Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Smartphone

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Product: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Smartphone
Provided By: Samsung Canada
Price: ~$299 on 2-year term

Introduction:

Today we are looking at the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Superphone. This device probably doesn't need much of an introduction, but we will still give you a brief run-down. As the name indicates, this is the third iteration of the Note Smartphone from Samsung and each one has been progressively larger. When the original Note launched it had a massive 5.3" screen with a 1280x800 resolution and was over 0.5" larger than any other device on the market. When the Galaxy Note 2 came out the following year, Samsung upped the ante with a 5.5" screen. The Galaxy Note 3 is the latest in the series and this time around, they not only increase the screen size, but they also increase and improve the resolution of the device. This device comes with a 5.7" screen and a very nice 1920x1080 resolution. This of course will likely shorten the battery life of the device - unless Samsung includes a larger battery. We are getting ahead of ourselves however, and we'll get to that after a bit.

Galaxy Note 3
Box Open

We had the opportunity to look at the original Galaxy Note before launch and took it to "Banker’s Hall" in Calgary and just had lunch. It was very funny to see the posh elitists actually turning their heads and stumbling into objects while they ogled the Galaxy Note. The sheer size and screen of that device turned heads for sure, but I find that the Galaxy Note 3 is a massive leap forward from both the original and the second generation Note 2 as well. The screen resolution is much improved as is the pixel density, and this all adds up to a much nicer viewing experience.

Bundle
Bundle

Before we go into too much more detail and give up too many spoilers, let's take a few minutes and have a closer look at this device.

 

Closer Look:

As is the case with most Samsung devices, they rely heavily on plastic - as elegant as it can be. I'm impressed with the level of the quality of the plastic - but it's still plastic. The outer "chrome" edge is plastic, as is the back - which looks like leather. It still feels pretty solid in your hand, but it doesn't ooze ultra-quality in the build. That being said, it will likely survive a few bumps and bruises, and as is the case with every smartphone around, the screen is what will take a beating and be the first to fail.

Top
Top

Right
Right

   

Left
Left

Bottom
Bottom

The top of the phone holds the headphone jack and an IR sensor, while the right side is home to the power button. The left side of the phone is where the volume rocker is located - near the top of the device and the bottom holds the stylus (S-Pen) as well as a speaker, and the micro USB 3.0 charging port. That's right - USB 3.0. Thankfully this port is also compatible with all of your micro USB charge cables so in the advent that you lose your fancy USB 3.0 cable, you’ll still be able to transfer files and charge your device.

USB 3.0 Charge Cable

USB 3.0 Charge Cable

Samsung includes a 2.0 Amp charger with the Note 3 and this high-charge rate is especially awesome if you need to hurry up and jam some juice into your device before you hit the road. Even though it charges fast with USB 3.0, I’ve noticed that it charges pretty quickly with USB 2.0 as well.

Rear Camera Close

Rear Camera Close

The rear of the device holds the lens for the 13MP camera as well as a LED flash. The front of the Note 3 is pretty basic and has the typical Samsung single button at the bottom of the front as well as a couple of "Soft Keys". At the top of the 5.7" 1080p screen is the speaker, and to the right of that is the ambient light sensor, the proximity sensor as well as the front camera. All of this adds up to a fairly basic package, but with a larger-than-average footprint.

Rear Profile

 

Before we jump into our initial impressions, we'll take a look at the features and specifications from Samsung on the Note 3.


The following information has been pulled from the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 product page and posted here for your convenience.  As always, you should check out the product page for all of the details.  In the meantime, we have the current information available below.

Features:

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 makes ordinary daily tasks extraordinary. Its reimagined S Pen puts time-saving shortcuts at your fingertips. The Multi Window feature makes multi-tasking effortless. And the dazzling 5.7-inch display and groundbreaking Android 4.3 Jelly Bean operating system bring it all to life like never before. For a smarter large screen experience, look to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 - everyday made easier.

