Review by Andrew Kameka on Thursday October 10, 2013.
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The Samsung Galaxy Note II introduced a smartphone with a stylus that actually made sense. Despite the challenges of its broad frame, the Galaxy Note II worked for people willing to use a larger than normal smartphone. If Samsung got it right the second time, the pressure must be high to make the Galaxy Note 3 the best Android phone the company has produced.
With a year's worth of new technology, feedback, and ideas, Samsung should have addressed all of the old grievances and made the new product something even better. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has to be the ultimate smartphone; or, it could be yet another device that makes people say that Samsung is doing too many things instead of the right things. Let's review to see if it's the former.
Hardware and Design
The Samsung Galaxy Note series has previously been the territory of glossy plastic finishes that were lauded by many and tolerated by others. I had no qualms with the smooth finish at first, but durability later proved to be an issue with the second Note smartphone.
The Galaxy Note 3 has no plastic problem because Samsung has introduced a unique faux leather battery door unlike anything I've ever used before. No one will mistake this for premium leather based on touch or appearance, and that's fine. What matters is that the synthetic hide has a nicer grip and feel to it than Samsung products typically offer.
A few other adjustments have also been made to the Note 3, including returning to a boxier shape. The curvy rim has been replaced by a silver outer lining with ridges and a nicer feel. The speaker has been moved to the bottom corner of that lining and it's disappointing because the volume and sound quality are both underwhelming. Listening to music through the speakers requires near complete silence, and I would rate the clarity and loudness as disappointing.
Samsung also moved the volume and power buttons closer to the top, which provides an annoying challenge for users to stretch farther north when holding an already large device. The Galaxy Note 3 measures 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3mm (5.95 x 3.12 x 0.33in), so it requires flexibility and large hands to complete tasks with one hand. Despite the size, I'm sure anyone will feel comfortable with two hands because I frequently see smaller people use the Galaxy Note II, and the Note 3 is actually one millimeter slimmer.
Other notable hardware features include a physical home button, a new microUSB 3 port, an S Pen for drawing, and plenty of software centered on the enhanced stylus. The microUSB 3 connection is welcome because it accelerates charging. A microUSB cable can still charge the device, but using the cable that ships with the phone leads to much faster recharging and data transfers.
Bigger is better, and bigger is also sometimes more efficient. Samsung managed to squeeze out some extra space for the Galaxy Note 3's screen without increasing the size of the device. By slimming its bezel, the Note 3 grew to a 5.7-inch display. The quality of the Super AMOLED display also increased thanks to an upgrade to 1080p HD resolution. AMOLED panels have a bad rap because of their tinted appearance, but the bright colors - about 40 percent higher than the previous iteration - and solid outdoor visibility will make someone quickly overlook the minor flaws that are only noticeable when nitpicking.
Here's another way to get over nitpicking: embrace the speed offered by a 2.3 GHz quad-core processor with 3GB of RAM. Samsung has been cheating benchmark scores to appear more powerful, and that decision is puzzling because the Galaxy Note 3 is already very fast. Since I began using the phone, I have never felt like the phone lagged or labored on a task at any point. The Snapdragon 800 has proven to be an exceptional chipset for balancing the desire to move in the blink of an eye with the need to wisely allocate resources, and the processor's reputation is under no threat judging by the Note 3's performance.
- 2.3 GHz quad-core processor (Snapdragon 800 in North America)
- 1.9 GHz octa-core processor (Exynos in some EU/Asia markets)
- 5.7-inch 1080p HD Super AMOLED (386 ppi)
- 32GB or 64GB internal storage (64GB microSD slot)
- Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with Touchwiz
- 3,200 mAh battery
- 4G LTE, IR LED, MHL 2.0, USB 3, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
- Dimension: 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3mm (5.95 x 3.12 x 0.33in)
- Weight: 168g (5.93oz)
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.