It’s being touted as THE best phablet on the market. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has hit store shelves. Bending the knee to one of the major subscription barons will earn you a seat at the owner’s circle. The choice is yours from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and others. The folks at Sprint were kind enough to send us one these meaty near-two-handed phablets with the 5.7 inch 1080p display running on their 4G LTE network. After a week of testing, my professional opinion is falling mostly in line with the lofty claims. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 saunters on the scene dispelling nearly every reservation I had about the Galaxy S4. Yet some still haunt even this formidable phablet.
Although the looks and design are not among these. The Galaxy Note 3 is the best looking Samsung mobile device to date. Sure that’s all a matter of opinion. For too long Samsung has relied on a similar design scheme and form factor for the majority of their leading Smartphones. We dragged the S4 through the mud for its lack of innovation in the design department. The Note 3 breaks from tradition handsomely. It feels far more solid in-hand than Galaxy S4, where the S4 felt too light with a slight hollow feel. One immediate distinction, despite the obvious size difference is the faux leather stitched back cover. It adds a considerable amount of style and elegance. The new back is textured and adds to the grip while held in hand and while laying flat on smooth surfaces. Adding to the more professional styling is a chrome band or bumper, which frames the entire phone and outlines the face in chrome. The Note 3 is thinner than both the Note 2 and the Galaxy S4. It weighs 5.93 ounces. It’s not the easiest phone to carry. Yet this is due more to the size and not the weight and form factor.
The Note 3 features 3-physical buttons. The Power button is on the right toward the top. The home key is at the bottom just below the screen, as is the case with most Android devices from Samsung. Toward the top on the left side of the device, users will find the volume rocker (zoom +/- for camera). The Home Key is bookended by Menu (left) and Back Key (right) functions. These are touch-sensitive buttons.
The headphone/speaker jack is at the very top of the device. The speaker is found at the very bottom to the right of the USB charging port. To the right of this is where the included S Pen stylus can be inserted. When in place, the stylus is completely flush so nothing protrudes out or interferes with your non-stylus Note 3 activity. It all makes for a handsome and stylishly smart design that competes nicely with that of the HTC One and One Max.
But few Smartphones can compete against the multitude of premium hardware choices crammed into the slim and sleek Note 3. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor clocked at 2.3Ghz. This is the cream of crop for Snapdragon– a noticeably speedier processor than Snapdragon 600 found in the HTC One and Galaxy S4. The display is 5.7 inch Super AMOLED capable of full 1920 x 1080 (HD 1080p). The resulting picture is nothing short of spectacular–super sharp, vivid and with great color saturation. Movies, images, games and websites look and run great.
Other notably hardware innards include, 13mp camera on the back and 2mp clicker front-facing. You get a total of 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space. Via microSD you can expand this by 64gb. Connectivity options include WiFi 802.11 a/b/c/g, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC. The Note 3 can be used as a IR remote for your set top boxes and supports USB 3.0, USB 2.0 and MHL 2.0.
The operating software is Android Jelly Bean 4.3, obviously. This latest version is what allows the Note 3 to play nice with the company’s Galaxy Gear Smartwatch. It’s a handsome OS with plenty to appreciate. But Samsung drops the ball again, with TouchWiz. I’m not a fan of this Android skin in the slightest. It contrast horribly with the Note 3’s distinguished and dapper good looks. It’s corporate meets cartoon, resulting in a sadly missed opportunity. The HTC Touch Sense is still my favorite Android skin to date. It matched the HTC One’s industrial and professional styling. Samsung’s TouchWiz uses too many bright cartoony colors and all the annoying “bloops”, chimes and other kiddy sound effects are jarring and not befitting of the device’s regal functioning and form factor.
The aesthetic and juvenile audibles are not my cup of tea. But the functionality is wholly intact. Navigating through TouchWiz is slick and butter smooth. Everything responds with urgency as you would expect from a high end premium device. The drop-down notification shade is not annoying and works really well. Also much of it can be customized to your taste.
There are is decent supply of bloatware, which is now to be expected. There are some Samsung apps and Sprint apps. Sprint offers Sprint TV & Movies, Sprint Music Plus and Sprint Worldwide. Samsung provides a lot more including a Voice Recorder, VPN client, S Translator (audible text translation), internet browser, S Health fitness monitoring, Group Play for remote file sharing with other Group Play-enabled devices, Watch On remote control set top application and more. Flipboard, POLARIS Office 5 and several other familiars like YouTube and Google Maps there as well.
S. Pen Stylus
I haven’t needed a stylus since the early old Blackberry days. But the integration here in the Note 3 is smart, intuitive with several useful functions. You can obviously conduct handwritten notes on your device. But you can also designate a section of screen real estate for which you can draw on. It allows you to manually edit a image or other content with notes or doodles.
Pulling the pen for the housing activates the Air Command function. Air Command ties into Air Memo where you can jot down notes as mention above. But those notes can be turned into saved contacts (name, ph# email etc…) . You can also drag and drop pictures from one window to another. It’s a lightning fast way toss pics into an email or text.
The 13mp rear-facing camera is the best I’ve seen on a Samsung mobile device. It’s far better than the one found on the Galaxy S4 and even rivals the mesmerizing 21mp camera found on the Nokia Lumia 1020. You still all the familiar toys like Drama Shot, Eraser Shot and such that we saw with the GS4. There’s a lot of fun to be had with these editing tools. Still none compare to HTC’s HTC Zoe and HTC Share.
The Galaxy Note 3 get its stamina from a massive 32000 mAh Li ION removable battery. Talk time clocks in at 23hrs according to Samsung. In truth it lasts longer than HTC One and iPhone 5 under moderate use. But if you have several of those premium radios running, for WiFi, NFC, Bluetooth, GPS and the like–you can expect the Note 3 to conk out a lot sooner. Overall the battery life last for more than day under moderate-heavy use. Just keep a charger handy when on the go for more than 16hrs.
Hands down, this phone…er “phablet” is a marvel! Holding it in a single hand is not advisable for long periods of time–not at this size. However, it checks off nearly everything wrong with the GS4 and replaces them with excellence. From looks to functionality, there is very little to complain about. The S Pen stylus adds just enough functionality and utility to entice. Yet the way it stores within the Note 3 makes it less of a hindrance than aftermarket solutions. Plus the cost of this Note 3 is in line with cheaper less capable offerings. But when pressed for shortcomings, I have to point the finger at Samsung’s TouchWiz. It does nothing to compliment the stellar design and performance this device brings to the table. It might not matter to many, for those it does, routing or waiting for an unskinned Google version may be in order. For everyone else, the superior phablet is upon us and… Damn! Doesn’t she look good.
Butter smooth. One of the fastest smartphones on the market. Laudable craftsmanship. Distinguished and elegant. Functionally intelligent stylus integration.
Single hand use not advisable. TouchWiz Android skin is jarring and far too juvenile for such a business class device.
Shawn loves gadgets, literature, history and games. For 10yrs+ he's straddled both the comic book & video game industries, as a writer, editor, marketing officer & producer. Shawn got his start in tech & games as an editor & Hardware Director for GameRevolution.com. More notable accomplishments include Executive Producer on mobile games Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved & The Shroud.