I still remember the first time I held the original Galaxy Note. At that point in time it wasn’t really obvious just how critical larger-display smartphones were going to be in the future, nor just how close the smartphone market was to becoming a mature one. In a mature market it’s all about filling in the niches, something Samsung has been doing since the very beginning by casting a very large form factor net with its lineup of android devices.

I remember being intrigued with the original Note more for the active digitizer feature (S-Pen) than the large display. It was during the height of the draw something craze, and having a stylus seemed like a logical advantage. Two years I lean the other way entirely, it’s that bigger display that makes me interested in the form factor not just as a curiosity but as something I actually want to use daily.

This is now Samsung’s third Galaxy Note, and as the adage goes hopefully third time is indeed a charm. Not that the first two weren’t wildly popular to begin with, either.

The Note 3 is obviously an iterative product with iterative improvements. The basic formula of the Note is unchanged - huge display, bumped specs versus the S series flagship, and active digitizer pen. The improvements this time are bigger display while making the overall device dimensions smaller, much faster SoC, higher resolution display, better camera, and all the improvements around the edges you’d expect (802.11ac, USB 3.0, IR).

I always start out by talking about the industrial design, appearance, and feel of devices, and won’t change that with the Note 3. Let’s just say it - the design of the Note 3 honestly isn’t a significant departure from Samsung’s norm. Then again nobody should’ve expected a huge departure to begin with.

Whereas the Note 2 felt and looked a lot like a blown up SGS3, the Note 3 is likewise a bit like a larger SGS4, although I honestly see bits of SGS2 in it. The front is home to the huge display, the same kind of earpiece grille we always see from Samsung, front facing camera, physical home button, and capacitive menu and back buttons.

The edge of the Note 3 is ringed with the familiar chrome, although this time there’s a ridge which makes it more grippy. With bigger phones making the edges less slippery is important, the Note 3 hits the mark here nicely.

All the buttons are also in the usual places for Samsung, and feel great. Power is easy to get to, the volume rocker as well is nicely positioned.

Headphone jack and the IR port are up top, along with one of the 3 microphones used for noise cancelation on the Note 3.

There’s another microphone on the bottom right of the device, and the third is at the bottom to the left of the microUSB 3.0 type B connector jack.

There’s been a lot of talk about the presence of USB 3.0, even though the micro B connector type has been around for considerable time already and in a ton of devices. The Note 3 just has the misfortune of apparently being many people’s first exposure to the connector, whose awkward double lobed shape gives it forwards compatibility with microUSB 2.0. The rightmost region is just the familiar microUSB 2.0 connector, the left contains the pins for SuperSpeed signaling for 3.0. Plug something into the right 2.0 jack and you get 2.0 speed for transfers and charging. 3.0 at present should give you faster transfer rate (it doesn't in practice as you'll soon see), and eventually faster charging, but the Note 3 continues to use Samsung’s 2.0 amp charging spec and rate, but more on that later.

  Samsung Galaxy Note 3
(T-Mobile SM-N900T)
SoC 2.3 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974)
4x Krait 400 @ 2.3 GHz, Adreno 330 at 450 MHz
Display 5.7-inch Super AMOLED (1080p)
WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (BCM4339) + BT 4.0
Storage 32 / 64 GB + microSDXC (up to 64 GB)
I/O microUSB 3.0, MHL 2.0, IR LED (remote), NFC
OS Android 4.3
Battery 3200 mAh, 3.8V, 12.1 Whr
Size / Mass 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3mm, 168g
Camera 13 MP w/AF, LED (Rear Facing) – 1080p60, 720p120, 4k30
2 MP (Front Facing)

Whereas most of the Note 3 is par for the course for Samsung device design, the backside is something different entirely. Instead of the slick plastic that we normally get out of the Korean handset makers, the Note 3 backside material is plastic, textured to look like a leather bound book complete with faux stitching, and in the case of the black color, topped with a somewhat grippy rubbery finish. The white model doesn’t get that rubbery finish, and instead just feels like somewhat roughly textured plastic with the same faux leather pattern. I’ve held pleather, fake leather, and real leather, and this frankly isn’t any of that. It’s still injection molded plastic, but this time patterned so it looks vaguely leather.

Samsung does deserve kudos for not just giving us another slimy-backed phone with a glossy plastic battery cover, however. I have to admit I do like the rubber finish on the black Note 3 I was sampled, as the white one feels significantly different as it lacks that finish. The only downside is that it does pick up and show hand grease, whereas the white one handles it better. I could do without the fake stitching though.

