The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has been a fairly big deal. In its first month of existence, it’s sold over 5 million units. It’s had positive reviews from tech sites and consumers alike. So what is it like to actually use one everyday? I bought the Note 3 on release day and have been using it for about a month now and I’d like to share my experience with you. It’s important to note that this is not a review. If you’d like to see a review, check out our official review by Josh Vergara.
My Note 3 set up
For the first few weeks I had the Note 3 set up like pretty much every Note 3 owner will. I had divided up my 5 home screens into modules that held certain types of apps. This included my default home screen, games, work related apps, social networking and messaging, and one for root apps. However, about two weeks ago, I got to try out Aviate and loved the premise. The app still needed work so I migrated over to Nova Launcher (which I had purchased for a launcher comparison video I did earlier this year). Using the settings, I cut it down to two home screens and arranged them like Aviate would have. That is, a few favorites and a widget on the main screen, and folders on the second screen arranged in categories like in Aviate.
With this set up I can get to everything I need and it’s actually the first time I’ve ever left the stock launcher with no intention of going back. I don’t think the Touchwiz Launcher is bad, I had just discovered a more efficient way of using my phone. For most, the five home screen set up is just fine.
For the most part, the plethora of Samsung options on my phone remain off. I’ve always adored Smart Stay and that’s on, but the other Smart Screen features are off. Air view and Air gesture are both off. I left Air command on because that’s actually useful. The only option in Motions that I have enabled is Smart alert. I have Palm motion on so I can take quick screen shots and Multi-window is on in full capacity. That’s really it folks. Voice control is off, Hands-free mode is off, and One-handed operation is off.
Since we are talking about my experience here, I’ll go ahead and add that I rooted my device and am running a custom ROM. Unlike most people who look for features and such in their ROMs, I flashed mine because when I remove and insert the S-Pen, it makes light saber noises. This is a serious win for me. I’m aware that you can have these sounds without flashing a specific ROM, but the ROM itself is pretty nice too. You can find it here if you’re interested and there’s a matching one for the Note 2.
Quick stats and thoughts for my set up and the Note 3 software overall
- I have 151 applications installed and this includes close to 20 games. I have 18.46GB of space (out of 32GB) remaining. This means that the extra space the OS takes up is completely unimportant and people who complain that so much space is taken have no legs to stand on in my mind’s eye. I could easily double the number of apps installed (300 apps, 40 games) before storage would begin to be a concern.
- The settings menu would be awesome if you could swipe between tabs. Really.
- I have Knox entirely removed from the ROM because I broke it when I rooted the device. Since I rooted my device on day one, I have no idea what it actually does or how it works.
- The S-Pen works just fine as far as I can tell. Haven’t had any weird bugs or glitches with my use so far.
- My Magazine sucks compared to Blinkfeed. There, I said it.
- This is the first phone I’ve owned since the original HTC EVO 4G that I decided to store my music on thanks to a 64GB SD card. I now remember why people love SD card slots so much.
- Compared to Boomsound, the speaker on the Note 3 is not good. I had to buy an external speaker because Boomsound spoiled me.
- I love that the S-Pen works with the Back and Menu buttons now.
Galaxy Note 3 battery life
After struggling for months to keep my HTC One charged, the 3200mAh battery in the Note 3 was a breath of the freshest air ever. In my first few days, I was doing about six hours of screen on time a day and the phone was taking it all in one charge. On most days, I get 12-16 hours of battery life and that’s with some seriously heavy use. This includes gaming (Clash of Clans, Final Fantasy remakes, console emulators), messaging, social networking, YouTube videos, reading articles, checking email, and pretty much everything else you can do with a phone during the day.
After a few weeks I’ve determined that, at least for my usage, the phone will live until six hours of screen-on time is achieved. Whether this takes 12 hours or 36 hours seems to be irrelevant. Again, this is just my experience so your mileage may vary. The best I’ve done is 36 hours and I had 5 1/2 hours of screen-on time. Considering I spent about 6 of those hours sleeping, that’s really, really good. About the only app that really affects the battery in a big way is Clash of Clans. This is likely due to the multiplayer aspect –which requires a lot of data use– and I can hammer my Note 3 battery into the ground in 8 hours if I’m really into Clash of Clans on a certain day. Otherwise, the Note 3′s battery life is among the best I’ve ever had.
I have yet to meet a device that never lags. When I shared my experience with the HTC One, I said that it was the closest I’d ever come to owning a device with no lag. The Note 3 challenges that. Even though everyone said that Touchwiz would bog down the phone, I simply haven’t seen a lot of evidence of this. Web pages load and scroll well, pinch to zoom is fluid and smooth, gaming is smooth, the general experience (swiping home screens, navigating settings) are speedy, and even scrolling long lists seems to be faster and smoother.
