The Galaxy Note 3 is the first Samsung device that I had the opportunity to use for an extended period. I have been an HTC user till now, and though I love my HTC One, it was an absolute pleasure to be able to use this big, high-end device from Samsung.
If you are in the market looking for your next smartphone, despite the new range of devices that are coming up, the Note 3 is a solid contender in its own category. There are several factors to make it stand out from other devices. We dive in deep and see how the device scores when it comes to the look and feel, software interface, performance, network as well as ease of battery.
Three Weeks With The Galaxy Note 3
Look and Feel
One look at the Note 3 and the major differentiating factor that you would notice is the device’s back cover. It has a leathery look and gives the impression of stitchings along the edges of the back cover. This is a very cleverly hidden plastic back, of the same quality as that of S3 and S4. That can be read as – not good. I do not like the quality of the back cover. It’s thin and gives a flimsy feeling.
Nevertheless, the faux leather look of the back cover is ingenious. It gives an immediate feel of quality compared to the earlier phones. I understand why people liked it, so much so that Samsung even launched the Galaxy S4 Black edition with a similar back plate. Kudos to Samsung for coming up with this idea.
Coming to the front, you have a huge 5.7-inch screen with a protruding home button below it. On either side of these buttons, not visible unless lit, are the back and menu buttons. These are capacitive touch buttons that light up on your touch. As a major improvement, these buttons now work with the S-Pen.
Above the screen, there is he speaker grille, with an air-gesture sensor beside it and a 2 MP front camera on the right. The bezel is made of a somewhat shiny plastic that is smooth to touch and has a faint grid design on it.
The bezel on the sides is quite slim, just an about 3 mm. The rim along the sides of the device protrudes ever so slightly, about half a mm, above the front surface. This is similar to how the speaker grille and the home button protrudes out of the front surface.
The rim on the sides has a metallic look and sports a grooved line design that runs along its length. As is the regular norm, there is the power button along the right side of the device, and a volume rocker on the left.
The top edge has the headphone socket, while you have a microphone, a speaker grille, the S-Pen and the Micro USB 2.0 & 3.0 ports at the bottom.
Overall, the device feels good in the hand. A lot of people may not be comfortable with a phone of this size. It is difficult to use it with one hand, often needing you to use both. The textured back gives a much better feel than its predecessors. Use of metal would have definitely upped the quality aspect though.
S-Pen is the one thing that really distinguishes the Note 3 from other large size smartphones. The x-factor here is the ecosystem of apps that Samsung has developed to leverage the S-Pen to a maximum.
Given the popularity of the devices from the Note series, several developers now support the S-Pen, and Samsung does a good job of giving them focused exposure in the Samsung Apps.
Even as you remove the S-Pen from the device body, on the notification bar there is an indicator to sort of show that the S-Pen is in use. Operation the S-Pen is a pleasure as your motions and gestures are smoothly recognized and the requisite actions performed.
You can trigger the Air-command window as shown in the image below by pressing the button on the S-pen. The Air-command allows you to quickly toggle some of the S-Pen specific apps or go to S Finder to search for anything that you are looking for.
The accuracy of handwriting recognition was quite impressive. As a rule of thumb, anything that I could read myself was accurately recognized. The ability to do almost anything that you can do by touch with the S-Pen, including using the capacitive Back and Menu buttons make the S-Pen a highly integrated accessory for the device. It is a huge plus for the uniqueness factor of the Note 3.
The Note 3 screen is made of the Gorilla Glass 3 and boasts of a 5.7 inch Full HD Super AMOLED display. It is a 1080p display that gives a pixel density of 386 ppi.
Call me crazy, but I am somewhat dissatisfied with the display. It’s bright, colorful, crisp and images, movies, and effects look beautiful. Perhaps it is the yellow cast issue of the AMOLED display that puts me off.
The display itself is bright and comfortable to use even in sunlight. The brightness does not beat that of HTC One, which can be really painful in dark surroundings, but is bright enough to use in all surroundings. I really liked the auto-brightness control. Works well and saves you the pain when you have to look at the phone in the middle of the night.
Note 3 Performance: Handling and Benchmarks
The Note 3 is a beast when it comes to performance and it is evident from the benchmarks. It owns most of the benchmarks. The comparative charts do not show all the latest smartphones, but they do show HTC One which is my current phone. It annoys me to see it beaten so. But the performance is expected, given its powerful hardware.
The Note 3 sports a 2.3 GHz Qualcomm quad-core processor and 3 GB RAM. The internal memory can be up to 32 GB and expandable up to 64 GB. Given these stats, it is no wonder that Note 3 outperforms other devices.
Below is a chart that shows the performance of the Nexus 4 against various benchmarks.
|SunSpider 0.9.1||775.5 (lower is better)|
These numbers are evidence of what you experience while using the devices. It’s blazing fast and can handle any task that you may throw at it. Performance wise, it takes down the competition by a fair margin.
Note 3 Battery Performance
The Note 3 packs a huge, removable 3200 mAh battery, that according to the specifications, has a talk time of 25 days and a standby time of 22 days. I cannot, obviously, test the talk time claims, but the standby time that I estimate would be around 15 days.
In my test, in about a week of standby time, the phone battery had reduced to 46%, on a Wi-Fi connection. No accounts signed in and only stock apps installed. On total standby, without wireless connections, I’d give it about 18 days. Still, that is impressive.
