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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review: Big, fast and feature-packed, but pricey

  • Editors' rating
    8.8 Outstanding
  • $299.99


  • Superb 5.7-inch sAMOLED screen
  • Good S Pen stylus functionality
  • LTE mobile broadband
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • 2.3GHz quad-core SoC
  • Good battery life


  • Large
  • Potentially confusing array of UI enhancements and software extras
  • Cheesy faux-leather backplate
  • Expensive

Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 is in some respects a difficult sell: it's priced well beyond many users at £594 (inc. VAT, £495 ex. VAT); it's large for a phone (although relatively small compared to a 7-inch tablet); and its S Pen stylus input — a key differentiator — isn't an obvious 'must have' feature.

Those who have used the Galaxy Note 2 and the original Galaxy Note may be attracted by the new features on offer here, but to reach beyond hardcore fans Samsung needs to keep delivering more stylus-based benefits and convince a wider audience of their utility.

Our SIM-free review sample of the Galaxy Note 3 came from Clove Technology.

The 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3's design is generally pleasing, but the faux-leather backplate strikes a cheesy note. Images: Samsung


The 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 is not Samsung's biggest handset; that distinction goes to the new 6.3-inch Galaxy Mega , which itself is trumped by Sony's gargantuan 6.4-inch Xperia Z Ultra.

Still, very few handsets edge over the 6-inch mark, and the Galaxy Note 3's screen, while 'only' 5.7 inches across the diagonal, is among the largest available. It's a touch larger than the 5.5-inch screen on the Galaxy Note 2, and the additional viewing area has been built into a chassis that's almost identical in footprint, although thinner and lighter — 79.2mm by 151.2mm by 8.3mm and 168g for the Note 3 compared to 80.5mm by 151.1mm by 9.4mm and 183g for the Note 2.

When it comes to giant-screen handsets, what's acceptable to carry and hold evolves over time: for us, the Galaxy Note 3 feels fine to hold to the ear for voice calls, while the 6-inch-plus Galaxy Mega and Sony Xperia Z Ultra felt oversized and unwieldy when we reviewed them.

To make one-handed operation easier, you can set some interface elements — including the keypad shown here — to appear on the left or right sides of the screen. images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

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Of course, pocketing the Galaxy Note 3 may prove difficult for some, and one-handed use is out of the question for most — at least with the standard UI. However, as on some of its other large-screen devices, Samsung allows you to set keypad, in-call buttons and calculator so that they sit on either the left or right side of the screen to make one-handed use easier.

The Galaxy Note 3 has Samsung's usual Home button beneath the screen, flanked by a pair of softkeys that illuminate when pressed.

The edges are finished in a shiny, chrome-like plastic with a raised ridge rather than a flat design. The right edge houses the power button, the volume rocker is on the left, the headset jack and an infrared transmitter are on the top, while the bottom edge carries the new Micro-USB 3.0 port for speedier-than-usual data transfer and charging. Samsung supplies a USB 3.0 cable, and the new port is backwards-compatible with existing Micro-USB 2.0 connectors. The Micro-USB 3.0 port is also MHL 2.0 compliant, but you'll have to provide your own adapter cable to take advantage of this.

The bottom of the Galaxy Note 3 carries a (new but backwards-compatible) Micro-USB 3.0 port and the S Pen stylus housing. Image: Samsung

The stylus, which Samsung calls the S Pen, sits in a slot on the bottom edge of the device. Thankfully, it anchors there pretty firmly as it's the stylus features that make the Galaxy Note 3 distinctive.

The backplate is a novelty, and not in a good way. It's thin and plasticky, in typical Samsung style, and feels very flimsy when you remove it to access the SIM and MicroSD slots. It also has a rubbery texture and leather-look finish, complete with faux stitching around its border. The look and feel is actually quite realistic, but the stitching effect is, frankly, comical.

