I was a tablet user for just over 4 years, but when I mean tablet I mean the old school kind with an active digitizer and Windows, before the age of capacitive multitouch everywhere. With the original Note, I was excited to see active digitizer finally represented again in a mobile device, complete with all the hover and pressure features that come with it. I still find it impossible to use styli on capacitive panels since they lack the resolution and fidelity for the kind of writing I used to do.

With the Note 3, neither quality of the digitizer nor the S-Pen formula change, and that’s a good thing. It’s still the same pen, and from what I can tell, still the same sensitivity and hover distance, and still Wacom based as well. I’m not going to go super in-depth with S-Pen since by this time it should be something readers are familiar with since we’re on the third iteration of Note (and multiple tablets) with the pen.

The Note 3 stows the pen inside itself in basically the same spot as its predecessors, and has the same pen-removal detection and single button on the pen itself. I have no complaints with how it feels or my ability to hold it and write on the screen, and the Note continues to do wrist rejection very well so you can rest your hand on it for making fine grained drawings with a bit of added support.

Perhaps the biggest single improvement with the Note 3 from the perspective of the pen is that it now triggers the menu and back capacitive buttons on the front of the Note 3. I found it confusing on the Note 2 and Note that with the pen out I had to switch between this weird finger and pen modality, rather than be able to accomplish everything with either appendage. With the Note 3, it’s now possible to do just that – it sounds crazy but that single change is the biggest thing that made me instantly happy with the Note 3 the second I pulled the pen out, just being able to hit menu and back with the stylus and have it actually work finally.

With the Note 2 I started to feel like the features that surrounded the pen were getting overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure what feature I should be using at a given time. There’s definitely feature creep each generation as things get added but never really removed, with the Note 3 Samsung does a great job mitigating most of this by surfacing what they believe are the standout features of the S-Pen experience in a popup dialog with a ringed interface and shortcuts to functions. Previously removing the pen would jump you to a special homepage with relevant links if you were on a homepage. Instead if you pull the pen out, this new overlay appears. The overlay makes a lot more sense and has helped me use the pen a lot more than I did previously.



I remember joking with another reviewer that I suspected a large number of Note owners used the pen once, put it back, and never really bothered or understood it after that, and instead were just after the Note for its large display. That sort of mirrored my own use with the Note previously since I’m not artistically inclined or sitting in lectures writing down equations and graphs and diagrams as fast as I possibly can anymore (though soon that hopefully will return with grad school). With the Note 3 and this new interface also shared with the Note 10.1 2014 edition I’m using the pen a lot more since it’s a reminder of what’s really handy.

The ring switcher has shortcuts to action memo, scrap booker, screen write, s finder, and pen window. You can also get to this switcher by hovering and pressing the button on the pen.

Action memo pops up a sticky note that you can immediately start writing on, and it’s the most useful honestly. These notes can then be transcribed on the fly and used to either create contacts or events or look at a location in google maps. The idea is that you’d quickly jot down a phone number and name, or an address, and then be able to act quickly on them or save it for later. I find this works surprisingly well. Samsung says their handwriting transcription engine is also even more accurate this generation, but I don’t have specifics.

Scrap booker lets you grab content displayed on the screen and store it for later, this seems to also parse what’s in a view and intelligently take metadata along with it, for example web pages, YouTube videos, and maps will all get pulled along.



Screen write is a perpetual favorite, it takes a screenshot that you can then annotate or draw on top of. Handy and useful if you need to send something with a pithy remark or drawing to someone either for work or play.

S-Finder is a universal search function that parses through all your notes and memos and writing for a string entered in the search bar. Samsung is always transcribing notes so they’re searchable, this surfaces everything including those hand written notes. I’m reminded of how OneNote search worked, very useful if you’re taking a lot of notes.

Pen window is like a new version of multi window, except instead of snappable windows it’s a viewport of arbitrary size matching roughly what you draw on screen. In practice though the windows are the same aspect ratio as the display (16:9) just whatever rough size you’ve drawn the square and scaled to fit. Samsung continues to try and solve the multi-window problem and admittedly does a novel job here given the constraints of the Android platform. Not every app can be put in one of these smaller windows, rather a subset of the multi window applications.



S Note and the other applications that I remember being present on the Note 2 are still around, as well, it’s just this smaller subset that’s exposed and promoted through the ring switcher. Of course you can also disable the action switcher menu and have pen detachment launch action memo or do nothing at all.



