Samsung Galaxy Note 3 User Review

*This is a review of a loaned device from Samsung Malaysia*

It’s been almost 3 months since I attended the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear Malaysian launch in September 2013. Whoa… It really didn’t feel that long ago, because in that short amount of time since the latest Samsung phablet was out, they sold over 10 million in 2 months!!!

There’s no denying how popular the Galaxy Note series phone has been for the Korean phone manufacturer. Likely the only manufacturer that maintained 2 lines of flagship devices under the same Android platform – the Galaxy S series and this Note series.

See Also : Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear smartwatch Launched in Malaysia (with hands-on)(updated)

Thanks to Samsung Malaysia, I got my hands around a white coloured review unit of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I got to use it as my primary phone for over 2 weeks, alongside the companion smartwatch, Samsung Galaxy Gear. For the sake of a thorough review, I’m splitting this into 2 posts. And this one here is for the phablet – the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the specifications of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 :-

  • 5.7″ Full HD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080)
  • 2.3 GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor
  • 32 GB internal memory (expandable micro SD slot up to 64 GB) + 3 GB RAM
  • Powered by Android 4.3 Jelly Bean OS (with TouchWiz UI)
  • Build material : Textured leather back with stitching details
  • 13 megapixel rear camera, 2 megapixel front facing camera (Full HD video recording)
  • 8.3 mm thin, weighing only 168 grams
  • 3,200 mAh removable battery
  • Connectivity : 4G LTE/HSPA+, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC, Infrared (IR)
  • Available in 2 colours : Jet Black, Classic White and Blush Pink (new Rose Gold White/Black & Merlot Red announced)

For more detailed technical specifications, check out Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Product Page at http://www.samsung.com/my/consumer/mobile-devices/galaxy-note/android-os/SM-N9005ZIEXME

 

Hardware and Design

Let’s start with an unboxing of what’s in the packaging of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 - Unboxing
Unboxing the Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Your standard affair – the device, 3-pin power adapter, USB to micro USB charge and sync cable, standard headphones with earbuds, S-Pen tip replacement clamp with extra tips, user manuals and warranty.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 - Hardware 1
Front and back of the Galaxy Note 3

As covered during my hands-on time with the Note 3 during the launch, the phablet looks pretty much like any Samsung phones in the market. The difference here, is the backplate. Other than the usual polycarbonate (aka plastic) back, Samsung gave us a bit of twist here. It’s still plastic, but there’s now a leather with stitching detail now. Although the review unit I have is white, and the leather stitching made it look premium here, it also looks beautiful with the black leather coloured version.

The backplate is removable to access your micro SIM slot, micro SD slot and a removable 3,200 mAH battery.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 - Hardware 2
Ports and buttons of the Galaxy Note 3

The device is slim at 8.3 mm, weighing in at 168 grams. The sides has a metal finishing, although they’re really plastic. Ports and buttons are the same as with all Samsung devices again, with the Power On/Off button on the top right, perfectly spaced for easy access with single handed use.

The S-Pen is at the same place, at the bottom right side, for easy access.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in hand

In my hands, the Note 3 with its 5.7″ Full HD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) is definitely larger tha your average flagship Android smartphones. Although it’s a little larger in screen size to its older brother, the Note 2, Samsung has nicely maintained (pretty much) the same size for the device, by just reducing the bezel on the sides with a bigger screen.

See Also : Samsung Galaxy Note 2 User Review

 

Software and Features

Just like with the flagship Samsung Galaxy S4, there are a bunch of features and functions that Samsung has included in the Note 3. Oh, so many features….

