Review: The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 from Verizon Wireless
Samsung created a new category of mobile devices when it introduced the original Galaxy Note to an unsuspecting world way back in October of 2011. At the time, there were a ton of naysayers that predicted doom and gloom for the device. Many thought that devices like the Galaxy Note were simply too large to be practical for daily use, that users would feel too embarrassed to hold one up to their ear and that it wouldn’t catch on with consumers. A lot of people thought that the new category of mobile devices was destined to be a flop, they were wrong though.
The original Samsung Galaxy Note went on to sell over 10 million units. Its sequel, the Galaxy Note 2 sold a very impressive total of 30 million units. And the all new Galaxy Note 3 has already managed to sell over 5 million units within its first month of availability according to Samsung. So we’re confident that Samsung’s latest big thing will go on to be a big commercial success. But should you be one of the millions who spend the cash to own a Samsung Galaxy Note 3?
Well, Verizon Wireless was kind enough to send over a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for us to try out and we will attempt to help you answer that question in our full review.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Unboxing
The retail packaging for the Verizon Wireless version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 includes the device itself (model number SM-
Ok, I’ll admit it. I had to do a Google search for “what is the bag of little black sticks that came with my Samsung Galaxy Note 3”. I honestly had no clue what they were at first. None of the previous Galaxy Note smartphones I’ve used included them.
Turns out, they’re actually replacement tips for the S Pen and the silver tool is used for yanking the old tip out once it needs replaced. It is pretty nice of Samsung and Verizon to include these along with the phone instead of making users purchase them separately.
Design & Hardware
Even though the display found on the Note 3 is .7-inch larger than the Note 2’s, the phone’s overall shape, weight and size are nearly identical to its predecessor’s. The Galaxy Note 3 measures 6 inches (long) x 3.1 inches (wide) x 0.33 inch (thick) and weights in at 5.93 ounces. There is no denying that this is a large phone, yet it somehow feels surprisingly manageable in the hand. The device has a nice balance to it and with a bit of practice, I had little trouble reaching most of the on-screen elements with one hand. I have fairly large hands though. So your results may vary, but I personally have no problem with how large the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is.
If you’re already using one of the previous Notes, you’ll feel right at home with a new Note 3 as the button layout is unchanged. There is still a large oval home button front and center below the screen. On each side of it, we find two capacitive buttons. One for Menu, the other for Back. The Power/Lock key is on the right edge, and a volume rocker is located on the left side. All of the physical buttons are easy to identify and locate by touch alone, and feel like they will stand up to years of use without failing.
Externally, the most noticeable design changes are on the rear and the edges. Samsung is still using the same plastic they’ve always used, but now they’re dressing the plastic up to look like it is metal, leather and stitching. The battery door looks especially nice. It accurately reproduces the look of a hand-stitched, leather-bound notebook. Sadly, the battery door is still just a floppy piece of plastic with several snaps holding it in place. The faux-metal edging looks great as well, but I’m a little concerned about how durable it will be over time.
With all of that said, the design of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is still leaps and bounds better than the previous model. The Galaxy Note 2 was covered in super glossy plastic that always looked dirty and was slippery to hold onto. The Note 3 may still use plastic, but at least it departs from the ultra-glossy and cheap looking plastic of previous generations. This is the best looking smartphone Samsung has ever made.
One of the nicer tweaks to the design is the shape of the rear. Previous Galaxy Note models had a curvature to the rear, while the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is flat. This flatness allows the S Pen to be the same shape on both the top and bottom, meaning it can be inserted into its holder either way, something that wasn’t possible on the first two Note smartphones.
Internally, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 features some of the most powerful hardware we’ve seen on a smartphone yet. There is an industry-leading, Snapdragon 800 Quad-core processor that has been clocked at 2.3GHz. Along with that super fast CPU, the Note 3 also comes with not 2 but 3GB worth of RAM, a first for smartphones.
Those impressive hardware goodies make the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 the smoothest, best performing, TouchWiz device I’ve ever used. I didn’t encounter any stutters or lagginess while using this device. Applications launched instantly and scrolling long lists and navigating the system UI was silky smooth.
Removing the Samsung Galaxy Note 3’s battery door gives access to a user replaceable, 3200mAh battery, the SIM card slot and MicroSD card slot, which supports up to 64GB cards.
The star of the show here is a stunningly gorgeous, 5.7 inch AMOLED display with a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, which makes for a very sharp pixel density rating of 385ppi. This screen is not only big, it is also quite good-looking. Text appears crisp, colors are well saturated, blacks are as black as they come, and the viewing angles are wide. I have no complaints when it comes to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3’s display at all.
As was the case with the previous Galaxy Note, the Note 3 comes with five different screen modes that allow you to change how the display looks based on what you’re currently using it for. The five screen modes include Adapt Display, Dynamic, Movie, Professional Photo, and Standard and each features different color settings that make a noticeable difference.
Included in the retail packaging is a rather strange looking charging cable that is used for enabling the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to take advantage of USB 3.0 ports. The Galaxy Note 3 is actually the first smartphone made that is capable of using USB 3.0, which is pretty awesome in my opinion. USB 3.0 allows for data transfer speeds of up to 10 times faster than a USB 2.0 port and also charges your device faster than the older ports will.
In my own tests, I noticed a significant speed increase while transferring large files both to and from the Galaxy Note 3 when using the USB 3.0 mode. For smaller files, it doesn’t seem to make much difference, but once you get into transferring big stuff like videos, you’ll begin to appreciate the speed boost.
As the picture above shows, this is all optional. You never need to use the USB 3.0 cable with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 if you don’t want to. It is just a nice bonus for user with USB 3.0 ports on their computer.
