Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (SM-N9005)
Samsung launched the original Galaxy Note with a 5.3-inch screen in 2011, which went on to define what we call the phablet market today, thanks to its beautiful big screen and S Pen stylus. It was followed up by the Note II, which was a major improvement over its predecessor and sported a 5.5-inch screen. As expected, the Galaxy Note 3 followed a year later, and was announced at IFA in Berlin like the first two devices.
The Galaxy Note 3 sports a 5.68-inch full HD (1080p) Super AMOLED screen, though Samsung has managed to keep the size of the device pretty much the same as the Note II by using smaller bezels along the screen, a nice achievement in our opinion. The camera has also been upgraded to a 13-megapixel unit and the Note 3 is powered by a much faster processor than the Note II’s.
In this review, we take all the new features of the Galaxy Note 3 under the microscope. So, let’s get started.
Since the first Galaxy Note handset, we’ve seen Samsung take design elements from its Galaxy S flagships, which is the also the case with the Note 3, though there are certain differences compared to the Galaxy S4. The back is no more made of the plastic that was criticized on the S4; instead, Samsung has opted for a faux leather material for the back cover, with (fake) stitching giving it a more premium and notebook-y feel. The sides of the device have also been designed to emulate pages of a book, while allowing a better grip than older Note models. The edges of the Note 3 are also less rounded, and are more in line with the Galaxy S II, which is still one of the most nicely designed devices from the Korean manufacturer. As always, Samsung is sticking to a hardware home button and capacitive back and menu keys, which is sure to put off a lot of people who are used to full touch buttons and those who are used to Google’s software buttons on Nexus devices.
To summarize what we see on each side of the Note 3 – at the front there’s the screen, home and touch buttons, the usual sensors, and the front camera. On the back there’s a protruding 13MP camera with LED flash and the Samsung logo, the left side houses the volume buttons, on the right there is the power button and a mic for noise cancellation, while the bottom houses the USB 3.0 port (compatible with USB 2.0 cables), loudspeaker grill, microphone, and the S Pen dock.
Here are some pictures showing off the Galaxy Note 3 from multiple angles.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Note 3 sports a 5.68-inch screen. Since it’s Samsung’s usual Super AMOLED technology, colors continue to pop out of the screen and blacks remain the deepest you’ll see on any display. The pixel layout is the same as the Galaxy S4’s, though with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, everything is crisp and sharp. The Note 3’s display was recently said to be the best Samsung has produced, and we can testify to that fact – the whites are the whitest you’ll see, colors have high contrast, viewing angles remain as great as ever, and it can achieve brightness levels that make it easy to read in direct sunlight (though that’s only when using auto brightness, which includes special modes that increase the brightness to levels higher than normally possible). Using the screen with gloves is possible as well, thanks to a high sensitivity mode, and you can adjust the colors on the screen to better suit your preferences.
The Galaxy Note 3 sports the same interface as the S4’s, though there are a few additional settings for the S Pen. Multi Window is back and as useful as ever, and the usual features such as Smart Stay, Direct Call, etc are in attendance as well.
If anything can be criticized, it’s the fact that Samsung still uses tabs to separate settings according to category, but we can’t swipe through them. Instead, you’ll need to reach the top of the screen and press a particular tab, which is a nuisance on such a big screen and extends to apps such as contacts as well. It’s an inconvenience that shouldn’t exist, and we hope Samsung stops making changes just for the sake of change.
Here are a few pictures showing off the interface on the Galaxy Note 3.
With the first Galaxy Note, the S Pen had 256 pressure points – this was increased to 1024 on the Note II, and it remains the same on the third-generation Note. Therefore, the improvements had to come from the software side of things, and Samsung thankfully did exactly that, though it’s more of an evolution than a revolution. Will you ever use the S Pen? Probably, probably not, but using the stylus is a better experience this time around for those that do use it
The most notable feature related to the S Pen is Air Command – taking out the S Pen from its holder or hovering it on top of the screen and pressing the button on it will pop up a round menu with five different options.
