Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Jordan O'Brien
November 14, 2013

Love them or hate them the Phablet is here to stay. The inch war began Samsung when Samsung unveiled the Samsung Galaxy Note back in 2011, despite there being Phablets before then with the likes of the Dell Streak, Samsung took the market by the horns and revealed a device that gave Phablet users something they desperately wanted — a capacitive screen with a usable stylus.

The commercial success of the Samsung Galaxy Note has ensured that it has lived on until this day, spawning two iterations, the latest of which was unveiled at IFA in Berlin back at the start of September.

With the Galaxy Note 3 Samsung had hoped to to fix the problems people had with the Note 2 — which was mostly due to its underpowered processor. On paper the Galaxy Note 3 seems to have rectified that problem with a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor paired with 3GB of RAM.

[alert type=alert-blue]DESIGN[/alert]

Samsung has been known for plasticky products, but the Galaxy Note 3 is a departure from that cheap look. Instead Samsung has gone for a premium-looking, yet tacky leather effect on the back of the device, complete with faux stitching. In reality this ‘leather’ is actually plastic, but the textured back means it’s no longer the fingerprint magnet of the previous back. It also means that you’re going to get a slightly better grip on the phone, as the almost rubbery back ensured that gripping with one hand is simple to do — despite the huge size.

If you like the simplistic design of the likes of the iPhone 5s or 5c, then the Galaxy Note 3 may not appeal to you, but those of you who like to be a little different and fashionable may find the new design a godsend.

The Note 3 has a slightly larger screen than the previous generation, up 0.2 inches to 5.7 inches. Despite the larger screen, is both narrower and thinner than the body of the Galaxy Note 2 at 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mmm, and even manages to weigh a whole 15g lighter, at 168g.

Wrapping up the design choices of the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung has decided to remain with an almost identical front face — with a large white button below the screen and minimal bezel. It’s even decided that the fake metal wrapper is still a good design choice.

[alert type=alert-blue]DISPLAY[/alert]

The display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 can be described in one word – gorgeous. The 5.7-inch Super AMOLED screen has had a significant upgrade to a full HD resolution at 1,920 x 1,080. For those of you who look at screen quality in terms of pixel density, then that’s 386 ppi, 101 ppi higher than that of the original Galaxy Note, and over 119 ppi higher than that of the Galaxy Note 2.

As with all Samsung screens the Galaxy Note 3’s just popped, with colours extremely bright and vibrant, although we can’t say the same for the screen. After using the likes of the Galaxy S4, the Note 3 just didn’t feel bright enough for our liking. Thankfully, it was still readable in direct sunlight — something the Galaxy S4 really doesn’t do all that well.

[alert type=alert-blue]PERFORMANCE[/alert]

The Galaxy Note 3 is a beast. The quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor is by far our favourite processor on the market, and Samsung has clocked it at a rather speedy 2.3GHz as well as pairing it with 3GB of RAM.

The Note 3 was able to blow away the Note II in almost every test we tried — it was faster at opening apps, doing so in less than a second, and multitasking never really slowed down the device, no matter how many apps we opened.

We loaded up a 4K video on the device, and despite seeing performance suffer on high powered PCs paired with 8GB of RAM and powerful x64 processors, the Galaxy Note 3 played the video with incredibly crisp quality and with silky smooth ease.

With the powerful specs paired with a large, powerful and high resolution screen, you would really expect that battery life wouldn’t last more than a few hours, but Samsung’s wizadry has ensured that hasn’t happened. The 3,200mAh battery does ensure that the device is running for around nine hours, with some pretty intensive use and using a 4G LTE connection.

[alert type=alert-blue]FEATURES[/alert]

This is a Galaxy Note, and it would be amiss to not mention the all important Note part of the name. The stylus, or the S Pen as Samsung would call it, that comes with the Galaxy Note 3 has some rather impressive tricks up its sleeve despite being small and discrete.

When you pull the Note 3’s stylus from the holster underneath the device you’ll straight away receive a notification on the phone so you never forget to place it back into the holster once you’re done, although admittedly we still found ourselves forgetting it due to the tiny size.

Getting started with the stylus is really easy, all you have to do is start swiping the screen — although you’ll only be able to use it on the Galaxy Note due to the need for a digitiser.

Hovering the S Pen over the screen and then tapping the small button on its body will launch a special menu called air command, which you can then choose to do things such as Action Memo. Action Memo allows you to write things such as phone numbers and addresses on the screen and be given options on what to do — such as directions to that address, or call the number you’ve written down.

We’re not the largest fans of a stylus on a phone, but the S Pen and the Galaxy Note line has made us fall in love with the idea all over again.

It’s not all about the S Pen though, with other features making their way from other Galaxy phones, including eye-tracking and gesture controlling. These features all feel just as gimmicky on the Note 3 as they did on the other devices, but at least they’re there.

The most useful feature on the Galaxy Note 3 is something that we’ve seen before too — being able to have two apps side by side. The large screen real estate and the powerful processor means that this really isn’t an unpleasant option and actually ensures you’re even more productive than usual.

[alert type=alert-blue]SOFTWARE[/alert]

In the world of Android skins Samsung has by far one of the most advanced in the form of TouchWiz. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but it adds a lot more features, or gimmicks, than the traditional Android operating system.

With the Galaxy Note 3 not much has changed but swiping up from the bottom will present you with a Flipboard style news aggregation service called Magazine. If you’ve ever used Flipboard, then you’re essentially getting the same thing, which is fitting given it’s powered by it.

Other apps such as S Note, an app which allows you to take advantage of that S Pen, are available but they’re pretty much the same as to what we’ve seen before.

[alert type=alert-blue]CAMERA[/alert]

The Galaxy Note 3 does come with a camera, but it’s far from its most important feature. That said, it does have the ability to shoot 4K video, and take 13-megapixel images, so we were expecting some pretty impressive things.

It’s not going to blow away those of you who have used other phones such as the Lumia 1020, but it’s fine for the odd photo at a family gathering.

If you have ideal conditions then the Note 3 will perform very well, with lots of detail captured and bright and vibrant images. As soon as you take it into a darkened environment though, you’ll start to find the camera having a very difficult time compensating, making everything look a lot darker than it actually was.

[alert type=alert-blue]VERDICT[/alert]

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is a different phone from most phones on the market, the bright vibrant screen is a gorgeous thing to look at, but if you care at all about the camera then you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Performance wise the Galaxy Note 3 will blow away most of the competition, we’d go so far as to say this is the most powerful Android phone we’ve used, although it’s too close to call with the LG G2.

The S Pen is a nice novelty, but we’re not too sure about our long term need for it. We found ourselves never really having to write things down on the screen, but maybe we’re just not the target market. If you’re a frequent doodler or like jotting things down but never have paper, then maybe you should look at the Galaxy Note 3.

If what you want is a decent Phablet that can more than hold its own, and care little about the S Pen, then the Galaxy Note 3 is still the compelling choice against the competition.

About the Author

Jordan O'Brien

Technology Journalist with an unhealthy obsession with trains and American TV. Attempts satire far too often. (+44) 020 7324 3502

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