Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Bigger, Bolder, Better

The stylus-bound phablet makes a comeback

Our score: 5/5
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Published: October 24, 2013 2:48 PM
Updated: September 25, 2014 1:55 PM
By Romain Thuret
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
With Guillaume Letoupin
Note: Samsung decided to "region lock" the Galaxy Note 3 to make it compatible only with SIM cards and providers from the geographic region in which the phone was sold. In theory, a Galaxy Note 3 purchased in the UK will only work with a UK SIM card. Samsung says the lock is meant to put an end to cross-region importing, but as it turns out, it isn't quite that restrictive.

In reality, the Galaxy Note 3 will read SIM cards from any region, as long as you've already at least once inserted a SIM card from the region of purchase prior to inserting the foreign card. If you buy a Galaxy Note 3 in a region other than your own, make sure and insert a SIM card from that region at least once before using your foreign SIM.



Another generation passes and the Galaxy Note inches closer to the 6-inch mark. After the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note 2, the Galaxy Note 3's display measures 5.7 inches. It's a Full HD AMOLED touchscreen (1920 x 1080 pixels) that's been optimised to interact with the Wacom-designed S Pen stylus.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Following the trend for this quarter's high-end mobile devices, the Galaxy Note 3 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, clocked at 2.3 GHz, but it's the first to combine the S800 with no fewer than 3 GB of RAM. The 32 GB of storage are expandable via microSD card for up to 64 GB more. The wireless connectivity includes Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and networks up to and including 4G LTE. Just like on the Note 2, an IR (infrared) port allows the Note 3 to double as a universal remote. The rear camera has 13 Megapixels and can astoundingly film in up to 4K/Ultra HD resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels). On the front is a 2-Megapixel camera.

The Galaxy Note 3 sells SIM-free for around £600, depending on the retailer.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Design & Handling5/5



Samsung hasn't really changed anything in terms of handling since the last generation, other than shave a millimetre off both the thickness and width. In any case, this has never been a one-handed device—you need one hand to hold it and the other to interact with the screen. But props to Samsung for fitting a larger screen in a body that's actually smaller than the last one. The display now takes up 75% of the façade.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The shell is mostly plastic, but as always with top-end products like this, Samsung gave it great finish and manufacturing. It doesn't sound like there's any empty space inside and the whole thing feels quite solid and reliable. This is the first Samsung mobile to sport a USB 3.0 port, but you can still connect and charge the Galaxy Note 3 with a standard micro-USB cable.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The new S Pen stylus is basically the same as before. It's thinner and has a slightly different design, but nothing that changes its excellent handling.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

This is subjective, so we're not going to dock Samsung any points for it, but we think the plastic imitation-leather on the back—there's even fake stitching!—isn't in great taste.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Display4/5


The Note 3 has an AMOLED screen, which is a technology known for being testy. But every year Samsung somehow keeps improving the image, especially the colours. By definition, the contrast is "infinite", and the black is so deep indeed that our testing sensors are unable to say otherwise. The screen's also incredibly bright and the white is excellent (258 cd/m² in portrait mode and 350 cd/m² in landscape), even though this is usually AMOLED's weak suit.

There are still the five basic screen modes: Standard, Professional Photo, Dynamic, Movie and Adapt Display. In Dynamic mode the white goes all the way up to 450 cd/m².
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

But just like on the Galaxy S4, Movie mode is what gives the most natural, balanced image (although it isn't quite as balanced as on the Galaxy Note 2, as the Note 3 has a higher Delta E of 6.9, giving it slightly exaggerated colours). The colour temperature is close to perfect: 6,776 K.

The screen no longer goes blue when you tilt the screen the way some of the older Galaxies did. Ultimately, Samsung didn't manage the technology quite as amazingly as it did on the Galaxy S4 and some competitors have better screens, but for its size, the Galaxy Note 3 has one of the very best.

Interface & Navigation5/5


The operating system is Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, but the real star here is TouchWiz. Samsung gave its software overlay all the same gesture and eye movement controls featured on the Galaxy S4.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3     Samsung Galaxy Note 3

For more about these features, check out our article about TouchWiz on the Galaxy S4.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The Note 3 also has some brand new features for the stylus. When you pull the S Pen out of its slot, the Air Command wheel pops up onscreen, where you can quickly do a search, write a memo, select part of the screen to send to someone as an image, take a full screenshot or activate a mini-app.

And you can navigate between these choices without touching the screen, by simply pointing the stylus at the display, holding it a few millimetres away. It all works fast and well. You can open mini-apps by drawing a square or rectangle on the screen, where a second menu proposing different mini-apps opens up.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

SketchBook for Galaxy is easily the most advanced drawing app that exists for mobile touchscreen devices. It's available in the launcher, but you have to download it after buying the Note 3. It's chock-full of features and ideas for creative minds—anyone who likes to draw with a stylus will be in heaven. S Note is also much cleaner and recognises handwriting just as quickly and reliably as ever.