At the time of its release, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 was running the latest version of Android you could get, Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. Now that Halloween has come and went, we have Android 4.4 KitKat and the Note 3 technically isn’t running the latest version of Android anymore. We’re sure a Android 4.4 KitKat update for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 will show up sometime in the near future though.
Everything you’d expect to find on an Android 4.3 device is here to use and enjoy, including the Chrome browser, Google Now, Google Hangouts, Google Play Store, Play Music, Play Movies and Google Maps, which is very enjoyable to use on such a large screen. This is a Verizon device, so there is also the usual selection of Verizon Wireless and Amazon pre-installed applications that can’t be removed.
The application drawer on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 arrives pre-organized with folders for different categories of applications. These folders take up the top row of the app drawer, can be removed if a user wants and are titled Amazon, Google, Samsung, Tools and Verizon
Layered on top of Android 4.3 is Samsung’s TouchWiz custom user interface. At this point, you probably already know if you’re a fan of TouchWiz or not. Personally speaking, I’m not the biggest fan of it. I honestly prefer my Android devices with as little modifications to the software as possible, but I know that I’m in the minority here.
The experience hasn’t changed all that much since the Samsung Galaxy S3 days and is nearly identical in every way to what you’d get with the Samsung Galaxy S4. It would take way too much room to go over all of the features found in TouchWiz. So for this review, I’ll just focus on some of them.
Multi window multitasking.
Mulit Window mode is an extremely useful multitasking tool that allows users to use more than one application in the foreground of their device at once. Once Multi Window mode has been enabled, long-pressing the Back button will cause a small tab to appear on the edge of the screen. Dragging this small tab towards the center of the screen exposes a list of applications that can be dragged onto the screen and used. Any two apps from the list can be ran at the same time including two versions of the same app in certain cases.
I really love this feature of the Samsung Galaxy Note smart phones. If you have that large of a screen, it only makes sense to be able to use more than one application at a time. I routinely use multiple windows, side-by-side while working on my computers and appreciate having the option to use a similar experience on mobile devices. This feature showcases just how powerful the Galaxy Note 3 is.
WatchON works with the phone’s IR blaster to enable users to control their television, Cable Box and other home theater system equipment. The application also includes with an integrated TV guide that shows what’s coming on and allows you to schedule programs to be recorded with your DVR if you have one. I love seeing applications like this and IR blasters being added to smartphones. It means no more searching for a lost remote, just pick use your phone that is always with you anyway.
This application strives to help users accomplish their weight goals by making it easier to monitor their caloric intake and levels of activity. It works just like many of the other meal and exercise tracking applications out there, but comes pre-installed and ready to set up and use.
You begin by telling S Health your name, sex, date of birth, height and current weight. The application then tells you your recommend healthy weight and allows you to set a weight goal for yourself. Once all of that is finished, S Health outlines how many calories you should consume and burn each day to reach your personal goals based on how many pounds you’d like to lose per week.
I enjoyed using S Health. It makes tracking your meals and exercise simple and easy and even includes a pedometer feature for tracking how many steps you take each day.
The S Pen
I’m not sure if the S Pen itself got some attention or if Samsung just fine tuned its software, but something about this fancy stylus has changed for the better. The S Pen has never been as accurate as it is with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
Along with improved accuracy, the S Pen also received a few new features, the most welcomed of which is something Samsung is calling Air Command. With Air Command, pressing the S-pen’s button while hovering the tip just above the Note 3’s screen will cause a menu with useful options to appear. These options include Action Memo, Scrap Booker, Screen Writer, S Finder and Pen Window.
Action Memo allows users to link their doodles with specific actions on the phone such as contacts, messaging and websites. The Scrap Booker shortcut is used for easily collecting a variety of content for use within the Scrapbook app. Simply draw around an area with the pen and the content, including pictures and YouTube Videos will automatically be added to a Scrapbook project for further use. Screen Write instantly captures a screen shot and opens it for you to write or draw on. You can then save and share the modified screen capture. Screen Write is simple, but rather handy to have. S Finder is a powerful search tool for all of the things on your device. And lastly, we have Pen Window, which allows you to draw a window on the screen and then open one of several applications in it.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Battery Life
Having an enormous screen and a fast processor on a mobile device usually means frequent visits to a charger but surprisingly, that isn’t the case with the Note 3. On days where the phone seen what I consider my normal usage, the samsung Galaxy Note 3 easily lasted from the time I woke up till the time I went back to sleep with plenty of juice to spare.
What’s especially impressive about this phone’s battery life is its standby time. I was still busy reviewing another phone when I first received my demo unit. So I powered on the Galaxy Note 3, got all of my accounts and apps setup on it and then mostly neglected the phone for the next few days. When I did go back to it, the Note 3 was still on and showing 35% remaining battery life, even though it had almost 3 hours worth of screen on-time over the course of those first three days and it was receiving all of my emails that whole time.
Call Quality & Data
Although Samsung loaded the Note 3 up with lots of bells and whistles, they didn’t forget to cover the basics. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 performs quite well for actual phone calls. Conversations sound clear on both ends of the call, and both the earpiece and speakerphone have plenty of volume without any cracking or distortion. Data speeds while using the verizon Wireless 4G LTE Network where I live and work matched what I’m used to seeing from other Verizon Wireless 4G LTE devices.
Samsung created the phablet market and they’re still dominating it to this day. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is without question the best device in its category available at the moment and I have little doubt that it will remain so for the foreseeable future. If you’re looking for a mix up of smartphone and tablet for your next mobile device, you simply won’t find anything better on Verizon’s network than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.