Next Level S Pen:
The reimagined S Pen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has transformed our smartphone experience. A modern evolution of classic note taking, the S Pen helps you accomplish everyday tasks in the push of a button. Thanks to its innovative Air Command menu of short cuts, you’re only a click away from the following time-saving features:

  • Pen Window. Perfect for multi-tasking without leaving your current screen, simply draw a box of any size and select one of the most frequently-used Samsung apps to appear inside - from calculator to web browser
  • Action Memo. Use a written note to make a call, search the web and more by converting it instantly into formatted content
  • Direct Pen Input. Instead of typing, use the S Pen to input text wherever it’s required and watch handwriting recognition change your words in a flash
  • Scrapbooker. Save online content and web addresses in one common place by drawing around text and images to create a personal scrapbook of your favourite things
  • Screen Write. Share an annotated screen shot in a split-second by capturing the image, writing your comments and sending it out in one swift motion
Note 3 With S Pen
 
Advanced Multi Window
For a true multi-tasking experience, it doesn’t get better than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Its impressive 5.7-inch screen and Multi Window function means you can operate two separate apps at the same time and in remarkable clarity. You can even open the same app side by side, so you can write that all-important email message as you keep an eye on your inbox, with an added Drag & Drop feature making multi-tasking that much more simple.
 
Elegant and Powerful
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 delivers a premium user experience, fuelled by Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. With one of the world's most powerful operating systems at the heart of the device, its performance is seamless - apps run smoother, navigation feels easier and graphics flow more freely than ever before. Innovative and intuitive in equal measure, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is what next generation technology is all about.
 
Product Design
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 makes a memorable first impression, with a traditional, stitched leather-like backing sitting comfortably in your palm, and a crisp bezel and metallic frame giving it a more modern feel. Blending craftsmanship and sleek design, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 distinguishes itself from the competition.
 
Note 3 Profile
 
Voice Wakeup
When your hands are full, touchless voice control wakes up your Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and gets it ready for anything. Just say "Hi Galaxy" even when the screen's off, and then use voice commands to make a call, set the timer or send a text message - perfect for when your fingers can't do the talking.
 
Smart Switch
When you make the move to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the time-saving Smart Switch feature lets you bring along all your contacts, music, videos, calendar entries, photos, SMS messages and more. It even finds your apps, or the closest alternative, if you’re new to Android. For worry-free transfers from phone to phone, there’s nothing better than Smart Switch.
 
SAFE and KNOX
Your privacy is serious business, which is why the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is our first smartphone to come with SAFE and KNOX preloaded. The SAFE software means you can securely access critical information wherever you are, with On-Device Encryption protecting your most sensitive data. And with KNOX, you get a military-grade solution that creates two profiles on your phone to keep your work and private lives separate, while safeguarding everything in the event of hacking, malware, loss or theft.

Specifications:

Specs

Specs

Specs

On the next page, we'll take a look at general usage of the Note 3 as we continue.


Using The Note 3:

I'm not new to Android devices at all, nor am I a Samsung rookie. My wife owns a Samsung Galaxy S3 and I've used both Note Smartphones from Samsung over the last couple of years. I was not surprised by the user interface and overall, it works very well. I'm still not a huge fan of the "Touchwiz" interface, but overall the experience was pretty fluid. The fast processor in this device makes the animations, transitions and other eye-candy flow smoothly, and with the large 3200mAh battery, there is plenty of power to do this without crippling your battery life.

One thing I do like is the suite of applications that Samsung includes - for the most part. As with many of these phone companies, there are a lot of extra applications pre-installed that do take space, run active threads and don't offer any value or usefulness to some users. All that aside, the S Pen apps are very handy and will have you grabbing for your pen more often that you'd think. Some of the applications are a bit excessive, and the S Planner, while geared toward the S Pen could be a little more generic for standard touchscreen use. This makes the device feel a bit fragmented in and of itself as you sometimes feel that you need to grab the S Pen when you shouldn't have to.

