Samsung’s updated Note is large, powerful, and generally excellent, although I wish Samsung would make one in metal.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3: On the plus side
The third product in a technology line, so the theory goes, is the one where all the kinks get worked out and things start to get seriously good.
That’s certainly the first impression that you’ll get from the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which takes the Note 2’s basic design and streamlines it in subtle but effective ways. Its corners are slightly more square, making it a little easier to hold. It’s a shade lighter at 168g, but manages a larger display screen at 5.7 inches to the Note 2’s 5.5 inch display, and the display is 1080p capable to boot.
The other big physical change is at the back, where the slippery plastic of the Note 2 has been replaced with what is meant to look like stitched leather, but that’s simply not true; this is still a plastic back in a faux leather finish.
The advantage there is that it has considerably more grip than the flat plastic of the Note 2 or associated Galaxy phones that share the same basic design. Like those phones, the plastic rear case of the Note 3 is removable to allow you access to its 3200mAh battery and microSD card slot, which adds to the onboard 32GB of storage as needed.
In base specifications the Note 3 doesn’t skimp, either, with Android 4.3 running on a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800, CAT4 LTE (although there’s not a whole lot of non-Vodafone CAT4 LTE out there for you to hook into just yet), 802.11a/b/g/n/ac networking and a 13 megapixel camera that can shoot 4K content, storage permitting. Connectivity at the base is USB 3, which means it can charge faster and swap files around more rapidly with compatible computers, while still retaining microUSB compatibility for older chargers.
It’s a very solid combination that suits the gentle evolution of the Note line.
The Note 3 benchmarks well — but then it would do, what with this specific phone being at the centre of the recent Android benchmarking controversy. For whatever it’s worth, Geekbench 3 gave me a single core score of 933 and a multi core score of 2950 in its tests.
Outside of those tests, the Galaxy Note 3 is a solid performer in the larger phone category. Most of what makes the Note line special lies in Samsung’s special stylus, the S-Pen. For the Note 3, Samsung’s opted for a radial menu of simple applications that automatically open whenever the pen is removed, with options for fast note taking — and sharing out to other services via those notes — as well as launching apps in user defined sizes simply by drawing on the phone screen.
Anecdotally, I’ve seen a lot of Galaxy Notes in the wild, and very few users that seem to use the Stylus all that much, but at least Samsung seems to be refining and honing down what you might use the Stylus for, and it’s easy enough to ignore if it’s of no interest to you. The stylus also works for selection well above the actual screen, and while that sounds gimmicky, it does actually work quite well.
The larger size of the Note 3 has always made it a solid battery performer, and it had no problems over a week’s worth of testing lasting a solid day and almost to the length of two days in regular usage. Given the amount of screen real estate it’s dealing with, that’s highly impressive.
The camera on the Note 3 is decent, although properly composing with a phone this large can be interesting. It’s also got a few interesting little features built into it, like automatic face smoothing for selfies. This looks… odd.
The Galaxy Note 3 is, at the time of writing, the only device that’ll work with Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch, and some telcos are bundling the two together. I didn’t get the opportunity to review the two as a pair, so all I can say there is that they do theoretically work together.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3: On the minus side
The faux leather looks OK on a shelf, but it is still faux leather, and quite obviously so. I strongly suspect that over time the white “leather” on the review unit I tested might start to look a little worse for wear, especially if not kept inside another case, and that’s only going to accentuate that problem.
The Galaxy Note 3 has much the same raft of software on board as the Galaxy Note 4, and that’s a bit of an issue given that some of it doesn’t actually work that well. The same is arguably true for some Note-specific apps.
Scrap Booker and Screen Write really aren’t that useful in anything but their own apps, and while Pen Window — which lets you draw the shape for a set of widget-style apps to appear on screen — sounds interesting, the reality is that there’s really only a fixed shape size that works anyway. Essentially you’re launching a widget in the most convoluted way possible, because you’ve got to remove the S-Pen, then select Pen Window, then draw the shape, then select the widget itself, and then possibly resize it a bit if it’s a little warped. It works, but it’s not productive at all.
The Galaxy Note 3 I tested with was running the Australian version of Samsung’s TouchWiz software, and that means that it’s once again solidly in the Samsung locked favourites bar bug territory.
Samsung have at least said they’re aware of the issue, and it appears to be some kind of legal snafu — at an absolute I’m-not-a-lawyer-and-I’m-simply-guessing way, I’d guess possibly to do with the court case that saw the release of the earlier Galaxy Tab products delayed by Apple — but that still leaves you stuck with fixed icons on your homescreen. You can use other launchers, but the moment you do, you’re giving up a lot of S-Pen functionality, which sucks.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3: Pricing
Telstra offers the Galaxy Note 3 on a variety of plans starting at $77/month ($600 “worth” of calls, unlimited texts, 1GB of data, 24 month minimum $1848)
Optus has the Galaxy Note 3 on plans starting at $62/month (200 minutes calling, unlimited SMS, 200MB of data, 24 month minimum $1488)
Optus subsidiary Virgin Mobile offers the Galaxy Note 3 on plans starting from $53/month ($200 “worth” of calls/texts, 200MB of data, 24 month minimum $1272)
Vodafone offers the Note 3 on plans starting from $53/month ($200 “worth” of calls/texts, 200MB of data, minimum 24 month cost $1272)
Samsung sells the Galaxy Note 3 outright through its Experience stores in Sydney and Melbourne for $999 outright. Harvey Norman sell it for $888 in black or white. Dick Smith have it for $897.
On the importing side — where you should dodge the whole local locked favourites bar bug —
Kogan offers it for $739 while Mobicity has it for $799.95.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3: Fat Duck verdict
Despite its software quirks, the Note 3 is still a solid and powerful Android device. It’s not alone in the larger screen size phone market — I’d suggest you also give the Sony Xperia Z Ultra a look if you like larger phones — but as a logical evolution of the Note concept, there’s a lot to like here.