I still remember the first time I held the original Galaxy Note. At that point in time it wasn’t really obvious just how critical larger-display smartphones were going to be in the future, nor just how close the smartphone market was to becoming a mature one. In a mature market it’s all about filling in the niches, something Samsung has been doing since the very beginning by casting a very large form factor net with its lineup of android devices.

I remember being intrigued with the original Note more for the active digitizer feature (S-Pen) than the large display. It was during the height of the draw something craze, and having a stylus seemed like a logical advantage. Two years I lean the other way entirely, it’s that bigger display that makes me interested in the form factor not just as a curiosity but as something I actually want to use daily.

This is now Samsung’s third Galaxy Note, and as the adage goes hopefully third time is indeed a charm. Not that the first two weren’t wildly popular to begin with, either.

The Note 3 is obviously an iterative product with iterative improvements. The basic formula of the Note is unchanged - huge display, bumped specs versus the S series flagship, and active digitizer pen. The improvements this time are bigger display while making the overall device dimensions smaller, much faster SoC, higher resolution display, better camera, and all the improvements around the edges you’d expect (802.11ac, USB 3.0, IR).

I always start out by talking about the industrial design, appearance, and feel of devices, and won’t change that with the Note 3. Let’s just say it - the design of the Note 3 honestly isn’t a significant departure from Samsung’s norm. Then again nobody should’ve expected a huge departure to begin with.

Whereas the Note 2 felt and looked a lot like a blown up SGS3, the Note 3 is likewise a bit like a larger SGS4, although I honestly see bits of SGS2 in it. The front is home to the huge display, the same kind of earpiece grille we always see from Samsung, front facing camera, physical home button, and capacitive menu and back buttons.

The edge of the Note 3 is ringed with the familiar chrome, although this time there’s a ridge which makes it more grippy. With bigger phones making the edges less slippery is important, the Note 3 hits the mark here nicely.

All the buttons are also in the usual places for Samsung, and feel great. Power is easy to get to, the volume rocker as well is nicely positioned.

Headphone jack and the IR port are up top, along with one of the 3 microphones used for noise cancelation on the Note 3.

There’s another microphone on the bottom right of the device, and the third is at the bottom to the left of the microUSB 3.0 type B connector jack.

There’s been a lot of talk about the presence of USB 3.0, even though the micro B connector type has been around for considerable time already and in a ton of devices. The Note 3 just has the misfortune of apparently being many people’s first exposure to the connector, whose awkward double lobed shape gives it forwards compatibility with microUSB 2.0. The rightmost region is just the familiar microUSB 2.0 connector, the left contains the pins for SuperSpeed signaling for 3.0. Plug something into the right 2.0 jack and you get 2.0 speed for transfers and charging. 3.0 at present should give you faster transfer rate (it doesn't in practice as you'll soon see), and eventually faster charging, but the Note 3 continues to use Samsung’s 2.0 amp charging spec and rate, but more on that later.

  Samsung Galaxy Note 3
(T-Mobile SM-N900T)
SoC 2.3 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974)
4x Krait 400 @ 2.3 GHz, Adreno 330 at 450 MHz
Display 5.7-inch Super AMOLED (1080p)
RAM 3 GB LPDDR3
WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (BCM4339) + BT 4.0
Storage 32 / 64 GB + microSDXC (up to 64 GB)
I/O microUSB 3.0, MHL 2.0, IR LED (remote), NFC
OS Android 4.3
Battery 3200 mAh, 3.8V, 12.1 Whr
Size / Mass 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3mm, 168g
Camera 13 MP w/AF, LED (Rear Facing) – 1080p60, 720p120, 4k30
2 MP (Front Facing)

Whereas most of the Note 3 is par for the course for Samsung device design, the backside is something different entirely. Instead of the slick plastic that we normally get out of the Korean handset makers, the Note 3 backside material is plastic, textured to look like a leather bound book complete with faux stitching, and in the case of the black color, topped with a somewhat grippy rubbery finish. The white model doesn’t get that rubbery finish, and instead just feels like somewhat roughly textured plastic with the same faux leather pattern. I’ve held pleather, fake leather, and real leather, and this frankly isn’t any of that. It’s still injection molded plastic, but this time patterned so it looks vaguely leather.

Samsung does deserve kudos for not just giving us another slimy-backed phone with a glossy plastic battery cover, however. I have to admit I do like the rubber finish on the black Note 3 I was sampled, as the white one feels significantly different as it lacks that finish. The only downside is that it does pick up and show hand grease, whereas the white one handles it better. I could do without the fake stitching though.

I’ve been avoiding the discussion about the size of the Note 3 and whether it’s too big or too much. I’ve addressed this before in the Note 2 review, and I’d encourage you to read page 2’s “using a phablet” section, since the Note 3 is essentially the same situation, since it’s the same form factor. I can definitely use the form factor just fine, and the Note 3 comfortably. With the swipe keyboards that are popular now (I just use the stock Google Keyboard) I can even type one handed without much effort. In fact I’ve written a huge chunk of this review on the Note 3 in Draft, some of it one-handed.

