Is Bigger Better?
Before I start, let me say this: the iPhone 5S is a great phone. Probably one of the best all around phones there is round now in terms of performance, camera quality and huge selection of apps. But unfortunately for me, I got bored of the small screen size and iOS7 within a matter of weeks. The small 4-inch screen size makes viewing photos and videos difficult. I think my eyes are starting to wear out on me because when I was trying to watch my video podcasts or Netflix while on the treadmill or on the stairmaster in the gym, it was a real strain. And I gave up trying to read subtitles on anime on that tiny screen! iOS7, while a decent upgrade from the previous version is still a letdown with limitations that other mobile operating systems had for years, such as smart dialing and Swype/Swiftkey features. I don’t want to turn this to turn into an iOS7 vs Android debate so let’s focus on the hardware…
Here we have the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 – a powerhouse smartphone with the latest Snapdragon 800 quadcore processor and a dominating 5.7-inch screen (outdoing the previous Note 2’s 5.5-inch)! Is bigger really better? Or is this just another giant box full of short-lived gimmicks? Let’s find out!
- 5.7-inch HD Super AMOLED Screen (1080 x 1920)
- 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 (mm) weighing 168g
- Android 4.3
- Quad-core Snapdragon 800, 3GB RAM
- 32GB / 64GB Internal Storage with MicroSD Expandability
- Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, HSPA+, NFC Wireless Connectivity
- USB 3.0 with MicroUSB 2.0 backwards compatability
- 13MP Rear Camera with LED Flash, 2MP front facing camera
- 3200Mah Replaceable Battery
As you can see from the specs above, this thing is a powerhouse. The quad-core Snapdragon CPU is what you will find on all the current high-end Android smartphones such as the Nexus 5, LG G2, Sony Xperia Z1, etc. However, Samsung has tacked on an extra GB of RAM bringing it to 3GB so you can multitask and have several applications open at once without bogging down the phone. For those who have complained about how laggy the Galaxy S4 was out of the box need not worry about the performance of the Note 3 because this thing is FAST and Samsung’s TouchWiz has NEVER been this smooth!
Android manufacturers these days are dropping support for a user replaceable battery and memory expandability such as LG and HTC. I am glad that Samsung is NOT one of them. I popped in a 32GB PNY Class 10 MicroSD card into my Note 3 since I like to take a lot of photos with my camera phone. That amount is pretty excessive even for my needs. In fact, the Note 3 already has 32GB of onboard storage and that’s more than enough for the average person.
However, there is something that makes the Note 3 really stand out, which is the ability to move and run most of your apps on the MicroSD card! This was something that was introduced back in the earlier Android days but it seems Samsung is the only one that supports it (Galaxy S4 can do this too). Even though my Sony Xperia Z1 has a MicroSD slot, I don’t have the option to run apps from it like the Note 3 can. Thanks to this feature, I can load as many games as I want and not have to worry about running out of internal storage space! I like to think of it as having “infinite storage” because you can easily swap out memory cards rare occasion of running out of space.
If you want to go even further, you can invest a few dollars in a USB adaptor which enables you to plug in your USB devices such as gamepad, thumbdrive, SD Card reader, etc.
I also picked up a spare battery and charging case for $49 at the Sprint Store – for some reason it seems like Sprint is the only retailer that carries this accessory. The Note 3 already has a MASSIVE 3200Mah battery which would get most power users through an entire work day and then some. I took my Note 3 off the charger at 7AM and went through my daily routine of making calls, checking emails, social networks, and streaming music in the car. Finally after work, I hit the gym and watched a full episode of Beauty and the Beast (the one with Kristin Kreuk) and STILL had 35% remaining at 11PM. I left the phone off the charger till the next day which finally hit 3% by lunchtime!
When I had my iPhone 5/5S as my main device, I would use a Mophie charger which worked out pretty great but it added quite a bit of bulk to the iPhone. In fact an iPhone with the Mophie case is bulkier, thicker, and heavier than the Note 3.
The Samsung spare battery charger is pretty light and thin which doesn’t take that much space in your laptop bag. When you’re out of juice, just swap it with a fresh fully charged battery and you’ll be set for another day and a half of useage!
I was surprised on how thin and light the Note 3 is. Here’s a side view comparison with other devices that I have going from top to bottom: iPhone 5S, Galaxy Note 3, iPad Mini, and the iPad Air. Even though the Note 3 weighs at 168g, it doesn’t really feel that heavy as the weight is distributed very well through the device and it is quite pocketable. It fits in my front pockets but I usually carry it on my back pocket. I wear size 33W,30L pants size in case you are wondering.
The S Pen is less and less and gimmick every time
Not many people truly utilize the S Pen in each generation of the Note series but those who do really love it. Personally, even though I thought it was pretty well executed in the previous Note 2, I still found it to be pretty gimmicky. Samsung takes the iconic S Pen to another level in the Note 3 with software enhancements furthering the integration into the operating system. You can now use the S Pen to write, scribble your notes, write your emails and convert your handwriting throughout the device. When you pull out the S Pen, you get a fan-shaped shortcut menu to choose from – Action Memo, Scrap Booker, Screen Write, S Finder, and Pen Window. It’s really useful in marking maps to send to your friends or taking a quick screenshot of a chart and writing in a note on it. There are limitless possibilities on what you can do with photos, graphics, documents, etc.
