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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

When original Galaxy Note debuted in 2011, no one was sure of how well a device with a 5-inch screen would do in the market. It was considered too big, too unwieldy. And the stylus had gone out of fashion. But Samsung, which repeatedly stated that it made device after taking feedback from consumers, was onto something. Note became a surprise hit.

Since then we have seen  Samsung following up with Galaxy Note 2. Other players too have joined the fray with big screen devices.

With Galaxy Note 3, Samsung not only has to offer a meaningful progression over Note 2 but also has to match or surpass the devices from competitors.

It is not an easy task. But in our opinion Samsung succeeds.

Plastic out, faux leather in
One of the complaints we have with Galaxy devices is that they are made of plastic. To address this Samsung has given Galaxy Note 3 a back cover made of faux leather. It is synthetic material and feels like leather but if you take off the cover, you will see it is incredibly cheap looking. It is better than the glossy plastic but hardly an improvement when you consider a device like Xperia Z1, which is made of glass and aluminium.

But leather or no leather, the build quality of Galaxy Note 3 is very good. There are no loose parts and it feels durable. In combination with the faux leather, a plastic frame in faux chrome finish adds to the style of the device. The design is more utilitarian – plastic keeps the weight down – than style-driven. But Galaxy Note 3 is not bad looking.

The highlight of Galaxy Note 3 is its big 5.7-inch screen on the front. Despite packing in a bigger screen, Galaxy Note 3 is slimmer and lighter than Galaxy Note 2! Both devices also have identical size.

So, how is Samsung doing it? The Galaxy Note 3’s screen is almost edge-to-edge. There is virtually no bezel on the sides. On the top and bottom, there is some bezel but even that is not much. One downside of this bezel-vanishing trick is that the capacitive touch buttons (back and menu) and the physical home button are small, something which doesn’t make for great handling while using the device.

In terms of overall handling, Galaxy Note 3 feels better than Galaxy Note 2, largely because of less weight and slimmer profile. It is a big device and using it with single hand is possible but not ideal. It also feels awkward against the cheek due to its size when you pick it up for calls.

Galaxy Note 3 is powered by top-of-the-line components (see specs). But the killer feature of the device is its SuperAMOLED screen. This screen is a thing of beauty. Expansive and vivid, it is capable of showing rich colours. With a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, it is also very sharp, and, for the first time for an AMOLED screen, is bright enough to offer good legibility during outdoor use.

Stylus and software tricks
Galaxy Note 3 runs Android 4.3, which is customized by Samsung with Touch Wiz users interface. Over the years, Touch Wiz has evolved to become something more than a user interface.

Galaxy Note 3 is as much about the software features as it is about the large screen, stylus and powerful hardware.

Overall, the Touch wiz is a mixed bag. It can be very useful. But some features it offers are gimmicks. And irrespective of the app, it is inferior to the stock Android user interface in terms of looks and design.

The standout software features on Galaxy Note 3 are multi-window and stylus-specific functionality. Multi-windows allows a user to work on two apps side by side. It is available on most of the high-end Galaxy phones but on the big screen of Galaxy Note 3 it works really well. For example, you can compose a tweet while watching a YouTube video. Not everyone will use this feature but some may find it indispensable after using it for a while.

The stylus in Galaxy Note 3 can be used to create memos, doodle, sketches as well as to take down notes using apps like S Note and Sketch Book and Action Memo. The stylus integrates with the Samsung keyboard so you can select handwriting-to-text option and scribble your tweets or emails instead of typing them.

The handwriting recognition is very accurate unless you have a really bad handwriting. Clicking the stylus button while you are in an app like browser opens a Pen Window. It allows a user to select content, take a screenshot and scribble notes without having to switch apps.

Fast, functional and a very capable camera
The octa-core processor in Galaxy Note 3 is very fast and unlike Galaxy S4, Samsung has well optimized the software on the new phablet. There is no user interface lag on the device. Demanding 3D games like Asphalt 8 work very well. Web browsing is smooth and multi-tasking is glitch-free. GPS performance is fantastic.

Samsung doesn’t advertise the cameras in its phones as much as Nokia or Apple do. But Galaxy Note 3, just like Galaxy S4, can take very detailed and sharp images that rival the ones shot with a point-and-shoot camera. In low light, however, the performance of the camera is slow even though the images turn out to be quite good with low amount of noise. In terms of software just like other Galaxy devices, Note 3 features arguably the easiest to use camera app in the Android world.

The Galaxy Note 3 sold in India cannot shoot 4K videos like the international version of the device. But it can record very good quality FullHD videos, so you are not missing out much.

Call quality is a strong point for Galaxy Note 3. But the sound output from speakers is on the lower side. Sound with earphones is acceptable but devices like HTC One offer better audio output.

Galaxy Note 3 is one of the first devices to come with USB 3.0. If you have a USB 3.0 port on your computer, you will be able to transfer file between the computer and Galaxy Note 3 significantly faster.

The battery life of the device is one of the best we have seen in a smartphone. Even with heavy use, the device lasts for around 14 to 15 hours on 3G. If you take care of tweaking the device for better battery life, you can use it for almost 20 hours before you will have recharge it again.

Should you buy it
As a smart device, Galaxy Note 3 is excellent. It has one of the best screens we have seen in a smartphone. It is fast and functional. The Galaxy Note 3 camera matches the best shooters out there. Stylus is useful and there are some unique software features. Other than the plastic in the design, we do not find any significant flaw in it. User interface could have been better looking but it is hardly a deal-breaker. Also, the device is too big to be used single-handedly. But that is by design and not a flaw. You know you are buying a big device when you opt for Galaxy Note 3.

All this functionality comes at a cost. Rs 49,990 to be precise. You may get it for a few thousands rupees less in the market but there is no doubt that Galaxy Note 3 is an expensive device.

If you need it for its excellent screen or can use the added functionality it has, this is a fair price to pay. But if you don’t need the extra functionality that Galaxy Note 3 offers, Sony Xperia Z1 and LG G2 offer better value for money.

Key specs:
Display: 5.7-inch SuperAMOLED touchscreen (1920×1080 pixels resolution);
Operating system: Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean);
Chipset: Exynos 5420 processor (4 cores run at 1.9GHz + four cores run at 1.3GHz), Mali T628 graphics chip;
Storage: 32GB internal storage with support for up to 64GB microSD card;
Camera: 13MP with 1080P video recording, 2MP front-facing camera;
Connectivity: 2G, 3G, Wi-Fi, USB 3.0, Bluetooth, GPS; and
Battery: 3200mAh

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