Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Alora Uy Guerrero
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 will be available in black, white, and pink.

Specs of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (P36,990 in the Philippines):

Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset
S Pen integration
LTE
2.3GHz quad-core CPU
Adreno 330 GPU
3GB RAM
32GB internal storage
microSD card slot (up to 64GB)
5.7-inch Super AMOLED display (1,080 x1,920 resolution; 386ppi)
13-megapixel rear camera capable of 4K video recording
2-megapixel front camera
3,200mAh battery
Android Jelly Bean 4.3

 

Unlike movie sequels, smartphone follow-ups are typically better than their predecessors. Obviously, it has more to do with the advances in technology than anything else. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which is the third smartphone entry in the Note series, has some big shoes to fill then. Take note that at the time of its release, the Galaxy Note 2 was Samsung's biggest mobile yet, squeezing a 5.5-inch display into a body 5.95 inches by 3.17 inches in length and width. 

Combine that generous surface area with an improved S Pen to go along with a bevy of new functionalities (more on those later), not to mention an impressive spec sheet that includes 2GB of RAM and a sizable battery, and you have one of 2012's finest smartphones.

How exactly did the Korean electronics maker improve on an already great product? With a trifecta of upgrades, of course! As you may have gathered from our hands-on article (see Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy Note 3), the third Note boasts better hardware, software, and performance. That's without stretching past the size of previous-gen models, mind you.

However, it does maintain a status quo in terms of off-contract pricingP36,990 in authorized retailers in the Philippines (around US$850)whichis as unfortunate as it is understandable.

Which begs the question: Is Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 worth the premium price tag? And perhaps more importantly, has the company produced another device that deserves to be ranked among the very best this year? We've taken the phone for a spin, and we've got the answers, so read on to find out how it holds up to real-world usage.

Hardware

The improvements start with the exterior; the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has a more refined form factor. The phone's build quality is reasonably solid, too, so the company's choice of materials aside, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything wrong with the hardware.

It still has a generous serving of plastic, yes, but it's also narrower, thinner, and lighter than the previous model, resulting in a body that's fairly comfortable to use for long stretches and sits nicely on our hands. It's not too large or unwieldy. And when you're holding a device like this, dimensions matter a lot.

Don't get us wrong, though; it will hardly fit into most pockets, and when it does, it leaves a considerable bulge. Those with particularly small hands may have difficulty operating the device. One-handed texting remains out of the question (for most users, anyway), as the Galaxy Note 3 is simply too wide to allow fingers to reach the corner letters/numbers with minimum effort.

On a more positive note, located along its bottom edge is a single speaker that produces loud sounds without too much distortion.

Design-wise, you're looking at a hardware that is more like the original Galaxy Note than the Galaxy Note 2; it's more rectangular than curvy. In fact, one way to describe it is that it's mostly a first-gen Galaxy Note with narrower bezels, a flashier trim, discrete navigation keys, an oblong-shaped home button, and a faux-leather back. 

READ: Samsung to launch smartphone with curved display in October

Now, about that rear cover that's unlike anything we've ever seen on a Samsung smartphone. Think of it as a case made of soft-touch, leather-type material with stitched trim, except it's part of the unit itself. The good news is that it does an excellent job of fending off scratches and smudges. Do take note that the cover is very thin and flimsy, so handle the back plate with care when removing it.

Further hardware improvements include a better-looking, redesigned S Pen; a USB 3.0 micro-B connector, which supports MHL and USB hosts; and a built-in IR blaster for controlling TVs, home theaters, and other home-entertainment gear. 

The extensive use of plastics and removable back means that the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is missing the same level of polish and sophistication you'd find on the Apple iPhone 5s and a few flagship efforts, but we're pleased with how it looks and feels nonetheless. The move to leather, even if it's just the artificial kind, suggests that Samsung may finally drop wholly polycarbonate designs in favor of metal-clad housings and unibody builds.

 

Display

One of the most significant upgrades the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 brings to the series is the 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a full-HD, 1080p resolution and an impressive pixel density of 386ppi. Whether indoors or outdoors, the device delivers picture quality only a handful of smartphones can match.

The AMOLED panel is every bit as bright, contrast-rich, and vibrant as you'd expect. As a result, it makes everything on the screeneven the gloomiest of imagespop, regardless of viewing angle. It produces colors that appear more natural and less saturated, and it also has low reflectivity, hence text and graphics are legible under the sun.

The takeaway here? As with the Galaxy S4, the Galaxy Note 3 addresses most, if not all, of the long-standing concerns about AMOLED technology.

Camera

We've already mentioned in the previous article that the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 brings another megapixel bump to the family. However, we've yet to give you some in-depth impressions about its imaging capabilities.

Sure, the 13-megapixel rear sensor captures photos up to 4,128 x 3,096 pixels in resolution, the 2-megapixel front-facer has slightly more pixels, and the default camera app interface based on the Galaxy Camera's is a strong suit, but the real story here is performance. 

SEE: Apple sets new record for iPhone sales launch

Photos, particularly those taken during the day, have plenty of detail, strong colors, and very little noise. White balance and exposure are typically right on the money, too, so you won't have to worry about fiddling with the settings often.