Samsung’s note apps have also been further refined. I also like the fact that the S Note can sync with Evernote which is useful in syncing across multiple devices. Also, the handwriting detection is very accurate where it can understand most of my sloppy hard writing without any issues. Again, some people may not use it much but it is really nice to have and the S Pen features are really useful when you need them.
TouchWiz works pretty well
Like every Galaxy device, Samsung slaps on their own UI/Launcher on top of Android 4.3. I’ve never been a fan of TouchWiz which in my opinion ruins a lot of the Android experience and lags the entire smartphone like it did on even the Galaxy S4. I was actually ready to install Nova Launcher the second I got the Note 3 but decided to play around with it for a bit and surprisingly, to this very day I have yet to do so. TouchWiz works pretty well and navigating through the UI is super smooth and quick. I believe that extra GB of RAM on the Note 3 helps a lot and I’m sure the whole problem with TouchWiz is that it’s a memory hog on its own so this is how Samsung solved the problem!
The UI is quite customizable where you can even customize your fonts, change your lockscreen and wallpaper, put apps into folders, and even disable the wallpaper scrolling! It’s also very easy to disable and uninstall apps straight from the applications screen rather than go into settings. If for any reason you still hate TouchWiz, you have the option of running any launcher you want which is part of the many great things about Android. As for me, I am sticking with TouchWiz for now.
The camera performance is really nothing to write home about. It uses the same camera found in the Galaxy S4 so expect great photos in well lit places and in a nice sunny day but also expect less than mediocre low light photos. Like the Galaxy S4, you also have a lot of shooting modes and gimmicks which I don’t really want to cover at length. Most people use Auto mode which is very capable in giving you the best shot possible (depending on the lighting conditions). The camera shoots at 13MP but is a step behind the newer phones where it lacks optical image stabilization. In general I still feel that the iPhone 5S takes better photos, not to take anything away from the Note 3 but Apple has definitely set the bar on how camera phones should be.
One thing worth noting about the camera is that it has the ability to shoot video at 4K (which you have to manually set, default is at 1080p) but that only matters if you have a TV that supports that resolution. However it’s good to know that Samsung is looking towards the future with this phone. The Note 3 does a good job in capturing video and audio and with the expandable storage, you can capture all the memories you want in 1080p HD. Here are some shots taken with the Note 3!
As mentioned earlier, the Note 3 is powered by the latest Snapdragon 800 Quad Core Processor clocked at 2.3Ghz with 3GB of RAM. This puts the Note 3 as one of the more powerful smartphones in the market today so we indeed have high expectations on its performance. I usually don’t like talking about benchmarks because they don’t really mean anything to me in real world use, but for those who have to know, this scored about 21,360 in quadrant, which the previous Note 2 only scored 6890. What that translates to in terms of gaming performance is nothing less than incredible.
I installed every graphically intense game I could think of and the Note 3 handled all of them with ease. Asphalt 8, Zen Pinball, and Dead Effect all ran beautifully, no lag and no stuttering whatsoever.
I reviewed the MOGA Pro and Hero Power earlier this month. Games look great on the Note 3’s large AMOLED screen and adding a gamepad makes the experience so much better. You can even use an MHL adaptor and connect to an HDMI port to your TV and play your games that way. Videos also look fantastic and it makes going back to anything smaller than the Note 3’s screen really hard. There’s probably no way I would want to watch videos on an iPhone ever again after getting so used to the 5.7-inch screen.
With all that storage space, you are going to want to transfer a lot of data. The Note 3 can transfer files via USB 3.0 which is much faster than USB 2.0. It also charges the battery quicker as well so if you are sitting at the airport and want to quickly top off your battery, this is one way to do it. And thankfully, if you don’t have USB 3.0 connectivity, the Note 3 is backwards compatible with a standard microUSB cable/adaptor!
Wait a minute, who the hell wants to use wires and cables?! Everything is wireless these days! I like to use AirDroid if I want to have access to wirelessly management my data on my Android phones. You can view photos, set your ringtones, send text messages, etc all on your desktop.
Here’s another look at the iPhone 5S, Note 3 and iPad Air. People ask me even with the Note 3, does my iPad Air sit in the dust? The answer is absolutely not. Both compliment each other really well. I need a bigger device for presentations and getting a much fuller web experience on the couch, in bed, and even on the go. There are situations where it may not even be convenient to bring a laptop. As I mentioned in my iPad Air Review, Apple makes the best full sized tablet. I also feel that sticking to one ecosystem is over-rated and it helps having an iOS device with me to use apps that I can’t find on Android or don’t work as well.
Phablets are somewhat of a niche market but Samsung has brought the Note series to a point where even the average consumer will benefit to owning one. Thanks to refining all areas of the device itself from the physical design to the internal hardware and software, the Galaxy Note 3 is a monster gadget with so many features that someone in the universe will find useful. Battery life and overall performance are impressive and the Note 3 is capable so much more thanks to the flexibility of a user replaceable battery and expandable memory. I just wish the low light camera photography was much better. It would be nice to have a more premium build but I think Samsung purposely did the best they could with the plastic to keep the device as light as possible. I am excited to see what the next of the Note series will bring since Samsung almost nails it with the Note 3.
- Fast overall performance and excellent battery life
- Replaceable battery and ability to run most apps off the MicroSD card
- Improved build quality over the previous Note and other Galaxy devices
- Well executed and more refined S Pen
- Brilliant massive display
- Some people might hate the faux leather back
- Low light camera performance still suffers
- Some people might not like TouchWiz
Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5