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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Now in its third iteration and closing in on 40 million sales, the Note range has gone from cult concern to mass-market marvel. But what does it offer that's new this time around? Read on to find out.

First impressions & design

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This is one of the biggest phones of the year, both figuratively and literally. Samsung invented the 'phablet' category of device with the original Galaxy Note, and now it's back with the third in the series, the Note 3.

It has a monster 5.7-inch screen, yet somehow Samsung has managed to make it thinner and lighter than last year's 5.5-inch model.

But make no mistake, this is a seriously big blower. Put it in your jeans pocket, and it pokes out the top. It's so large, in fact, that it's pretty tricky to use with one hand.

Samsung has bundled a stylus (called an S Pen) in the box, which you can use to write or draw on the screen, or to tap the icons.

It's also added its own apps that make use of the S Pen; press its side button and an 'Air Command' menu fans out, letting you choose from some of Samsung's own.

Action Memo, for example, lets you jot down a phone number using the S Pen, and then you can call it without having to type it out using the keys. It's a neat feature, but realistically you won't use it much.

In fact, we found ourselves forgetting about the stylus altogether after just a few hours of using the device. A finger is just much quicker and easier.



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The screen is searingly bright and amazingly crisp. Given that bigger screens sap the battery quicker, we weren't expecting much from this.

But we're happy to report that battery life is very healthy indeed.

It was a good couple of days before it needed a recharge, and that was with pretty intensive use. Our Nexus 4 would've wimped out by teatime on the first day.

The 2.3GHz quad-core processor is crazily fast as well, and shrugs off everything you can throw at it. Games, HD videos, it scoffs them all for breakfast.

The Note 3 is super-powered on the imaging side as well.

The 13-megapixel camera takes crisp shots, though it does struggle to pick out detail in low-light conditions.

But it gives good depth of field, and the water of a lake we shot looked particularly impressive.

It also shoots video in 4K - that's four times the resolution of standard high definition.

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4K TVs are still quite rare, so it feels like Samsung may have bunged this in just for the sake of it. But nevertheless, the Note 3 is future-proofed.

It's also the first handset to be compatible with USB 3.0. This means faster charging and file transfers, which are more than welcome.

And of course 4G comes as standard, as you'd expect from a high-end handset nowadays.

But it's not all champagne and roses on the hardware side. The back of the phone has a faux-leather finish that's just tacky.

It feels pretty flimsy when you take it off to slide in your SIM card as well. But the device itself feels solidly built.

So, on the hardware side there's a lot to like.

It's just a shame Samsung insists on using its TouchWiz interface, and cramming in as many extra features as possible. It's obvious why it's done it, as a marketing tool to beat Apple with.

But in reality, most punters will be turned off by having too many options to choose from.

The 1,920x1,080-pixel screen just shows up how cheap TouchWiz looks, laying bare the outdated design, warts-and-all.

It's a shame, but using the Note 3 is like looking at a PC desktop from five years ago that's been rendered ridiculously hi-res.

It really takes away from the premium feel that Samsung is going for.


Ease of use

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Samsung's software flourishes aren't just hard on the eye. They can actually hamper you from time to time. The keyboard, for example.

On a device this big, you'd think typing would be a breeze, but not so. The keys on Samsung's own keyboard are too close together, making misspellings all too common. Which is a real shame.



s health screen

If you like exploring and playing with new apps, there are plenty of Samsung's own to tinker with. S Health lets you keep tabs on how much exercise you're getting, how many calories you're taking in, and how many you're burning.

ChatON is a free messaging app, a bit like BBM or WhatsApp, while Multi View lets you split the screen, so you can see two apps at the same time. Though Multi View only works with certain apps.

Samsung's Smart Stay tech knows when you're looking at the display, and only dims it to save battery when you avert your gaze. And it works well.

The thing is, with S Health and ChatON, there are more comprehensive third-party alternatives that do the job much better.

And while Multi View is a neat idea, in practice it's pretty useless.

If you're reading a long article you'll need to scroll down, which will keep the page lit.

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Besides, how long can you really look at the same photo? It seems like Samsung is trying a bit too hard with all these extras.

Overall, TouchWiz is too cluttered and confusing, and looks nowhere near as slick as iOS 7, Windows Phone 8, or even rivals like HTC's Sense UI.

Give us the pure simplicity of stock Android any day.



As you'd expect, the Note 3 isn't cheap. If you want it SIM-free, it'll set you back around £600. Or it's free on contracts starting around £42 a month.

But you do get one hell of a powerful device, and one of the biggest and brightest screens around.

If you're after a phablet, this is the best one out there. It'll be way too big for some people, and won't come near to replicating the experience of using a 7-inch tablet for others.

But if you can stomach the software quirks, don't mind the leather back, and like the idea of using a stylus, you've just found your dream phone.

Find out more about the Galaxy Note 3 here: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

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