I think S Pen is novel, and what’s important to me works well (the equation parsing engine is supposedly even better and worked with what I fed it), I’m just more sold on the Note as a platform because of screen size than I am note taking. Although the Note 3 doesn’t have the killer third party app attention that draw something had with the original Note, there is Snapchat and a variety of others though that might make the S-Pen a very attractive thing for people looking at the Note for something beyond note taking.

Introduction & Hardware Battery Life & Charge Time
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  • Spunjji - Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - link

  • Talks - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    Hmmm… it seems to me that almost all of the commenters here, are Americans; thus, a certified Apple Fanboys!, and this certainly includes Ars Technica, AnandTech and many others! That, is the very reason why, all product that is needed to be reviewed (as the market demands), those are which directly competitors of Apple, especially Samsung, for sure; all possible types of professionally conjured praises shall certainly be provided just to pelt there most hidden agenda of wanting the very downfall of Samsung, believing that by doing so, Apple products specially iPhone 5S and beyond, will go up again to the top, hoping to become again the number one selling Smartphone of 2013 and beyond! Oh come-on…, don’t be too obvious, and envious!!!
  • doobydoo - Saturday, October 19, 2013 - link

    Dude you're the only one on here who seems to have issues. And Anandtech is a fully international site with an international audience.
  • akdj - Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - link

    You should get a first name....'Stop'....and maybe add an 'ing' to the end of your handle here. Where did this completely off the wall comment come from? Left field anyone?
    Anyway...sorry to let you in, the 5s isn't hoping....it's happened. 'Again'. Number one selling smartphone of 2013. Doesn't mean much. There's a LOT of choice outside of the limited iOS world....which with choice and expanded options will always make it tough for even the largest and most successful OEMs ala Samsung to best them with a single product to product comparison.
    It's a good, no.....a GREAT thing to have such phenomenal competition between vendors. We're the beneficiary....seems like overnight we were able to put the power of yesterday's laptop in our pocket! These things SCREAM! The 5, 5s, Note3, G2, S4---it's funny to me ANYone that appreciates and enjoys technology so much could be against one or anti the 'other'. Between the pair....or in each the Play Store and the App Store have more software available than anytime in history for ANY computing platform....and comparing the Note 3 to it's older, two year old sibling....improvements I'm computing and graphics are in the neighborhood of 1500-2000% increases! That's blowing Moore's law out of the water man!
    Enjoy them all. Buy what you can. But don't spew bullshit on websites beyond your comprehension and knowledge. Just kinda 'outs' ya as a dumbass....at worst, ignorant at best. ;)

  • Dribble - Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - link

    Name and shame - once the PR for getting caught doing this has more impact then the positive PR you gain from cheating it'll stop.
  • Squuiid - Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - link

    Anand, as it stands, this review is a farce. All it is doing is encouraging Samsung to continue it's deception. If reputable sites such as your own don't call this out and make a big fuss about it, then why would they stop? We all know Samsung's ethics are rather questionable as it is. Let's not encourage them.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - link

    We did call it out in the review. The problem with only circumventing it on the Note 3 is that other devices do it as well. We can work towards circumventing it everywhere, but we can't selectively choose when to enable/disable it.
  • Chillin1248 - Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - link

    Then don't bother benchmarking it then. If you can't come out and say that the numbers listed in the benchmarks reflect the Device's User Experience, then don't bother benchmarking them. Just leave the page blank.

    What you are doing is condoning fraud. This is like the manufacturer of a car giving you a car to test, just that when the GPS detects that you go o the racetrack to test the speed of the vehicle, it switches to a brief higher power mode that would never be presented otherwise to the consumer and is unsustainable long term. (you get the drift)

    By publishing the benchmarks, you have only condoned the practice you claim to disdain.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - link

    I agree. Frankly, the attempt to minimize/brush aside the blatant cheating Samsung is doing has me questioning Anandtech's objectivity. Even if it's not possible to catch the cheaters every single time, that's no excuse for letting them get away with it when it's a major impact and doing so is trivial to do.
  • bubblesmoney - Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - link

    surely they will tread carefully on pointing out the bad points, thats the quid pro quo for getting access to devices before they are released to the public. Their reasons for treading softly on this issue and the region locking issue is obvious.

    I know they briefly mentioned region locking, but isnt a hardware site actually meant to mention that a phone meant for power business uers actually being gimped and a so called business phone wont work abroad as it will ask for an unlock code when a foreign sim which is in the MCC list wont work for making calls. only way it will work is using costly roaming. Nice way for samsung to shaft its end users and get nice kick backs from networks to samsung so that their network gets preference as to what is blocked and what is not. see proof of region blocks with links on my posts on the trustedreviews article http://www.trustedreviews.com/opinions/galaxy-note...

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