Despite receiving heavy criticism for its overwhelming size, Samsung managed to make this niche segment wildly popular, not to mention highly profitable. Everyone has a 5-inch and above handset today but they exist mostly due to pressure from the competition and to have that extra checkbox in their line-up. The Note is now in its third iteration and continues to have a clear distinction from the competition thanks to its S Pen. This remains the only phone in the market that takes note taking or sketching seriously and we don’t see any challengers so far. So, is the Note 3 the best droid money can buy right now?
Design and Build
The Note 2 improved the build and design of the original by leaps and bounds however; the same cannot be said about the Note 3. Yes, it’s much lighter and slightly slimmer but it just doesn’t feel premium. We appreciate the fact that Samsung has fitted a larger display in pretty much the same dimensions as the Note 2 but I’m not at all sold on the aesthetics. The faux chrome lining on the side looks simply tacky and the fake leather back is not very nice to hold either. For a flagship phone that costs as much as the iPhone, we want real leather! The front looks like a larger, slightly squared-off Galaxy S4.
Still a massive phone
There’s the usual assortment of ports and buttons around the phone along with a mono speaker grill at the bottom, USB 3.0 connector and a re-designed stylus. Around the back, is the 13MP camera from the S4 and a single LED flash. The back cover is a little scary to open as the retention clips creak quite badly but that’s just the way it’s designed I guess. Inside, we have a massive battery pack along with the microSIM and microSD card slots. The phone comes with a headset, charger and extra tips for the S Pen.
Faux leather is a strict no-go when you're paying this sort of premium
Overall, we weren’t impressed by the aesthetics of the Note 3 even after using it for over a week. It also continues to be a little too unwieldy when placed in your pocket but on a brighter note, it’s a lot lighter. Our biggest disappointment is that Samsung still hasn’t stepped up to better building materials. We expected aluminium or at least real leather in this case.
The Note 3 features a 5.7-inch Full HD Super AMOLED display which delivers punchy colours and super deep blacks. The retina-burning colours overpower your senses when you first power it up but this is quickly fixed from the display settings. The panel is super sensitive to even the faintest of touches and the new S Pen’s hover mode works at a much greater distance from the screen making it easier to use without accidentally touching the screen.
The UI remains unchanged from our outing with the S4
The Note 3 launched in India is the N900 variant which packs in the Exynos 5 Octa 5420 SoC. This is a slightly faster variant of the one used in the Galaxy S4. The Cortex-A7 part of the chip runs at 1.3GHz while the Cortex-A15 cluster now runs at 1.9GHz. Despite this speed bump, we still had moments where the phone would lag intermittently; it takes forever to switch between portrait to landscape at times and a couple of times, the phone would just shut down after turning the screen off. These are glitches with the software more than anything else and Samsung needs to roll out a patch real quick.
The features of S Pen have been updated heavily and there are plenty of new gestures available. Some of the important ones are best demonstrated in the video below. Apart from the usual suite of apps that were present in the Galaxy S4, Samsung also bundles along Knox, SketchBook and ScrapBook as new additions. Knox tightens up security when your phone is connected to an enterprise network. It adheres to ARM’s TrustZone-based security measure and features a customisable secure boot. SketchBook is a powerful tool for sketching and is incredibly fun to use.
The music player is pretty much identical to the one we’ve seen on the S4 and has the same features like Adapt Sound, SoundAlive, Smart volume, voice control, etc. Audio quality is really good and you won’t be needing equalisers after setting up AdaptSound.
Music playback is very good
The video player supports MP4, MKV and everything in between. However, the only exceptions were MOV and FLV files, which refused to play. Full HD video playback is smooth and you get all the gestures and tricks from the S4 like pop-up video player, etc. You also have the option to share the video, edit it, view it by chapters or stream the audio via Bluetooth.
The Note 3 is a quad-band GSM handset with quad-band 3G support and has Wi-Fi ‘ac’ with hotspot capabilities and Wi-Fi Direct, GPS with A-GPS and GLONASS support, USB OTG, DLNA, external storage up to 64GB, Bluetooth 4.0, TV out via MHL and NFC, which covers all your connectivity options. The IR port works with the Samsung WatchON app and lets you control your TV and other IR devices. USB 3.0 is a welcome addition to the list of features as it cuts down transfer time quite a bit provided you are connected to a USB 3.0 port.
Some fun productivity apps
The same 13MP sensor makes its way to the Note 3 along with the single LED flash. The feature set and UI also remains pretty much identical except for a new addition called ‘Golf’, which lets you capture your golf strokes. With Android 4.3 and the new TouchWiz UI, image quality has gotten slightly better, especially low-light shots. There’s still a bit of noise and grain but not as much. For all camera samples, please click this link.
Very good at macro shots
Low-light is not too shabby
Video recording is smooth at 1080p and the quality is good too, even for indoor shooting. There are a bunch of modes like slow motion, fast motion and smooth motion.
The Note 3 gets a slight bump in battery at 3200mAh and manages to dish out very good stand by time. After easily breezing through our loop tests which lasted 8-hours, the battery only dropped to 57 percent. This means you can easily expect to get around a day and a half or even two days of usage time before you have to charge it.
Verdict and Price in India
You can find the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 retailing online for about Rs 47,000, which is still a very high price for what’s on offer. Granted, the phone is packed to the gills with the latest hardware and specs but it lacks that premium look and feel. Faux chrome and leather is not something you want to see when you’re shelling out more than Rs 40,000. And then there’s all that plastic, which doesn’t really help its case. Samsung’s TouchWiz can get freaky at times too as we experienced random slow-downs and moments where the phone would just switch off when the display is off. However, nothing beats the Note 3 when it comes to battery life and stylus input as it's still among the best in the biz. I’m not sure if the falling rupee value is to blame entirely but all flagship smartphones seem incredibly overpriced and they really need to come down a notch or two, especially the droids. If you own a Note 2, then the Note 3 won’t really feel like much of an upgrade apart from the fact that it’s slimmer, lighter and has a slightly better camera.
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