Written by Charlotte Kertrestel
Samsung’s winning streak continues with the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung’s newest phablet added to the successful Note range.
I was excited about getting my hands on the device at this year’s IFA in Berlin, and was keen to try out the handset again as soon as it landed on my desk. Now see the new Galaxy Note 4 are you ready to upgrade?
Hands-on YouTube video review:
Due to the Note 3 being nothing short of enormous (unless you compare it to the Samsung Galaxy Mega!), the phablet has a very specific target audience, though despite this, the Note 3 still offers a whole range of really impressive specs not seen on many other flagship devices.
So will it wow me as much as the Note 2 did?
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3, as mentioned above, is pretty large when it comes to smartphones, sporting a 5.7-inch screen, which is a slight step up from the Note and Note 2 in terms of screen size.
Despite its huge screen, though, the Note 3 has retained all of Samsung’s most notable features, including the physical home button on the screen’s fascia and the same slim-line, lightweight design. Weighing in at only 168g and measuring 8.9mm thick, the Note 3 will surprise you at just how light it feels for a 5.7-inch device.
One added feature which seems to be becoming a new Samsung ‘thing’ is the faux leather ‘stitched’ back casing. Although at first I thought that this leather-look make the phone look especially professional, on reflection, I’m starting to wonder whether it makes the device look a little cheap instead. Either way, the design is better than the shiny plastic that the Note 2 sports, though most will agree that we’re crying out for an aluminium Note to hit our shelves sooner rather than later.
One thing that definitely shocked me about the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 was the fact that Samsung has changed the charging port, meaning that my usual Android USB connectors no longer fit (unless you currently use a Note 2). While this might not be a huge problem for some (as you obviously get the bespoke charger with the device), for those who use multiple Android devices, or have speakers especially for a Samsung smartphone, you won’t be able to connect your new Note 3.
Unlike most other phones, the Galaxy Note range comes with a fully functioning stylus (sorry, I mean S Pen…). Samsung has cleverly ensured that the S Pen isn’t just a gimmicky addition to the Note 3 and has built bespoke features that can only be accessed using the pen (as I have mentioned in more detail below).
However, compared to the Galaxy note 2, the Note 3’s S Pen was really difficult to get out, and even with my girly nails, I was concerned about scratching the metal tipped stylus. I also found whilst using the S Pen that I kept accidentally pressing the button located on one of the stylus’ bevelled edges, which launched a different feature to the one I originally intended to use!
In terms of hard-core specs that the more tech savvy of you out there might appreciate, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has an impressive quad-core 2.3GHz processor with a massive 3GB of RAM. This instantly means that the device can handle multiple apps at once, which is a good job considering the Note 3’s main features rely on this!
At present the device is pre-loaded with Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), but no doubt it will benefit from the KitKat update in no time. As always, Samsung’s Touch Wiz is laid over the top of the Android interface, so you’ll see your usual Samsung icons and settings which feature on the S3, S4 and previous Note devices.
First of all, there’s a concealable tab located to the right of the home screen which houses apps such as YouTube, Gmail, gallery, Facebook, maps, Scrapbook and S Note (to name just a few).
This allows you to quickly flit from app to app without actually having to revisit the home screen in between, making multitasking easier than ever.
Another cool feature that I really like on the Note 3 (which is something that Google has incorporated into Android KitKat) is the full screen mode within apps. On launching an app, whether it’s a dedicated Samsung app or an app from a third party, the program will take up the entire 5.7-inch screen, really enhancing the user experience. This also means that while you are reading your daily dose of news in My Magazine, you don’t get distracted by incoming alerts or icons.
As mentioned briefly above, Samsung’s S Pen allows users to launch specific features on the Note 3, and Pen Window is an example of this.
By launching Pen Window from your Air Command (more details below!), you can insert a number of apps onto the home screen, including your calculator, internet browser, clock, Whatsapp and contacts. By drawing a box anywhere on the home screen, you can layer up multiple apps, and flit between the windows like you would be do on a computer.
