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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Review: Is it the Best Phablet in the Market?

It's our full review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3!
It’s our full review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3!

Full Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 debuted a few weeks ago in the biggest electronics trade show in Europe, IFA, at Berlin, Germany. While we usually have to wait for months for Apple products to officially reach our shores here in the Philippines, we just have to wait a few weeks for Samsung to deliver their hottest goods locally. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is already available via Samsung stores and even through the postpaid plans of Smart Communications. We’ve been playing around with a unit for the last two weeks now and we wanted to share with everyone our full review.

Before anything let’s quickly go over the specifications.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Spec Sheet

  • 2.3GHz Quad-core Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Chipset
  • Adreno 330 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB Internal Storage, Expandable via microSD Card up to 64GB
  • 5.7-inches Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution, 386 pixels per inch
  • 13.0-megapixels primary camera, autofocus, LED flash, smart camera features
  • Can record 2160p@ 30fps
  • 2.0-megapixels secondary camera
  • Can record 1080p@30fps
  • 3G, HSPA+, LTE, WiFi, WiFi Hotspot, Bluetooth, GPS/aGPS, NFC
  • 3,200mAh Removable Battery
  • Android Jelly Bean 4.3

As you can see, this device is a monster! Snapdragon 800 processor, 3GB RAM, and even 32GB internal storage that’s expandable! What’s even more commendable though is how Samsung was able to pack all of that in a more refined and elegant body. They definitely refined and “leveled-up” the Galaxy Note series with this latest model.

Hardware: It’s the Best Galaxy Note Yet

Gorgeous piece of tech right here folks.
Gorgeous piece of tech right here folks.

The second generation Galaxy Note packed a 5.5-inch display. The new model has a slightly bigger one at 5.7-inches. The good news though is that even the screen got larger the over-all footprint or size of the Note 3 is not that different from the Note 2. This means you get more screen and less plastic. Always a winning proposition right? Existing Note 2 owners who’re afraid of getting an even bigger device can rest their worries. Heck they’ll even be surprised to find out that the Note 3 is actually a bit thinner than the Note 2, hehe.

As if the icons are popping out!
As if the icons are popping out!

Up front the 5.7-inches Super AMOLED touchscreen delivers 1920×1080 resolution, or around 386 pixels per inch. The display quality of the Note 3 is simply amazing and it will leave a lot of other phablets in the dust when it comes to colors, details, and deep blacks! The LED panel is also quite bright and you won’t have any problems in direct sunlight just as long as you jack up the brightness levels. Without a doubt one of the best displays we’ve seen for 2013 on a mobile device.

At the top of the screen we have the 2MP camera side-by-side with the LED notifications light (which we think should be standard on all phones these days, hehe). Lastly, below the screen we have the physical home button in between the two capacitive buttons for Menu and Back.

Faux metal finish. It's not metal. It's plastic that looks like metal. Hehe.
Faux metal finish. It’s not metal. It’s plastic that looks like metal. Hehe.

In terms of materials, Samsung used their trusty plastic with a faux metal finish for both the front and the sides. The big change though was the polycarbonate back panel. Instead of all plastic they added a layer of faux leather and even put in stitchings on the sides to give it a “bookish” look and feel. It definitely feels much more premium and solid than the first two Galaxy Notes (and even the Galaxy S4). The cheap plasticky feeling is gone and that’s definitely fantastic news for Samsung fans who have been hating on the plastic for a while now.

Don't mind the SEPCO_003 print. We're using a marketing review unit.
Don’t mind the SEPCO_003 print. We’re using a marketing review unit.
What the back looks like. Faux leather with stitchings on the sides!
Close-up of what the back looks like. Faux leather with stitchings on the sides!
S Pen slot
S Pen slot

The S Pen slot is still located at the bottom of the back. It’s still easy to pull out thanks to the ridges at the end of the pen. The USB 3.0 port is also at the bottom and this port upgrade will enable faster data transfer from the Galaxy Note 3 to your PC/Laptop. Definitely a welcome upgrade for people who love taking high resolution photos and videos with their Galaxy Notes. Everything else is the same — volume rocker on the left, power lock on the right, and the audio jack on top.

Over-all Samsung has definitely tried to address the “plastic hate” that’s been thrown their way. The faux leather is a welcome development and hopefully we see more of this (or more premium material) in their next few products. Truthfully though they could have made this a killer product if they did away with the plastic on the sides and changed it to actual metal. That would put them over the top in the design and quality department and that can easily help them justify the ginormous Php36,990 SRP.

