Samsung’s taking its industry-leading phablet to the next level today, introducing the Galaxy Note 3. The successor to the Note II, the Note 3 is coming to each of the big four U.S. carriers, as well as U.S. Cellular. It features a larger, 5.7-inch, 1080p display and more powerful processor than its predecessor wrapped in a thinner and lighter 5.92-ounce chassis.
But the phablet’s hardware is only half of the story. Sure, Samsung included the goodies from the Galaxy S4 such as Smart Scroll, Story Album, Group Play, S Health, S Voice, etc. But the company also has worked to make the Note 3’s S Pen stylus a more integral part of the user experience, pumping up the smartphone’s multitasking capabilities. So how big of an improvement is the Android 4.3-powered Note 3? We went hands-on to find out.
With the Note 3, Samsung gifted its big-screen smartphone a 1920 x 1080-pixel Super AMOLED display. The display didn’t just get sharper, though, as Samsung has stretched it by 0.2 inches, bringing the Note 3’s screen size to 5.7 inches. In our brief hands-on, colors on the Note 3’s display looked gorgeous as evidenced by the deep blues on its home screen. App icons looked equally beautiful.
Stylistically, the Note 3 offers more of a premium look than its predecessor, or any other phablet on the market for that matter. Samsung has evolved the design that began with the Note II into a more more solid feeling handset. The overall shape of the Note 3 is more squared off the the Note II, while its edges get a slick grated design that Samsung says is supposed to resemble the pieces of loose leaf paper at the end of a notebook. Around back, the Note 3 gets a faux leather panel complete with stitching around the edges, an a inlaid Samsung logo and a rear-facing 13-megapixel camera.
The new Note weighs in at just 5.9 ounces compared to the Note II’s 6.5 ounces. The Note 3 is also a bit thinner than its predecessor, 0.33 inches versus 0.37 inches. The full dimensions come out to 5.95 x 3.12 x 0.33 inches. Though it’s lighter and thinner, the Note 3 somehow feels sturdier than the Note II.
Inside, the Note 3 packs a 2.3-GHz Samsung Exynos quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM to make multitasking as smooth as silk. Speaking of multitasking, the Samsung has given the Note 3 an improved version of its Multi Window feature. Whereas the Galaxy S4 and Note II could only open one window per app, the Note 3 can open two windows per app. That means you can browse the Web in two different windows at the same time, or load two YouTube videos at once.
Further adding to the Note 3’s multitasking prowess is the new S Pen Air Command feature. Accessible by hovering the S Pen over the display and pressing the button on its side, Air Command gives you access to five new functions including Action Memo, Scrapbooker, Screen Write, S Finder and Pen Window. Action Memo, as Samsung puts it, makes your notes actionable. That means the app can read your handwriting and use it to complete certain tasks.
For example, you can write down a person’s name and phone number using the S Pen and tap either the Dialer or Contacts icons to call the number or save it to your contacts. Write down an address and press the Google Maps button and Action Memo will display the address on a map.
Scrapbooker lets you circle portions of a Web page, including videos, audio, images and text, and copy them to your phone’s clipboard. From there you can view any photos or videos, dial any phone numbers or listen to any audio pulled in. Because the feature also copies metadata, you can automatically visit the website you took the information from directly from the clipboard.
Screen Write serves as a basic note taking app, capturing an image of whatever is on your display and allowing you to write over it. S Finder is a unique search app the lets you look for text or handwritten information stored on your phone or on online.
But the coolest improvement to S Pen comes via the Pen Window function. Using this feature, users can draw a square or rectangle anywhere on the Note 3’s screen in which you can open one of eight apps including Internet, ChatOn, Dialer, Calculator and YouTube. Like LG’s QSlide apps, the Pen Window apps can be resized, minimized and moved around the screen as you see fit. Curiously, when minimized, the Pen Window apps resemble the circular Chat Heads found on Facebook’s Home interface.
What makes the Pen Window apps especially interesting is that you can open more than one of them at the same time, while also using the Note 3’s Multi Window mode, creating a multitasking tornado. Now you know why Samsung equipped the phablet with 3GB of RAM and 32GB (or 64GB) of memory, in addition to a 64GB microSD card slot.
The final addition to the Note 3 is Samsung’s new My Magazine app. Developed in conjunction with Flipboard, My Magazine gives you three customizable screens including News, Personal and Social. The news screen can be setup to provide you with a steady stream of updates from your favorite news sites, while the personal page gives you updates based on your recent activities. That said, the feature does bear a striking resemblance to HTC’s BlinkFeed, which itself, looks a good deal like Flipboard.
Social provides updates from your favorite social media sites. To update the pages, you simply pull down on the screen and release, just like BlinkFeed. An omni-button located in the top left corner of the screen ensures that you can still access your most frequently used apps, while surfing your news feeds.
The phone also has a 13-MP rear camera and 2-MP front camera, which allow dual shot, dual recording and dual video calling. The Galaxy Note 3 looks to be an improvement over the Note II in every conceivable way. Still, we’ll hold off on passing our final judgment on this giant smartphone until we can test a review unit. Samsung has yet to announce exact pricing and availability for the Note 3, but we’ll bring you the information as soon as we get find out.