I’ve been avoiding the discussion about the size of the Note 3 and whether it’s too big or too much. I’ve addressed this before in the Note 2 review, and I’d encourage you to read page 2’s “using a phablet” section, since the Note 3 is essentially the same situation, since it’s the same form factor. I can definitely use the form factor just fine, and the Note 3 comfortably. With the swipe keyboards that are popular now (I just use the stock Google Keyboard) I can even type one handed without much effort. In fact I’ve written a huge chunk of this review on the Note 3 in Draft, some of it one-handed.

Hands vary in size, and what size device is “best” for someone is really just a matter of personal taste. Some people are clamoring for smaller devices, others want bigger - as this market matures, success for OEMs will mean a diverse portfolio filling in all the obvious form factors.

More and more I’m starting to think the width of devices is the pain point that causes real fatigue, and edge bezel thickness. The Note 3 does very well here compared to its predecessor because it’s thinner, and lighter. In fact, you could pretty much sum up the Note 3 with – thinner, lighter, faster, oh and it has a bigger display at the same time.

  Galaxy Note 3
Galaxy Note 2
Galaxy Note
Height 151.2 mm 151.1 mm 146.85 mm
Width 79.2 mm 80.5 mm 82.95 mm
Thickness 8.3 mm 9.4 mm 9.65 mm
Mass 168 grams 180 grams 178 grams
Display Size 5.7-inch 5.5-inches 5.3-inches
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 1280 x 720 1280 x 800
SoC 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 800 (4x Krait 400) 1.6 GHz Samsung Exynos 4412 (4x Cortex A9) 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
(APQ8060 - 2x Scorpion)
Camera 13 MP with LED 8 MP with LED 8 MP with LED
Battery 3200 mAh, 3.8V, 12.16 Whr 3100 mAh, 3.8V, 11.78 Whr 2500 mAh, 3.7V, 9.25 Whr

I really want to use the Note 3 a lot more this time, since having more display real estate does make me feel like I can accomplish more. Obviously multimedia content also benefits from a larger viewport as well. Since I haven’t ever really been a tablet person, larger phones seem like a logical tradeoff.

Honestly the Note 3 feels better than its predecessor, and the biggest reasons for that are the textured rubberized back, grippier textured edge, thinner body, and thinner width. Oh and there’s no creakiness or build quality issues to speak of, in spite of being so large the Note 3 is very rigid and solid.


S Pen
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  • jerry_carter - Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - link

    Making a mockery of "The Most Trusted in Tech Since 1997"


    I appreciate your site and reviews and have read religiously for several years now. That stated, the most recent Samsung review [1] falls significantly below your traditional journalistic standards. I use the word 'journalistic' because you've earned it -- working independently when possible and calling out limitations when forced to work within them. You've historically identified significant issues in several products and revised articles or reviewed products when these issues were corrected.

    With the Samsung review, you have failed to meet these standards. I accept your comments that benchmarks from several products are suspicious. That is no reason to not take a harder line with each and every case that you encounter. I have no problem with posting the 'manufacture optimized' numbers provided that they are presented in parallel with numbers for with the optimizations are disabled (or believed to be disabled). I do appreciate that this is more work, but your site, Ars Technica, and others can expose corruption (or as least bad behavior) where it occurs and motivate manufactures to 'do the right thing. And really, isn't that what journalism is about?

    Thanks for your work over the last several years. I trust that the review will be corrected soon and look forward to that and future work in the months and years ahead.

    Best Wishes,
    Jerry Carter

    [1] http://www.anandtech.com/show/7376/samsung-galaxy-...
  • ccd2 - Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - link

    The popularity of the new iPhone is really amazing. With the maturity of the phone market, the trend seems (to me at least) to be away from a one phone does all to a number of segments. The Note 3 represents one of those segments (I own the Note 2). If I were in the market for a phone, the Note 3 would be my phone. My guess is that, in time, phones like the S4 which I would consider a kitchen sink phone where everything is thrown in, will give way to more phones like the Note 3, which are designed for market segments. My guess is that most people who buy a phone like the Note 3 would not give the iPhone or Galaxy S4 a second look. That is no knock against Apple before the fanboys jump on me. It's just that with a bigger screen, S pen, etc., the Note has a different focus and appeal. You can already see other potential segments like where the phone is more camera than phone. To me, this seems where the phone market is headed as it continues to mature.
  • SeriousTodd - Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - link

    Brian, if you could comment on the subject of legitimacy of this website, it would be great.

  • SeriousTodd - Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - link

    Brian, it would be great if you could comment on the subject of legitimacy of this website.

  • ChrisMars - Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - link

    Great review, thanks!
    May I propose to adapt the CalMan results graph in a way it's more easy to grasp at a glance?