Monstrous Performance

Snapdragon 800 and 3GB = Monster
Snapdragon 800 and 3GB = Monster

The Galaxy Note 3’s internals are composed mostly of best-in-class components. We have the quad-core Snapdragon 800 chipset, a overly generous serving of 3GB RAM, Adreno 330 graphics, and optimizations brought about by Android Jelly Bean 4.3. All of these taken together deliver impressive results on benchmark tests. According to Antutu, the Galaxy Note 3 scored well over 32,000. This number isn’t just for show though as the performance improvements permeate throughout the entire user experience with the device.

All basic functions that we tested were the buttery smooth and 99.9% lag/delay free. We tested in different conditions including having a graphics and memory intensive live wallpaper running at the same time with active home page widgets. Despite all of that background activity happening, pulling up two apps with Multi-window was still effortless for the Galaxy Note 3.

SMS a the top, Facebook at the bottom. Multi-Window FTW!
SMS a the top, Facebook at the bottom. Multi-Window FTW!

All of the TouchWiz Samsung features also ran smoothly. This included Air View, Air Gesture, Smart Stay, Smart Pause, and Smart Scroll. Truth be told all of them are actually just gimmicky and the ones that we actually use on a regular basis are just Smart Stay (Galaxy Note 3 won’t dim when you’re looking at it directly) and Air View. Everything else is usually turned off for us since they might just waste precious battery life.

Just like the Galaxy S4, all of these Samsung features can be accessed on the navigation bar. Be warned though… you will see a lot of toggles, hehe.

Look at all those toggles!
Look at all those toggles!

Samsung didn’t build all that power into this device though for simple applications. We tested a variety of heavy graphics and memory apps on the Galaxy Note 3 including our regular suite of testing games like NBA 2k13, Wild Blood, and Dead Trigger. All of them launched and ran wonderfully fast and without any major hiccups. Switching in between apps was also fairly smooth and hassle free. By the way, it’s also good to note that up to this day we have yet to encounter a crash or an involuntary restart.

Gaming time!
Gaming time!

Another awesome use for the Galaxy Note 3 is using it like an HD portable media player. With 32GB of internal storage expandable up to 64GB and that slick 5.7-inch Full HD Super AMOLED Display, the Galaxy Note 3 delivers an unrivaled viewing experience on the go. If you still find the 5.7-inch screen too small you might wanna check out the Galaxy Mega 6.3. Specs aren’t as powerful but it has a huge ass display, hehe.

Watching a lot of our favorite TV series on the Note 3
Watching a lot of our favorite TV series on the Note 3
Basa muna ng Unbox pag may time
Basa muna ng Unbox pag may time

Lastly, the Galaxy Note 3 makes for a fantastic reader device. Regardless if you’re reading an eBook from Amazon or you’re checking out your RSS feeds via Pulse or Flipboard, the Galaxy Note 3 offers a great experience because of the size and quality of the display. Each time we’re reviewing a Galaxy Note (from the first generation to this one) we end up setting aside our iPad for the duration of the review since most, if not all, of the things the iPad can, the Galaxy Note 3 can (save for some fantastic apps like PvZ2).

Over-all the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 can handle everything you throw at it (and handle ’em well). The specs are really crazy powerful and we hope that developers start taking advantage of this by coming up with more interesting and useful apps that require that kind of processing power.

Improved S Pen Integration

Hello there sezzy.
Hello there sezzy.

Now we get to the main differentiator of the Galaxy Note 3, the S Pen! Let’s start with the basics — the S Pen itself is now more comfortable to hold and use compared to the design of the first two S Pens. It’s also easier to pull out of the slot thanks to the ridged backend. The main app that you’ll use the S Pen for is S Note and Samsung has taken great strides in trying to improve the S Note app to make it more intuitive and useful. Take for example the quick access widget.

S Note
S Note

You get access to all of your notebooks and you can re-arrange them so you can quickly open one if you need to jot down notes. You can also easily add pages to those notebooks by just tapping a command on the app. It’s very user-friendly and if you bought the Galaxy Note 3 for the S Pen you’ll probably spend most of your time on this app. As usual the precision and sensitivity of the S Pen is the best thanks to WACOM’s digitizing technology. Beats the crap out of those capacitive stylus that we first saw with the iPad.

If you’ve mastered the use of S Note, the next step is to take full advantage of Air Command. This feature lets you quickly open up a fan of apps on your home screen just by hovering your S Pen over it and tapping the button on the pen. There are five actions you can take: Action Memo, Scrap Booker, Screen Write, S Finder, and Pen Window.

Air Command: Is it Useful?
Air Command: Is it Useful?

Action Memo basically lets you “command” the Galaxy Note 3 to do stuff by scribbling shapes, letters, or doodles. One cool feature of Action Memo is that you can “link to action” a doodle or something you’ve written down to a bunch of actions that you can pick from. We’ve actually used this several times already. Instead of opening the contacts app and inputing the name and phone number of a new contact we just fired this up, scribbled the name and number, and then sent it to contacts. Awesome stuff but you won’t really use it all the time but it’s nifty if you remember to fire it up when the need for it arises.