See Also : Samsung Galaxy S4 User Review

Note 3 - Menu, Navigation
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 – Menu and navigation

Other than the S-Beam (NFC), S Voice (voice command), S Translation (audio / written translation app) and more “S” and non-“S” branded apps, here are some highlighted ones for the Note 3:-

  • Multi Vision – connect several Note 3′s and place them together for a big screen video viewing experience (like their Group Play function, but with video)
  • My Magazine – partnered with Flipboard for a magazine like news reading experience
  • New Multi Window – simultaneously have 2 windows open at the same time on screen, side by side
    • Drag and Drop – Easily drag one content to another app. Copy and paste without opening and closing separate apps
  • New S Note – write, organise, edit and browse notes that are also synced with Evernote and Samsung account
    • New Easy Clip – cut images or any shapes and form by just drawing around it to crop the image
Note 3 - Browser, Keyboard, Multiwindow, S Voice, Google Now
Note 3 – Browser, Keyboard, Multiwindow, S Voice, Google Now
Note 3 - Samsung apps
Note 3 – Samsung apps

Some Samsung apps icons are in the App Drawer already, but tapping on it only launches the screen to allow you to install it on your device. Smart move on Samsung’s part, I think. Instead of pre-installing a bunch of apps that you might not use (ahem… bloatware) that likely takes up storage space on your phone, they leave the option for you to choose if you want to download it or not.

Note 3 - Settings
Crazy “settings” menu with way too many settings toggle for too many features

As I’ve said before, which I’ll say again, I personally think that Samsung has packed way too many features and functions to their phone. Most people who purchase their devices probably don’t know half of the features. If they do, finding the menu to activate the feature is the other half of the battle.

Similarly with this Note 3, there are way too many features that I didn’t know where to start testing and reviewing. I ended up using the phone like how I would normally use my smartphones and see how some of the features might come in handy at any point during my review.

Unfortunately though, I almost always forgot about the long long list of features and ended up not really using most of them. *sigh*

Note 3 - My Magazine
My Magazine is a magazine style news reader, collaboration with Flipboard

If you read a lot of news on your smart devices like me, you’d be happy to hear about the new “My Magazine” app that’s launched by swiping up from the homescreen. This app pulls article from news sources you can select, or social media feeds as well. This grid based layout is almost like the popular Flipboard app, because, well, it is developed in collaboration with Flipboard.

Funnily though, the full Flipboard app is also pre-installed in the Note 3. So, you get 2 apps – Samsung’s My Magazine or Flipboard to choose from. A bit redundant to have these 2 apps pre-installed, but hey – you get a choice!!!

Note 3 - Samsung Hub
Samsung Hub

There’s also the inclusion of Samsung Hub, an entertainment… errr… hub where you can purchase and download various content like videos, books, games and learning apps. Not too bad a content catalogue, honestly.

With all these features and apps included in the Note 3, the phone does seem sluggish at times when switching between apps, or opening new apps. I wish Samsung can be a little more selective with including features in the future. All these features just cause it to be a little too bloated, takes up precious phone storage and slows down the overall performance.

 

Updated S Pen functions

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 - S Pen

Yes, the updated S Pen. Sensitivity for touchscreen has improved. Long gone are the days that people scoff at using a stylus for a smartphone. Samsung has made it cool and useful again. The new S Pen in the Note 3 has new Air Command feature where you hover over the screen while pressing the S Pen button to activate 5 functions:-

  • Action Memo – write a command with the S Pen and it translates it to an action like making ` call, add contacts, search the maps for an address, search the web, save a To-Do list and more.
  • Scrapbook – collect sources of materials or URL to a digital “Scrapbook” for reference, ala Evernote’s Web Clipper.
  • Screen Write – take a screenshot and write comments, annotate or add a note to the screenshot.
  • S Finder – search for anything on your phone like documents, events, messages, Help pages and even other handwritten notes.
  • Pen Window – draw a shape anywhere on the screen to open a mini window of small apps for multi-tasking (eg, mini window for YouTube, calculator, browser etc)
Note 3 - S Pen Air Command Pen Window
Note 3 – S Pen Air Command Pen Window

The Pen Window function is quite useful, honestly. Especially the Calculator mini app… err… window. Pull out the S Pen, press the button while hovering on the screen, tap on “Pen Window” and draw a square anywhere on the screen. It launches a selection window of several “mini apps” available.

Note 3 - S Note
S Note is updated as well

One of the great things about S Pen stylus devices from Samsung Note series is the S Note note taking app. I personally use the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 tablet, and I love the ability to doodle and draw diagrams and handwritten notes using the S Note app.

