Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Way back in 2011, Samsung's Galaxy Note helped introduce and popularise the enormous 'phablet' form factor, and now the company's back with the latest and greatest edition of it, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. It's still the gigantasaurus phone that you know and love, with an even bigger screen and higher resolution, plus a boost under the hood - but the competition is coming thick and fast now. Are these changes enough to make it the best phablet ever? Read on for our verdict of Samsung's latest blower.
There's no question that Samsung's Galaxy Note is big, but despite its huge size, it actually feels a lot slimmer than the previous version. Samsung's reduced the bezels on the latest version of the Note, so that despite a larger 5.7-inch screen, the footprint remains almost identical - and it still measures up at just a slim 8mm thick. Despite its size, it doesn't feel hefty at all, although it's still clunky when used with a single hand. You can't miss the Note 3's massive screen, and its full HD, 1080p display looks simply incredible, and miles better than the Note 2's paltry 720p display. Samsung knows you'll be using your phone for a lot more than just making phone calls and text messages, and we're happy to report that videos and images look pristine, although slightly over vibrant at times due to the AMOLED technology the company favours.
It's not a Galaxy Note without its stylus, and the S-Pen makes a triumphant return in the newest version of the handset. This is no regular stick of plastic. Jotting notes with it is a breeze, and it's responsive and easy to use, while Air Command provides you with a few handy shortcuts to use with the stylus simply by hovering over the display. It's not an essential piece of kit, but with a phablet of this size, we'd rather have the option of using it. Next to the S-Pen holder is the Note 3's USB port, and it's a little bit bigger than your standard Micro USB connection. That's because there's USB 3.0 support included, which means you'll be able to transfer your files even faster than before. Samsung's included its own USB 3.0 cable, which makes charging from the mains faster, and thanks to its large 3,200mAh battery, you'll be able to squeeze out around two days of average usage from the Note 3 - much better than most flagship smartphones with smaller screens.
Above the removable battery, you'll find a 13-megapixel shooter, which is capable of grabbing some decent snaps if you have the patience to use a phablet as a camera. Photos are clean and vibrant, and in good lighting, you'll get some sharp shots, though it does struggle slightly when challenged with low light conditions. Videos are another story, as the Note 3 is capable of shooting 4K, ultra high definition clips which definitely seems like overkill for a phone that only has a 1080p screen, and 4K televisions are not commonplace. It's obvious Samsung has decided to go ahead of the curve with the ridiculous resolution, but thankfully, you can shoot at lower resolutions, plus there's also a slow-mo feature to capture videos at 120 frames per second.
You'll find Android 4.3 Jelly Bean onboard here, the latest and greatest of Google's mobile OS, plus there's Samsung's own TouchWiz skin included too. Thanks to the Note 3's speedy internals, we barely saw any lag when swiping through the various additions Samsung has added, and it plowed ahead when multitasking and playing various demanding games. Along with Samsung's TouchWiz skin, there's also a few gimmicky features, such as 'Air Gesture' which lets you swipe pages with a wave of the hand - but you can turn these off if you don't look them.
Samsung phones are often derided for their plastic construction - it may be more durable than a HTC One Max or an iPhone 5s but pretty it is not. To make matters worse, the glossy back cover is gone: instead, there's a dire faux-leather back piece that gives you a little bit more grip, but still feels cheap - especially when you're peeling it off to insert your microSD or SIM card. The phone's overall plastic construction keeps the weight down, sure, but you can't help but think it feels rather shoddy - and the chrome highlights and rigid edges only confirm this further. For the £650 outright you're paying, you expect top-class presentation and materials, and Samsung can't quite compare with the luxury feel of the iPhone 5s or Sony's Xperia Z1 or Z Ultra.
TouchWiz meanwhile, as on most Samsung Galaxy phones, is still a love/hate affair, and with apps that duplicate stock Android functionality and a look heavily inspired by Fisher-Price toys. It's still our biggest complaint with the Note 3, or with any Galaxy phone, for that matter.