    Just putting the best on top would be a improvement already.
    Adding a line at 6505K for white-point deviation would also be good to improve readability,
  • SpacedCowboy - Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - link

    Just one more voice added to the cacophony.

    I started reading anandtech a long time ago - so long that I don't remember exactly when. The nature of the reviews here caught my eye, and I became a fan. What I liked was how things were made bare, with intelligent guesses (always noted as such) and astute observations leading to conclusions that other sites just didn't provide. Over time, the track record was excellent and trending better.

    Now, though, you've just taken a huge step back. Some points:

    1) It's not an insignificant difference between the cheating and non-cheating modes as you suggest in the review. Perhaps there's something else going on rather than just locking the clock to fMax - perhaps they're relaxing the thermal envelope as well. Who knows ? It's all very dodgy.

    2) It's all very well to say that benchmarks don't mean anything, but a lot of people who don't really know what they want, but just "want the best phone" are going to look up a review on the internet, see which phone is at the top of the graphs, and assume that's the best one, then go out and buy it. Tech-savvy customers are the exception, not the rule, and you've just given Samsung everything they wanted.

    3) You say you're struggling with how to react. I'm struggling to see why you're struggling. If someone cheats, you call them on it; simple as that, and you make the cheating the major point of any review. Naming and shaming manufacturers, and the commensurate bad PR is the only way we'll stop them (and by 'we' I mean sites like your good selves).

    The only reasons I can see why you wouldn't do this is that you're afraid that you'll lose access to new products in future, or you're being paid to shill their products. If it's the former, well, that's a story in its own right; if the latter (which FYI, I don't believe to be the case), then a sad day has dawned and I'll go somewhere else for my tech reviews.

    4) I don't care who does it, be it Apple, Samsung, HTC, whatever - name them and shame them. Cheats should never prosper.

    You're in a privileged position. You've gained that position because of your reputation and hard work, by doing the journalistic version of speaking truth to power. It just seems so ... sad ... that you didn't hold yourselves to your previous high standards this time, and I guess we're all just a bit shell-shocked and asking "why ?"

    TL;DR: Such a shame.
  • cozmot - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Very good points, and that sums my thoughts up perfectly.
  • Arbie - Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - link

    "How is it cheating if everyone does it?" -- First off, it's cheating because it's intentionally misleading; and secondly because not everyone does it. The companies who are not cheating are being shown in a falsely bad light. And I wouldn't have known that from reading this Anandtech article.

    So Anandtech really needs to highlight the fact in the same chart that presents the results. Or better yet, omit Samsung scores on that parameter and say why.
  • Samwise - Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - link

    Anandtech, please review the Droid MAXX.
  • apljack80 - Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - link

    I think I have read enough of these posts to feel like many of your words are an unwarranted attack of the writers of Anandtech. Let me be perfectly clear, Samsung and other OEMs DID NOT CHEAT, and ANANDTECH DID NOT LET THESE COMPANIES OFF THE HOOK. Let me articulate why this is the case.
    1) First you must look at the device and it’s intended purpose. These are phones not laptops or desktops, that for the most part enjoy an unending stream of power. These phones are designed to sip power with extreme efficiency. As a result, they do this at the cost of unleashing the full potential of the hardware of the phone, in order to optimize the full potential of the battery. Consider all of the effort they have taken to make more powerful CPU’s, GPUs, and bright huge screens use so much less power than their predecessors, think about how much they have accomplished with all this AND make a phone last almost all day.
    2) All of these phones are also very efficient crushing the full potential of the hardware, however, a benchmark is testing the efficiency of the hardware not the battery. And this causes benchmarks to become ARTIFICIALLY LOW. So when faced with this issue the OEM’s have made provisions, to allow the device to fully unleash it’s full potential in the code. Try thinking of it like this, Samsung did not improve its scores by adding that code, but let us see what the actual power of the processor is. Other implementations of the same hardware are lower, because the software and power saving devices are forcing it to be slower. That is why you are seeing these ‘special’ cases, because you could not see what the real ability of the phone is without the code.
    3) I believe the writers of Anandtech understand this at some level, and lack the ability to truly communicate that message to the masses. If you read their articles, they do feel it is a form of cheating, but have not called it in any way a lie. They walk a fine line between being honest with themselves, and offending a company that sends them devices for review. So they have to be careful in how they word things, and in this case I felt their response was diplomatic to say the least. They did not ignore what is happening like other tech sites, they acknowledged it and reported their raw numbers. The raw numbers that the phone can actually do outside of it’s limitations.
    I am embarrassed at what I have seen here today, and I am embarrassed by all of you who have failed to engage you minds on this topic. Think before you speak, you will find more doors will open to you that way. And be grateful they have even replied to any of us during this tirade.

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