Galaxy Note 3 deep-dive review: A plus-sized phone with perks and quirks

Samsung's new big-screen phone has a lot of great qualities, but a handful of issues keep it from reaching its full potential. So is it the Android device for you?

Citizens of the smartphone-using world, hear this: When it comes to what you carry in your pocket, size definitely matters.

Just look at Samsung's new Galaxy Note 3. The device is the latest in a line that brought big back into style -- and now, plus-sized phones are a category all their own.

Lucky for Samsung, size isn't the only thing that sets the Note 3 apart. The phone's S Pen stylus opens the door to some interesting and innovative ways of interacting with a smartphone -- and this latest model offers some meaningful improvements over its predecessors in both form and functionality.

While the phone has plenty of attractive qualities, though, it also has some noteworthy downsides. So all considered, is it a phone worth buying?

Galaxy Note 3
Galaxy Note 3

I've been living with the U.S. model of the Note 3 for several days to find out. Read on to see what the new Note is actually like to use in the real world -- and whether or not it's the right device for you.

(The Galaxy Note 3 is available now on AT&T for $300 with a new two-year contract, Sprint for $250 with a new two-year contract, and T-Mobile for $0 down and a two-year $29.50/mo. payment plan. It'll be available on Verizon starting October 10 for $300 on contract. U.S. Cellular has said it will sell the phone sometime in October as well but has yet to announce any specific pricing or availability details.)

Body and screen

It may seem obvious, but it has to be mentioned: The Note 3 is a large device. Like, really large.

At 5.95 x 3.12 x 0.33 in. and 5.93 oz., the new Note is significantly bigger than any standard-sized smartphone. As such, it's not going to be for everyone: The device can be rather uncomfortable to hold in one hand and even more awkward to hold up to your ear for a call. Depending on your gender and pant preferences, it'll range from being uncomfortable to carry in your pocket to impossible to fit in it at all.

That's not by any means to say it's an outright bad form; these days, plenty of people prefer a plus-sized device that's able to provide the benefits of a smartphone and the screen space of a tablet. I'd simply suggest stopping by a brick-and-mortar store and holding one for yourself to see how it feels to you.

For owners of past-generation Galaxy Note devices, the Note 3 certainly won't seem outrageous; in fact, it's pretty darn close to the same size as last year's model. And thanks to slimmed down bezels, it packs a beefed-up 5.7-in. display, up from the 5.5-in. screen on the Galaxy Note 2.

At about 386 pixels per inch, the Note 3's 1080p Super AMOLED display looks fantastic: Details are sharp and colors appear rich and brilliant. Display aficionados may note that the display looks somewhat oversaturated -- as Samsung devices often do -- but for the vast majority of smartphone users, this thing's gonna be a treat for the eyes.

AMOLED screens in general tend to suffer in sunlight more than their LCD counterparts, but Samsung has made some significant strides with the Note 3's display: Thanks in part to ramped-up brightness capacity, the Note 3's screen remains perfectly viewable even in the glariest of conditions. To my eyes, it doesn't quite match the outstanding outdoor visibility of a top-of-the-line LCD-packing phone like the HTC One, but it's not at all bad and marks a massive leap forward from past Samsung products.

The Galaxy Note 3 has a silver plastic trim that's made to look like metal around its perimeter. A volume rocker lives on the left side, while a power button sits on the right. On the phone's top is a 3.5mm headphone jack and on the bottom is a special USB 3.0 charging port that doubles as an HDMI out-port with the use of an MHL adapter.

The inclusion of USB 3.0 is a nice touch: The phone charges ridiculously fast when you use the included USB 3.0 cable and wall adapter, and the port can provide extra-speedy data transfers if your computer supports USB 3.0. The Note works with regular micro-USB cables, too -- you just plug them into the right side of the port -- though you obviously won't get the faster charging and data-transfer speeds when you go that route.

The Note 3 has one small speaker on its bottom edge, to the right of the charging port. The sound quality is decently loud and clear by smartphone standards, though nothing to write home about.

Next to the speaker is the slot for the phone's S Pen stylus -- a highlight of the device that I'll get to in a minute.

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