Samsung in their neverending quest for world domination believes in overwhelming their audience and spoiling them for choice. There’s complete chaos in Samsung’s smartphone line-up as new models are added to fill every conceivable price bracket and phones launched a few months back are seeing price drops and overlap the new launches. A couple of months back, Samsung added yet another arsenal of products out of which, we felt the Galaxy Note 3 Neo was the most interesting of the lot. We brought you our first-hand look at the new addition to the Note family and felt it had great potential to succeed if priced right.
Well, a month or so later and Samsung has officially dropped the price down to Rs 34,670. This means you can find it online for as low as Rs 32,000. The Neo is a stripped down version of the Galaxy Note 3 but the crucial bits like the S Pen and large battery have been left relatively untouched. Finally, we have a worthy replacement for the Galaxy Note 2. So is this the real deal? Can it actually deliver Note 3-like performance for a lot lesser? Let’s find out.
Design and Build
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo looks almost identical to the Note 3. In fact, it’s not uncommon to mistake it for the Note 3. It’s a bit lighter than its big brother but not as slim. The extra heft is noticeable if you’ve used a Note 3. The one thing we really love is that Samsung has gotten rid of the hideous ribbed design on the sides. Instead, we get a more pleasing matt chrome finish which is the lesser of the two evils.
Samsung has knocked off USB 3.0 support but USB Host is still present and so is the IR port on the top. The S Pen takes its rightful place at the bottom and around the back; we have a faux-leather cover. The camera module has been dropped to a 8MP sensor but we still get a 2MP front facing camera.
The Galaxy Note 3 Neo feels a hell of a lot more comfortable than the Note 3 did. This is thanks to the slightly smaller display size of 5.5-inches and a thin bezel all around. It’s very comfortable to use on a daily basis although getting it into denims is still a headache.
Let’s start with the display. The Note 3 Neo gets a HD AMOLED (1280 x 720) panel which is exactly what the Note II had. However, the quality of the Neo’s panel is quite inferior to Samsung’s earlier Note flagship. While scrolling between home screens, there’s a very visible decolouration that happens around the edges of widgets and the screen animation. There’s a purple shimmer around the edges which is something we’ve seen in budget phones a couple of years back. We’ve verified this with another Note 3 Neo device as well and the issue persists. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen during video playback or gaming.
The Neo’s got bigger problems however. There’s an unbelievable amount of lag with the current version of the firmware. This is very surprising considering the S4 and the Note 3 manages TouchWIz beautifully on Android 4.3. There are moments when things work smoothly but more often than not, the Neo is plagued with random slowdowns, app crashes and freezes which heats up the phone. This is one phone in desperate need of a firmware update.
The Galaxy Note 3 Neo makes no compromises when it comes to performance. It’s fitted with Samsung’s first ever hexa-core SoC and 2GB of RAM. The Exynos 5260 consists of a quad-core Cortex-A7 cluster running at 1.3GHz and a dual-core Cortex-A15 CPU running at 1.7GHz. The beauty of the new SoC is that all cores can be used at the same time to share the work load, effectively giving you a 6-core chipset.
In the second screenshot above, you can see all cores are active at the same time while a 1080p MKV plays in the background. The lag we mentioned earlier could be due to the new chipset as TocuhWiz was earlier optimized to work with one cluster at a time but not with a combination of two different CPU types. Games run flawlessly once loaded though. We managed to run GTA III: Anniversary Edition with everything maxed out on rock solid frame rates.
You get the typical selection of Samsung apps as well along with some very good productivity apps for the S Pen like Autodesk’s Sketchbook and S Note.
The music player is pretty much identical to the one we’ve seen on the S4 and the Note 3. Features like Adapt Sound, SoundAlive, Smart volume, voice control, etc, all make a comeback. Audio quality is really good and you won’t be needing equalisers after setting up AdaptSound.
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 loudspeaker could have been louder, however. The Neo comes with 16GB of onboard memory that's expandable to 64GB.
The Galaxy Note 3 Neo is a quad-band GSM handset with tri-band 3G support. We also get Wi-Fi ‘ac’ with hotspot capabilities and Wi-Fi Direct, GPS with A-GPS and GLONASS support, USB OTG, 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.
Samsung has left out a couple of sensors such as those for detecting temperature and humidity, and the barometer to accommodate the lower price. I doubt many will miss these though.
The drop in camera sensor size is not much of a drawback as the 8MP shooter is pretty darn good. Indoor shots are a bit grainy if lighting is not optimal but otherwise, it’s not bad. The camera really excels at macros and HDR though. You get all the scene modes from the S4 and Note 3 except for Dual Shot. The camera UI takes ages to start due to the lag we mentioned earlier. Here are some samples shot in different lighting conditions.
What happens when you combine a 3100mAh battery with a 720p display? You never have to reach for the charger for at least two days. Yes, the Note 3 Neo can easily last you for two days before needing a charge. The SoC is quite efficient at balancing load so the phone doesn’t really heat up that much either, even when shooting. The Neo easily sailed through our 8-hour loop test with about 60 percent battery to spare.
Verdict and Price in India
With the official price set to Rs 34,670 and the MOP being even lower, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo is a cracker of a smartphone and an excellent choice if you’ve always wanted a Galaxy Note 3 but didn’t have the budget. The Neo is actually more like a faster and lighter Galaxy Note II if anything, and it’s high-time we had a replacement for it.
The biggest issue with this phone currently is the unoptimised firmware and terrible lag, for which we recommend you hold off on your purchase till Samsung figures out how to fix it. The purple flicker on the display only happens on the homescreen and is something that doesn’t affect apps or video playback. If Samsung can sort this mess out with a KitKat update then we don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t buy the Note 3 Neo. It has excellent battery life, a capable camera, powerful CPU and GPU which can easily run the most demanding of games and a well-rounded set of features.
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