Many thought Samsung was a bit crazy when they introduced the original Galaxy Note, however they sold in decent numbers and that original was followed-up with the improved Galaxy Note II. Well, we once again have a new generation device in the Note lineup and this time around it has landed as the Galaxy Note 3 and with improvements in terms of the software and hardware. Touching on one item in particular, the loved-by-some and hated-by-others S Pen has stuck around with some notable improvements. With that being said, read on to see what we thought of the Galaxy Note 3 and the companion, Galaxy Gear smartwatch.
Up front the Galaxy Note 3 has a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a ppi of 386. Those familiar with Samsung products may recognize the similarity between this and the Galaxy S 4. They both offer the same resolution and ppi, however things are a bit stretched on the Note 3 as opposed to the S 4. While this technically means the Note 3 display is not quite as sharp, we suspect most users eyes will not be able to tell the difference and either way, the display is still excellent.
Flipping over to the backside and we see the next noticeable item — the faux-leather backing. This of course, has Samsung straying away from the more traditional plastic battery cover. As a side effect, it also brings a unique feel to the Galaxy Note 3. Not only does it feel a bit more solid, but it also has a more business or professional appearance. Needless to say, we suspect users will either love or hate the look the back provides.
Aside from the different look and feel provided with the back, there is still no arguing the Note 3 is a large device and takes a special set of pants to truly be pocketable. With that in mind, Samsung did introduce the Galaxy Gear along with this handset, which could mean your Note 3 would be able to sit in a backpack with less worry about missing any incoming emails, messages or phone calls. More on the Galaxy Gear later in the review.
Shifting to the next piece of the hardware, the S Pen. Here we have an item that has taken a fair amount of criticism in the past, but like we have seen Samsung do in the past, the release of the Note 3 with Android 4.3 has brought some added functionality. Much of this is software which we will get into shortly, but for now we can say the S Pen is just about the same size as on previous models. But while that point sticks, the pen is now a bit easier in terms of replacing it back in the device. Gone is the front and back and it now simply slides in.
Perhaps key here, the Galaxy Note 3 brings along a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor paired with 3GB of RAM which makes it a solid device on paper. And in real world use, the device holds up nicely. To that point it should also be a nice upgrade for those considering a switch from another handset, or from an older model Galaxy Note. Rounding out the hardware is either 32GB or 64GB of storage along with a microSD card slot with support for an additional 64GB of storage space as well as a 3200 mAh battery that is removable.
Sticking on the topic of performance here, we are looking specifically at the T-Mobile model, which means the previously mentioned Snapdragon 800. Those looking elsewhere will be able to find a model packing the Samsung Exynos Octa processor. Anyway, we have some benchmarks, but as always, take these for what they are — a series of numbers. Needless to say, the Galaxy Note 3 does provide some solid results.
To begin with, the Galaxy Note 3 is running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with the TouchWiz user interface. That is the simple way to describe the software, but that description also doesn’t do the handset any justice. Samsung has the Galaxy Note 3 loaded with special features and special apps — many of which tie back in with the S Pen.
In fact, the Galaxy Note 3 has arrived with something called Air Command. This is a simple, but rather useful set of shortcuts that appear when you remove the S Pen from the holder. Some of the items here include Scrapbooker, Action Memo, Screen Write, S Finder and Pen Window. Of these we have some useful and some interesting, but nonetheless, they are all easily available upon pulling the S Pen.
Perhaps the most useful is Action Memo, which allows you to write a note and set a “Link to Action.” These actions include connecting this to Phone, Contacts, Messaging, Email, Browser, Map and Task. Some examples here include being able to write and then have it dial a telephone number and even adding a new contact to your list. While we deemed this one the most useful, as simple as the Air Command setup may sound in words, it really just goes to prove the usefulness of the S Pen and as we have seen Samsung increase the functionality over time, this only leads us to wonder what will be coming in future updates.