Videos captured in well-lit environments come out crisp and smooth, especially those at 60fps, but lack the color vibrancy of still images. At 60fps, its highest frame-rate setting, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 can record 1080p footage, whereas most devices can only manage 30fps.

Upping the ante even further is its ability to shoot videos at 4K resolution. However, be advised that 4K recording is limited to just 5 minutes, as resulting clips have an approximate file size of 100MB per 20 seconds of footage.

While videos with exactly four times the resolution of full HD is pixel overkill for every electronic gear that doesn't have a 4K panel and doesn't offer at least 50 inches of screen size, it's good to know that the new Note provides a bit of extra value for those fortunate enough to own 4K TVs.

Many of the party tricks found on the Samsung Galaxy S4 are present on the Galaxy Note 3, including Dual Shot, Dual Recording, Drama Shot, Best Face, and Eraser for removing moving objects from five consecutive shots. 

Snapping 306-degree panoramas using a feature dubbed Surround Shot is something we haven't seen before. It works really wellat times even better than Photosphere for Google Nexus devices running Android Jelly Bean 4.2. 

In a nutshell, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is an excellent shootergood enough to take imaging duties off of your point-and-shoot camerawith all sorts of cool options to play with even. You can see that for yourselves from the samples below. 

 

Software

The smartphone ships with Android Jelly Bean 4.3 preinstalled. Also present is Samsung's own selection of apps and functionalities which debuted on the Galaxy S4 and older Galaxy Notes. Of course, no new high-end mobile is complete without picking up a new set of functionalities.

In the case of the Galaxy Note 3, chief among those is the Air Command feature, which is a tiny radial menu that offers quick access to apps designed to take full advantage of the phone's giant display and serious firepower. Admittedly, it takes a bit of effort to use and get used to, but it does make for a proper multitasking experience. 

Swiping up from the bottom of the screen also brings up My Magazine, Samsung's Flipboard-inspired home screen. It reminds us of HTC's Blinkfeed. It brings curated news feeds and deeper social integration to TouchWiz, great news for heavy social-media users. 

Performance

Our unit has a Snapdragon 800 chipset from Qualcomm, one of the first devices to flaunt the chipmaker's latest and fastest quad-core silicon. The CPU is clocked at 2.3GHz, the GPU is Adreno 330, and RAM is 3GB, 1GB more than the second-gen Galaxy Note and other premium devices on the market.

Beneath the hood, the internal storage steps up from a base configuration of 16GB to 32GB and supports up to 64GB of extra storage via microSD expansion. There is also the usual bunch of connectivity options and radios: WiFi, 3G HSDPA, 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and GPS with A-GPS support and Glonass for accurate positioning.

But enough with the technicalities, let's talk about more interesting stuff. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has unrivaled firepower, so unsurprisingly, it behaves like a phone at the top of its class. It zips through the whole Android operating system, regardless of whatever game you're sinking hours of your life into or the number of apps loitering in the background.

READ: Qualcomm's new augmented-reality tech brings your environment to life

What about multitasking chops? The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has that department well covered. It's a real productivity tool capable of a windowed multitasking experience reserved almost exclusively for laptops and desktops.

We pushed the phone's silicon to its limits and found that it can handle eight (yes, eight!) apps running simultaneously on the screen without any issue. It also performs fluidly while playing not one, not two, but three high-def videos at the same time. 

This is decidedly one of the most powerful mobiles we've ever held; it feels mightier than the Galaxy S4 and other models with the older Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC on board. Just look at its AnTuTu benchmark score below (with bonus screenshots). The results are right up there among the very best that Android has to offer. 

 

Battery life

As with the Galaxy Note 2 before it, the Galaxy Note 3 packs serious hardware to power its massive screen and quad-core internals. Based on our usual battery-rundown test, in which we play a high-def video on loop, with WiFi on and brightness set at 50 percent, the phone's 3,200mAh battery lasted 11 hours and 55 minutes. That's roughly on a par with last year's model's battery life, which is all the more impressive considering the overall spec bump.   

Real-life usage proved to be just as amazing, with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 giving us two full days of moderate use on a single charge. Of course, you can expect far less longevity with LTE enabled. Likewise, the cell will drain more quickly while doing resource-hungry chores. 

As with most smartphones these days, this Samsung has a power-saving mode; it'll likely add some extra hours to your battery mileage, minus a major performance hit, so we highly suggest giving it a try.   

Verdict  

All things considered, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is the definitive Android tour de force from the Korean manufacturerat least until the next Galaxy S smartphone shows up in March next year. It's a step forward for the Note series, and the device's winning combination of screen size, software- and S Pen-related functionalities, and all-around performance is as good as it gets for high-end mobiles.

The Note 3's plastic build, large footprint, and eye-watering price tag of P36,990 aside, it's easily the best Samsung smartphone ever made, and arguably one of the best on any platform. 

Power users, creative types, and previous Galaxy Note owners who were happy with their purchase should definitely take note.