Air Gesture is a feature that Samsung has built into many of its devices, and the Note 3 is no exception. Air Gesture in theory allows you to swipe between screens, photos and messages without even touching the screen, though I found that in practice this wasn’t always that accurate.
I really like the fact that you can check your notifications on the Note 3 without even unlocking the device. By swiping your hand over the fascia, you can view the time, your battery levels and any notifications you’ve got waiting for you.
Once you’ve pressed the unlock button on the side of the device, you can also create a Harry Potter-style spark by waving your finger over the lock screen (without even touching it!). It has absolutely no function at all, but it’s fun to play with!
The Galaxy Note 3 also features the intriguing smart scroll and smart pause technology as the S4. When I reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S4, however, I was far from impressed at its ability to scroll down the page using just my eyes. I’m pleased to reveal that the Note 3 is far more accurate in gauging when I have reached the bottom of the page when reading an article or webpage.
The S Pen also allows you to handwrite messages, emails and commands, with the Note 3 turning it into typed text. However, while I found his feature fun at first, I soon grew frustrated at how long it took to write a simple sentence by hand!
Samsung’s My Magazine is a really cool addition to the Note 3, though in reality, it is just another version of Flipboard, or even HTC’s BlinkFeed.By choosing your preferred news topics, social networks and photo albums, My Magazine, which is accessible by swiping up wards from the bottom of the screen, allows you to view them in a continuous stream.
What I do like about My Magazine, apart from the fact that it’s easy to get to, is that when you click on a news story within the app, it opens the article right up instead of launching your internet browser, keeping all activity within the app itself. If you come across any interesting articles, you can even save them on your device to read later.
Scrap book in many ways is another rip off by Samsung, though this doesn’t make it any less of an amazing feature!
To put it bluntly, Scrap Book is Pinterest, but especially for your Note 3; you can create different categories (instead of ‘boards’) and stick any photos, notes, recipes and articles into your personalised scrap book. You can even launch Scrap Book using your S Pen in one easy step, and draw a circle around any object to add it to your categories.
Air Command is another S Pen-specific feature which allows you to access Screen Write, S Finder, Pen Window and Scrap Booker.
Screen Write does exactly what it says on the tin; it automatically takes a screen shot of whatever screen you’re on allowing, you to annotate over the top which is great for adding your own thoughts and ideas to pages you see, or for drawing moustaches on famous people.
Action Memo also allows you to quickly jot down numbers and email addresses to your home screen which you can go on to add in properly later. The phone automatically reads your handwriting and turns it into written text, allowing you to save the date to your phonebook, email account or text message recipients.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Note 3 has a 13MP rear facing camera and a 2MP front facing lens. After testing out the camera on a cold, crisp November morning, I came out with the impression that the Note 3 was a solid, all round camera.
The lens picked up on the different layers really well, even from a distance, and I was really impressed with the pictures taken at 4x zoom.
If there’s one thing that Samsung is good at, it’s features, and so, as you’d expect, the Note 3’s camera is packed full of them. Choose from burst shot, which takes a series of photos in quick succession, dual camera (when you’d ever need that I don’ know!), Sound & Shot, which records sound as well as still shots, eraser, a mode especially for golfing shots (again, I ask why), and many more.
There’s even a Surround Shot mode which is exactly like Photo Sphere on the Nexus 5, allowing you to take a pure 360° shot. You can then view the photo as if you were there by tilting the phone in the direction that you want to see.
The Note 3 also lets you add various filters to the camera before taking the photo, getting one step ahead of Instagram.
The Note 3 has a 3200mAh battery, which in theory should last you well beyond the end of the day. And to be honest, I was impressed with how long the device survived for after using it to take photos, play videos and test out all the cool features that I’ve mentioned above.
One thing I also like about the Note 3’s battery is that if, at the end of a particularly stressful day, your battery is lagging a little, simply switch on the power saving mode and it should see you through until the next day.
Also, if you’re in a real battery emergency, you can always pop in a spare thanks to the Note 3’s removable back casing.