Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review: Samsung's huge, powerful Galaxy Note 3

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CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars Outstanding

Average User Rating

4 stars 85 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Crisp, bold screen; Very powerful; Stylus is great for writing notes; Attractive design; Good camera.

The Bad Enormous size will be cumbersome for most; Expensive; Camera doesn't impress in low light; Vast amounts of settings will be confusing for Android novices.

The Bottom Line Its huge 5.7-inch size means the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 really won't be to everyone's taste. If you're after a big screen, however, and a phenomenally powerful phone to help tackle anything your working life is likely to throw at it -- and you fancy hand-writing notes with a stylus -- the Note 3 is the best massive mobile around.

CNET Editors' Choice Sep '13

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Size matters and in Samsung's eyes, bigger is undoubtedly better. Why prod daintily at a tiny little screen when you can have something that blurs the line almost completely between phones and tablets? Let's say hello then to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

This phone crams in a huge 5.7-inch display that sits above a 2.3GHz quad-core processor, backed up by a generous 3GB of RAM. As one of the Note range, it naturally packs a stylus too. Add in the 13-megapixel camera that can capture video in 4K resolution and you have a spec-sheet to make even the most hardened tech nerd break a sweat.

It of course comes with a whopping price tag. You can pick it up SIM-free from £600 or free for £33 a month on a two-year contract.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 3?

The Note 3 should be on your wish-list if you're looking for a phone to help with your busy working life. Its huge screen easily displays web pages and documents, it has enough power for anything you'll likely throw at it and the stylus makes writing quick notes a breeze. Similarly, if you're a hardcore movie buff, wanting Netflix on the move, its superb screen makes it a good choice.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 hands on
Its huge screen easily displays web pages and documents and it has enough power for anything you'll likely throw at it.

Its huge size means it's definitely not for everyone though. Casual Android users will be better catered for by the 5-inch Galaxy S4 or the 4.7-inch HTC One . Like the Note, they both have Full HD screens and extremely potent processors but crucially won't require you to stretch out your thumbs to type anything.

If you do fancy big-screen fun but don't fancy the sky-high price tag, its predecessor, the Note 2, is well worth a look. Its specs are very much 'last year', but it'll handle most tasks without breaking a sweat and you'll be able to pick it up on much more reasonable contracts.

Design and build quality

At a whopping 5.5 inches, the Galaxy Note 2 seriously pushed the limits of what we can really call a phone. At 5.7 inches, the Note 3 might have a bigger display, but its body is no wider and it's slightly skinnier and lighter. This is due to the smaller bezels used, thereby cramming in a larger screen without stretching out the chassis.

Don't think it's any easier to hold though. It measures 151mm long and 79mm wide, so it's still pretty tough to wrap one hand around. Texting with just the one thumb is quite a stretch -- literally -- so you'll need to hold it in two hands for a lot of tasks. You won't struggle to slide it into most pockets but it is almost certainly visible through tight trousers, which could be embarrassing.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 side
It's easy to slide into most pockets, but if you're wearing tight trousers, it might be visible.

The sheer size of the thing does lend itself very well to showing off videos. If you're a YouTube or Netflix addict, the Note 3 will be right up your alley. It helps too for office tasks -- emails and calendar entries are easier to view and there's enough room for you to properly hand-write notes with the stylus, which I'll come to later.

The front of the Note borrows various design cues from the Galaxy S4, including the chrome-effect speaker grille and silver-edged home button. Around the edge is a shiny silver plastic band, which looks fairly inoffensive, but it feels cheap and much less luxurious than the aluminium edging you'll find on the Sony Xperia Z1. Tucked into the band are the volume and power buttons, 3.5mm headphone jack and a widened power port to allow for USB 3.0 data transfers. You can use a normal micro USB cable in there too though.

The glossy white back of the Note 2 has been replaced with a black, leather-effect cover -- it's still plastic, with a rubberised effect on the top. When I first saw images of the Note 3, I thought that the leather effect looked cheap and nasty, but it's much nicer in the flesh. It doesn't feel like leather, but the rubbery texture and fake stitching might be enough to fool someone with poor eyesight.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 back
It has a black, leather-effect cover, replacing the glossy white back of the Note 2.

