Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (III) in-depth review - Samsung's super scribbler returns

Look and feel

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 is even grander than last year’s model, rocking a 5.7-inch screen rather than a 5.55-incher, but is actually thinner and only marginally wider as a result thanks to slimmed-down bezels. It’s still quite a handful but that faux-leather rear is a welcome and much-needed change to Samsung’s usual gloss.

 

Ease of Use

One-handed use is pretty much out, but the bundled S Pen makes it easy to scribble your thoughts at any time, even when messing around in other apps or taking a call. Multi-tasking is also a simple affair.

 

Features

It isn’t a Samsung phone unless a million features are crammed in there. The Galaxy Note 3 may bring few surprises, but the S-Pen and its apps are still fantastic for getting productive or creative on the go, and the 13-megapixel camera is great for everyday use, even if you stick with auto mode.

 

Performance

The incredibly powerful Qualcomm quad-core processor is backed up by a massive 3GB of RAM, for effortless multi-tasking. A perfect way to enjoy all of your apps, often at once.

 

Battery life

Rocking a massive and bright 5.7-inch screen was always going to impact battery life, but you’ll still get a full day of regular use, and around seven hours of video playback.

 Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (III) Review - Samsung's super scribbler returns
4.5

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,9/26/2013 1:19:26 PM

10

out of 10

Performance

8

out of 5

Look and feel

10

out of 5

Ease of use

10

out of 5

Features

8

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Crisp and vibrant HD screen; Smart 13-megapixel camera; Incredible power; S-Pen and apps

Cons:

No stunning new features; Niche product

Another year, another Note. As the original phablet, the Samsung Galaxy Note has illegitimately spawned a host of copycat offspring, although for this we can be thankful. After all, the likes of Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra offer up an incredible portable media experience, perfect for catching up with your favourite shows on the daily commute. But Samsung’s Galaxy Note devices are the only ones to sport the excellent S-Pen stylus, an ideal way to get creative and scribble notes on the fly. But does the Galaxy Note 3 offer enough incentive for Galaxy Note II owners to upgrade?

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

 

Size matters

 

The Galaxy Note II’s 5.55-inch screen has grown to a 5.7-incher, but the Note 3 itself is only a tiny bit wider than the previous model, and has actually slimmed down and lost a little weight. There’s no way you’d want to use it one-handed, unless you have alien-like thumbs, but it’s comfortable to clutch with one hand and poke with the other. We also just managed to squeeze it into our jeans, and it’s well suited to jacket pockets.

 

Design-wise, the main difference with the Galaxy Note 3 is its back. Well known now for its glossy plastic phones, Samsung has stalked off in a different direction at last, slapping a faux leather cover on the Galaxy Note 3’s rear end. The textured surface doesn’t feel as soft as we expected, and the phone will still slide along a desk if knocked, but it certainly looks a lot better than the shiny models of yesteryear. The camera lens now juts forth from the surface, but only by a tiny margin.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

 

Power and volume buttons are found on the side of the device, with a charging port on the bottom. It’s a two-part USB 3.0 port, but thankfully you can also plug standard micro USB cables in to charge the Galaxy Note 3 or swap files with a computer. That’s a relief for us, as we hate carrying around extra cables.

 

The entire back plate also comes off, revealing the removable battery and SIM card slot. There's also a sneaky memory card slot to expand the 32/64GB of storage hidden above the SIM card slot.

 

 

Spacious screen

 

While the Galaxy Note II’s screen was, for want of better words, flipping huge, Samsung clearly reckons it wasn’t big enough. Hence, the 5.55-inch Super AMOLED display has been boosted to a 5.7-incher for the Galaxy Note 3. The actual body hasn’t expanded much thanks to narrower bezels, however, and now the screen fills up almost the entire front of the device.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

 

As you’d expect from Samsung, this is a truly beautiful panel. Between its vibrant colour reproduction, wide viewing angles and sun-beating brightness levels, it’s a fantastic way to stay productive or entertained on the move. HD movies look fantastic, with the 1080 x 1900 pixel resolution firing out crystal-clear images – the 386ppi finish is a big boost over the Note II’s 267ppi screen, and the difference is easy to spot. As well as crisper images, we found that text on websites was easier to read when zoomed right out.

 

Typing on the spacious touchscreen is also a joy, and we found we barely made any mistakes at all, even when bashing out emails at speed. The auto-correct is good enough to keep you right, even if your thumbs do stray a little. You get the usual Swype method if you’d rather drag than poke, and of course you can type with the bundled S-Pen too.

 

 

Get creative

 

Yank the S-Pen free and the new Air Command tool pops up on screen, providing quick access to five features. Simply tap on one to bring it up.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

 

Action Memo allows you to scribble something down, perhaps while taking a call, and then automatically copy it into an app – for instance, you can jot down a name and number and then save it as a contact. We found that it worked well sometimes and not at all occasionally, with web addresses proving particularly tricky. Of course, success rates will be dependent on the neatness of your handwriting.

 

Scrap Booker is cooler and works much better, allowing you to save snippets of websites, screenshots of apps, even YouTube videos, in a handy virtual collection. We also like the standard Screen Write tool, which can be used to scrawl whatever you like straight on your desktop. The S Finder tool is a basic search facility, and finally the Pen Window tool is a cool and handy way to multi-task with your apps. We’ll cover this later.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

 

Portable powerhouse

 

Another staple of the Galaxy Note series is power, and the Note 3 once again pushes the boundaries, packing in a mighty 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and an as-yet-unbeaten 3GB of RAM. That makes for effortless multitasking, via a drag-out menu to the left of the desktop. You can run two apps top-and-bottom at once, manually adjusting the break-off point to decide how much screen real estate each gets, which proves very handy indeed – for instance, you can browse the web while watching a video, read emails while taking notes, or message someone while checking out Google Maps.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

 

Alternatively, you can actually draw out individual windows using the Pen Window feature, which allows you to run several overlapping apps on the desktop at once, again with no slowdown. The selection of compatible apps is smaller using this method, however, limited to YouTube, Google Hangouts, the web browser and a handful of simple phone features.

 

With such a bright and enormous screen, we suspected the Galaxy Note 3 would struggle when it came to portability, not just in terms of size but also battery life. Sure enough, with regular web browsing and note scribbling, the Note 3 will be dead within 24 hours, especially on full brightness. However, all things considered that’s a pretty decent effort, and the drop-off when you start hammering it with media is surprisingly good. We managed to stream video for around seven hours before the phone died, which is one of the better efforts we’ve seen recently.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

 

Feature-packed camera

 

The Galaxy Note 3 packs in a 13-megapixel camera, just like the Galaxy S 4, and it’s rammed with just as many cool modes and features. You can shoot film with both rear and front camera at once, use burst shot to capture the perfect moment or remove background stragglers, snap a panorama and much more besides. However, most users will likely stick with auto mode, for ease of use, and it’s one of the better auto efforts out there.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

 

Standard outdoor shots were well lit no matter what the conditions, providing you aren’t doing anything silly like shooting against the sun. Colours are accurately captured, with vibrant greens leaping off the screen. The subject of our shots appeared sharp in almost every snap, even when moving, thanks to the speedy shutter – which also means you can take lots of shots in quick succession, without missing any action. You can quickly and easily edit and share your shots online using the built-in menus, and also capture HD video for uploading to YouTube.

 

 

The verdict

 

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 is an increment of the original and still one of the best phablets around. It may not offer a huge bag of new and exciting tricks, but its impressive power, even more spacious high-res screen and upgraded 13-megapixel camera make it an enticing prospect for creative types and professionals.