Samsung's Galaxy Note smartphones are easy to hate: they're comically large, they include a stylus, and each iteration has been successful enough to not only warrant new models, but a growing number of similarly-sized products from competitors as well. Even with the brand new Galaxy Note 3, it's not likely that phablet naysayers will become believers, but those willing to get past the device's form factor will be able to see exactly why this particular plus-sized product has remained popular over the years.
Even with its larger 5.7-inch display—up from the Note II's 5.5-inch screen—the Galaxy Note 3 is almost the same exact size as its predecessor. The main difference with the new model's exterior is its faux-leather rear case. Much to my surprise, the backside of the device actually feels nice to the touch, providing extra grip while adding a bit of class. The feel and look of the removable backing, especially the stitching, may not appeal to many, but it definitely makes the Note 3 easier to hold than last year's model and its slippery plastic case.
Unlike smaller phones that can be grasped in one hand with little caution, extra large phones such as this must be handled with more care and, almost always, with two hands—and therein lies the main issue with the form factor. The Galaxy Note 3 simply cannot be efficiently operated with a single hand. While Samsung includes a few options to make things easier, such as shifting the keyboard to one side, reaching menus near the top of an app or pulling down the notification bar requires a risky shift of one's grip, and the distribution of weight across such a wide body greatly increases the chance of an accidental drop.
But once the device is securely in hand(s), it's smooth sailing from there on out. Samsung has updated the Note with a 1080p display, a change that is much more noticable on a large screen. Photos, icons, and video all look great on the Super AMOLED display and, like other Galaxy devices, you can adjust the screen's color range to your liking. The bezel surrounding display features a faint line pattern, adding some character to the front of the device to match its unique rear case.
Under the hood is a 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 System on a Chip and a whopping 3GB of RAM. Not once did I experience a hiccup when hopping around Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, and the phone achieved top scores in the AnTuTu and 3DMark benchmark tests (which may or may not be completely reliable in this instance). With its extra beefy hardware, the Note 3 minimizes any possible negative effects to performance caused by Samsung's extremely bloated TouchWiz software, which is only more inundated with features and options thanks to the company's signature S Pen stylus.
Using the S Pen is far from required in order to make proper use of the Note 3, but it does add quite a few intuitive features for those who choose to use it. Hovering the stylus above the screen and pressing its button pulls up Air Command for quick access to Action Memos, which lets users handwrite notes; Screen Write for adding memos to a screenshot; S Finder, an in-depth search tool; and Pen Window, which lets users draw a square on the display and then gives the option to open up one of a few select apps within the confines of the drawn shape.
With the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung also introduced My Magazine, a news aggregator app that is essentially is a Flipboard clone and the company's answer to HTC's Blinkfeed. Unfortunately, all of the feed topics that can pour into the app are preset with no option of adding an RSS feed of your choice, making it far less useful than something like Feedly or the aforementioned Flipboard.
Samsung's software touches extend to its camera as well. Like with the Galaxy S4, the 13-megapixel shooter on the Note 3 is amazing, and the refined camera UI and extensive list of options help make it one of the best Android photo-taking and filming experiences out there. Pictures are captured quickly, and look great in just about any situation. It can be tough keeping a steady hand when shooting with the Note 3, but thankfully optical image stabilization is included.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is extremely fast, comes with a fantastic camera, and has absolutely amazing battery life. The new faux-leather rear casing may be a turnoff to some, but it definitely helps make the large device easier to hold than its predecessor.
But it just can't be ignored that the Note 3's size is far too impractical for most situations. And at $299.99 on-contract, it can be an expensive inconvenience that will have to be endured for at least 2 years. If you have deep pockets or loose purse strings, though, there is still a great device to be found beneath the extra large exterior.