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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  • risus - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    I agree with apiljack80. I would actually like to see this supported with options to run with different loads, throttles, and tasks to simulate different types of real work and then also a boosted all out top score.
    What I don't care for is that Samsung was not forthcoming with this. Had they given the user to choose profiles they would have received a whole different,and I believe, more positive response. It's the whole reason why this is being labeled a "cheat" because the technical action is not a cheat at all.
    But alas this is getting so much publicity and with some other phones adopting this I think we are headed for a profile labeled benchmark anyways. Scrutiny in the mainstream tends to have it's audiences aware and vocal. But for my OC'ing (when avail for n3) I'm flipping on all cores, disable all power save, keep the thermal conservative and lets see how high we can get that bar!
  • AngryCTO - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    Besides the reviewer, how many people here actually played a bit with a Galaxy Note 3, before issuing opinions? I would advise anyone against purchasing a $650 phone without playing with it for a while. I have owned a Note 2 and felt reasonably certain to order a Note 3 without trying it in a shop before.
    30 minutes after I opened the box, I repackaged it and sent it back, because I find it very unpleasant to hold. Not because of the size, as some might say, but because the plastic/rubbery back feels dusty and I get the feeling I am getting my hands dirty just by holding it. The rim also feels edgy and looks like a very cheap third rate Chinese thingy. Same for the pen. People do have the touch sense too, you know. But to see what terrible crap packaging Samsung is selling, you have to open the battery compartment, at which moment all pretensions of class disappear.
    The phone does feel very fast and the image quality is pretty good. The software is so bloated it is confusing to use. If they could only fix their packaging attitude to use some premium materials and streamline the software.
    Until then I am buying an Xperia Z Ultra, which is cheaper but has a much better display and looks. I will be much more careful with buying Samsung from now on.
  • ESC2000 - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    You do know that you can replace the back of the note III, right? You arent stuck with the fake leather back.
  • AngryCTO - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    This review bothered me so much, that it looks almost like paid advertising. It is abnormal to compare the specs of Note 3 vs older Samsung phones (page 1), and not include other competing phablets, such as Sony Xperia Z Ultra, HTC Max, Nokia 1520 (which is going coming out this October). Of course, Xperia Z Ultra would wipe the floor with Note 3 with its build quality and superb glass covering, not to forget that Triluminos is the best screen technology on the market right now (and larger). This while Lumia 1520 would provide a much better and saner software experience to the overbloated TouchWiz GUI. Of course, the reviewer totally skipped the Software and User Experience part of the review, but he did compare the CPU and luminosity of such "stalwarts" like HTC One X, which is 18 months old. I could not discover in the entire review any negative comments, neither any suggestions for improvements. This phone looks perfect in the review, which is not, as I very well know after returning one. Having done my shopping research as well as possible for purchasing such an expensive phone, I would not compare a phablet with anything else but a phablet. This review is lacking competitive comparisons and relevancy.
  • wales - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    Brightness Question.

    I've been looking for comments on this and became exhausted by the repetitive cheating discussion and gave up, so forgive me if I missed it. Brightness (or lack thereof) has always been a concern with Samsung and AMOLED displays when compared to LCDs like the HTC One, LG and IPhones. The lack of visibility outdoors in particular has been a dealbreaker for some. So I was surprised that it wasn't even mentioned in the review. Only a chart was given, showing the Note 3 well down the list at 326 nits, making it one of the only specs that may steer you away from the phone.

    If that was it I'd just conclude, "ok, brightness still sucks," but a detailed display review from Displaymate comes to the opposite conclusion and touts the far superior brightness of the Note 3 compared to the Note 2. (link: http://www.displaymate.com/Galaxy_Note3_ShootOut_1... It even gets measurements of 628 nits in movie mode(!). That is a "peak brightness" measurement that Anand does not perform and may be meaningless, but the Displaymate review does note that by checking the automatic brightness box the display is capable of far higher brightness in high ambient light (i.e., sunny outdoors) environments. If true, this would largely dispel the concern with using the Note 3 outdoors, a concern reinforced by the low brightness measurement in the Anandtech review.

    Anand or Brian, can you repeat the brightness measurement using automatic brightness? That would seem to be key information and potentially much more relevant than a measurement without automatic brightness checked. I understand why you would not generally take this approach, because checking auto brightness will often cap the brightness level rather than unleash it, but in this case Samsung may have reversed the approach.

    If I'm off on this and Displaymate's data is wrong, my apologies.
  • diendanforex - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    The success of the Galaxy Note has increased our belief that consumers want to experience the high-quality features on the devices more intelligent and that their lives become better . Dien dan forex: http://fxvnol.com
  • Davidjan - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - link

    Cool! it must support Meenova reader to add storage like other Galaxy phone: http://goo.gl/U6IyY
  • meliketrolls - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Apple does better things than Samsung.
    iOS is soooo much better than Android.
  • josephandrews222 - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    ...all of these comments by in-hiding Apple guys are (unintentionally) revealing--the Note 3 must be, in their minds, a really good phone.

    Full disclosure: I do not own either an Android phone or an Apple phone
  • rampantarmadillo - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Anyone have one of these and know whether it has opengl es3 support?

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