Pen Commands
Pen Commands

Scrapbook
Scrapbook

I was surprised at how much I used the pen on the original Galaxy Note, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that I quickly fell in love with it on the Note 3. The S Pen was in my hand much of the time while on service calls, taking notes at meetings and more. It really combines the best of a real notepad and a phone - all in one device. I have a printer at home that I can print to from my Android device, so these notes were easily saved and used elsewhere.

For reviewing and other technical stuff, the ability to quickly "screen write" is a thing of beauty. What makes it even better is the fact that you can write on the screen precisely - instead of awkwardly with your finger as you would with a tablet or other smartphone. While not everyone will embrace this stylus idea, there is a definite purpose and use for it. I have discovered this again and again.

As we discussed in previous reviews of Samsung products that include an S Pen, it's not merely a stylus - it's a pressure sensitive input device that functions much like a Waccom stylus in many respects. While it certainly doesn't have the same range of pressure sensitivity, it is decent and the button on it allows you to launch apps, take screenshots and perform a whole host of functions. In fact, the way the S Pen works on this model, you don't always have to touch the screen with it. The Note 3 accurately detects the position of the pen when held above the screen. There are so many nifty things you can do with the S Pen that you'll have to spend a fair bit of time learning them all. Once mastered, you'll wonder how on earth you ever got along without it.

HomeScreen HomeScreen HomeScreen

 

One of our complaints with the original Note and its dual-core 1.5GHz processor is that it felt sluggish at times. This complaint is no more, as things have been optimized a bit better and the CPU has improved as well. As previously mentioned, the Note 3 has a quad-core 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 processor. The Nexus 5 (just released) has a 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800, and both of these devices are very snappy. I'm glad to see that the phone is very responsive and even when pumping out video on the 1920x1080 screen, things are very fluid and smooth.

The upgraded screen resolution is a very welcome addition, and while the resolution at 1280x800 on early note products was not bad, moving to a higher pixel density is a very nice thing indeed.  The web experience on this device is great. With a 5.7" screen, viewing and reading any content is great. The web looks fantastic as do games. With a screen resolution hitting 1080p, you've got a lot more resolution on this device than most notebook computers. It still drives me nuts that many laptops are still crippled at 1366x768 - about half of the resolution of the Galaxy Note 3.

Profile

Samsung has one-upped the All Share features with Screen Mirroring, and this works amazingly well. On TVs that support Screen Mirroring, displaying the content of your screen; at all times - not just with certain applications, is super simple. Once you select Screen Mirroring on your device and change the input of your TV to match, it just works. I love this for showing videos that I’ve shot on the phone and it works great for images, demonstrations and any other multimedia content. As there is some lag, watching the TV screen while playing a game, or typing would be a pain.

While mobile devices used to be able to play some basic casual games, things have changed in the past couple of years. NVIDIA paved the way with the Tegra processor and then companies have been stepping up their game ever since. The Galaxy Note 3 is about as good of a gaming device as you can get on the Android platform. It's a fast processor and combined with the Andreno 330 graphics processor, it’s very decent. It rocked every game we threw at it for the weeks that we had it and it helped my plants destroy zombies as well as hacked enemy resonators when fighting for the Resistance. All in all, it was a great Android gaming experience.

It's hard to believe that this screen is a mere 0.3" smaller than my Kindle Keyboard, and as such I did spend some time reading books both on the Kindle App as well as a title from the Kobo store. I also purchased a book through Google Play and used Google Books as well. As a reading device, it's not bad and if you turn down the brightness, it's pretty easy on the eyes with the excellent resolution and clear vivid screen.

Speaking of brightness, the screen shines like the sun when you turn it up manually to full brightness. I never had any issues seeing the screen clearly when outside - even on a bright day. When maxed out, it will shorten battery life for sure, but it is a relief that you can turn it up and read clearly. It's also nice that Samsung has included a 3200 mAh battery - while the Nexus 5 (same screen resolution & CPU) has only a 2300 mAh battery. I have a feeling that this battery will make the Note 3 a bit more appealing to some if they decide they need a 5" or larger device with a full 1080p screen.

