They say the pen is mightier than the sword. For the Galaxy Note line of handsets from Samsung, they're hoping that the S-Pen is mighty enough to sway you into buying the new Galaxy Note 3. Thanks to a few little tweaks and changes, this is the first handset where a stylus actually makes sense.
What Is It?
The Galaxy Note 3 is a huge uppercut to the competition. It packs a huge hardware punch with a 2.3GHz quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM, super-fast Category 4 LTE/4G capabilities, all hiding beneath a beautiful 5.7-inch Full-HD Super-AMOLED display. The battery is more juiced than ever with 3200mAh taking you from pillar to post, as well as a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera to shoot your life along the way.
All this power and beauty has been packed into a smaller footprint than ever, with the device measuring in at a svelte 8.3mm case, weighing just 168 grams.
The Note-line of handsets is starting to inform the design language for the rest of the Galaxy products Samsung makes. If you look at the Galaxy S4 for example, you'll see the same minimal bezel, oval-shaped home button, sensor placement and grille/pattern design found on the Galaxy Note II. This is great news, because the Galaxy Note 3 has a more premium feel than any Samsung handset that has come before it.
Cheap plastic covers have been replaced by a stitched leather back, bright accents, grooved edges and an S-Pen that feels textured like a beautiful watch might be. The changes to the S-Pen really go beyond just a new look, however.
Samsung has overhauled the S-Pen to take it from a novelty gadget into something you’re probably going to use all the time now, In fact, the new Air Command feature paired with the S-Pen will turn the Samsung-branded stylus into something you need, rather than something you use in meetings to impress your boss.
The Air Command feature refers to a a radial menu that anchors in new apps designed to leverage the Note 3′s giant screen and handy power: Scrapbook for web clipping, Action Note for powerful handwriting tools, S-Finder for looking around your device, Screen Write for doodling on screenshots and Pen Window for putting hovering apps over any screen.
Air Command is fast, fluid and incredibly functional. Pen Window allows you to drop funky widgets on your existing multi-window layouts, bringing the power of three tasks at once onto the single, 5.7-inch screen. You don’t notice any slow-down the more you throw at the device: it welcomes the challenge and excels.
Likewise with Scrapbook, Action Memo and S-Finder. These are three incredibly useful features that can only be accessed with the S-Pen. It’s now something you need everyday.
Scrapbook is a fun little feature that lets you circle just about anything you can find on the Galaxy Note 3 from either the web or inside another app. Whatever you put in your selected area gets clipped, Evernote-style, into a centralised Scrapbook for you to access later.
Scrapbook also pulls out the contents of said webpages, for example, and embeds the content in a new page so you can watch that YouTube video or listen to that SoundCloud track inside the app without having to bounce out to your browser.
Action Memo is the natural evolution of the S-Note app that Galaxy Note users know and have come to love, only this time Samsung has done a great deal to make your handwriting meaningful and useful this time around. You can now create "Actions" from your handwriting, which uses optical character recognition-style software to encircle your text and turn it into something that other apps can use.
Got an address written down? Open it up in Maps with an Action to see where you need to go rather than writing it out again. Need to call that girl who left her number in your phone because you're the smoothest dude around picking up chicks with your Note 3? Just Action her number into your phone and ask her out to dinner. Sadly, the Note 3 can't help you with that unironed shirt hanging in your wardrobe you need to wear.
That OCR-style software comes in handy with the new global device search feature known as S-Finer, too. Not only can you now search for stuff on your handset better than ever before, S-Finder also looks at handwriting as well so that note you scribbled in a meeting won't be lost forever. You can also add filters for time-specific searches and even location specific searches. If you were in London recently for a meeting and took a few photos, too, you can look for those specifically by your geotag.
All these features turn the Galaxy Note 3 into a really different handset than we've ever seen before. The previous generations of Notes were just big Galaxy S handsets with a pen attached. This one is the first productivity partner you could actually see yourself living with everyday.
Tap your home button from the main screen and you'll find a clever HTC Blinkfeed-style feed that displays all your news and social content. When we first saw it, we thought that Blinkfeed and Flipboard had a baby on a Galaxy Note 3, but it's actually a clever repackaging of the Flipboard app built specifically for the new Godzilla handset. It's nice, but there's no real way to curate the feeds you want, and it's missing Facebook integration which is a bit of a shame.
Meanwhile, on the hardware side, the Galaxy Note 3 is also packed to the gills.
The power is turns this handset into an ego-bruiser, and the new most-powerful handset we've had through the labs. That didn't last long for the poor iPhone 5s, did it? The Note 3 is packing ,ore RAM than in any other Android handset — 3GB worth to be precise — and a 2.3GHz quad-core processor so powerful you might just hear it growl under the soft leather backing of the handset itself.
