Note 3 in the real world: The first things you notice about Samsung's new phone

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Real World

Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 is a big product to wrap your head around -- both figuratively and literally (provided that you have an unusually flexible head).

By now, you've probably read about the phone's specs and benchmarks. That stuff's all well and good, but personally, I'm far more interested in what a phone's like to use in the real world -- the way a real person would use it.

In this day and age, after all, specs and benchmarks only mean so much. So I'll be spending a little more time living with the U.S. version of the Note 3 and using it in place of my own personal phone before putting together a full review.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to share some general thoughts on what the Note 3 is like when you get it out in the world -- specifically, the first things you notice as you start to carry and use the device:

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

• The Note 3 is one seriously gigantic gadget -- but that's pretty much a given, right? If you're coming from a previous-generation Note device, it won't feel outrageous; even with its bulked up screen, the phone is more or less the same size as last year's Note 2.

By any normal standards, though, this thing is honkin' huge. Personally, I find it a little awkward and uncomfortable to hold, especially for extended periods, and a bit bulky to carry comfortably in my pocket as well. But hey, some people prefer the plus-sized form. You really just have to pick one up and hold it for yourself to see how you feel.

• In terms of build and style, the Note 3 feels -- for better or for worse -- very much like a Samsung device. Thankfully, Sammy has traded its traditional glossy plastic back for one with a textured faux-leather finish. The material is softer and more pleasant to the touch and has a less toy-like appearance than what we're used to seeing from Samsung. It's still a bit on the chintzy side -- thanks mainly to the tacky fake stitching around the panel's perimeter -- but it's definitely a step up from past Samsung products.

It really is all relative, though: From the moment you pick it up, the Note 3 feels less thoughtfully designed than devices like the HTC One or the also-plastic Moto X. When I peeled off the phone's thin back panel, for instance, the covering for the camera lens popped right out. I had to futz around with it to get it back in place, bending its flimsy-feeling metal support legs to force it to stay in place before putting the cover back on. That kind of thing just doesn't scream "premium build" to me.

Galaxy Note 3 Camera Cover

• It won't take you long to notice the Note 3's screen -- which is, in a word, fantastic. The 5.7-in. 1080p AMOLED display looks absolutely great. Details are sharp and colors are bold. No question: This puppy holds its own among the finest smartphone screens in the land today.

• You've gotta notice the S Pen, right? The star of Samsung's Note 3 is its integrated stylus; pull the pen out of the bottom of the phone and a new pie-style menu called Air Command appears on the screen.

Galaxy Note 3 S Pen Air Command

It gives you easy access to some core S Pen apps; you can also pull it up anytime by hovering the pen over the screen and clicking the button on its edge.

Some of the S Pen stuff is impressive at first glance -- like the Action Memo feature, which lets you write quick notes on the screen and then optionally convert your handwriting into phone numbers you can call or text you can email. I'm not sure it's really any easier than simply tapping in the same info in the regular way -- it might actually be a little slower, all considered -- but it's certainly novel.

• Try as you might, you can't avoid noticing the Galaxy Note 3's user interface. Yup -- it's good old-fashioned TouchWiz through and through, with Samsung's standard mishmash of clashing colors and inconsistent elements. It ain't pretty, that's for damn sure.

On the plus side, you can cover up at least some of the UI sins with a custom Android launcher, if you're so inclined. All of the Note 3's S Pen-specific enhancements -- and even general Samsung-added software features like Multi Window -- seem to be accessible and fully functional in a third-party home screen environment.

This is just scratching the surface of Samsung's Galaxy Note 3, of course. There's so much more to say about the device -- from performance and battery life to software features and all the advanced S Pen functionality. I'll be evaluating all those things on a practical level as I live with the new Note and use it in my day-to-day life.

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Stay tuned for more thorough thoughts and impressions over the coming days, and be sure to join me on Google+ for even more Note 3 chit-chat in the meantime.


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