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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 hands-on and first impressions!

September 4, 2013
samsung galaxy note 3 aa 42

Samsung today announced the Galaxy Note 3 at a pre-IFA event in Berlin and we were fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with the latest member of the Note family. Along with the new S Pen-enabled smartphone, we also got to see the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, marketed as a Note 3 companion, and the new Galaxy Note 10.1 2013 Edition. Between the three devices, we have quite a lot of new info to cover, so make sure to check out our other coverage. You’ll also find our hands on video at the bottom of the post, too.

Has Samsung heeded our requests for higher quality materials? In a word, yes.
Has Samsung heeded our requests for higher quality materials? In a word, yes.

Here are some of our first thoughts on the new Galaxy Note 3, with a focus on the new features and design elements. Are the improvements enough to insure the Note’s leadership in the oversized phone category? Read on.

Design and build quality

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 (2014) vs Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Or are they better together?
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 (2014) vs Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Or are they better together?

Samsung made a point of letting us know that the Note 3 and Note 10.1 are the first in a series of devices that will sport “new design language”. And, when you compare it to its predecessor, it becomes readily apparent.

samsung galaxy note 3 air command aa 2

The biggest change in terms of design is the texture of the back cover – gone is the glossy, smooth plastic that has been so controversial over the past couple of years. The Note 3’s back cover features a faux leather texture, soft and nice to the touch. Samsung’s design team tried to emulate the look and feel of a leather-bound notebook, which I personally love, and succeeded for the most part.

So many colors to choose from.
So many colors to choose from.

The back cover is still thin plastic and it’s just as squishy as ever when you remove it, but on the outside you really can’t tell that. To complete the faux leather aesthetic, there’s a “stitch” going around the edges of the device, which I didn’t appreciate that much, though that’s obviously a matter of taste.

One of the best looking displays we've ever witnessed.
One of the best looking displays we’ve ever witnessed.

The new leathery texture makes for a very nice feel in hand, and, combined with the fact that the Note 3 is 1.1 mm thinner than the Note 2, vastly improves grip. This is a device that I would feel comfortable to use actively, and, compared with it, the Note 2 feels like an accident waiting to happen.

samsung galaxy note 3 aa 46

With that said, the black back cover is arguably better looking  than the white model, probably because it evokes leather better. We were also shown a variety of other colors for the back covers, from mild and neutral, to crazy, like metallic gold or mint green.

Both colors of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
Both colors of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

The Note 3 should be available in two colors at launch: Jet Black and Classic White, with a Blush Pink to follow later. However, the selection of colored back covers will supposedly be available at launch.

samsung galaxy note 3 aa 32

At 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm, the new Note 3 is thinner and a bit narrower than the Note 2, though it’s just over a millimeter taller. It’s also 16 grams lighter, which is an achievement in its own, given that the display and the battery are marginally larger than on the previous generation.

While the bezels are thinner on the Note 3 than on the Note 2, we have to say they are not as impressively thin as the LG G2’s are. That doesn’t take away from the appeal of the phone though.

Overall, the Note 3’s new design language isn’t a major departure from the series, but the new texturized back plates and the smaller size do make it feel like a clearly better phone.

S Pen

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with S pen.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with S pen.

Slightly disappointing, the S Pen on the Note 3 is actually smaller than on the Note 2, both in length and in diameter. Its profile is also more squarish, compared to the more rounded design from last year. That’s probably to adapt to the thinner profile of the phone.

The combination of smaller size and rectangular shape makes for a more uncomfortable hold, at least for persons with big hands like me. Perhaps if I had more time to adjust I’d get better at using it, but at least for me, using the new S Pen felt like maneuvering a slightly larger toothpick.

samsung galaxy note 3 aa 13

In terms of functionality, the S Pen hasn’t changed at all, though it did gain a new software feature – hovering over the screen with the S Pen and pressing its button will open a palette menu containing several options. More about that below.


