Galaxy Note 3 pushes the smartphone envelope - review

2013-11-15 11:25
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 makes a big impression. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 makes a big impression. (Duncan Alfreds, News24) (Duncan Alfreds)

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Cape Town - No matter which way you look at it, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 makes a big impression.

People who sit next to you on the plane can't help themselves by looking over at your 15cm Amoled display and commenting on the clarity.

Of course, that also means that you're going to be inadvertently sharing you content - video, images, chats - with total strangers; some of whom don’t seem too worried about social etiquette.

Make no mistake, this Samsung is not just a bigger S4: This has become a useful device that performs functionality in its own right.

The LTE-capable Note runs Android 4.3 and it should be noted that this Google operating system has become far more refined than its version from just a couple of years ago. The OS feels much more "grown up" on the device, especially as the smartphone makes extra use of the display real estate to create functionality.

A long press on the back button brings up the sidebar menu - a useful feature that allows instant access to common apps, and you can customise it.


Samsung has endeavoured to polish up the operation of the Note from the previous version and it's clever that the Menu and Back buttons darken almost instantly after use.

It gives the device an air of elegance that the target market of executives would perhaps find pleasing.

Under the polished face is a 2.3GHz quad core processor and 3GB of RAM to ensure that the Note will have no problem with even the most demanding apps (Ahem, Beach Buggy Blitz becomes even more addictive on the larger screen).

While the front face oozes style, the back left many people split: The fake leather looks quite porno and seems that over time, it may not retain the fresh-as-new look.

Others felt that the material on the back was a differentiator, but conceded that longevity may be negatively affected.

Also, many of these devices will inevitably live in protective cases which means that you won’t really see the pleather back cover anyway.

One could also make a compelling argument that perhaps it is time Samsung encased its premium devices in aluminium which may reduce the 168g weight on the phablet.


Samsung has built in a number of native apps into the Note as is done with many devices from the South Korean based company.

One of the neat improvements has been the export feature in the S-Note application. Whether you have created a memo at a meeting with the stylus (yes, it’s still there – and more sensitive than the previous model) or a doodle while waiting at the airport, you can now export that masterpiece as a PDF.

On a flight to Singapore, the Note's battery performed reasonably well, given the size of the screen and how easy it is on the eyes. But as expected, it required some time on the aeroplane's USB charger.

Speaking of which, the charging interface is USB 3.0, which is faster than the Note II, but the universal nature of the port is lost, which is especially annoying if you have more than one device.

Critically though, the device never feels uncomfortably hot to the touch with heavy use. And the one-handed operation feature makes calls easy to dial, though arguably clicking on a contact's name is exponentially simpler.

While Samsung isn't known for camera quality on its mobile devices, the 13 megapixel main camera was more than adequate to capture tourist pictures of Singapore - and performed well even in low-light conditions, even though you require a steady hand to get the shot.


The camera is good enough so that you can leave your DSLR at home (Gasp, true story) and you won't even really miss it. Video, predictably, is in high definition and being able to pause a video is waiting to turn somebody into the next Quentin Tarantino.

There are a limited number of photo editing tools built into the Note 3, but they serve to adapt pics on the fly and modern smartphones are delivering software that may make web-based applications redundant.


Samsung has made no secret of the fact that the company would like to be more involved in delivering software services, despite the fact that Google's Android has made it the de facto leader on the platform.

The company has included folders on the Note 3 that illustrate this ambition: The Samsung and Galaxy Plus folders contain collections of apps that Samsung believes users will find particularly useful.

The latest Note supports many of the same hand gestures of the previous version, including waving the hand over the device to take a screen shot and Smart Stay.

Some of the additional functionality like Air Gesture and View seem a bit more like gimmicks because they appear to require more effort to master - but it's probably just a technology that the next generation will demand.

On the whole, the Galaxy Note 3 is no kid's toy: It performs seriously and targets tablets with its functionality.

The device has a recommended retail price of R8 999 and is offered on contract from Vodacom at R449 over 24 months and on MTN for R569 on an MTN AnyTime 350 contract.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

Read more on:    samsung  |  mobile
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