Being on a Wi-Fi network most of the time during the day, I found the Note 3 battery life to be absolutely amazing. Even with active use, I did not need to charge it daily. Once in two-three days, and then to it would not be near-dead. Howsoever extreme your use might be, I expect the Note 3 battery to easily last through a day. You should not have to worry on that front.
The complete range of wireless technologies can be found on board the Note 3. For connecting with telecom networks, it has 2.5G, 3G, and 4G compatibility, depending on the market. On the connectivity front, it has Wi-Fi 802.11 with multiple bands, Bluetooth and NFC.
I had no problems making calls on the Note 3, and that can be partly attributed to the AT&T network in Mountain View. I have no complaints, especially compared to the performance of T-Mobile here. The data transfer speed was also decent on 4G. I got a download speed of over 10 Mbps indoors, with a fluctuating network of 2-3 bars. Outdoors, this performance would definitely be better. All in all, Note 3 performs well when it comes to any wireless connectivity.
The TouchWiz UI on Samsung Note 3
I have already reviewed the TouchWiz UI and noted the good and bad things about it. There are a couple of things that I can look into more detail here though. My Magazine is a Flipboard-powered application that is sort of integrated into the interface.
Swipe up from the base of the screen to launch it. It brings up a tiled interface that brings you the latest of news and happenings. You can add Facebook and Twitter accounts to the app to spice up the content with updates from your social feed. The app itself works well and can become the primary news apps for some.
To me, it seems that it is a half-baked attempt to replicate the Blinkfeed feature of HTC Sense. It is less in your face though, and that may hinder it from being the app adopted by most Note 3 users.
The Multi-Window Mode
The other thing is using the multi-window mode and the multi-windows tray. Holding the back button is the simplest way to trigger the tray. The small arrow that pops out from the left edge of the screen can be dragged to relocate along the left edge. Hold and drag it out to pull out the tray.
To work with multiple apps, just hold one of the apps on the tray and drag it to the lower or upper half of the screen. That app will occupy half of the screen while the other apps work in the other half. The current app can be dragged from the edge to change the area it occupies.
I loved the multi-window feature on the Note 3. It lets you make complete use of the huge screen that this device has. I often kept a YouTube video running in part of the screen while I did some other task in some other app. Works smoothly.
I have some gripes over the entire TouchWiz UI though. The device loses points in the ratings mainly for the bloatware that comes loaded on the device, but partly makes up for the features loaded in the user interface itself. Check out the TouchWiz UI review for complete details.
Note 3 Camera
The Note 3 has a 13 MP autofocus camera on the rear side, with a 4X digital zoom. It can take 1080p HD videos at a decent frame rate of 60fps. There is also a 2MP camera on the front. You have the option to do a slow motion capture at 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8th the default rate.
I haven’t really used the camera app on Samsung devices before and it was slightly annoying to use it for the first time. A lot of buttons that you see on the screen are not labeled as to what they do, and you have to use them to figure out what their purpose is. Till you figure it all out, its trial and error all the way.
The application itself is quite loaded with photo taking and processing features. There are several modes to take shots like Best shot, Sound and shot, Drama shot, Panorama and eraser, which is useful to remove moving elements from the images. There are several more options, and you can take really nice photos with this camera. Keep an eye on the battery though. Image processing can suck up a lot of battery.
Being a high-end device, you do not really need to worry about updates to Note 3. It comes with Android 4.3 and is expected to update to Android 4.4 any day now. Sadly, I’d have to return this device without having a chance to check out the changes that come with Android 4.4 update. Given the commitment of the OEMs to support high-end devices for at least 2 years, going ahead, you can expect the Note 3 OS to be upgraded to whichever is the Android version after KitKat.
Given the different variants of Android devices that are made for different markets, the rooting procedure may vary a bit. The best way to root would be to head over to XDA and find the thread that talks about rooting the specific model that you have. For the international variant, you may follow these instructions at your own risk.
Even if I root the device, I would have second thoughts about flashing a custom ROM on the Note 3. The TouchWiz UI has several features and applications that are custom-built to work with the S-Pen – a feature that makes the Note 3 sos distinct from other big phones. A custom ROM may just make the S-Pen somewhat redundant. If I owned the device, I would root it to get rid of the bloatware apps, customize the user interface but keep TouchWiz.
Should You Buy A Note 3?
The primary concern when buying a new device is a price. The Note is a premium device and comes at a price of $299.99 on-contract and over $700 without one. That is expensive even among high-end devices. The device commands the price when it comes to the power, performance, and features it offers.
The decision would have to be based on whether you really need a big device like Note 3 and would you really make use of the stand-out features like the S-Pen and the apps that come with it. You might also want to consider the usability of so big a device on daily basis. If that is a concern, take a look at the Galaxy S4 or even the recently announced Galaxy S5.
Assuming you do not give much importance to the looks, the device itself is an outstanding. I’d indeed recommend considering the Note 3 as your next smartphone.
Don’t forget to check out some of our other in-depth device reviews:
- Samsung Galaxy S4 Review: The Best of Samsung on a Great Android Phone
- Nexus 7 Review: The Best of Stock Android on a Solid Tablet
- 2013 MacBook Air Review: The Best Laptop Money Can Buy
- Huawei’s Ascend Mate2 4G: A Big LTE Device With Exceptional Battery Life
- Hands-on With The LG G Flex: The Android Smartphone With a Curved Screen