Julie’s gadget diary – A week with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3

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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

samsung-galaxy-note3-2 samsung-galaxy-note3-3

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.

samsung-galaxy-note3-5 samsung-galaxy-note3-6 samsung-galaxy-note3-9

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.

samsung-galaxy-note3-7 samsung-galaxy-note3-8

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-galaxy-note3-10 samsung-galaxy-note3-11

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.

22 thoughts on “Julie’s gadget diary – A week with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. Making the back & most of the case out of plastic, instead of metal, is a costs savings idea, that a lot of manufacturers use. How many people, spend a ton of money on a device, and NOT encase it into some sort of rubberized or heavy plastic/rubber case? Why make it out of expensive metal, only to have it hidden with a case?

  3. I’m glad the S-Pen is catching on. I loved the stylus on the old Treo/palm devices. Accurate and detailed. My big ham of a finger can’t even get close to the accuracy I need for remote windows/citrix sessions or other detail oriented work.

    I currently have a Lepan II cheapo tablet. It’s been good, but I bought what I could afford. I’d been dreaming about the asus transformer. That is until I got my NOTE 2. Despite it’s larger size I fell immediately in love. The Pen sold it. So much in fact my next table will be the Note 10.1 2014 edition. The S-Pen literally redefined the playing field for tablet devices for me.

  4. I always like your real-world reviews, there is only so much I can take of benchmarking tables and comparisons to phones I don’t care about. The only time I use the multi-window feature (SGS3) is when I need to use Google Authenticator or Lastpass to login into an app or website.

  5. RE: Plastic vs Metal backs.
    You do realize metal backs interfere with the antenna while plastic does not don’t you?

    Appearances aside, we live in a environment where the rules of physics apply.

  6. I love this review! It’s honest, direct to the point and objective. I do share all your sentiments about the size of the phone. I had been hoping Samsung creates a sort of a mini note the size of the S4 with the s-pen. THAT to me would be the perfect phone in the universe. But to me, the size was a small trade-off to all the things my note3 can do. I have come to terms that watching movies or reading, is far better than getting a tablet separately from having a phone. To me, it’s literally having two gadgets in one, a tablet and a phone. And so I have come to love my note3 unconditionally and will make wonderful memories with it for at least a couple of years!

    1. @Peter I have the same wish for an S4 sized device with the S Pen. Since sending the Note 3 loaner back to Verizon, I’m really missing it. It’s making me think of ideas to carry it when I’m walking around the office during the day. One of my friends here at work told me to start designing some women’s gadget pants 😉 I’m actually considering that. Although I have minimal sewing experience. My mom used to make our clothes when we were kids. Maybe some of her talent rubbed off 😉

  7. I loved your review Julie- the comparison was really good and now I am off to check out what an s-pen is compared to the stylus I use now. My curiosity is up.

    1. @maggie carrying it to and from work is not an issue. It’s carrying it around the office. I work for a large company with 2 office buildings that are connected. I often walk to and from different areas and need to keep my phone with me. That means I either have to carry it in my hand or in a pocket. If I put it in my side cargo pocket it sticks out far enough that if I happen to forget and sit down, it will probably fall out. This has happened a few times in the restroom 🙂

  8. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009RFC4IU/ref=oh_details_o01_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    Looked it up from my amazon order. Purchased it Dec,1,2012. Got it about 10 days later. I’ve used it every single day. I’m surprised how well it’s held up. Still in good shape and has working clip. In fact after looking at what I paid I’m happily surprised. At the time I could not find any holsters for the Note 2. I ordered 4-5 from amazon that looked promising. I sent them all back except this one. The others either didn’t fit the phone right, or were so poor quality they were falling apart just opening package.

    I would recommend this one however.

  9. I wear it all the time without a belt. It has two loops and a clip. I never use the belt part even with the belt, I prefer the clip.

  10. I see, well you can always wear it in the front. Give you an excuse to use the “I’m happy to see you” joke alot. 🙂

    Yeah I almost always tuck in my shirt, always in a dress shirt and usually too lazy to change after work.

  11. Hi Julie, I enjoyed your review! I have a Note 2 and I use a dry bag to wear it around the house and keep it on me. I’ve lost my current one that I got for four dollars at Big Lots. I’m putting it on my Christmas list that I’d like a few. They’re thin, lightweight, you can see through the bag and operate the phone through it. I’d answer the phone on speaker and just tell people to hold on a sec while I take it out of the bag. It worked great and when I went to DisneyLand, I was ready for Splash Mountain!

  12. All,
    I’ve had my Note 3 for 3+ months, and love it. I’m getting older and my eyes are having issues close up, and wanted the bigger screen for bigger text. I can read it fine without my reading glasses.

    What’s funny is, when I pick up my old droid bionic, the screen now looks like it’s about 2″ x 1″. 😉

    I don’t have Julies issue with the belt clip, matter of fact, I think I have one of the biggest case that are made for the Note 3 (Otterbox Defender) because I love dropping stuff!

    I also LOVE the batter life. All day, and normally use about 20% battery. (I don’t use it a lot compared to some people, and I’m still wanting that 7 day between charges phone, but until the next gen batteries come out, I don’t think we’ll see that.

    1. @Dave I’ve been using the Note 2 for several months. It didn’t take me very long to get used to the size. Now I’m not sure how easy it would be to go back to a sub 5″ sized screen.

  13. @David

    Been using my Note II for almost 2 years now, I loved my Palm Pre because of it’s very small compact design. I pulled it out of retirement to give to a friends mom that needed an emergency semi-smart phone. While wiping it and reprogramming it I felt like Goliath trying to use tiny screen. “Finger SMMUUUUSSSSHHHHH”

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