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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

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The Good Powerful, fast and well featured. Bright, Full HD screen. S Pen better than ever.

The Bad TouchWiz needs a refresh. High price.

The Bottom Line The Galaxy Note 3 is a beautifully designed, powerful smartphone that is positively packed with genuinely useful features.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

9.1 Overall

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When we first used the original Samsung Galaxy Note, it seemed ridiculously big, like a prop from a comedy show. It says something about Samsung's prescience for consumers wanting bigger screens that the Galaxy Note 3 now seems like a reasonably normal-sized phone.

With devices such as Sony's 6.3-inch Xperia Z Ultra on the market, the 5.7-inch Note 3 actually looks downright sensible. In our view, the improved power, bigger screen and greater S Pen functionality all make for a winning combination in the next generation of Note smartphones.

The RRP for the Note 3 is AU$999 and you can find a full list of plans for the phone across the main carriers by clicking here.

While we would have liked to review the Note 3 in conjunction with its companion smart watch the Galaxy Gear, we have yet to get our hands on the Gear. We'll cover the smart watch separately when we do.


Considering that the Note 3 has the both the largest screen and the biggest battery of the range, it's rather impressive that it's also the slimmest and lightest of the three.

At 8.3 mm thick and 168g, it doesn't bulge out and weigh down a pocket the way the original Note did.

The Note 3 sports a 5.7-inch, Full HD screen, a slight boost from the Note 2's 5.5-inch display. The screen is as bright, colourful and responsive as we've come to expect. You can do everything with your fingertip, but the S Pen stylus gives you even finer control.

We found the Note 3 quite usable in a single hand, but your mileage may vary depending on just how big your own mitts are.

Around the back is a 13-megapixel camera with LED flash. It's set in a textured, leather-effect rear edged in fake stitching. Perhaps stung by the criticism aimed at the cheap-looking glossy plastic of the Galaxy S4 and its ilk, Samsung is obviously going for the premium look of an expensive wallet, and, coupled with the classy metal trim, it actually works.

In particular, the lack of grubby fingerprints everywhere has us wishing that more manufacturers would opt for a leather feel. We'd even argue that the textured back adds a little bit more grip than slick plastic, which can be a big help with a larger phone.

The S Pen is unobtrusively housed at the bottom of the Note 3, featuring the same ridged metal rim as the phone. For the first time, there's no single "right way" to put the pen back in the phone -- it can slide in no matter which of the flat sides is uppermost.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)


The camera app is the same as what's on offer with the Galaxy S4. You'll get access to all of the same modes, including Best Face, Sport, Drama shots and more. Bizarrely, there's also a dedicated Golf mode to help you analyse your golf swing, if that's been bothering you.

The Note 3 also sports Ultra HD video recording -- 3840x2160 at 30fps. If you want to stick to Full HD video, you can record at 60fps, and the slow-mo option bumps that up to 120 frames.

At the risk of damning with faint praise, we found the camera to be workmanlike, producing thoroughly adequate photos that were clear and crisp.

It doesn't wow like some of the more specialised camera phones do (such as the Nokia Lumia 1020), but it does produce solid photos that look good. We're also not going to turn our noses up at the Ultra HD video recording option, even if we're unlikely to make too much use of it just yet.

A sample photo from the Note 3.
(Credit: Nic Healey/CNET Australia)

S Pen

You can't talk about the Note series without talking about the S Pen, and the Note 3 has managed to integrate the S Pen functionality better than any of its predecessors.

When you pull the S Pen from its slot, the Air Command wheel appears on-screen, floating on top of the app or home screen. You can also call up the wheel by hovering the S Pen over the screen and clicking the button on the side of it. The command wheel gives you access to the basic run of stylus functions.

The most basic use for the S Pen is to scrawl a note or memo, but those scribbles don't stay static. Draw a box around them, and you can access some of the more interactive functions of the pen.

The Air Command wheel.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

For example, scribble down some digits, and you can call that number from the note. The same goes for URLs, email addresses, even street addresses. Maps, browsers and the like can all be opened directly from the notes.

The scrapbook app lets you draw a box around something you want to save, whether it's part of a web page, an image, some text or even a YouTube video. These all get saved to the scrapbook, and you can add your own tags or handwritten notes to each snippet.

The S Finder can be used to search your Note 3 for files, music and photos by name, date or tags. You can search handwritten notes, even for hand-drawn symbols like a star.

All of this takes some getting used to; there's a lot of functionality, and sometimes the icons and names of the features are quite as self-explanatory as we'd like. But once you're across what the S Pen can do, it becomes a really intuitive experience.

That said, only the most stylus-obsessed user will find a way to use all of the S Pen's features. For most of us, it'll be the note-taking and scrapbook functions that get the biggest work-out.

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