Galaxy Note 3: Frustrating, overwhelming, but is that part of its appeal?

Galaxy Note 3: Frustrating, overwhelming, but is that part of its appeal?

Summary: As I approach the end of the return period for my Note 3, it makes sense for me to return it and stick with the HTC One. Then again, the sheer number of utilities, apps, options, and settings offer enough appeal to me to keep it in hand.

Galaxy Note 3 frustrates and overwhelms me, but that's part of its appeal
(Image: Samsung)

I have been spending a lot of time with the Galaxy Note 3 as I approach the end of my T-Mobile return period. I am likely going to keep the Note 3 (I will explain why below), but I want Samsung to improve this fantastic product through some software updates and future software design decisions.

The Galaxy Note 3 is the best large display phone currently available and is an amazing device, but there are some things that really bother me so my fantastic HTC One is going to stick around as my SIM jumps between the two. The S Pen integration is fantastic, it's nice to have a removable battery and microSD card slot, the camera performs better than the HTC One in most situations, and Samsung's OLED display looks great.

Issues I have with the Note 3 include random closure of My Magazine, step backwards in Exchange support, Samsung's shotgun approach to apps and services, functions present that don't work reliably, and beta nature of Galaxy Gear connection.

My Magazine closure

I don't consider the performance of 3rd party apps as a problem for a device manufacturer since the performance of those apps relies on the developer. However, I have been seeing the new My Magazine application pop up the famed Android "failure to respond" notice at least twice a day for the last week. I'm not sure if some kind of intermittent signal loss is causing the problem or what, but I don't see as many connection bars in the top bar as I do on my HTC One so reception may indeed by the culprit.

Issues with Exchange email

Samsung's Exchange email client used to cause me to use 3rd party email apps because of a lack of local folder access. This was fixed recently on the Galaxy S III and S4 and I confirmed that my co-worker gets full access to his local folders on the S4.

I don't know what happened with the Note 3, but I am no longer able to see my local folders through Exchange. I have setup my Exchange account multiple times and verified these local folders work just fine on devices like my HTC One. This isn't critical for me, in large part because I carry other devices too, but I hope Samsung provides an update to get this functionality back in place on my Note 3.

Samsung's shotgun approach

Samsung offers the consumer a folder filled with applications and while many are actually quite useful and enjoyable I find that some provide similar functionality that really should be consolidated. For example, Action Memo is a cool S Pen utility, but it is completely separate from S Note and reminders created with S Voice. You have the option to sync S Note with Samsung servers or Evernote (my preferred method), but Action Memos standalone.

In my opinion, Action Memos and S Voice reminders should be a part of S Note to offer a universal note taking experience.

Another two apps that confuse me are Story Album and Scrapbook. I think of a scrapbook as a place where I put my photos and then view or share them with others. This is really what Story Album is about with the ability to create physical books. I honestly haven't yet figured out how to integrate Scrapbook into my daily routine, but it looks like it is primarily centered on collecting content with the S Pen to view later.

Wouldn't it be better if it too was able to sync with your Samsung account or Evernote? Shoot, maybe even having this content be assembled as a folder in S Note to make S Note the primary capture application for Samsung. You can also share Screen Write notes and markups with S Note, but why not also make this an option for the default to again bring all of this capturable data into a central repository?

I now look at it as a challenge to discover how all of these Samsung apps and utilities can be used to their optimal nature in my daily life and that goal will keep me entertained with the Note 3 for months.

Unreliable functions

Samsung provides Galaxy owners with a ton of quick setting button options, but in my experiences some of them either don't work at all or are completely unreliable. At least they do give me the option to customize what appears on the top bar and I fully appreciate that consideration.

I have been unable to ever get Smart Scroll to work, even when I select the option to tilt the device. With such a large device, I would love to use this in Chrome for browsing and will keep trying to get it to function. I also can never get Air Gesture to work for anything other than the screen off Quick Glance. That's actually the most useful part so there is some value in this utility.

Smart Stay seems to work sometimes, but I think it is reliant on having good lighting so the front facing camera can "see" you looking at the display. Thus, it seems to fail for me while sitting on the couch and in other areas with marginal lighting.

Galaxy Gear thoughts

The Galaxy Gear is a high quality watch that looks and feels great on my wrist. Even at $300 I am still considering one, but would prefer to see it priced at $200. I hate that the Galaxy Gear connection status cannot be hidden in the notification area. It seems like a small thing, but drives me crazy that the top of the screen is consumed by such a useless notification.