The five Air Command options are:
• Action Memo – quickly scribble notes and connect them to actions such as saving a phone number or contact information, sending a message, searching the web. or creating a task.
• Scrap Booker – save anything you encounter – such as websites, maps, and pictures – into organized scrapbook categories with accompanied notes and information for later browsing.
• Screen Write – no matter where you are or what app you’re in, snap a screenshot, overlay it with your own notes and drawings, and save it for later use or share it through e-mail, messaging, Dropbox, etc…
• S Finder – search your entire phone and the web with smart filters based on time frame, S-Pen features, tags, and more.
• Pen Window – instantly overlay a window with one of the following features: calculator, clock, YouTube, phone, contacts, hangouts, internet, WhatsApp.
It’s a nice little feature that could come in handy for those times you want to take a quick note or screenshot, find content on the device, or use a second app without closing your current one. Again, it’s more an evolution than a revolution, but the S Pen already was one of the best stylus experiences around, and now it’s even better than before.
The camera on the Galaxy Note 3 is the same sensor as the S4’s, meaning it’s one of the best Android cameras around. The maximum resolution is 4128×3096, though by default photos are taken at a resolution of 9.6-megapixel – no matter which mode you use, photos come out great in normal lighting conditions, with lots of details visible, though low-light photos do seem to be a bit poorer than the S4’s, which will hopefully be fixed via a software update. There are a lot of camera modes that we saw on the S4, and Samsung has finally included a 360 panorama mode like Google’s Photo Sphere, called Surround Shot.
When it comes to video, the Galaxy Note 3 can record 4k video (3840×3160) on the Snapdragon 800 variant (though only 5 minute videos at a time), making it the third smartphone after the Acer Liquid S2 and Sony Xperia Z1 to do so. For the Exynos variant, the standard 1080p resolution videos are possible, and similar to the still image quality, video quality is quite good and captures considerable detail.
Here are a few photos we took with the Note 3, check them out.
The Galaxy Note 3 comes in two variants, one powered by a 2.26GHz Snapdragon 800 CPU with four cores, and the other with Samsung’s octa-core Exynos 5420 clocked at 1.9GHz, with both accompanied by 3GB of RAM. The performance is, as expected from top-of-the-line processors, quite good, and the Note 3 can do several things at once without breaking a sweat (we tested on both the Exynos and Snapdragon variants, and performance is similar on both). We won’t be putting up benchmarks as they aren’t a projection of real-life experience, but for now, the Note 3 stands as one of the fastest smartphones around. Memory usage could be a little better, as Samsung’s own services consumer considerable memory, but multitasking is still a strong suit of the company’s third-generation Note.
SamMobile will never do Benchmarks, cause this isn’t a real life projection of what the phone is capable of in everyday use. But in order to have a little understanding how fast the processor is check out the video below (Joke).
Samsung has opted for a 3,200mAh battery on the Galaxy Note 3, 100mAh more than the Note II’s. What does this mean for the end-user? Well, battery life remains as great as ever – it will easily last a full day and more with normal usage, while with heavy usage such as gaming, browsing, and watching video clips, it still achieves impressive stamina and lasts almost a full day, so battery life is one area where you simply cannot fault the Galaxy Note 3.
The Galaxy Note 3 is a worthy successor to Samsung’s immensely popular Note II, and still reigns supreme among the sea of large-screen devices out there. The S Pen has been improved and offers useful features, but most will likely buy the Note 3 for its brilliant 5.7-inch screen. Battery life and performance is top-notch, and we especially liked what Samsung has done on the back – it’s still not as premium-feeling as metallic devices, but it is a small, yet much-welcomed step in the right direction. All-in-all, a fine successor to the Note II, and perhaps the best Samsung device we’ve used, with improvements across the board.
Our score: 8.5/10