Anyway, some of the other highlights here include Scrapbooker which now automatically attaches a URL to items that you circle while on the internet and S Finder, which well, has also proven rather useful. There is also the ways of creating notes. With the Galaxy Note 3 you can now hover the S Pen anywhere you can normally type to bring up a small box in the corner. Tapping that box then launches a transcription window, which as a bonus, works both off- and on-line.
With a powerful device with a large display like the Galaxy Note 3 — battery life was something that we could understand someone being worried about. That said, battery life is solid and assuming you are not streaming HD quality movies all day long, you should be able to make it through the day with little to worry about. That comes by way of the 3200 mAh battery, and for those times when extra power is needed — remember that battery is removable.
The Galaxy Note 3 may not have arrived with the once-rumored optical image stabilization, but there is nothing to really be disappointed about. The handset has a 2 megapixel front-facing camera and 13 megapixel rear-facing camera. As mentioned the OIS wasn’t included, but Samsung does have something called Smart Stabilization, which seems to be working well enough to be helpful in terms of quick captures.
We would say the Galaxy Note 3 camera is comparable to that of the Galaxy S 4 and the software features are also similar. Those who have used another Samsung device likely remember the wide variety of photo modes and the Galaxy Note 3 is no exception. One of the new modes is called Golf Mode and it will automatically capture an image when you centered the golfer taking a swing.
The Note 3 also has something called Surround Shot, which is similar to the photo sphere setup from Jelly Bean. As for images though, the Note 3 is able to capture pictures that should be more than acceptable for sharing with friends and family. We have included a few sample images below for reference.
Otherwise, aside from still images and photo modes, Samsung has also given the Note 3 the ability to record 4K video. Basically, this means you will be capturing video at 3840 x 2160 pixels. In comparison, this is a step up from 1080p video recording which offers 1920 x 1080 pixels. The catch here, while you can record 4K video on the Note 3, you cannot actually view the playback at that same level. In order to watch the video in full quality you will need to send it to another device, possibly a 4K television if you are lucky enough to have one sitting in your living room. As with the image samples, below we have a 1080p video sample.
As we covered a bit about the Galaxy Gear smartwatch in the earlier posted review roundup, we will keep this section on the light side. Needless to say, given Samsung only offers compatibility with the Galaxy Note 3 at the moment, this brings a true sense of a companion device and therefor should be included. What can we say, the Galaxy Gear works well, though at the moment the feature set is a bit limited.
As for matching up the Galaxy Gear and Galaxy Note 3, this does have one really nice perk. While larger smartphones such as the Galaxy Note 3 are becoming more and more common, it is hard to shake the feeling that everyone is suddenly staring when you pull this from your pocket or bag. Pretty much, using the Galaxy Gear along with the Note 3 means you can avoid some of those uncomfortable looks — even if they are mostly in your imagination.
In terms of features, the Galaxy Gear is able to receive alerts for messages, both text and email, as well as phone calls. You can also view your contacts, check the weather, use S Voice, count your steps, record voice memos, control media from your phone and of course, check the time. The Galaxy Gear also allows you to make and accept calls. And for those times when you must take a picture and cannot retrieve your Note 3 quick enough, the Galaxy Gear has a built-in camera that provides rather decent images. Granted, they are not the same quality, but they should be good enough if you are only looking to share a moment online.
In the end the Galaxy Note 3 has proven to be a solid device both for those who are upgrading from an earlier generation Note or for those who are moving from another, smaller handset. The display is quality, the images you are able to capture are more than acceptable and the handset is overall a solid performer. And while the handset can be used without pulling out the S Pen, those who do use the pen will likely have a better experience.
Samsung has the Galaxy Note 3 (and Galaxy Gear) coming available with a wide variety of carriers which should make it an easy upgrade for just about anyone. The one potential drawback is the price. The Note 3 is on the higher-end of the spectrum, which may turn some away. Not to mention, while the Galaxy Gear is a good companion, that would only add to the overall cost and we could see that being a bigger issue for some.
With that, you can dive into the Timeline below for a bit more Galaxy Note 3 coverage. Included is some US carrier news as well as an earlier hands-on we did from when the handset was originally announced last month.