- 5.7in Full HD display
- Android 4.3 with TouchWiz
- S-Pen stylus with Wacom digitiser
- 13 Megapixel camera
- 16GB/32GB/64GB storage with 3GB RAM
- Price as Reviewed: £650
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Review
It is a sign of the times that my immediate reaction to the Galaxy Note 3 was: "Oh, it's not that big, really."
This was my reaction despite the Galaxy Note 3 having a 5.7in screen, much bigger than most smartphones on the market today and the biggest Note to date from Samsung. The reason I didn't find the Note 3 to be ridiculously oversized was because I had just finished reviewing the frankly ludicrous Sony Xperia Z Ultra which has a screen the size of a football pitch.
By comparison the Note 3 is a dinky little device which fits effortlessly in your pocket.
Of course after a few days of using it, I realised the Note was also oversized and for most people is just too big to use as a phone.
Galaxy Note 3: Design
Like virtually all Samsung smartphones these days, the Galaxy Note 3 is made of plastic, giving it a distinctly cheap feel. Lining the Galaxy Note 3 up alongside the Galaxy S4 and S4 mini shows that the three phones all share the same design DNA - and that's not a good thing.
While the phone costs as much as £650 SIM free, you don't ever get the sense that this is a premium smartphone, and while the screen and internals may be high-end, the overall package is let down by the fit and finish of the exterior.
Considering the size of the phone, the Galaxy Note 3 is lightweight, weighing in at just 168g which is 15g lighter than last year's model, despite the screen size increasing. The phone is also slimmer at just 8.3mm, compared to the 9.4mm of last year's model.
Don't get me wrong, the phone is far from ugly, but you just don't get the same feeling that you are really getting your money's worth in the way you do from the devices like the iPhone or HTC One.
Galaxy Note 3: Screen
Samsung has gradually increased the screen size of its Note range over the last three years, going from 5.3in to 5.5in and now 5.7in. While Samsung has just been following the trend for bigger and bigger screens, it has also meant it is harder and harder to use one-handed.
The Galaxy Note 3 is virtually impossible to use properly with just one-hand with much of the top of the screen out of reach if you only have one hand free. While the device is clearly meant to be used with two hands, one using the stylus, it limits how useful the phone can be in a lot of situations.
The screen itself is excellent, with a high resolution 1920 x 1080 Super Amoled panel giving it a pixel density of 386 pixels per inch, which is much higher than the Retina displays on the iPhone, meaning it is incredibly sharp.
While Samsung has suffered in the past with its Amoled displays being over-saturated and with the white balance being off, the Note 3 allows you to switch screen modes to rectify this problem. Dynamic, Standard, Professional Photo and Movie screen modes are available with photo and movie the best of the lot, giving pretty decent colour accuracy.
As with most OLED displays, contrast and black levels are excellent and the phone's screen is relatively bright too, though not so as to make it really useful in direct sunlight.
Galaxy Note 3: Stylus and software
One of the big selling points of the Note 3 over its competition is the inclusion of the S Pen stylus. Samsung has updated it again for the Note 3, but despite this I found it difficult to find a real use for it.
When not in use the S Pen is housed in a slot in the bottom of the phone, and when you take it out you get a little notification to say the stylus is active.
The lightweight, plastic S Pen is much more sophisticated than it looks. It uses a Wacom digitiser which works in conjunction with an invisible layer on top of the screen to sense various pressure levels, making it much more capable than a 'dumb' capacitive stylus.
Hover the stylus over the screen, press the button along the side and a circular menu of the most popular apps to use with the stylus will pop up on screen, which is a handy shortcut.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has excellent optical character recognition and Samsung's own suite of note-taking and sketching apps are excellent and have enough options to keep most people happy.
The problem is, it is still much quicker to type out an email and message using the on-screen keyboard than taking out the pen and writing it out - especially if you replace the rather poor Samsung keyboard with something like Swype.
The extra stylus-centric touches added to Android only serve to add to the frustration already present through Samsung's TouchWiz, the company's proprietary layer on top of Google's operating system.
It's fiddly, complicated and provides no real benefit over a pure Android experience and for customers unused to the interface means a very steep learning curve.
The Galaxy Note 3 also gets gesture contorls and eye-controls but as in the Galaxy S4, these are mostly just gimmicks.
Galaxy Note 3: Hardware, battery and camera
The Galaxy Note 3 is a powerhouse of a phone with the latest Snapdragon 800 chip together with 3GB of RAM making everything fly. Gaming, video, web browsing are virtually instantaneous.
Add to this 4G connectivity, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi AC, NFC, an infrared port to control your TV and a micro USB 3.0 port and you see Samsung has ticked pretty much all the hardware boxes.
The phone comes in 16GB, 32GB or 64GB variants with a microSD card slot letting you add up to 64GB more storage.
The phone's battery is a large 3,200mAh unit but thanks to the large screen and powerful processor, you will do well to get a full day's use out of a single charge.
The camera on the phone is also excellent, with the same 13 megapixel sensor as found on the Galaxy S4. Like most camera apps these days, you'll find a host of creative shooting modes as well as colour effects in the Galaxy Camera app.
More importantly, the image quality is excellent, with the camera capturing lots of detail. Colour reproduction is good, though at times I found colours to be overblown somewhat. HDR mode is also excellent, capturing lots of detail.
Galaxy Note 3: Value and Verdict
At £650 SIM-free the Galaxy Note 3 is certainly overpriced, but the more realistic way of getting your hands on the phone is on contract, with the phone available for free on a £42-a-month deal from O2.
For some people who value lots of screen real-estate as a top priority together with a lot of power under the hood, the Galaxy Note 3 will represent good value for money. It is certainly the most complete 'phablet' out there with the impressive - if, in my opinion, pointless - stylus offering a plethora of options.
For me though, the stylus, the note-taking apps, TouchWiz, gesture controls and everything else Samsung has thrown at the Galaxy Note 3 are just a way of hiding the fact that with a 5.7in screen, it is too large to be a really useful phone and too small to be a really good tablet.
- Screen: 9/10 - Excellent quality, but too big for most one-handed use
- Camera: 9/10 - Excellent, as good as the camera in the Galaxy S4
- Operating System - 7/10 - TouchWiz and everything that goes with it is cluttered and confusing
- Design: 8/10 - Samsung should be given kudos for making the phone so thin and light considering its screen size, but the plastic finish is not desirable.
- Build Quality: 9/10 - Excellent throughout
- Value: 8/10 - Very expensive SIM-free but more 'affordable' on contract
- Overall: 8/10 - A powerful device with an excellent screen and camera, but too big to be a smartphone and too small to be a tablet.
- Superb build quality
- Great quality screen
- Fast, powerful processor
- Too big to be used as a phone
- Stylus still a gimmick