This time, the improved version has better clour backup and sync with my go-to note taking app – Evernote!!!

So yeah – I did some crazy handwriting and drawing notes with the S Pen, including… *blush* an ugly drawing of myself.

 

Camera

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 - Rear Camera
13 megapixel rear camera with LED flash

The camera is a 13 megapixel rear shooter.

Note 3 - Camera
Camera settings are aplenty

Just like with the Samsung Galaxy S4, there are too many modes you can toggle for your pictures. From automagically beautifying complexion for portrait shots, taking action shots in sports photography (there’s even a new “Golf” mode now), panoramic landscapes or other multimedia intensive shots like Sound & Shot (picture and audio capture) and more. And yes – it can get rather confusing.

Here are some sample images from the camera. Images are unedited, not resized. So hover on the picture for the photo condition and click to view enlarged version:-

Image quality is alright. Yes – there’s a mighty 13 megapixel lens. Picture quality is good, not mind blowing, but good. Perhaps I just came off from reviewing the 41 megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020 with awesome camera and low light photography. I know it’s not a fair comparison.

I was disappointed with the 2 megapixel front facing camera though. Images are rather blurry, noisy and grainy.

Macro shots was super disappointing. I was stuck in traffic one day and noticed a little bug that decided to rest on my car window. So I tried to take a picture of it but the damn camera just wouldn’t focus on the close up macro shot. Look at the picture above, complete blurry shot.

If you’re taking picture of people, events, landscape, etc – the camera on the Note 3 would be great. Especially with all the different modes that’s available with just a swipe and flick of your finger.

Note 3 - Gallery
Gallery app won’t load (again) when cloud sync is activated

The other issue I have has been persistent in almost all Samsung devices I have  used. When I have my cloud storage synced on my Gallery app, the app just wouldn’t load as you can see in the picture above. In previous phones, it just wouldn’t load at all. I noted that this could be easily fixed with a software update on Samsung’s part. Multiple  Samsung phones later, the problem still persists.

There is a slight improvement. Now, if I close and re-open the Gallery app, sometimes they load.

Generally, I resorted to just disable cloud sync of my pictures to the Gallery app. That’s the only way I see all albums and pictures loading properly, the way it should. *sigh*

Samsung, please fix that?

 

Battery Life

Note 3 - Battery Life

 

In almost 2 weeks plus of using the Note 3 (alongside the Galaxy Gear), I find that the phone does provide great battery life with the 3,200 mAH removable battery. I manage to get a good 16 – 18 hours of light to moderate use with good amount of battery left at the end of the day. This is even with the phone permanently connected to the Galaxy Gear smartwatch using Bluetooth.

Good job, Samsung.

 

Pricing and Availability

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is already on sale at a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 2,399 and also available at a discounted price when you signup for any of these mobile telco operator plans:-

  • Celcom plans + device from RM 1,538 HERE
  • DiGi plans + device from RM 1,199 HERE
  • [UPDATE] Maxis plans + device from RM 1,199 HERE
  • [UPDATE] U Mobile plans + device from RM 999 HERE

 

Conclusion

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear

Having used the phone for a long time, I certainly do get asked a lot by people around me about my opinion of this highly popular, latest edition of the Samsung Note series smartphone. Especially, of course, because I was reviewing this alongside the Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

Here’s what I think about the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in a statement…

The Note 3 is another great S Pen stylus based phablet from Samsung, but it’s way too bloated with features bordering ridonkulous. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a large screen smartphone, there really is no other competition. It’s almost a no-brainer decision.

For RM 2,399 the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is indeed a bit on the high end side of smartphones. It is a flagship phone, after all.

The other consideration is that this phone comes with a complimentary accessory- the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch. The Galaxy Gear is likely the most talked about in the mass consumer market when it comes to wearable technology or smartwatches. Most retail and telcos are selling the Note 3 device bundled with the Galaxy Gear as well. So, if you’re looking at embracing wearable tech, the Galaxy Note 3 is worth considering as it’s build and designed to work very well with the Galaxy Gear.

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch coming soon…

 

 

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