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

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.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
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.

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