For us, the most gratifying thing about the Galaxy Note 3 is how responsive it is—at all times! We can thank Qualcomm's system-on-chip and the 3 GB of RAM for that. All those mini-lags we noticed on the Note 2 (when you first start using the stylus, when you have two apps open, when you use the camera...) have disappeared. Rarely has a device given us so much the sensation of having a technical powerhouse in our hands as the Galaxy Note 3.

Multimedia5/5


Whether you're using Wi-Fi or 3G/4G, the Internet runs ultra-fast on the Note 3. However, we prefer using an alternate browser, such as Chrome. By doing so you lose the default browser's TouchWiz-specific interactions, but we're not a big fan of those anyways... The screen resolution is a huge plus for web browsing, making it quite an enjoyable experience in both portrait and landscape mode.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Multimedia playback and file format compatibility have always been some of Samsung's strong points, especially for movies. And that's still the case here. The Galaxy Note 3's media player is one of the best on the market. It will play just about anything in SD or HD resolution and the gorgeous display will do justice to any 1080p movie you can find.

As for video gaming on an Android device, the Note 3 is pure nirvana. If you keep up to speed with the video game sector and the latest reviews of high-end Android devices, then you already know that the Snapdragon 800 and its Adreno 330 GPU (which can also be found in the LG G2, Sony Xperia Z1 and Xperia Z Ultra) outperforms everything else made to this day. The Galaxy Note 3 is well optimised for the S800 and never so much as hiccups, even on the biggest, most demanding games, despite having a huge Full HD screen to feed.

The sound quality, however, varies from pretty good to horrible. The sound through the headphone output is fine and has high fidelity without the slightest trace of distortion. It doesn't go as loud as competing smartphones (especially the iPhone), but it should do the job for the average pair of headphones. The built-in speaker, on the other hand, is simply atrocious. It produces high amounts of saturation, so much so that you hardly feel like using it even when you have nothing else to listen with. This is a major flaw that Samsung needs to correct tout de suite.

Camera3/5


The Galaxy Notes have never been amazing camera phones, and this one's no exception. When the lighting's good, it produces perfectly acceptable pictures, although the edges of the frame aren't as sharp as in the middle. There's a contour enhancement algorithm at work here, but it's subtle enough not to completely mar the shot. There's also some smoothing, which is fine everywhere except towards the edges, where everything looks washed out. But the colours are accurate.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

When the lighting isn't good, the Note 3 is an utter disaster. It has quite simply the worst 13-Megapixel camera—nay,  the worst high-end smartphone camera at all—on the market. Pictures in low lighting turn out so red-tinged that you'd think they were taken by Curiosity. Everything looks fuzzy and mushed together. And for some reason Samsung got rid of the night-time mode... The interface is fairly basic and comprises a number of the modes and options from the Galaxy S4.
 
Samsung Galaxy Note 3

On a positive note, the flash isn't overkill and doesn't blow out subjects, even ones that are close up. It takes and saves pictures quickly, although not quite as quickly or fluidly as the GS4.

Videos come out much better. 1080p and 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) movies are fluid, relatively stable, generally high quality. Just don't forget that 4K video files are huge—a 25-second Ultra HD movie takes up about 150 MB! Of course, the digital zoom greatly deteriorates the quality, which is a shame when shooting in 4K. But the colours are lively, not at all dull, and overall the Note 3 makes great movies. There's even a 120 fps slow-motion mode.

Battery Life5/5


With a 3,200 mAh battery in its belly, the Galaxy Note 3 can handle a multitude of activities for a long time. If you do only non-power-consuming tasks (e-mail, phone calls...) it will last two full days, if not more. And doing more standard smartphone/phablet activities, it still lasts over a day and a half. Whatever the case, you can expect the Note 3 to last you more than a day.
5/5 Samsung Galaxy Note 3 DigitalVersus 2013-10-24 15:48:00

Pros

  • Gorgeous screen (especially in Movie mode)
  • Even more possibilities for the stylus than before
  • Ridiculously responsive
  • Great media player
  • USB 3.0 for transfers

Cons

  • Mediocre camera in low lighting
  • Speakers: low volume/quality

Conclusion

The Galaxy Note 3 is a worthy inheritor of the GS4's awesome power and capabilities. It's the ideal follow-up to the Galaxy Note 2 and, while it doesn't revolutionise the genre, it refines a number of its predecessor's best features, exhibits fluidity rarely seen among the competition and is incredibly versatile. The camera may not be anything special, but the Note 3 is a fine device that will satisfy any big-screen mobile fans.

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