Samsung Galaxy Note 3
AMOLED’s have an interesting way of punching your eyes with color.

There’s not much new to say about the Galaxy Note 3’s 5.7-inch display. At least from our limited time with it, it’s just the vanilla Super AMOLED that you know and love. The colors are vivid, the screen is bright and crisp, just as you’d expect from a modern Full HD panel.

5.7 inches of absolutely brilliant 1080p AMOLED HD goodness.
5.7 inches of absolutely brilliant 1080p AMOLED HD goodness.

We look forward to getting more info from Samsung on the type of sub-pixel arrangement the Note 3 panel’s uses – PenTile like on the Galaxy S4 or a modified RGB like on the Note 2. We also want to try the device in bright sunlight, which historically, has been the Achilles’ heel of AMOLED displays.

Specs and performance

The performance potential in  the current crop of Note devices is the most powerful we've ever witnessed.
The performance potential in the current crop of Note devices is the most powerful we’ve ever witnessed.

If you follow Android blogs regularly, you won’t be surprised by anything in the new Note 3. As rumored, the processor is either a Snapdragon 800 quad-core Krait 400 @ 2.3GHz or a Samsung Exynos 5 Octa 5420 octo-core processor featuring 4 A15 cores @ 1.9GHz and 4 A7 cores @ 1.3GHz. The availability of the two models is probably based on LTE vs 3G network predominance, so expect to see the Snapdragon 800 model in the US and other large LTE markets. The Note 3 is the first device to feature 3GB of RAM, as expected. We’ve reached out to Samsung for comment, and while they won’t confirm that the processor is a Snapdragon 800, it’s 99% likely to come in both this and the Exynos ‘Octa-core’ variety for non-LTE markets.

We didn’t have time to run benchmarks on the device we had in demo, though we expect to see the Snapdragon 800 perform as great as usual, aided by the generous amount of RAM. Check out our Galaxy Note 3 specs post for more details.

The camera on the Note 3 is likely the same as that on the Galaxy S4, which is a disappointment for those who expected optical image stabilization. Samsung does mention “Smart Stabilization” as a feature of the camera on the Note 3, though that’s probably just a software-based feature.

A return of a removable, and even larger 3200 mAh is very welcome.
A return of a removable, and even larger 3200 mAh is very welcome.

The removable battery on the Note 3 is 100 mAh larger than on its predecessor, at 3200 mAh.


Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Touchwiz is familiar, and Samsung appears to have made it a more fluid experience.

The Galaxy Note 3 runs Android 4.3 out of the box (the first non-Nexus device to do so), coupled with Samsung suite of features and improvements. One of the main additions to the arsenal of features put at the disposal of the user is the new Air Command quick menu that we mentioned above, which brings several features into one convenient place.

Most notably, Samsung added a Scrapbook, which is somehow similar to Evernote in the ability so save “scraps” from the web for later use, Pen Window, which is a way to pin some apps to the screen to have them open at all times, an improved S Search, improved Multi-window multitasking (drag and drop between apps in separate windows), and My Magazine, a Flipboard like app.

For more details, check our Top Note 3 features explained post from Chris Smith.

Galaxy Gear integration

You know you want it.
You know you want it.

Unveiled along the Note 3, the Galaxy Gear is a companion device that, at least initially, will only be compatible with it. There are several interesting features enabled by the phone-watch combo, such as a Find my Phone/Watch function that lets your ring one device from the other, or a smart unlock feature that disables the PIN/password/pattern when the smartwatch is detected nearby.

Hands on video

Exciting stuff, right?

The Note 3 and the Gear communicate through Bluetooth LE. The smartwatch can take calls, receive notifications, control music on the phone, and more. Read more about the Galaxy Gear in our hands-on.

And so, there you have it. We’ll be continually updating this piece with more info, videos, and pictures as they go up. What are your thoughts on the Galaxy Note 3? Is it everything you hoped it would be? Impressed? You know what to do down below!