Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Reviews 31 Oct, 2013

The best phablet on the market is back packing a full HD display, quad-core chipset and amazing battery life.

5
Price: 
From £515 SIM-free or free on contract from £37p/m
Pros: 
Great display; Excellent battery, S-Pen included; Good camera; Competitive price
Cons: 
Jury is out on the plastic/faux-leather combo; Large size not for everyone
Verdict: 
The Note 3 is a stellar effort from Samsung. Star features include the full HD 5.7in display and excellent battery life, all for a reasonable price.

Samsung's third generation Galaxy Note 3 is more than a smartphone. The 5.7in display makes it deal for multimedia content, web browsing and reading documents or books, allowing the device to double as a pocket-friendly tablet.

The Korean firm has improved the Note 3 in all the key areas when compared to its predecessor. The Android 4.3 device packs Qualcomm’s latest quad-core Snapdragon 800 chipset (each core is clocked at 2.3GHz), 3GB of RAM and ships with an S-Pen stylus.  

But the star features are the 5.7in full HD 1080p display and the massive 3,200mAh battery pack.

Factor in the added functionality provided by the S-Pen, an excellent camera together with solid build quality and it’s easy to see why this handset was one of the most anticipated releases of 2013. 

Display & Design  

The form factor of the Note 3 has had a minor tweak. The display size of 5.7in makes the device a tad larger than the 5.5in screen used in the Note 2. But the overall shape, weight and gait of the handset remains almost identical to the previous generation – so it doesn’t feel cumbersome. 

Display quality is close to faultless. The Full HD 1080p Super AMOLED panel provides excellent viewing angles and vibrant colour replication. 

Samsung has retained the use of plastic materials, which give the device a durable feel. It's robust too with no creaking. A faux-metallic silver edging finish give the device a high-end look.

The biggest change to design is on the back. Samsung has added material on top of the plastic, which gives the effect of a leather-bound notebook. If this isn't to your liking, it can be swapped out for the traditional plastic cover or a wrap-around case.

Battery 

The 3,200mAh capacity of the battery on the Note 3 delivers phenomenal battery life. This means you can hammer the device all day and have charge left come 9pm. Other devices including the iPhone 5S, HTC One and even the Galaxy S4 struggle to keep up.

Our tests showed you can eek out 14-15 hours out of one charge even with heavy usage -  using it all day for calls, texts, email, and web browsing with the display on 100 per cent. 

Intensive tasks such as video playback will take their toll - Play a 2 hour 45 minute film in HD and you’ll have around 68 per cent battery left, but with moderate usage you’re looking at 24 hours on a single charge.

S-Pen  

Samsung ships the Note 3 with the same Wacom stylus, which was included in the previous generation - but a heap of functionality in the form of Action Memo, Scrap Booker, Screen Write, S Finder and Pen Window has been added.

You access these features via a radial dial that is activated by hovering the S-Pen near the display and tapping its button.  

Pen Window is another name for multitasking as it allows you to you draw a window on the Note 3’s display and select and application to run inside it from a pre-ordained list.  

So far the following apps which support this features include: Calculator, Clock, YouTube, Google Hangouts, ChatOn, Contacts, Phone Dialer, and the default web browser.  

Screen Write lets you draw on and annotate anything that is being displayed on the Note 3’s screen. It’s a handy feature for making notes on proposals and work docs, and is one of the features we did used most often during testing.  

S-Finder replicates universal search, and with Action Memo you can turn your written words into commands that can be applied to the Note 3’s Phone, Contacts, Email, Messaging, Web and Search applications.  

For example, scribble out some text, highlight it using the S-Pen, then hit share and you can send it has an email or a text. The Note 3 converts your handwriting into text in the background and the entire process is seamless. Extending the share options would make it more useful. 

Specs, Storage and Connectivity  

The Note 3 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 chipset alongside 3GB of RAM. With that you get four Krait 400 cores clocked at 2.3GHz and Qualcomm’s 4K video-driving Adreno 320 GPU. As you’d expect, performance is off the charts.  

There are three storage options - 16, 32, and 64GB. All Note 3 variants support SD-cards up to 64GB, although Samsung only confirmed the pricing and availability for the 16GB and 32GB models in the UK – and there’s no word on if or when we’ll see the 64GB land either.  

Connectivity 

Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA, and NFC are all supported along with Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, and hotspot functionality. 

The Note 3 supports all major 4G bands in the UK, as well as HSPA+, HSPA, and DC-HSPA. There’s even an IR blaster included for controlling compatible devices such as a HDTV.  

Camera  

The Note 3 uses a 13-megapixel back-illuminated sensor with a single LED flash. It shoots video in both 1080p and 4K resolutions and has one of the most comprehensive camera applications within the Android space.  

There’s a myriad of options choose from including Beauty Face, Best Photo, Panorama, Animated Photo (GIFs) and Sound and Shot. To access these different lens settings hit Mode and then scroll through the carousel for the appropriate one.  

If you don't feel like tinkering too much, the standard Auto setting is capable of delivering impressive results. On the front there’s a 2-megapixel camera for Google Hangouts and video calling. Quality is sharp.  

Images captured using the 13-megapixel camera are crisp and detailed. Colour saturation is spot on, as is contrast and dynamic range.   

Samsung has included digital image stabilisation too, and when combined with all the settings you have at your disposal, taking great shots has never been easier – just point and shoot.  

Conclusion 

The Note 3 is one of the best Android devices on the market. The S-Pen is more useful than ever, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 processor shows just how good it is – everything rockets along fiercely, even the CPU-intensive multi-window.  

Battery life is phenomenal and TouchWiz is one of the most useful Android overlays around. With a SIM-free price of £515, the Note 3 is cheaper than the iPhone 5s (£529) and if you're in the market for a larger handset, no-one does it better than Samsung.

Specifications: 

OS: Android 4.3 with TouchWiz overlay

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.3GHz

Memory/Storage: 3GB RAM; 16/32/64GB internal

Screen: 5.7in (1920 x 1080) 386 ppi

Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n, micro SD, micro USB, 3.5mm headphone jack

Other: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, temperature, humidity, gesture

Bands: GSM, CDMA, HSDPA, 4G 

Camera: 13MP rear with dual-LED flash and autofocus, 2MP front-facing

Battery: 3,200 mAh

Size: 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm 

Weight: 168g