In our Geekbench 3 tests, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 scored 2875. To put that into perspective, the Galaxy note II was impressive when it came out at 1403*, as was the Nexus 4 at 1537*. Earlier, we dubbed the iPhone 5s the most powerful device on the market with a score of 2530, but that crown was quickly usurped by the Note 3, with its impressive total. It's worth pointing out that benchmarks aren't always all they seem when it comes to Samsung's top-tier handsets, but hopefully it wouldn't make that error in judgment again.
It's worth noting that Samsung only scored a few hundred above the iPhone 5s, which is still packing a 1.7GHz dual-core A7 processor and only 1GB of RAM. All that power on the Galaxy Note 3 saw off the iOS competition on the test bench, but it's amazing to see what can be squeezed out of a comparatively-small processor and meagre amounts of RAM compared to just throwing more system resources at the platform.
Also on hardware, the 13-megapixel shooter on the back of the Note 3 is hella-impressive in daylight, but still leaves a bit to be desired in low-light areas compared to the Lumia range and even the new iPhone 5s.
Click to enlarge
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Nokia Lumia 1020
Download the uncropped versions from Dropbox here.
Still, it's an impressive camera for most circumstances, and it's still packing a great deal of customisability on the software side thanks to the inclusion of the Galaxy Camera style Camera app. (It's worth noting these photos were all taken on their respective handset's "Auto" setting)
The camera can also record at what might as well be 4K resolutions, too, with a resolution of 3840x2160, as well as slow-motion at 1080p.
It's also worth mentioning that the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is, for the foreseeable future, the only handset compatible with the Galaxy Gear smart watch. The Galaxy Gear is a clever little gadget that acts as a fancy remote to your Galaxy Note, all the while making you feel like Maxwell Smart.
It connects via Bluetooth and gives you access to some nifty remote features like the weather, a pedometer, Find My Phone proximity alarms, S-Voice compatibility and different clock faces.
The Gear runs an 800MHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal memory, a 1.9-megapixel camera with autofocus, all concealed underneath a 1.63-inch SuperAMOLED (320×320 pixel) face.
It also packs a bunch of remote features for your smartphone, like pushing notifications to your wrist from various apps and allowing you to start, stop and skip music tracks from your watch.
The remote features also work in tandem with your phone, so for example, if you’re looking at a notification on your wrist, you can tap it or even just pull your phone out of your pocket and it will take you straight to the information you were looking at on the big screen so you don’t have to go digging for it again.
These are all clever features, but the real power comes from the calling, camera and app functionality.
The Gear also comes with a 1.9-megapixel camera mounted in the middle of the strap between the face and the buckle, designed for grabbing quick snaps when something happens that you don’t have time to get your phone out for. It’s a feature called Memographer, and feeds nicely into the Galaxy Note 3′s ideology of taking quick snaps and grabbing information fast for access later.
All of the faces, apps and other ahem...gear...is managed from an app on your Note 3.
We'll bring you our full review of the Galaxy Gear soon.
The beautiful screen on the Galaxy Note 3 trumps the massive panel on the old model, touting a 1080p panel (1080 x 1920, 386ppi). Just look at the difference between the two side-by-side.
Left: Galaxy Note II. Right: Galaxy Note 3
The phone also has a smaller bezel, less rounded edges and an all-round better design than its predecessor. It's a coming of age for the Note.
The Note 3 is a fantastic handset, and probably the best thing to come out of Samsung Mobile in the history of ever, but no gadget is without fault.
We praised Sammy for ditching the scratchy, horrible plastic on the Note 3, but it's not all single-malt scotch and fine suits with the leather case: it still has that underlying feel of plastic, almost with a faux feeling to it.
The Note 3's size bump from 5.5-inches to 5.7-inches is starting to push the planet-sized flagship into the "too big to hold" category. If the Note gets any larger we'll have to relegate it there, but it's worth noting that this phone isn't for the tiny-handed (read: your feeble yet fearless reviewer).
Samsung has actually changed the charging port on the Note 3 from USB 2.0 to the speedy USB 3.0 standard. That's actually a good thing, but what the hell am I meant to do with the 50 USB 2.0 cables I have on my desk now?! Update: I was wrong, and didn't realise it is actually backwards compatible with all my USB 2.0 cables. Splendid!
The Worst Part
It was our least-favourite part of the Samsung Galaxy S4, and it seems to be one with no end. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is still running that goddamn Australia-specific version of Touchwiz where you can't change anything in the dock and you have to push a bunch of keys just to move stuff around on the homescreen. God. F**king. Dammit.
Exact your revenge by flashing it off as soon as possible if you're someone who likes Android because it's, ya know, customisable.
Should You Buy It?
Centre of your digital life straight out of the box and impressively powerful and impossibly pretty as far as Samsung is concerned.
This is the phone for devout Samsung users and productivity junkies alike.
*Scores adjusted for Geekbench 3 tests according to Primate Labs' multi-core test scores.