Screen Write allows you to take a screen grab, write notes, and then you have the option to crop as well. You can then send the image via e-mail or social networking sites. We were able to use this when we were in HK. Fired up maps, used Screen Write, doodled instructions, and then sent to a friend we were going to meet.

S Finder is local search and you can just use the S Pen to write down whatever it is you’re looking for (handwriting recognition software kicks in).

Scrap Booker lets you save different images or web articles in your scrapbook. The images and articles are linked back to the actual source and you can also organize the stuff you save into different scrapbooks. We only used this feature once to test it, hehe.

Pen Window is actually useful. It lets you draw a pop-up window and you can select from pre-determined apps what you want to use. This is a great take on multi-tasking. We actually used this several times to bring up the calculator when we needed to compute something or the browser to Google for information.

Our most loved feature of the S Pen?

Doodling on photos before we put them up on Instagram. Hehehe.

Wrote down the "Shoryuken" before uploading
Wrote down the “Shoryuken” before uploading

Camera: Standard, Nothing Mind-Blowing

Camera any good?
Camera any good?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has an 13.0-megapixel primary shooter at the back. It’s not the best camera we’ve seen on a smartphone worth more than Php30,000 but it manages to take good photos in good-medium lighting conditions. In dark environments images get dark easily.

Here are some sample shots taken with the primary camera of the Galaxy Note 3:

20130927_172736

20130926_192830

20130926_190521

20130927_172527

20130926_223252

If having an excellent camera is one of your top conditions for getting a smartphone you might want to check out your other options. The Galaxy Note 3 has a good one but it’s noticeably a few notches lower than the iPhone 5S, Xperia Z1, or LG G2.

Outstanding Battery Life

One of the best things we loved about the Galaxy Note 3.0 so far is the battery life. The 3,200mAh pack on this thing is more than enough to power you through a full day even if you have LTE on for the whole time. If you take out LTE and keep brightness to just 50% you can probably last even more than 24 hours. Among all the Samsung Galaxy devices, the Galaxy Note series still hold the title for best battery life.

Verdict: Best Phablet in the Market Today

WIN.
WIN.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3, for us, is the best phablet in the market today. You can still use it as a phone without any hassle (unlike the Z Ultra which is more of a tablet already than a phone) and the display size is good enough for you to enjoy the benefits of a small tablet. The unspoken killer feature is really the size as the Note 3 is still easy to handle and manage despite the supposedly towering 5.7-inch screen.

The only major problem we have really is the price. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is currently selling for Php36,990. That’s definitely pricey but then again it’s not everyday you see a device with 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage (expandable), S Pen innovations, and gorgeous form factor. If you can’t afford to get it one-time-big-time you might want to get it from Smart. They’re offering it at minimal cash out under their All-in Plan 1800 and no cash out for their Unlimited Data Plans 2,000 and 2,500. You can view details of these plans here.

Carlo Ople

Carlo is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Unbox.ph. During daytime he’s the Managing Director and Partner of a Digital Marketing Agency in the Philippines and by nighttime he’s living out his passion as a gadget enthusiast and story teller through Unbox.

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7 Comments

  1. I have the note 3..all i can say is..worth every penny..and janelle carlos..lahat naman ng high end brands sinasabi nila na nandadaya sa benchmark..just refer to the test that sir carlo posted..i guess its more than enough to tell you that the phone is really that powerful..the fastest ive used..we have the s lines of samsung ..and the one x plus, i never thought na may mas bibilis pa..but this one is a real monster, and kahit na bumaba ang price, all i can tell you is that with the features, performance and form factor..u will definately want to keep this one for a long time..the camera might not wow you, but if di ka naman photographer at adik mag pix na kahit saan sulok at kanto eh picture2x mode, nothing beats this..for me, its elegant, classy and even sexy..i’m an htc fan, but this time i can say that samsung finally has a sexy looking phone..

  2. Amoled can decrease you battery life faster, my G2 has IPS technology,,, much better if samsung use IPS also,,,, nice mone LG 🙂

    1. Its almost the same..dpende s settings at pag gamit..my htc one x and one x plus uses IPS..mas mabilis maubos battery, only difference is quality of blacks and whites..and depende sa size ng screen ofcourse..

  3. Samsung note 3 is a phablet while LG G2 is a smartphone and when I read alot of article of LG G2 smartphone, all I can say is amazing! they won also the reward to be the best smartphone today.

    1. They call it a phablet coz of the size..its both smart phones..its both top of the line flagships..both has its pros and cons..the main selling point of the note 3 is the size and s pen integration..another is aftermarket support..and yes..it has gorilla glass..

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