Back in March of this year, I test drove a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 for a couple weeks to see if a phablet was the right device for me. If you’re not hip to the latest gadget lingo, the term phablet refers to smartphones that approach tablet dimensions. I came away with mixed feelings from my experience with the Note 2. I loved the 5.5″ display and S Pen, but found the device too large to carry around comfortably. Now it’s 7 months later and Verizon Wireless has offered to let me try the successor to the Note 2, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Has this new phablet changed my mind? Let’s find out.
Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.
This isn’t a review in the true sense of the word. If you’re looking for down and dirty facts about processor speed, battery life details and all the software features etc, you won’t find it in this article. At least not a lot. I basically went into my trial with the Note 3 just to see if I could once again adjust to a large format phone, and that’s what I plan to talk about.
The first thing I did when I unboxed the Note 3 (above right) was to compare it to the Note 2 (left). The differences between the physical dimensions is negligible.
Note 2: 5.94 (H) x 3.16 (W) x .37 (D) inches
Note 3: 5.95” (H) x 3.12” (W) x .33” (D) inches
The Note 3 has a thinner and more rectangular design with a thinner bezel than the Note 2 even though it crams a larger display into the same area.
Note 2 , display 5.5″ 1280×720 resolution.
Note 3 , display 5.7″ 1920 x 1080 resolution.
The change in looks (at least from the front) are subtle, but I like them. I really like that Samsung hasn’t ditched the home button. That continues to be one of my favorite features of their phones.
Flip the phone over and we see a faux leather back cover. I’ve heard some people complain about Samsung’s choice to always make plastic phones and I’ve done my own share of complaining about plastic, but I’m coming to the conclusion that Samsung knows what they are doing. This phone feels solid and the back cover adds a very welcome grip to what is usually a very slippery phone. I don’t think the back cover looks cheesy or cheap. It doesn’t show smudges or fingerprints. I really like it and wish I had one for my SGS3.
The display is just plain gorgeous. The slightly larger size and increase in resolution wasn’t noticeable to me. But when I pulled the S Pen from the built in holder, I immediately remembered why I loved the Note 2. I really really REALLY wish Samsung would add S Pen capabilities to their next non-phablet sized smartphone. I don’t care if the pen isn’t stored in the phone, I just want to be able to use one with my phone. Once you use an S Pen, other styluses feel inferior.
Other hardware updates from the previous version of the phone include a camera resolution increase from 8MP up to 13MP, a memory increase from 16GB up to 32GB, a slight battery update from 3100mAh to 3200mAh and a processor boost from a 1.6GHz Exynos Quad–Core to a 2.3 GHz Quad Core. These are all nice updates, but excluding the memory update, I really didn’t perceive much of a difference. I don’t play any high end games or do many power user type tasks with my phone. I mainly use them to make calls, send text messages, do a little surfing, eBook reading, email reading / writing, picture snapping, and a few games like Words with Friends. Nothing terribly taxing. The Note 3 worked great at all those tasks… and so does my 1 year old Samsung Galaxy S3.
A quick tour of the software features turned up a few changes / additions like Blocking and some other modes. If I remember correctly, Blocking mode has been included in other Samsung Android phones before, but Verizon disabled it. It’s a great feature that lets you turn off notifications, alarms, LEDs and incoming calls during a defined time period. You can white list certain phone numbers to by pass the block. If you use your phone as an alarm clock like I do, you know how annoying it can be to get woke up in the middle of the night by a notification for someone liking your latest Instagram picture in the middle of the night. This prevents that.
We still have the multi-window feature that will let you run 2 apps on the screen at once. I never use this feature because for me, a 5.7″ display just isn’t large enough to tile two apps.
Samsung also included the S Health app that was on the Samsung Galaxy S4, which lets you use the phone as a pedometer to count your steps. And there a magazine app that can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom when you’re on the home screen. This just a tiled interface where you can read news, and your latest social network posts.
The Note 3 is a very nice smartphone. I love the display, S Pen, overall system performance and battery life. I enjoyed using it during the week that I was testing it. The only problem I had was the same problem I have/had with the Note 2. It’s just too large for me. It felt comfortable enough in hand, although I sometimes had trouble reaching my thumb up to the volume button during a call. But the main problem I face with these size devices continues to be with carrying it. My pants pockets just aren’t large enough to safely hold the phone and I refuse to wear any type of belt case. I asked a few of my guy friends at work what they thought of the Note 3’s size. Their first comment was “wow, that’s a BIG phone”. But when they slipped it in their front pants pocket, it fit fine for them and they were surprised. So I guess it comes down to pocket size or maybe it’s a girl thing.
I was really sad to box up the Note 3 and ship it back to Verizon, but once I took out the SIM, put it back in my SGS3 and put the SGS3 in my pocket, the universe felt in balance again. My 2nd try with a phablet may have failed, but I have no problem recommending the Note 3 to anyone who isn’t pocket size challenged.