Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Hands-On: Fast and Feature-Rich Phablet

by Reads (1,920)

The Samsung Galaxy Note series is here to stay. This much we know, despite the snarky comments hurled at the active pen-supported, large-screen smartphone when it first debuted two years ago, including observations that it was too big, awkward, and relied on archaic pen technology users ditched in favor of touchscreens years before.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The evidence is here in the third-generation Note, appropriately dubbed the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which sits just behind the vaunted Galaxy S series as Samsung’s second-string smartphone flagship. Many users love the previous Note’s phablet-sized displays (since co-opted by Samsung competitors), as well as the pressure-sensitive active pen and inking features, which many on the TechnologyGuide team found ideal for navigating the device and quickly jotting notes.

Perhaps it’s a good thing then that the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 does not stray far from its roots as a productive phablet device. As with most any high-end smartphone today, it’s absurdly thin and light, weighing just .37 pounds and measuring .326-inches thick, with a brilliant Super AMOLED display featuring pixels so small, they are impossible to individually discern with the naked eye. It’s also large, coming in with a 5.7-inch display, but not overly large. Perhaps the Samsung Galaxy Mega’s lukewarm reception kept Samsung from straying too far close to the 6-inch territory. And it’s powerful, sporting a 2.3GHz quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB or 64GB of expandable memory. It will also have a 3,200mAh battery, which should be good enough for all-day use, as well as a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, which is enough for 4K shooting, and 2-megapixel front-facing camera.

Of course, it runs Android. Unfortunately not the recently revealed KitKat, but rather Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, the latest version currently available.

Faux Leather

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 backBut you wouldn’t know that from listening to Samsung at the Note 3 debut event. In fact, Samsung spent little time focusing on the specs and operating system, and instead chose to highlight the improved design and new S Pen features.

Critics love pointing out Samsung’s over reliance on plastic in building its smartphones. The S3, Note 2, and Galaxy S4 were all derided as feeling cheap. Samsung seems to have taken this to heart by foregoing plastic in the Note 3 design in favor of a leather-like material for the back panel, complete with phony stitching.

It feels good in hand, or at least no worse than the Galaxy Note 2, but not markedly better either. It’s large, and certainly not skinny jeans pocket friendly, and might be awkward for an extended phone calls, but previous-generation Galaxy Note users won’t have any issues using it, and those unfamiliar to phablets will easily get used to it if given the chance.

Dot Circle Square

Those changes just cosmetic, however, the real upgrade comes in the form of what one Samsung rep called “dot circle square” at the unveiling. With the S Pen, users can call up a quick action shortcuts dubbed Air Command from anywhere on the Note, and access a series of pen utilities, including Action Memo, which turns users notes into data. For example, a jotted down name and number can become a contact with just one touch, or an address can automatically load into Google Maps. That’s the dot.

The circle comes into play as part of the scrapbooking function. See something you like online? Simply circle it with the S Pen and it will be stored and organized in one space.

Finally, the square refers to Pen Window. With it active, users draw a square anywhere on the display and then choose an app to run in that space. It’s a form of multitasking, and in demos supported a web browser, YouTube, calculator, and a half dozen other common functions.

There are a dozen or so other features, many of them updates to those that first appeared on the Note 2 or S4, and in quick testing the “circle dot square” worked well. TechnologyGuide especially liked the Pen Window, even if it’s a bit gimmicky. But, we are fans of the similar pop up apps on the previous Galaxy devices, and found plenty of use for the calculator in particular.

Who Uses These Features?

As for rest, well, TG will have to wait and see. Those features may be useful, just like the similar found on the Galaxy S line and previous Galaxy Notes. However, Samsung has yet to organically incorporated them into the smartphone and its day-to-day functions. Users almost have to remind themselves the features are there, and then find a way to wedge them into the work flow.

Using the S Pen as a quick launcher seems like a good start. It’s intuitive, and it puts the new functionality literally at the tip of the pen. But we’ll have to spend significant time with the Galaxy Note 3 before judging whether or not Samsung’s features actually stick, and become part of a daily routine.

Review Coming Soon

TechnologyGuide will find out soon enough when we have a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone in house for real-world testing. After brief hands-on time with the device, we are confident it will be a quality handset, but we are eager to see if Samsung can make its S Pen features the differentiators between the Note 3 and the numerous phablet competitors.


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  1. sooomitin

    no productivity until full office can be supported. tablet = fail in this regard to date.

  2. Davidjan

    Great device. Both should support OTG to add storage with this mini reader:
    http://goo.gl/U6IyY