Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Samsung has had a heck of a run with its Galaxy Note line of devices. What started out as the 'phablet' smartphone sideshow in 2011 with the original Galaxy Note and Note II, has given birth to one of the most competitive areas in mobile today. Large smartphones are now a bona-fide category. Samsung's Note line is a premium sub-brand that is a hot seller and has expanded the S Pen-capable tablet line to 8 and 10-inch variants.
In many ways, the Galaxy Note is Samsung's true flagship product and great differentiator. The Galaxy S smartphone line will continue to be popular but the recent updates have been incremental and iterative at most. The Galaxy Note 3 looks and feels like a more inspired device in form and function.
As we look at the evolution of the Galaxy Note line, the Note 3 has retained the same shape as its predecessors, complete with the home button. There's less bezel surrounding the 5.7-inch screen.
The overall feel of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is actually thinner, lighter and less monstrous than in the past. Certainly, it feels much smaller than its predecessors thanks to all the larger phablets we've been seing including Samsung's own Galaxy Mega, the Huawei Ascend Mate and the biggest boy of the bunch, Sony's Experia Z Ultra.
Standard sized smartphones are also creeping up in size with 4.7-inches becoming the norm and 5-inches being acceptable in many devices.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 also feels sturdier and less janky than its predecessors. The backplate is still plastic but now has less give and seems to be reinforced. It now features a faux leather texture and stitching which gives a good illusion of the type of premium or executive look and feel that Samsung is going for this year.
Specs are impressive with a quad-core processor is clocked at 2.3GHz and backed by 3GB RAM, the most yet on a mobile device in this category. The Note 3 is also running the latest version of Android (4.3) Jelly Bean which is a good sign for users that they have the latest available iteration of the smartphone OS. Early benchmarks have shown that the Galaxy Note 3 is a monster in terms of performance, possibly the fastest Android device today.
Having used the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 off and on for over two weeks, it really does have some key strengths that other large smartphones will have to overcome in order to truly compete. It is easy to handle with one hand, the AMOLED display is vibrant and responsive and the SPen's features and functionality have been further expanded.
The Air Command feature allows you to hover over the screen and generate a number of options without tapping the surface since you can tap the button on the Pen. From here there are features like Action Memo, Scrapbook, S Finder, Pen Window and Screen Write. There are increasingly easy ways to write directly, annotate and clip items on the screen for editing and sharing. While I personally didn't find myself reaching for the S Pen all that much, If I actually owned a Galaxy Note 3, I'd definitely consider investing the time to learn how to use the feature.
Samsung's Galaxy Gear, the company's first attempt at creating a smartwatch, is actually part of the Note 3 experience since it is the only device that can work with the new Gear.
I had a chance to try the Galaxy Gear briefly during the briefing on the Note 3. It is a well-made device, with a really bright screen and seems to be responsive to touch. I did not have the chance to test it further or in tandem with the Galaxy Note 3.
The Galaxy Gear's $300 price tag, one-day battery life and somewhat limited functionality at launch seem to drag down what could have been a good idea for a great product. It is hard to get excited about the Galaxy Gear as it stands today, specially if you know you can buy two universally-usable Pebble smartwatches for the same price.
Its too early to pass fair judgement on the Galaxy Gear, but knowing Samsung, this is the start of a continuing product line which can only improve in design, features and functionality. What they need to work on is the pricing, and making it compatible with only one model makes it an almost exotic, ultra-niche accessory that will attract a small market segement.
Overall, I think the third time's the charm for the Samsung Galaxy Note. It is certainly the best 'tweener' device between small tablet and large smartphone seeing that it is compact yet powerful and has a lot of baked-in functionality that the competition still cannot touch.
There are cheaper and even larger phablet devices right now, but while they offer users choice, nothing comes close to the Galaxy Note 3 in terms of performance, functionality as well as pen input. This really is Samsung's flagship device and the standout model in the niche they created with the first Galaxy Note years ago.
The Note 3 is now available in Canada from for $799 no-contract price. The following carriers will offer it in various contract prices SaskTel: $299.99 on a two-year contract, $699.99 on a one year V&D, $749.99 outright
EastLink: $249.99 on the Easy tab plan or $749.99 outright, Wind: $749 outright or $449 on WINDtab, TELUS: $299.99 and $799 outright, Rogers: $249.99 on a two-year or $750 outright.
Rating: 4 out of 5