Whether it looks like leather or not, it looks extremely smart. It has a more professional, rather than simply stylish aesthetic, which will be great for those of you working on the go. It's certainly more mature than the high-gloss body of its predecessor.

The cover feels pretty secure when on the phone, but peel it off and it's every bit as bendy and flimsy as the S4's cover. Having a removable cover does at least let you take out the battery and insert a microSD card -- something that you can't do on the solid metal HTC One or any of the iPhones.

Display

The Note 3's 5.7-inch display boasts a full 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, which is all I would settle for on a top-end device such as this. It's the same resolution as the Galaxy S4, which, given the Note 3's larger size, means the S4 has the sharper display as its pixels are more closely packed. The Note 3 has a pixel density of 386 pixels per inch, undercutting slightly the S4's 440ppi.

That's a tiny difference, and not one you'd ever notice. Even if you pressed your nose against the screen, I'd be amazed if you could tell. It's a very sharp display, and even tiny text has superb clarity. High-definition images look great and Full HD video is displayed beautifully.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 home button
The display is very sharp, and even tiny text has superb clarity. High-definition images look great and Full HD video is displayed beautifully.

That's helped by the rich colours and deep black levels of the Super AMOLED display Samsung has used. It's extremely bright and vivid, at times even bordering on the extreme. Some videos -- particularly some cartoons that rely on bright primary colours -- might look too over-saturated. There are various screen modes you can choose from to tone things down, but for the most part you can just sit back and enjoy the visual impact that the display provides.

Android 4.3 Jelly Bean

The Note 3 will arrive running the latest version of Android currently available -- 4.3 Jelly Bean. We're still waiting for the S4 to receive its update to this edition, so it's good to see it coming as standard. Not that I'd settle for anything less, of course.

While hardened tech fans might be excited about having new software on board, it's visually no different from the previous version. Samsung has given it the same skin as the S4 and with no major features in Jelly Bean to speak of, there's little to set the versions apart. It still has the multiple home screens for you to fill up with app icons, and apps and widgets not on the home screen are stored in a dedicated app menu.

Nexus 4
The most recent version of Android is on board, but you're unlikely to be able to tell the difference just by looking.

One of the main differences you will see is the addition of the Play Games app. It's effectively the same as Apple's Game Center, providing a hub for all your games as well as showing online leaderboards and achievements. Better yet, it also syncs with your Google account to let you save your progress in games into the cloud -- switch to a different Android device and you can pick up where you left off.

Nexus 4
Google's Play Games allows you to save your games to the cloud and pick up where you left off on a different device.

There are a few behind the scenes tweaks to Jelly Bean too. Most notably is its support of Open GL ES 3.0. That might sound like a nonsense string of letters, but it's a platform that allows for dramatically improved gaming graphics. The next generation of big games will be able to use this to make their titles shinier than ever.

Samsung Software

As with all of its kit, Samsung has thrown in a considerable amount of software additions on top of standard Android. The likes of S Health, the S Translate translation tool, the Watch On TV guide and Group Play screen sharing first debuted on the S4 are all on board.

Samsung's own mail and calendar apps are here too, as are the Samsung Hub and Samsung Apps services, both of which basically direct you to apps, music, videos and ebooks in the same way that the Google Play store does.

Air gesture is on board too, allowing you to swipe above the screen to scroll through images without touching the screen. It also has the same eye-tracking tech from the S4, that lets you scroll through pages without poking with your finger or will pause video when you look away from the screen. They're fun to play with, but I've never found them particularly useful on either the S4 or the Note 3.

Nexus 4
There are so many settings on the phone that the settings menu is split into four separate tabs.

While it's easy to argue that Samsung is adding value by giving access to a lot of different services and features, in reality, it's clogging the Note up with so much extra stuff that it makes it very difficult to get to grips with. If you're new to the Android world, having multiple email clients that need individually setting up isn't going to make anything easier.

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Where to Buy

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Part Number: 6880631

Typical Price: £495.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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  • Service Provider AT&T
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