There is a serious lack of apps, notifications need to be improved, and I do not like that I have application shortcuts for the same app, EasilyDo for example, since one is for the Note 3 and one is for the Gear.

I also cannot stand that the pedometer on the Gear saves steps taken to the Exercise Mate area of S Health rather than the Walking Mate area that makes sense. Thus, if you enable the pedometer on the Gear and on the Note 3 you will see steps appear in two sections of S Health. Someone at Samsung please look at S Health and pull things together.

But overwhelming functions and options appeal to me

The funny thing is that one of the main reasons I am likely going to keep the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is because Samsung provides so much in the device. There are an amazing amount of settings, options, and utilities on the Note 3 and as a mobile phone geek who enjoys tinkering I discover new things daily.

I am surprised when I find menus and options through the capacitive menu button or through a tap-and-hold hidden levels down in apps and utilities. While this type of discoverability can be frustrating for those who like efficiency, I do enjoy it as long as my basic needs are met and are not frustrating.

Further reading

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Samsung, Smartphones

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  • SGN3 Best phone ever

    I have the SGN3 (coming from 4 generations of iPhones) and it's honestly the best phone I've ever used.
    • Really?

      How much is Samsung paying you to post?
      J. E.
      • How much???

        probably much less than Apple paid you.
        • LOL!

          Lol I was about to say exactly the same hahaha, the note 3 makes any iPhone look like a joke and apple is been famous to pay people pretty good money to make public comments and to the cell phone salesmen at Verizon and other cell phone stores!
          Christian Lee
          • Paying users to post

            Actually, the only ones I know of which are documented are Samsung and Microsoft.
          • Kinda like this?

        • can you review the dam phone instead?

          I am here to read up about the issues with Note 3, not about the author. And so if everything he wrote are actually included in the phone, then sure why can't the author get paid for his work? Focus on the Note 3, not the author.
      • Such a comment...

        ...deserves no answer. It is quite stupid. Especially since I have owned every single iPhone since the 3GS and still own an iPad 3 and a Macbook Pro and an Apple TV. But I'm not as blind as to not notice how superior my new GN3 is to my iPhone experience.

        How much is Apple paying you to post?
      • Apple drones will be Apple drones...

        Actually I just ditched my iPhone 4s (I also had a first gen iPhone, and a 3Gs) for a Note 3. Got it on release day. Best mobile device I have ever owned without a doubt.

        I learned to hate my 4s.
        · Lousy battery life
        · tiny screen
        · Apple's BS walled-garden
        · Apple deliberately withholding features from their phones just so they could add something to the next one
        The list goes on and on and on.

        My 4s got less than one day of battery life. I'd take it off the charger at 8AM and have it die on me by 4PM. My note gets 2 days with near constant usage (it's hardly left my hand since I got it)..and that is with a MUCH faster CPU, several times more memory, a screen that is bigger than my entire old iphone and TRUE MULTITASKING.

        If I forgot the stupid 30 pin cable, I was screwed if I wanted to charge it, add content, retrieve photos (without having to email them at lower resolution) or basically anything else. With my note, as long as I have a standard micro USB cable I'm set. I can do all those things and MUCH more. In fact, aside from charging my phone I don't need the cable at all... I can transfer ANYTHING to and from my phone at will via wifi. I know about wifi sync with the iphone, but you are still limited to what apple wants... On my note, I can transfer what *I* want. That means I can even use it as big drive to transfer files to/from wherever I want.

        I hated having to rely on itunes and only being able to use a limited number of computers to add content to my phone. I hated the fact that I was at Apple's mercy as to whether or not I could install an application that only they could approve. I hated the fact that the screen was so small and I would have to wait several generations just to get features I had on my bloody flip phone 6 YEARS AGO.

        My note 3 is a superior device in every conceivable way.

        And before you even say it... This is my first Android device EVER. I own 4 Macs , including a 2008 Mac Pro (Fast, but I run Windows 7 on it...done with Apple, but too expensive to get rid of at the moment) for my personal computer, a mini I use as a server (will be sold or repurposed shortly and replaced with a Linux unit that actually does the job), a 2010 iMac I bought for my wife (she hates it and is waiting to upgrade back to a real PC) and my kids HAD an imac which they too hated because it couldn't run any PC apps...Oh and my wife went through 3 generations of iPhones as well.. she has a galaxy s4 now and loves it. So yeah, I know ALL about Apple. (And I learned to hate them because of it.)
        Tessa Moore
        • WTH?!

