Samsung’s Galaxy Note pioneered the ‘phablet craze', its release was initially met with harsh criticism mostly due to its size; the factor that limited its mobility – making it inconvenient to carry around because it’s a tough fit into most pockets apart from perhaps the inner jacket pocket. Very few thought it would be the inspiration for, or chief competitor to an entourage of devices to follow – I too, was among the sceptical majority.
The Galaxy Note 3, as the name suggests, is the 3rd generation device that currently has the HTC One Max, Sony Xperia Z Ultra and Nokia Lumia 1520 to compete with. Essentially, all the big boys excluding the Cupertino heavy-weight Apple, have immersed themselves in this bigger-is-better frenzy over the past few years. The competition has led to mind numbing technological advances: screens are bigger and specs are making serious head way, while they physically get smaller and lighter. Yet, I could never get used to carrying them around.
The Note 3 shares similarities in design with the S4 family though there are considerable differences. Before I get into those details I’d like to point out that there are two versions of the Note 3 available depending on your location, all of North America and those countries where 4G and LTE is readily available have the model that features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip, versus the rest of us that get the Samsung Exynos 5 Octa SoC version with a CortexA7+A15 octa-core CPU configuration.
Samsung’s Note series has been the benchmark to supersede for all phablet manufacturers; most have come close but only for Samsung to unleash another generation of super-sized smartphones with yet more to offer. The Note 3 is a great looking device which has a bigger display than before, better specs and battery life, and still manages to shed more weight and girth compared to previous models. The thinner bezel around the display looks fantastic and makes the screen pop out while watching videos.
I like to think that their design team in South Korea reads what their critics say and tries to address common discontent with the next generation of devices. It’s no secret that people want to feel like they’re holding a premium device that does justice to all the costs associated with the product, and by calling it “contoured polycarbonate” or whatever other fancy term you want, does not make it feel like a premium material. It’s still plastic and feels cheap.
Apart from the Gorilla Glass covering the face of the Note 3, everything else is plastic. Even the chrome-finished metal-looking rim that wraps around the device and houses the power button, volume rocker, connectivity ports and loudspeaker grill is plastic. They have however worked on the changeable back cover: it’s gone from shiny and smooth plastic to contoured matt finished plastic that is made to look and feel like leather all the way down to the faux-sewn edges – which are also plastic.
My problem is not so much with the plastic as it is with it being designed to look and feel like metal and leather – a cheap material disguised to look like premium materials would legitimately leave the buyers feeling cheated.
Samsung has been trying to develop features and applications that help integrate their smartphones into customers’ lifestyles; they have a WatchOn app that turns the S4 family and Note 3 devices into universal remotes through which you can incorporate different room configurations as presets. They also have the S Health app through which you input your physical details and calorie consumption, it then tracks your movement and tells you how much more to exercise daily.
The newest addition and perhaps the most interactive one of the lot is SketchBook for Galaxy. The S Pen functionality enables the user in utilising the most out of the application. Within the app there are loads of preset brushes among other graphic tools that can produce illustrations similar to the industry standard Adobe Photoshop suite. You can compile images on different layers, play around with opacity, add graphics and kill lots of time being creative.
While Sketchbook is geared towards the creative sort, Evernote is designed for students and professionals that need to record meetings/lectures, it has a speech-to-text function, capability to compile notes and pictures, as well as a function called Page Camera which allows you to turn physical documents into digital notes. Last but not least and certainly a point not to forget is that the Note 3 comes with 50GB of Dropbox space that is free for the first two years, it can be tied in to backup all your pictures, documents, and contacts automatically so you never lose anything.
Display & Camera
The 5.7-inch Full HD Super AMOLED screen has a 1080x1920 resolution which results in mind boggling 480dpi (via AnTuTu) image density. Playing graphics-heavy games like GT Racing 2 is insane fun since the screen is huge and has the necessary power under the hood to support it. Such games normally are a different experience with each phone since they require higher refresh rates, around 60fps, so the game play experience does not lag or get choppy.
The camera takes great pictures in good light and average pictures in low-light situations. On the back there is a 13MP main camera with LED Flash and a front facing 2.1MP camera, both of which can record videos at 1080p. The kicker here is, the main camera’s capability to record videos in 4K, that’s essentially 4 times the resolution since it’s two times regular HD on each axis. There is an ensemble of filters, effects and tweaking options available if and when they are needed.
Performance & Usability
The version we got for review, courtesy of Shamrock Communications was the Sm-N900, it came with the Samsung Exynos 5 Octa SoC with a Cortex A7+A15 octa-core CPU and 3GB RAM. I don’t think I’ve ever used a faster phone so I really had nothing to compare it with, so I ran the AnTuTu Benchmark test and Nenamark 2 test. Needless to say it aced all benchmark tests and came out on top as the fastest with fantastic GPU results as well. I’ve been running all the power-hungry apps simultaneously, while using all sensors and the multi-window option - all the Note 3 does, is ask for more.
Granted, the 5.7-inch display takes some getting used to, especially if you like operating the device with one hand, but keep at it – it gets easier, and once you get the hang of it you would not want to part ways. Battery life really stands out when you look at the size of the display and the specs its supporting, but here is where the octa-core CPU configuration comes into play: it is made up of two individual quad-core processors with one being bigger than the other. The latter is used when too much is not being asked for from the device since it consumes less power, and the other processor kicks in when lots of power is required by applications. Additionally the 3.8 V Li-ion 3,200 mAh removable unit is huge and gives you more time than most other batteries available today.
Once I fully understood what all the Note 3 is capable of, I was able to comprehend what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately we did not get it with the Galaxy Gear so I cannot comment on its usability and functionality comprehensively without speculating. What I do know is that whatever sceptical reservations I may have had in the past about the Note series are all gone. If you are looking for a phone with a bigger display than the more common 4.5 to 5-inch screen, the Note 3 is your best bet. It packs a serious punch in terms of performance and features such as 4k recording, the S Pen and the Galaxy Plus bundle with Sketchbook, Evernote and Dropbox stand out in altering the way one would go about their daily routine; all for the better.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 – Rs 67,000 to Rs 71,000
5.7”, 1920x1080 Super AMOLED
Processor and GPU
Snapdragon 800, or Exynos 5 Octa SoC
Krait 400 quad-core CPU, or Cortex A7+A15 octa-core CPU
Adreno 330 GPU, or Mali-T628 MP6 GPU
16/32/64 GB internal storage, 3GB RAM, microSD card slot
13 MP camera, 1/3.06” sensor, f/2.2 lens, up to 4K video
3,200 mAh, 12.16 Wh battery
LTE or HSPA+, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
168 grams, 8.3mm thick