Back Off

Back Removed

Battery Removed

All Apart

 

One thing that absolutely blows me away with the Galaxy Note 3, is the inclusion of USB 3.0. It uses the new micro USB 3.0 cable standard that is also used on USB 3.0 external storage devices. This is great as if you lose the cable, you don't have to buy a Samsung-specific cable. Thankfully you can use a standard micro USB cable if you lose the USB 3.0 version. Of course this will limit your data transfer speeds, but at least you can connect to charge and transfer files to and from your device. Data transfer speeds via the USB 3.0 cable are blistering fast for a smartphone and I was very impressed with how little time it took to transfer large video files. This is a great thing as 1080p videos are large and 4K videos are insanely huge.

USB 3.0 Disclaimer
USB 3.0 Disclaimer

On the next page we'll take a look at the camera quality, functions and features as well as do some video recording on the Note 3.


Camera Testing:

The camera on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is very decent. It has a 13 Megapixel camera on the rear for the main shooter as well as a 2 Megapixel camera facing you for those G+ Hangouts. The rear camera is especially good and it was a pleasure to use. When in camera mode, the volume rocker on the side becomes a zoom toggle and allows you to zoom the camera (digital zoom) from 1.0x - 4.0x.  As with all digital zooms, the image quality suffers, but it may allow you to capture that shot that you'd miss otherwise.

Camera Modes

Camera Modes

Camera & Video Settings

Camera & Video Settings

Samsung's stock camera app allows you to adjust shooting mode, scene mode, exposure value, focus mode, white balance, ISO as well as exposure metering.  This is pretty impressive for a phone and it follows the tradition of other Samsung smartphones.  Most cameras have a few of these options, but Samsung has a ton of different possibilities with things like smile detection, blink detection, beauty shot, best shot, best face and a ton more.  It's a robust camera that could take up a lot of a review all by itself.  In terms of quality, you'll have to check some of the sample images below.  Click on them to view them over at my Google+ page.

 

Frost Tree Frost Man Close Frost

 

As the cameras in phones have gotten much better, so has the software for them and for post-production of your images.  The Galaxy Note 3 has a very robust photo editing suite that is built right into the gallery mode - much like stock Android - and this lets you tweak and do simple edits on your device before you share them with the world.

As far as video goes, this big phone has some pretty big features. It can shoot 4K video at 30fps and full 1080p at 60fps. Better yet, if you want to get nice and slow, you can scale the resolution down to 720p and take video and an impressive 240fps (in theory - actually it shoots at 120fps and it plays back at 15fps instead of 30fps standard). This gives you video playback at 1/8th speed and overall, it looks great. These phones, and others like them are what is putting the portable video camera out of business. While we are once again limited by a 4x digital zoom, the addition and ability to zoom is still a welcome addition.

Slow Motion video

Slow Motion Video

Video Resolution

Video Resolution

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Galaxy Note 3 also performs very well as a time-lapse camera and you can create your own fast-motion videos as well. Once again, this is a nice feature for the stock camera and it saves you from grabbing some 3rd party app to do the same thing.

On the next page, we'll touch briefly on a few other phone settings and then finally post up our conclusion.


Battery Life, Calling & More:

As I mentioned earlier, the battery life on the Galaxy Note 3 is very good. The original note has a 5.3" screen running at 1280x800 and was powered by a 2500 mAh battery. It was decent. The Galaxy Note 3 has a 5.7" screen at 1920x1080 and is powered by a 3200mAh battery. I was blown away at the standby time I get. Samsung says you'll get somewhere between 17.5 and 22.5 days of standby. Of course that would be with excellent service and with the screen remaining off. When I originally got the device, I charged it and then pretty much forgot about it for a week as my schedule got completely crazy on the weekend and I took most of the next week to recover. I was very surprised to see that in a week - on total standby - I has used about 30% of my battery. I still had about 70% remaining! I was impressed and believe that in the total-standby world, I could indeed get almost 3 weeks of standby.

