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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review: The phablet that started it all just got better

 Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Photo Credit: OKJ Photography


The second act in Samsung's highly anticipated Unpacked event of 2013, the world finally saw what the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 truly is after months of speculation and rumours regarding its specifications and new features!

Having launched just days ago on 27 September, I got my hands on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to see if the third generation of the original that sparked the phablet craze can rise above the competition that it has brought upon itself.

Let us not forget that when the original Samsung Galaxy Note 1 was launched, it was the first successful phablet and truly in a class of its own. But that was 2 years ago, and now Samsung is looking at stiff competition from Sony, HTC, LG, among others.



Hardware Design

  Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Photo Credit: OKJ Photography


First and foremost, you get the patented Super AMOLED Screen Full HD screen, which measures at 5.7" diagonally. Samsung seems to always increase the screen size of the Galaxy Note by 0.2" per iteration (Note 1 = 5.3" screen, Note 2 = 5.5" screen).

The pixel density of the screen is 386ppi, so as it is beyond the 300ppi threshold, you know that you will get crystal clear visuals, or for Apple fans - it can be qualified as a retina display. This is a huge step up from the Samsung Galaxy Note 2's 267ppi pixel density.

The screen is also protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which is up to 3 times more damage resistant as compared to Corning Gorilla Glass 2. Still, I would definitely recommend a screen protector, just as a precaution.

At the front you will also find the usual 3 buttons - the capacitive back and menu buttons and the physical home button.

  Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Photo Credit: OKJ Photography


The back is one of my favourite improvements in the Galaxy Note 3 over the Galaxy Note 2. I was genuinely thrilled when it was announced that the back was no longer the cheap plastic that is now symbolic of the state of quality of Samsung products. The Galaxy Note 3 has opted for a warm texture feel that is achieved by having the back layered with faux leather, a much welcome change that I hope will continue for all future Samsung products.

The faux leather not only looks and feels great, but it also truly creates that feeling of holding a notebook in hand, especially when you use it with the S Flip covers. However, much like how the "metal" band of Samsung's smartphones are actually plastic, the "stitches" along the edge of the back are not threads sewed into place, but are simply pressed to form a pattern that resembles one made through stitches.

This, however, is actually a good thing, as actual stitches are not practical for a phone and are more likely to degrade and blacken given its material.

  Photo Credit: OKJ Photography



The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is powered by a 2.3GHz Quad-Core processor and is the first device from Samsung with 3GB of RAM. This is a step up of the competition and shows that Samsung is not done yet in fighting all out to keep its crown in the smartphone market.

With such specifications, you can be sure that it is faster than the Galaxy Note 2, which only has a 1.6 Quad-Core processor with 2GB of RAM.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 also the first to come with USB 3.0 connectivity. This potentially means faster charger data transfers through USB cable and faster power charging through USB 3.0 ports.

  Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Despite this, you can still use a Micro USB cable. If you notice in the photo above, the USB 3.0 head has a side of it that looks like your usual micro USB cable head. And that's because it is!


  Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

The 3GB of RAM is much need to ensure that Samsung's TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0 and all the other features run smoothly.

Software features includes:

  • Group Play
  • Story Album, S Translator
  • Samsung Smart Scroll, Samsung Smart Pause, AIr Gesture, Air View
  • Samsung Apps, Samsung Hub, ChatON, Samsung WatchON
  • S Voice Hands Free, S Health
  • Samsung Adapt Display, Samsung Adapt Sound Auto adjust touch sensitivity
  • Samsung Link, Screen Mirroring
  • Safe Assistance, Samsung KNOX

Of that long list of features, Group Play, Samsung Knox, and Multi-Window were the more notable mentions at the Unpacked Event.

  • Multi Window can now support the running of 2 of the same applications at once, such as 2 whatsapp conversations. (Multi Window to me is one of the best features for multi-tasking, and coupled with the large screen size and S pen, the Galaxy Note 3 shows us how close we are to viewing the humble pen and paper as a means of taking note in the "olden" days)
  • Samsung KNOX is Samsung's answer to the call for the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement in the business area.
  • Group Play now is able to play video using multiple Galaxy Note 3, creating a truly new visual experience.


  Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has a 13MP BSI Sensor, Auto Focus camera with Smart Stabilisation and a 2MP front facing camera.