In terms of gaming, my benchmark is a PlayStation emulator. With all the best settings and OpenGL mode on, the phone has to work somewhat hard to keep everything at a solid frame rate. The first phone I ever owned that could keep it going consistently was the HTC One and now I can add the Galaxy Note 3 to that list. With all the highest settings enabled, the frame rate stays at wherever I put it for hours. Games like Final Fantasy IV, Riptide GP 2, Clash of Clans, Final Fantasy V, and Asphalt 8 Airborne run smooth. There is the occasional hiccup, but I’ll talk more about that in a moment. It’s going to be a long time before game developers make a game that the Note 3 won’t be able to run competently.
The only two places I see lag are scrolling through the widget selection screen and the occasional lag of some games. When games lag, it’s literally for a moment and it doesn’t happen very often. The widget selection screen lags for pretty much everyone at least sometimes and if you give it a moment to “load” up, then it scrolls through the widget selections with buttery smoothness.
Like the HTC One, I wish I had more to discuss here but I simply don’t. Phones that have come out this year are incredible and the Note 3 is no exception. In terms of real world use, it’s as zippy as you can possibly expect it to be. With the exception of the very occasional hiccup, this device simply doesn’t lag.
Okay, so the above is tl;dr, here’s a list of the things I like about this device.
- The screen is gigantic and gorgeous. The colors are a little over-saturated but I prefer it that way. I have no problems holding this phone most of the time. The only real issue is typing with one hand.
- 3GB RAM, 330 Adreno, and the Snapdragon 800 work together brilliantly to kill off all but the most occasional lag. I turn this phone on sometimes just to swipe home screens because it’s fun to watch.
- Gaming is excellent. I’m talking about actual games, not like fun time wasters like Scramble or Angry Birds.
- The camera is excellent. You guys said you wanted me to take more photos and such and this time I did. You can view a few pictures I took with the camera here and a video I uploaded here.
- The design is greatly improved. It’s not as good as the HTC One, but the faux leather back actually feels nice and the ridges on the side look nice. I enjoy looking at and holding this phone more than I did with my Galaxy Note 2.
- SD card slot for the win. With the 64GB card, I have my entire music library on here now and I’ve come to enjoy not streaming music.
- Giant battery for the win. Many people like that it’s removable, but frankly I don’t mind either way. I just like that it’s a big battery.
- S-Pen, even if not always useful, is nice to have.
- There are some genuinely useful and fun features with the Note 3. These include Smart Stay, Palm Motion, and Multi-Window. I use them all on pretty much a daily basis.
- The camera bump on the back protects itself. The glass that protects the camera lens is recessed into the bump, so you can set it on your desk without scratching the glass. This is a big deal to me. The metal actually does this on the front too so you can lay your phone on the screen side without the screen touching the surface.
- USB 3.0 support is awesome.
Again for the tl;dr people, here is a list of the thing’s I don’t enjoy so much.
- The smart stabilization feature is great except in low light. In low light it’s very terrible.
- Can’t swipe tabs in the Settings. Tsk tsk, Samsung.
- I got one of the units with the jiggly home button. It’s not bad enough to have it replaced or make a big fuss, but it is there.
- Rooting this device in the more preferable manner (with custom recovery so you can flash ROMs) breaks Knox permanently. That’s brilliant if you’re Samsung and you don’t want to honor warranties. That sucks if you’re everyone else.
- While there is less lag on this device than any other device I’ve ever owned, there is still lag and it’s always during an important scene in a game I’m trying to play.
- Like the HTC One, the worst thing about the Note 3 is trying to objectively come up with things I don’t like about the Note 3.
- The keyboard is almost there. Almost. I actually like the look and the feel of it, but the auto correct is a little too aggressive for my tastes.
When I had my Note 2, all I could think about was how awesome that phone would be with a little more horsepower. When I had my HTC One, all I could think about was if a phone was released with that much horsepower and more size. Over the course of the month with my Note 3, I realized that this was the device I had been pining for. The giant screen, the amazing specs, the great performance, the add-ons (like S-Pen), and everything put together has made this device the new standard from which I’ll be judging all future devices.
The worst part of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is wishing that other OEMs would put some focus into this form factor. The Note series has sold tens of millions of devices over the past several years and Samsung really is all alone in the phablet space. This is wildly depressing because this form factor deserves serious attention. If this is what Samsung can do with this form factor, imagine what other leading OEM’s could do if they gave it the old college try.
So that’s been my experience over the last four to five weeks with the Galaxy Note 3. My fellow Note 3 owners, if you’d like to share your experience or have a comment about mine, feel free to post them in the comments.