The reality is that you never leave your phone powered on for three weeks without using it, so those numbers simply look good and offer bragging rights. What matters is battery life on the road and in use. Still, with the 3200mAh battery, the Note 3 did an amazing job. With light-to-moderate use, I was able to get 3 days out of the device easily - and with heavy use when testing camera, screen mirror, video, ingress, and more, I still easily got a day out of the phone. This is a nice feature to have and even if you're a pretty hardcore user, you should still be able to make it through the day without bringing a charger or an extra battery.

That is one thing I do regret about the Nexus 4 - is the non-removable battery. As with pretty much any other Samsung phone I've used and seen in the past year, the Note 3 back comes off easily and you have easy access to the battery, SIM card and microSD card slot that will allow you to expand your storage by an extra 64GB. With the 32GB model we had for the review, you could simply upgrade that to a 96GB device. Beauty.

The biggest benefit and subsequently the biggest downfall of the Galaxy Note 3 is its size. It isn't small, and with a screen just 0.3" smaller than my Kindle screen, it's certainly not as easily portable as a iPhone 4S with the 3.5" screen. All that being said, the thin form factor and sleek edges of the Note 3 make it quite pocketable and I was actually surprised at how well it came with me everywhere I went. The screen is beautiful for viewing images, video, watching movies, reading books and browsing the web. It's crisp and clear and has ample brightness to compete with outdoor brightness and still offers you a good view of the screen.

The stock keyboard will require you to use two hands to dial numbers - one to hold the device and the other to poke at the screen - but there are now options that allow you to customize and use the Note 3 one handed. It moves the dialer keypad to one side of the screen and helps you to quickly make calls with one hand. Still, for some things, this phone is a bit large and awkward, but in the end I'd give up some convenience for the extra size and beauty that this device offers.

As for call quality, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 performs quite well. When in decent service areas, the call quality was crisp and as clear as you can expect from a wireless device. The handset and handsfree speaker volume is loud and works well.  I really have no complaints at all with the call quality of this device.


Final Thoughts:

If you haven't got the idea by now, the Galaxy Note 3 is a nice device. It's not without its flaws of course, and the way that Samsung sets things up on it is a little weird, but overall it's a solid product. One thing that I love and yet the default setting bugs me is the S Pen Keeper. This will alert you if you walk away with the S Pen laying around. It'’s an awesome idea and a great feature. What bugs me is that it is turned off by default. A feature like this should be enabled by default in my opinion.

The way Android has matured makes the Galaxy Note 3 able to double as a small personal computer. The features and power of this device make it much handier than many tablets and the size is a great trade-off between a small 7" tablet and a phone. After using it for a few weeks, I can see that this unit is pretty much the perfect size for the job it is intended for. The S Pen and KNOX give it extra appeal to professionals or those that are creative in a personal or business environment.

KNOX is Samsung's solution to the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend that is happening in large companies. This software/hardware encryption layer and application helps you keep your personal stuff personal and your work items, applications and data filed away in a vault. In this way if you get malware or something on the personal part of the device, your business stuff remains unaffected and safe. Because of the DRM and encryption of the KNOX software, I was unable to capture screenshots. Regardless, this feature has limited application for general consumers, but it is great that Samsung included it on this device. The Note 3 is powerful enough that you never know you're in a hardware/software encrypted layer and it launches and exits the KNOX software about as fast as you can load any other application on the phone.

The screen is amazing. There is not much else to say about the screen than that. It is covered in Gorilla Glass 3 and has the amazing resolution of 1920x1080 with a pixel density ~386 ppi. The brightness is more than adequate and the auto brightness works well, although in a dark environment (like reading in bed) it still is a little too bright. You can dim it down further with the manual setting however.

Overall durability of the Note 3 seems pretty solid. As we are supposed to return this device in one piece, I didn't do any major durability testing, but I didn't take it too easy on the Note 3 either. It made trips to meetings, the range, work and some play in my pocket or on the seat of my vehicle. It slid off the seat or off the couch more than once and it is still ticking. There are no scratches on it as I was pretty gentle on it, but the glass screen should stand up to keys, coins or other everyday objects that might also find their home in your pocket.

