Holy smartphone. Note 3 is large and in charge. The gigantic 5.7″ device puts you somewhere in between tablet and smartphone; it’s actually a phone but it’s come to be known as a phablet. This is now the third iteration of the insanely popular Samsung device, and it just keeps getting sleeker, smarter, and more powerful.
Not only is the Note 3 screen one of the biggest you’ll see on a phone, it’s also one of the best looking. The 5.7″ display is super AMOLED with a 1080p resolution. The AMOLED is absolutely gorgeous–it’s detailed, vivid, and very bright at any angle. The pixel density, at 386 ppi, is even better than iPhone’s retina display. The contrast is more dynamic than iPhone, however the color reproduction isn’t as accurate. The screen gets super bright, but it’s not as visible as iPhone 5/5S in sunlight.
The word sleek definitely comes to mind. It’s even thinner and lighter than Note 2, with a similar design. Note 3 almost has an identical face as the Samsung Galaxy S4; Note’s just scaled up in size. On the back is a faux-leather plastic hard shell that is removable and reveals the battery, SIM tray, and Micro-SD tray. On the white model, the faux-leather plastic has remained clean and bright white after a couple weeks of regular usage.
At 5.9 ounces, Note 3 is just heavier than the average phone, but still feels light in-hand. If it fits in your pocket, it won’t weigh it down. Samsung actually delivered on a premium look and feel. It may not be up to Apple standards, but with its glass face, aluminum bezel, and leather(ish) back, it’s a really handsome device. We love that the face of the device is almost entirely screen; it nearly runs edge-to-edge on the sides.
Like Galaxy S4, Note 3 can swap out it’s battery cover for a full case with built-in magnetic front cover. There’s a variation of this case that has a small viewing window on the front so you can always see the time and notifications while keeping Note fully protected. They’re really neat cases.
It’s called the “Note” for a reason–its niche is that it’s a device for note taking. It comes with an S-Pen, and dare we call it a “stylus” because it’s unlike any stylus you’ve ever used. S-Pen is the closest thing you’ll get to using a digital pen. It delivers on extreme accuracy and Note 3 has taken the technology a step forward by adding a hover state to the pen. You can see where the pen will land on the screen just by hovering over the screen. If you prefer handwriting notes or jotting stuff down, then this is the device for you. Sometimes a keyboard won’t do the trick, and Samsung gets that. S-Pen has a button on it that opens air command, a menu with some quick actions. S-Pen conveniently hides in the bottom of device. I’ve found myself frequently typing with S-Pen–it’s surprisingly comfortable, and really easy to type with Samsung’s swipe keyboard. You can also use handwriting mode for typing.
This will be one of the most powerful smartphones for a while. It has a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor, 3GB of RAM (!), and up to 32GB of internal storage (and a micro-SD card slot that can store 64GB). There’s 802.11ac (or b/g/n), NFC, USB 3.0, an IR blaster, and super-fast 4G LTE data speeds. It will be hard to top that. There’s a foreign-looking charging/syncing port that’s actually a standard USB 3.0 micro-B port. Nicely, it still charges and syncs with a regular Micro-USB cable.
Battery has become a very sensitive topic for smartphone users. Getting that full day has been difficult for most, but it’s no problem for Note 3. It features a gigantic 3200mAh battery that will last up to 25 hours of talk time. Even better, it’s removable. It charges with a standard Micro-USB cable–so you’ll have no excuse for not having a charged phone. You’ll have a hard time killing this battery in one day. With moderate use, I’ve been using Note 3 for two days per charge.
As you may know, Samsung is big on “software features”–they enhance the Android operating system with a lot of their own features like eye-tracking, motion, or voice detection. It comes with Android 4.3, Jelly Bean, enhanced by Samsung’s TouchWiz Nature UX interface. Android connoisseurs generally disprove of UX overlays on top of a pure Android OS, but Note 3’s impressive specs are able to handle the excess features and eye-candy TouchWiz adds.
S-Note is arguably the best addition to Android. It allows you to keep a notebook of doodles, designs, and notes made with your S-Pen. Like we mentioned, there’s a bunch of eye-tracking, motion and voice detection features which are neat, but gimmicky. With Smart Scroll, Note can monitor your eyes and you can tilt your head to scroll. Smart pause can pause videos if you’re looking away from the screen. Smart Stay keeps the screen on as long as you’re looking at it. With Air Gesture you can scroll by waving your hand above the front sensor (as if that’s easier than simply swiping with your finger). There’s a few other similar features which are all easy to find in the Android settings. The settings menu is really clear and intuitive. It’s an easy way to learn all of Note’s features.
We compared Note 3 head-to-head against iPhone’s new 5S camera. Firstly, both phones take absolutely fantastic photographs–just beautiful! They both empower the user to become amateur photographers. On auto, iPhone 5S is quicker to take a beautiful shot. Note 3 requires a steadier hand. Both photos can get incredibly detailed; iPhone handled detail a little better, but Note’s 13 Megapixels allow you to zoom in further on distance shots. Samsung offers a lot more flexibility and features for both picture-taking and post processing. There’s even some neat features like the ability to use the 13MP back camera simultaneously with the 2MP front camera.
Note 3 also supports 4K video recording (twice the resolution of 1080P), which is an outrageous feat. The video quality is outrageous–it’s beautiful and crystal clear. Just try to keep a steady hand. Ironically, Note records at a higher resolution than the screen can render.
AT&T Data and Calling
As with most AT&T LTE phones lately, we’ve had superb results with speed and reliability. The overall speeds were consistent with iPhone, and hovered around the 1MB/s (8Mbps/s) download speed. Service is widespread in NYC (even under some of the subways) and phone calls sound perfectly average.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 is by all means an impressive device, and a really nice successor to the already-popular Note 2. There’s a nice bump in specs, and the form factor is sleeker and cleaner than ever. The screen is phenomenally gorgeous and detailed. S-Pen is a pleasure to use and allows you to turn Note into a digital notebook/sketchbook for storing visual ideas. With that said, Note 3 is best used in two hands. With big hands is still possible to use Note with one hand, but it definitely takes getting used to it. The lightweight build keeps one-handed use somewhat practical.
Note 3 is a specification powerhouse, but sometimes it’s hard to feel it. It’s generally a snappy UI with a lot of eye-candy, but it can also be buggy with some freezing or crashing. It’s not as polished as iOS, but it does come with a lot more features. Most people will be ecstatic just to have a phone that they can’t drain in a day of usage; the battery is outstanding.
If you’re looking for a big phone (or a phablet) then this is the best one out there. If you like everything but the size, then the Samsung Galaxy S4 is almost the same device in a smaller form factor. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is currently available in black or white from AT&T for $299.99 with a two-year plan or $724.99 off contract.
The Good: Screen is beautiful, bright, and incredibly high resolution. Great form–very sleek light and durable. Removable battery, great cameras, S-pen is awesome for note taking, handwriting, and sketching. Long battery life, NFC, IR TV Remote Control, windowed multi-tasking, and 4K video recording.
The Bad: Tough to see in sun, Auto-brightness is slow, UI can be buggy and may be too large for some.