Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Review: The Phablet Refined
User Interface and Experience
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 ships with Android Jelly Bean v4.3 right out of the box, with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface enhancements integrated into the OS. Overall, we like many of the additions offered by TouchWiz and the build of Jelly Bean on the phone feels very polished and fluid. The work Google has put into Jelly Bean and Samsung has put into TouchWiz really shows on the Galaxy Note 3, not only in terms of stability and fluidity, but additional features as well.
When the Note 3 is first powered on, the home screens are fairly clean of widgets and shortcuts. Responsiveness to touch is very good as well and is easily among the best we have experienced on any Android device. There is minimal lag when touching / dragging items, pinch to zoom is fluid and responsive, and transition animations are buttery smooth. Launching applications is also very quick; during everyday use, the Note 3 simply felt fast, which should be expected considering the high-end nature of the device.
The 5.7” HD Super AMOLED screen on the Note 3 is also very good. We’re not sure what the sub-pixel arrangement looks like on this particular screen, but even upon close inspection things looks great. As is the case with other Super AMOLED screens, there are likely fewer sub-pixels in the Note 3’s display than a similar resolution IPS LCDs, but until we see it under a microscope, we’re speculating. Either way, the screen is definitely a strong point on the Galaxy Note 3. As we’ve come to expect from Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays, colors are very vibrant, if somewhat over saturated, and the screen has good brightness.
As is the case with many smartphones, the glossy display is somewhat hard to see in direct sunlight, but that is par for the course. Viewing angles are very good, which makes for easy sharing of content with others around you, even when not directly in front of the device. As we’ve mentioned, the true HD screen offers a high resolution of 1080x1920, which results in crisp and sharp images that are among the best of the smartphones available today.
In addition to the standard Google-fare included with Android 4.3, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 comes preloaded with a number of other applications. Preloaded on the device are Samsung’s App store and newly-redesigned, and consolidated Hub, which features easy access to music, movies, videos and books. In addition, there are a number of S-branded apps installed on the S 4 too, including S Note, S Health, S Translator, S Voice, Samsung Link and Watch On. S Note is obviously a digital memo pad and S Health is the utility to link the Galaxy Note 3 with the many health-related accessories that launched with the S 4, like the heart monitor and scale. S Translator is an awesome utility that can not only do text-to-speech and speech-to-text translations of many popular languages, but it can scan images using the device’s camera and do some optical character recognition and translation too. If you travel a lot, S Translator is going to come in quite handy. S Voice is Samsung’s voice control / command app and Samsung Link is the tool you’d use to link multiple devices together, for easy content sharing. WatchOn is another cool tool, that not only lets you configure the Galaxy Note 3 to act as a universal remote control (for any brand of device, not just Samsung), but it provides TV listings and easy access to content as well.
Many of the apps included on the Note 3 are optimized for the S-Pen as well. The Galaxy Note 3’s screen is perfectly happy with finger / gesture input, but the S-Pen adds a much-appreciated level of precision. Writing notes and/or editing images are simply better when you’ve got the additional precision offered by the S-Pen. The S-Pen also makes it easy to take screen-captures, and then edit them immediately thereafter. It’s a great feature that can make taking notes on articles, or whatever you may be viewing on-screen, quick and easy.
Since the Galaxy Note 3 is also a phone, we should probably speak a bit about voice quality. Like the Galaxy Note II and a number of other popular phones, the Galaxy Note 3 employ's Audience's EarSmart technology. EarSmart is a real-time noise suppression—not noise cancellation—technology that can be tailored for specific levels of noise suppression. In the demos we experieced (and heard) of EarSmart, the technology was able to essentially filter out all background noise as a person spoke into a microphone, which is what a smartphone has to do when a user is speaking in a noisy environment. The Note 3 performed very well in that regard. When using the phone in a car with the windows down, for example, the wind noise was mostly blocked out to the listener at the other end of the call. Music playing in the car was also mostly suppressed. In quiet environments, the Note 3’s call quality was excellent.