          You've spent a ton of money on a bunch of devices you didn't like? You have family full of PC users yet you purchase a few Mac's and expect to run PC apps? Are you serious?Bahahahahahah! You purchased a mini for use as a server? WTH?! You can bash your Apple products all day, but next time how about you do research before you purchase. I love my iPhone, but ain't no way in hell will I purchase a Mac to replace my Dell laptop or desktop pc's.
          • 'Server' is a variable term

            'Server' doesn't mean it has to be able to run what an enterprise would require a server to do.

            Sometimes it is just being able to peer offer storage or whatever. Of course, if one wants to it do more, then a proper server may be the best.

            Sometimes needs change, and what worked at the start may not be suitable once one appreciates what else could be done.
    • Nope

      It is a decent phone, but is too big in my opinion. I prefer the S4, but several coworkers here prefer the Note 3.

      And others prefer the iPhone, it is all up to the individual.
    • Wow 4th Gen Of Iphones moving over to android!!

      Really impressed by your comment been looking to possibly make jump to iphone now leaning towards N3.... even more since reading your post!!!!... can you give me your reasoning from your prior apple sided view as to why you made the jump. I'm new to this zdnet hope I'm doing this right.
  • Wait 6 months

    then get a note 3. It will be cheaper and full baked by then. I know tech nerds hate to wait, but patience is a virtue don’t you know? By the way, nice job on the mobile tech podcast, but your mic volume sometimes fades in and out. Otherwise you and Kevin keep me entertained and informed. Thank you.
    • Wait xx months

      That's the problem with Samsung's products. They throw a lot of features in them, but it is always wait six months and
  • Samsung does not do software well

    As any SmartTV owner can tell you Samsung does hardware fantastically but they can not write a truly functional app to save their lives. I have no reason to believe they can do any better with phone apps, so it's probably better to struggle along with the Google Play Store apps.
    • Smarttv no good?

      I have a few samsung TV, I seem to gravitate towards them because of the quality. Was considering getting a smart TV but I have read some similar reviews about the glitchy software.
      new gawker
      • Samsung Smart TV

        It might have a few glitches, but..... for my usage patterns it works extremely well indeed! I have my 3D plasma TV paired with a 7.1 surround Blu-Ray player, the valve version, and love it to bits.
  • Another annoyance - Kies 3 (beta) vs Kies 2

    On the subject of half baked software - the Note 3 requires Kies 3.0 (in beta still apparently), while all my other Samsung devices require the older version of Kies. Why the change is unclear, surely 3.0 should support older devices as well as the shiny new one?

    This means I need to run both versions, and yet, even when both are running, I get popups from 2 telling me I need 3, or vice versa, when attaching a phone! Surely someone could have thought this one through?

    And don;t get me started on the lack of an FM radio app - which I used on my S2 all the time. With marginal data reception areas a 'net based radio feed simply does not work, and we've had a few days lately with major power outages due to weather events, so an FM radio receiver was essential.
  • Frustration, mostly

    I like big screen phones and I specially like the stylus. So I got this phone two weeks ago. It has been endless frustration ever since. I feel like if someone at Samsung got something working once out of a ten, it is deemed good enough to sell.
    Another creed of Samsung seems: If we cannot make one thing of quality, let's use quantity to cover it up. The plethora on note applications (mentioned in the article above) is a good example.
    Another example is the speaker control. The sound section is littered with myriad of options to tweak the sound. Some are so poor that it should be a crime to make it available to users. I have tried every single one of them and none is acceptable. Add to that the fact that whenever I am listening to an audiobook and a call comes in, the sound is permanently lower on the audiobook, after the call ends. The only way to get the sound loud enough again, is to reboot the phone.
    Despite its size, sometimes I need to zoom in. When I turn on the triple-tap-to-zoom feature, the phone become laggy. For example, any time I fast type, the phone thinks that I am triple tapping. Therefore, it does not register the last 3 characters just typed-in. Very frustrating!
    I can write a book about all the sloppyness and corner cutting throughout the phone. It seems like no real testing was conducted.
    The phone would sell by the millions anyway so why should Samsung pay attention to details. Besides, the army of paid posters on the Internet would sing its praises any chance possible.
    I would return it and keep my aging iPhone 4S if I did not need the big screen and did not like the stylus so much.
    I hope Samsung takes the time to truly test and fix things in future updates.
    J. E.