I went down to Gardens by the Bay to test out the Samsung Galaxy Note 3's camera and compare it with my own point-and-shoot camera, a Canon IXUS 220HS.

Click to enlarge:

The Note 3 gives it too much contrast on this image here, and while my Canon IXUS 220HS took a more muted photo, I personally feel it is better. / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

The Note 3 over saturates the photo, resulting in greener leaves. But as those into mobile photography would mainly use it for things like Instagram and social sharing, this is a plus point given the correct environment. / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

The over saturation nature of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 camera plays very well here. And the contracts also complimented the blacks. There is also a nice bokeh effect. / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

The photo taken by the Note 3 nicely shows the details of the leaves. However, focusing is an issue with the Note 3. I tried to get a macro shot of a cluster of flowers, but the Note 3 failed to focus well on it even after countless attempts. / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

This is more of a fun shot when I saw a spider on a large rock formation. While the Note 3 was able to take a decent picture., its inability to focus well is disappointing. A big note for those who take lots of macro shots. / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

It seems here that under default settings, the Note 3 find the Sun to glaring. And due to its over saturating and contrasting nature, the note 3 really falls flat in this comparison. / Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

*All Photos taken using default settings.

The video recording capability of the Note 3 is quite remarkable, with it being able to record at Ultra High Definition (4K) in 30fps and slow motion in HD (720P) at 120fps.

After much trail-and-error as well as patience, I got this slo-mo video of a butterfly as it roams around the garden!

Battery Life

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 houses a 3200mAh battery, a small upgrade from the 3100mAh battery of the Note 2 - The fact that the Note 3 is slimmer than the Note 2 should have played a part in this.

With that said, with the Galaxy Note 3 being advertised as the multi-tasking device of choice, it is a pity that its battery may be its drawback. On the plus side, the battery is removable, something that is increasingly rare, and I would recommend either buying an extra battery pack or a portable charger.

Not only is the ecosystem well equipped in giving you plenty of choices regarding portable chargers, but Samsung also understands this and is one of the few companies that has a very strong line of battery related accessories.

  Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

My advice is to definitely consider purchasing one if you are very power hungry and demands the most out of your device.

S Pen

  Photo Credit: OKJ Photography

The term "Note" is specially given to Samsung devices that comes with the S Pen, Samsung's proprietary stylus that is made by Wacom.

While other companies are competing with the Galaxy Note series on size, none seems to be interested in including a stylus, leaving the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 the only phablet of choice if you want one.

Despite no competition, Samsung has greatly improved the S Pen's capability, and has even promoted it as one of THE MAIN REASON as to get a Galaxy Note 3 and that it should be used if one wants to get the most out of their Note 3.

One key feature of the S Pen is the air command fan, which is activated when pulled out of the slot, or when pressing the button when hovering over the screen.

This will give users 5 options - Action Memo, Scrapbook, S Finder, Pen Window and Screen Write, each with a unique functionality to enhance your multi-tasking experience.

Find out more at the official Samsung Galaxy Note 3 website.

Wrapping It Up

While other companies in the industry have entered the fight for king of the Phablet category, Samsung has still managed to be a cut above the rest. The S Pen is not just a second-thought accessory and the benefits of using it cannot be replicated by other phablets with a stylus that was bought separately.

Samsung has also showed that while people buy phablets for their size, it is certainly not everything, and has instead focused on other aspects of the device, handing the title of the biggest phablet the Sony Xperia Z Ultra (as of the time of this writing).

The features that make the Galaxy Note 3 stand out includes its ability to capture slow motion video and 4K videos, the faux leather back, the 3GB of RAM, all in a slim (8.3mm) and light (168g) body.

I disliked many features that were introduced with the Galaxy S4 as I found them to have little practical value in day-to-day activities. And while these features are also present in the Note 3, all the new features, be it hardware or software, are much welcomed. For example, just imagine how slow motion video can be used for creative means on Instagram.

To me, the introduction of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has strengthened the statement that Samsung listens to their customers' needs and wants, and I certainly hope that it will continue on as we look forward to 2014.

Other Reviews

This section exists to acknowledge that fact that no matter how good a review is, it is definitely wise to seek other reviews and make your own judgement before making a purchase. Here are some other quality reviews of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3: