Improved design; Excellent S Pen and multitasking software; Best-in-class performance; Brilliant display; Long-lasting battery
No Spark compatibility; Small LTE network
Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 packs robust pen and multitasking software in a sleek, speedy, long-lasting device with a brilliant display.
Samsung continues to augment its line of supersize smartphones -- this time, with the $249 Galaxy Note 3. Packing a bigger screen and faster processor into a sleeker package than its predecessor, the Note 3 on Sprint boasts a brilliant display and epic battery life. An onboard stylus and Samsung's robust note-taking and multitasking software make this phablet a superior productivity device. Is the Note 3 the Android smartphone to get? Read on.
Thankfully, Samsung ditched the cheap-looking glossy plastic of the Note 2 for a faux-leather back with stitching along the edges on the Note 3. We prefer this look, as it adds a touch of class while providing an easy grip. Pop off the back, and you get access to the battery and a microSD card slot that takes memory cards with capacities of up to 64GB.
The shiny, chrome sides of the Note 3 house a volume rocker (left), a hold button (right), a 3.5mm audio jack (top), and a microUSB 3.0 port, a speaker and an inconspicuously docked stylus (bottom). While we love how seamlessly the stylus is docked onto the Note 3, it can be a little difficult to remove.
At 5.95 x 3.12 x 0.33 inches, the Note 3 is thinner and smaller than the Note 2 (5.9 x 3.2 x 0.37 inches) despite having a larger screen. It's also smaller than the HTC One Max (6.5 x 3.2 x 0.41 inches) and the Samsung Galaxy Mega (6.6 x 3.5 x 0.31 inches), but larger than the LG G2 (5.45 x 2.79 x 0.35 inches). Granted, the G2 has a smaller 5.2-inch screen, while the One Max and the Mega sport larger 5.9-inch and 6.3-inch displays, respectively.
Weighing 5.93 ounces, the Note 3 is also lighter than the 6.3-ounce Note 2, the 7.7-ounce One Max and the 7-ounce Mega. It's heavier than the G2 (5.04 ounces), which is a smaller device.
We watched the same trailer on the One Max (1920 x 1080p) and the Galaxy Mega (1280 x 720p). At all viewing angles, the Note 3 clearly had the boldest display. The Note 3 delivered slightly more saturated images and deeper blacks than the One Max, but the display quality wasn't as sharp.
With its bright screen, the Note 3 is not only good for outdoor viewing, but also for lighting up an entire campsite. At 550 lux on our light meter, the Note 3 was significantly brighter than the smartphone category average (405 lux), the Mega (398 lux), the Verizon G2 (351 lux) and the One Max (441 lux).
The modest speaker on the Note 3's bottom edge offered tinny but booming sound at max volume. We listened to "Roar" by Katy Perry, and her voice sounded canned. Likewise, the instrument-heavy "I Follow Rivers" by Lykke Li sounded particularly industrial, thanks to the harsh echoes from the Note 3.
In contrast, "Roar" sounded whole and distinct on the One Max, which features front-facing BoomSound speakers. We could easily distinguish between Perry's roaring voice and the drums and synths in the background.
MORE: Top Smartphone Gifts
On the LAPTOP Audio Test (measuring volume from 13 inches), the Note 3 registered 78 dB, which is just shy of the smartphone category average (80 dB) and the Verizon G2 (79 dB). It's also softer than the Mega and the One Max, which both hit 83 dB.
You also get standard keyboard features, such as next-word prediction, Swype trace typing and Google voice typing.
Software and User Interface
Samsung is aware that the Note 3 is a beast to hold, and packs some features that make it easier to use with just one hand. When you go into the One-Handed Operation Settings menu, you can enable "Use for all screens," which lets you shrink the entire display and dock it wherever you want. You can activate this with a quick back-and-forth swipe, and a resizable frame pops up to surround the screen. The home, menu, back and volume buttons are at the bottom for easy one-handed use.
Action Memo lets you write down tasks and perform them, such as writing down a phone number and adding it to your contacts. Samsung recommends that you write in a straight line so the phone can better recognize your instructions. We added "Buy Shampoo" to our calendar easily enough, but it wasn't significantly faster than adding it to the calendar without Action Memo.
Scrapbooker lets you capture whatever is on your phone's screen by circling it. The snippet gets stored to your Note 3 along with metadata, such as a link to the page (if your memo was from a website) or video (from YouTube app). We circled an ad for the Nexus 7, and Scrapbooker captured an image of the search results, along with a transcription of the accompanying text, the title of the page we snapped and a direct URL.
S Finder lets you search items within the Note 3 -- including text messages, phone logs, emails and handwritten notes -- and even connects to apps you have on the phone, such as IMDb and Yelp. You can use filters such as Yesterday or Past 7 Days to pull up all content associated with that time. We did a search for "images" and selected Yesterday, and the Note 3 immediately returned 40 pictures we took yesterday.
Our favorite of the Air Command apps is Pen Window, which launches a floating window of any size you draw. You can launch Calculator, Clock, YouTube, Phone, Contacts, Hangouts or Internet in a Pen Window, and open all of these on your screen at once. These apps will float on top of any content on your phone, so you can have a chat open in Hangouts while you watch a movie, or have the phone dialer floating as you look up a list of phone numbers.
The graphics-intensive first-person shooter "N.O.V.A. 3" loaded in just 13 seconds on the Note 3. That's faster than the average smartphone (15 seconds), the Snapdragon 600-powered One Max (16 seconds) and the Snapdragon S4 Pro-powered Mega (17 seconds).
The Note 3 blew away the competition on benchmarks. Scoring 2,983 on Geekbench 3, a synthetic test, it outdid the average smartphone (1,626), the One Max (1,902), the Mega (1,129) and the LG G2 (1,595).
It performed similarly well on Quadrant, pulling 20,585. That's more than twice the average smartphone (7,706) and the Mega (8,565). It's also significantly better than the One Max (11,981) and the Verizon LG G2 (16,960).
You'll be able to use the Note 3 to quickly complete heavy-duty tasks. The Note 3 converted a 200MB 1080p video to 480p on VidTrim in just 5 minutes and 12 seconds. That's 3 full minutes faster than the average smartphone (8:18) and about 2 minutes faster than the Mega (7:39), the One Max (7:33) and the Verizon LG G2 (7:04).
The Note 3 continued to impress when it came to graphics, as it notched an impressive 18,925 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, besting the smartphone category average (9,913), the Mega (4,550), the One Max (10,984) and the Verizon G2 (14,762).
Sprint apps include Sprint Zone, BaconReader (for Reddit), 1Weather, NextRadio, Scout (GPS Navigation) and Sprint TV & Movies.
The device also comes with standard Android apps, such as Gmail, YouTube, Calculator, Maps and Drive.
The phone captured vivid 1080p video that was crisp and colorful. Clips of New York streets on a snowy day rendered lively yellows and reds.
[sc:video id="hlaXE1cToJJ5L-Y01AVhJdkwkScB-woZ" width="575" height="398"]
Up front, the 2-MP camera shot bright, detailed images. Our pastel pink shirt and blue cookie wrapper were accurately colored. Blemishes on our face were (unfortunately) visible, but we easily erased them with the built-in Beauty mode.
Meant for the duffer looking to improve his game, Golf mode takes pictures of a swing and lets you view the frames. Eraser mode takes a series of shots and removes moving strangers, while Drama Shot snaps multiple images and merges them to show the motion of an object through the scene. Surround Shot takes a 360-degree panorama, while Sound & Shot captures a snippet of noise along with your picture.
You can also adjust specific settings -- such as Metering, ISO, Smart Stabilization, White Balance and Exposure -- by tapping the gear icon on the shutter screen.
Until Sprint launches Spark-enhanced versions of the Note 3, you are stuck with the carrier's slower 4G LTE network, which covers just 300 markets. In comparison, Verizon and AT&T already have more than 500 and 488 markets, respectively.
We tested the Note 3, the Mega and the One Max (the latter two on Spark) at various Manhattan locations. On the corner of 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue, the Note 3 averaged 8.46 Mbps down and 6.41 Mbps up. That's about half the speeds delivered by the Spark-enabled Mega (16.2 Mbps down, 13.24 Mbps up) and the One Max (17.5 Mbps down, 17.8 Mbps up).
It took 4 minutes and 41 seconds to download a 200MB trailer on the Note 3, while the same file was downloaded in just less than 2 minutes with the Mega (1:44) and One Max (1:45) on Spark.
We saw similarly slow speeds at another test location (the corner of 56th Street and Lexington Avenue), with the Note 3 taking 5 minutes and 23 seconds to download a 238MB trailer. At this location, the same file took less than a minute to download over Spark on the Mega (53 seconds) and the One Max (53.55 seconds).
Battery Life and Call Quality
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over 4G with the display on 40 percent brightness, the Note 3 lasted an impressive 8 hours and 48 minutes. That's two entire hours longer than the average smartphone (6:41) and more than the Mega (7:13) and the One Max (8:32). However, the T-Mobile version of the Note 3 lasted a full 11 hours and 15 minutes.
It was easy to hear our friends when we made calls to New York City phones from Union Square, and they reported being able to make us out clearly. While the phone is bigger than most handsets, we didn't feel awkward holding it to our face to place a call.
Plans and Pricing
With a two-year plan on Sprint, the Galaxy Note 3 will set you back $349 up front, but new customers bringing a number to Sprint get $100 off. The carrier offers unlimited talk, text and data for $110 a month with its My All-In plan, or unlimited talk and text starting at $50 monthly with optional data add-ons.
If you get Sprint's Unlimited My All-In plan, the Note 3 will run you $2,989 ($2,889 for those bringing a new number) over two years. Sprint's early-upgrade plan, One Up, gives you unlimited talk, text and data for a monthly $65 fee. With that, the Note 3 will cost you $0 down and 24 monthly payments of $29.17.
On the same plan, the Mega is $250 cheaper over two years at $2,739, while the One Max is $100 less up front, translating to a two-year cost of $2,889.
Consumers looking for a smaller device should consider the 5-inch Samsung Galaxy S4, the 4.7-inch HTC One or the 4-inch Apple iPhone 5s. But those who want a fantastic combination of long battery life, strong performance and pen-enabled apps should pick up the Galaxy Note 3.
|Phone Display Size||5.7|
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|Operating System||Android 4.3|
|Networks||GSM / GPRS / EDGE / HSPA+42 / LTE Cat 4|
|CPU||2.3-GHz Quad-core ARMv7 Qualcomm MSM 8974|
|Processor Family||Qualcomm Snapdragon 800|
|Memory Expansion Type||microSD Card|
|Display (main)||5.7-inch HD Super AMOLED display (1920 x 1080)|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth 4.0 LE|
|Front Camera Resolution||2 MP|
|Audio formats supported||AMR-NB|
|Audio formats supported||AAC+|
|Audio formats supported||WAV|
|Audio formats supported||AAC|
|Audio formats supported||MP3|
|Audio formats supported||FLAC|
|Audio formats supported||eAAC+|
|Audio formats supported||AMR-WB|
|Video formats supported||H.263|
|Video formats supported||WMV|
|Video formats supported||VP8|
|Video formats supported||VC-1|
|Video formats supported||MPEG-4|
|Video formats supported||H.264|
|Talk / Standby Time||Up to 23 hours talk|
|Size||5.95 x 3.12 x 0.33 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|