The overall volume and quality of the audio - both into the microphone and out of the earpiece and speaker are adequate. The call quality is great, but the overall speaker audio quality is still a bit weak when compared to some newer Apple products. Thankfully the speaker has been moved to the bottom of the Note 3 beside the USB 3.0 port and this makes music and movie playback much better than with the original Galaxy Note. The speaker on that device was located on the back and when placed on a desk, the audio was quite muffled.

LTE is much better here in Alberta than it was few years back, and this once again is both a blessing and a curse. While coverage areas are much better, so is the adoption of LTE devices. All of these additional LTE devices make the network slower, but still we reached download speeds of over 27Mbps and upload speeds at some points over 12Mbps. This is crazy fast for a wireless device and it always makes me wish I still had an "unlimited" data plan.

LTE Speed

My few complaints with the device do not include the large size this time around. Instead, they are more software and how the software is implemented on the device itself. True, it is large, but you can move the dialer for right or left-handed users. Instead, we'll start with the QWERTY keyboard. The stock keyboard doesn't offer much in the way of predictive typing and although "Swype" is listed as a feature, it's turned off by default. The other thing that is turned off by default - and shouldn't be is the S Pen keeper. That is just silly. Another useless piece of software that integrates deeply with the phone is the Samsung News Hub. This is a replacement for Flipboard - which comes installed by the way - and the News Hub is activated when you swipe up from the bottom of your screen. Each day, I launched this hub several times without meaning to.  It's a pain.

There are some other bits of Samsung specific software that are unnecessary or just plain poorly deployed and set up, but it's not a deal breaker. Overall, it's a pretty positive experience.

Clearly a device this size isn't for everyone but if you're considering a 7" tablet in the near future and maybe you're due for a new phone, take a good long look at the Galaxy Note 3 as it can easily kill two birds with one proverbial stone. I do caution you that if you're switching from a ~4" device, that you make sure to try out a Note 3 in the store before you buy one. The size may be a turn-off for some, but most people I've talked to love the large format and the extra screen real estate that it offers.

In Canada, this 32GB device will set you back $299 on a two-year contract while a 32GB iPhone 5S will cost you about $329. Feature for feature the Galaxy Note 3 takes the cake, but the size may make some people move to another Android or Apple device. What I do love about the Note 3 is that for another $25 you can buy a 32GB microSD card and have a 64GB phone. For the price of a 32GB iPhone 5S, you get an extra 32GB of storage.

Pros:
  • Large
  • Super fast LTE-capable 
  • Super AMOLED HD 1920x1080 screen
  • S Pen is much more than a Stylus
  • Gorilla Glass 3 = rugged X3
  • Quad Core Snapdragon 800 2.3GHz CPU with 3GB of RAM
  • MicroSD slot
  • Great battery life
  • Robust camera
  • Good call quality
  • Shoots 4K Video and does 240fps (120fps) at 720p
  • USB 3.0 transfer speeds are amazing

 

Cons:
  • S Pen keeper is disabled by default
  • Some included software is bulky and redundant
  • Average speaker sound quality

BCCRating

Gold

In the end, I really, REALLY wish I could keep this device, but alas, it has to go back to Samsung. For the $299 on-contract price, it's not a steal of the deal when compared to an off-contract Nexus 5 for a mere $100 more. That being said, the Galaxy Note 3 offers a lot more features, tweaks and value in many ways than the Nexus 5. They are spec’d similar, but the S Pen, 900 mAh larger battery and Samsung Apps like Screen Mirroring and more just might be enough to get you to sign up for a contract. I'm seriously debating on taking this road for my next purchase.

I'd like to thank Samsung for dropping this phone off for us to review and for showing us all the awesome KNOX stuff a while back. If you have any questions, comments or general feedback regarding the Note 3, please feel free to drop it in the forum at the link below.