Hands vary in size, and what size device is “best” for someone is really just a matter of personal taste. Some people are clamoring for smaller devices, others want bigger - as this market matures, success for OEMs will mean a diverse portfolio filling in all the obvious form factors.

More and more I’m starting to think the width of devices is the pain point that causes real fatigue, and edge bezel thickness. The Note 3 does very well here compared to its predecessor because it’s thinner, and lighter. In fact, you could pretty much sum up the Note 3 with – thinner, lighter, faster, oh and it has a bigger display at the same time.

  Galaxy Note 3
(T-Mobile)
Galaxy Note 2
(T-Mobile)
Galaxy Note
(AT&T)
Height 151.2 mm 151.1 mm 146.85 mm
Width 79.2 mm 80.5 mm 82.95 mm
Thickness 8.3 mm 9.4 mm 9.65 mm
Mass 168 grams 180 grams 178 grams
Display Size 5.7-inch 5.5-inches 5.3-inches
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 1280 x 720 1280 x 800
SoC 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 800 (4x Krait 400) 1.6 GHz Samsung Exynos 4412 (4x Cortex A9) 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
(APQ8060 - 2x Scorpion)
Camera 13 MP with LED 8 MP with LED 8 MP with LED
Battery 3200 mAh, 3.8V, 12.16 Whr 3100 mAh, 3.8V, 11.78 Whr 2500 mAh, 3.7V, 9.25 Whr

I really want to use the Note 3 a lot more this time, since having more display real estate does make me feel like I can accomplish more. Obviously multimedia content also benefits from a larger viewport as well. Since I haven’t ever really been a tablet person, larger phones seem like a logical tradeoff.

Honestly the Note 3 feels better than its predecessor, and the biggest reasons for that are the textured rubberized back, grippier textured edge, thinner body, and thinner width. Oh and there’s no creakiness or build quality issues to speak of, in spite of being so large the Note 3 is very rigid and solid.

 

S Pen
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  • Nathillien - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    You whine too much LOL (as many others posting here). Reply
  • vFunct - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    I agree that it's cheating.

    The results don't represent real-world use. Benchmarks are supposed to represent real-world use.

    Geekbench actually runs real programs, for example.
    Reply
  • Che - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    Since when do canned benchmarks really represent real world use?

    I don't have a dog in this fight, but benchmarks are very controlled, tightly scripted, and only give you details on the one thing they are measuring. The only way to define real world performance is by..... Using said device in the real world for a period of time.

    I care more for his comments on the actual use of the phone, this will tell you more than any benchmark.
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Saturday, October 19, 2013 - link

    They are meant to be a way of measuring the relative performance that you'll get with real world use.

    Whatever the actual benchmark, provided some element of that benchmark is similar to something you'll do on the device, the relative performance of different phones should give you a reasonable indication how they will relatively perform in real world use.

    The problem is when companies specifically enable 'benchmark boosters' to artificially boost the phone above what is normally possible for real world use, and thus the relative scores of the benchmark which were previously useful are not.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, October 08, 2013 - link

    So you are a kid that owns a Samsung phone. Yes, it really is that obvious. Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, October 08, 2013 - link

    Handbag. Reply
  • runner50783 - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    Why is this cheating?, is not that they are swapping CPUs or anything, the SoC is still running under specification, so, get over it.

    What this make is benchmarks irrelevant, because Manufactures can tweak their kernels to just get better scores that do not reflect daily use.
    Reply
  • Chillin1248 - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    No, it is not running under the specification that the consumer will get.

    They raise the thermal headroom, lock the speed to 2.3 ghz (which would normally kill battery time and cause heat issues). Now if Anand would test the battery life while looping the benchmark tests, then it would be fine as the discrepancy would show up. However, he uses a completely different metric to measure battery life.

    Thus, Samsung is able to artificially inflate only their benchmark scores (the only time the "boost" runs is during specific benchmark programs) while hiding said power usage to get those scores.
    Reply
  • vFunct - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    It's cheating because the resuts can't be reproduced in the real world for real users.

    Geekbench uses real-world tests, and they need to represent real use.

    Samsung artificially raises the speed of Geekbench so that, for example it's BZip2 compress speeds can't be reproduced when I run BZip2 compress.

    Samsung doesn't allow me to run BZip2 as fast as they run it in benchmarks. Samsung gives the benchmarks a cheat to make them run faster than what the regular user would see.
    Reply
  • bji - Wednesday, October 02, 2013 - link

    You know, you'd think benchmark authors would figure this stuff out and provide a tool to be used with their benchmark to obfuscate the program so that it can't be recognized by cheats like this. Whatever values the cheaters are keying off of when analyzing the program, just make those things totally alterable by the installation tool. If the benchmark program ends up with a randomized name, it is still usable for benchmarking purposes and the cheaters cannot tell its the benchmark they are trying to cheat on.

    Seriously why do I have to be the one to always think of all of the obvious solutions to these problems!??! Same thing happens at work! lol
    Reply

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