best feature is the fact the S Pen is now symmetrical. This means it can be stored back in the Galaxy Note 3 without having to sit the correct way up like the previous model.
The key software feature on the Galaxy Note 3 is Air Command, a circular menu that pops up every time you remove the S Pen from the phone, or when you hover the S Pen over the screen and press the command button on the pen. From this Air Command menu, you can access four new S Pen features including Action Memos, Pen Window, S Finder and Scrapbook.
Typical Samsung gimmicks that you won't end up using very often.
We found most of these typical Samsung gimmicks that you won't end up using very often, though the Action Memo feature is somewhat usable. It allows you to immediately handwrite a note and convert it into formatted content. You can also action items, such as immediately being able to call a phone number you've written from from the note. It doesn't always work perfectly every time, and there's strangely no way to add notes as a Google calendar appointment, but the software does a reasonable job of converting text and numbers.
Screen Write, which immediately takes a screenshot and opens an editing tool to draw on it with the S Pen, and Scrap Booker, which allows you to draw an area over a variety of content and save in Samsung's Scrapbook application are moderately useful, but both attempt to provide solutions to problems that don't exist.
Pen Window is the biggest gimmick, requiring users to draw a box of any size on the screen, and open another app inside the window as an overlay on the current screen. In most instances, we found it was quicker and easier just to use the regular multitasking menu, and the app inside the box often appears squashed and out of proportion.
Of more use is Samsung's S Note app, which has upgraded from the Galaxy Note II and now synchronises with popular note taking application Evernote. Samsung also pre-loads the Autodesk SketchBook for Galaxy app on the Note 3 for drawing, and it works well with the S Pen. Software aside, the S Pen is quite useful and does a very good job of handwriting recognition. Is still struggles a little with spaces and capital letters at the start of sentences, but it's certainly very useful for entering small amounts of text or numbers.
The now familiar TouchWIZ
The amount of settings and options can be overwhelming.
The interface of the Galaxy Note 3 allows users up to seven home screens for widgets and app shortcuts, there are handy toggles for commonly used features in the notifications panel, including a brightness slider, and you can hide apps in the app drawer or choose to display them in a grid or list format. It's a very familiar experience, but the amount of settings and options can be overwhelming.
The Galaxy Note 3 unfortunately carries over one of the Galaxy S4's most annoying "features" — not being able to edit the four home screen dock shortcuts. Defaultly set to phone, contacts, messaging and Internet, a Samsung representative told us that the issue is a legal one based on patents, and that the company is trying hard to resolve the limitation. If it's any consolation, Australia isn't the only country affected.
Like most of Samsung's smartphones, the Galaxy Note 3 comes with too many software features to list. Two of the most notable are multi-window and a new feature called "My Magazine". Multi-Window allows you to run two apps on the screen simultaneously, though it only works with a selected range of apps. Thankfully, the likes of Google Chrome, YouTube, S Note, Scrapbook, Facebook, Gmail and Twitter are included in this list, but many third-party apps aren't. New features include being able to save a prefered combination, and the ability to drag and drop content from one window to another. The feature is immediately made more useful due to the large size of the Galaxy Note 3's screen.
"My Magazine" is basically a Flipboard-style news and content aggregator. It's accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the home screen, or by pressing the home button when on the home screen. You can swipe left and right for news, personal and social categories. The personal section includes your calendar entries and latest photos you've taken with the camera. The interface is attractive, and the fact that you have to swipe to open it immediately makes it more appealing than HTC's BlinkFeed app seen on the HTC One.
One of the fastest and most responsive Android phones we've ever used.
Despite the overwhelming amount of features Samsung has crammed into the Galaxy Note 3, performance does not suffer. The device is one of the fastest and most responsive Android phones we've ever used. The 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and 3GB of RAM certainly do well to keep things moving quickly, and the Galaxy Note 3 handles even the most graphically intense games like Shadowgun, FIFA 14, and Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour with ease.
General use, like swiping through home screens, opening apps, and using the camera, is also fast and efficient, though Samsung's Gallery app often lags and can't quite match the excellent performance elsewhere. It's a problem we've encountered on other Galaxy devices in the past, and clearly an issue that Samsung has not managed to correct.
Good camera, excellent battery life
The Galaxy Note 3 has a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, the same one used on the Galaxy S4. In our experience, it's one of the best cameras on any Android phone we've ever reviewed, though the iPhone 5s is a little easier to use as a point-and-shoot device and it can't compete with the sheer amount of options and quality of the outstanding Nokia Lumia 1020.
Excellent photos with outstanding levels of detail.
Naturally, the camera app is packed with new software features that can be overwhelming at first, but when used on the standard "auto mode" it produces excellent photos with outstanding levels of detail and good colour. The weakest aspect of the Galaxy Note 3's camera is its performance in low light. In these situations, the iPhone 5s, the HTC One, and the Lumia 1020 take better quality photographs with far less image noise.
The Galaxy Note 3 has 13 camera modes in total, but unlike many of the phone's other features, most of them actually add to the experience. Modes include HDR, panorama and an eraser mode that allows you to remove objects from five consecutive pictures. There's also a drama shot mode, which takes 100 shots in four seconds, and animated photo, which allows you to pick one part of the photo to move while the others stay still, somewhat like an animated GIF. A sound and shot mode also captures an image with up to nine seconds of sound.
Somewhat strange is the new golf mode, which captures images of your golf swing and allows you to play it back repeatedly in order to improve your shot. The Galaxy Note 3's camera can also record 4K video, as well as 1080p video at 60fps. 4K video is captured at a resolution of 3840x2160, with a 16:9 aspect ratio, though the lack of 4K devices to play this back on makes it a future proof feature more than anything else.
The sheer size of the Galaxy Note 3 allows Samsung to include a large 3200mAh battery and it doesn't disappoint. The device will easily power most users through a full day of use without needing a charge. If you're a moderate or light user, we suspect you should be able to get push close to two days of use out of the device before charging. Despite the Note 3's large screen, we found that it only accounted for around 20-30 per cent of battery life per charge.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is available now in Jet Black and Classic White colour variants and is sold in Australia through Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile.
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