The Galaxy Note 3's 5.7-inch screen uses Samsung's Super AMOLED technology and its full-HD resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels gives it a pixel density of 386 pixels per inch (ppi). This is a big step up from the Galaxy Note 2's 1,280-by-720 pixels and 267ppi. The number of pixels is matched by Samsung's flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone, whose smaller 5-inch screen gives it a bigger pixel density of 441ppi.

galaxy note3-display
Presets are available to optimise the Galaxy Note 3's sAMOLED screen for different applications. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Note 3's sAMOLED screen is simply stunning — clear, sharp and bright, with good viewing angles and super-rich colours that positively jump out at you. Samsung provides presets that allow you to refine the colour tone so you can move away from super-bright to something more subtle, or have the handset automatically adapt depending on what you're doing.


As you'd expect from a handset that costs around £600 (inc. VAT), Samsung has thrown top-end specifications at the Galaxy Note 3. It's an LTE/HSPA+ handset, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC comprising a 2.3GHz quad-core processor and Adreno 330 GPU, supported by 3GB of RAM. These specifications put the Galaxy Note 3 at the current pinnacle of power for a smartphone/phablet.

To cement its high-end credentials, the Galaxy Note 3 has 32GB of internal storage. The operating system and Samsung extras mop up a chunk of that, leaving you around 25GB free. The MicroSD card slot under the backplate is stacked on top of the MicroSIM card slot, and you can hot-swap memory cards without removing the battery.

There are two cameras — 13-megapixel with LED flash at the rear and 2-megapixel at the front. The main camera will shoot UHD (2160p) video at 30 frames per second (fps), FHD (1080p) at 60fps and HD (720p) at 120fps for slow-motion viewing. The front camera will do HD at 30fps, and there are shooting modes that use both cameras simultaneously.

There's a full set of wireless connectivity and sensors: wi-fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac); Bluetooth 4.0; GPS (with A-GPS and GLONASS support); and NFC; plus accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, compass, barometer, temperature, humidity and gesture sensors. Connectivity standard support runs to Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA and MHL 2.0.

The operating system is Android 4.3, making the Galaxy Note 3, for the moment, among the most advanced Android handsets available. Samsung's own TouchWiz user interface sits on top, adding a wide range of features including gesture controls, the finger-hovering Air View and motion controls as well as other usability enhancements. One such feature, Multi Window, comes into its own on this large-screen device as it allows you to view two apps side by side. Our only complaint is that it's not implemented for all apps, but just a selection.

Should you wish, you can set the Galaxy Note 3's user interface to Easy Mode for a gentler introduction to the handset's functionality. Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

If you like the Note 3's screen size but find the UI a bit too fiddly and over-featured, there's an optional Easy Mode that reduces the complexity — and number — of the home screens and cuts down on the range of features available. (Although why you'd want to spend £600 on a device and then hobble its functionality is a moot point.)

As well as UI enhancements, Samsung adds a plenty of apps of its own, many of which take advantage of the S-Pen stylus. To give a few examples: S Translator performs language translations; S Planner is a calendar app; S Voice is a voice controller that can perform tasks like making calls; S Health is a wellbeing app that promises much but is currently finding its feet; WatchON can be used to control home entertainment equipment via infrared; and ChatON is a messaging app.

Business users will be interested in Knox, Samsung's enterprise security solution that allows a device to be used for both personal and work activities without compromising corporate security.

S Pen features
The S Pen is what makes the Galaxy Note 3's stand out from other devices. The stylus itself feels disappointingly light in the hand, but its utility is impressive.

At a basic level, you can use the stylus for navigation, and to make handwritten notes and drawings. The handwriting recognition is fast and accurate; we found we could use a fairly untidy cursive scrawl and get good results.

Undocking the S Pen stylus, or holding it close to the screen and pressing the stylus button, brings up the Air Command menu. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

New to the Galaxy Note 3 is an Air Command menu that pops up when you extract the stylus from its housing or put the tip near the screen and press the on-stylus button. This brings up a menu of key services that are available.

One of these, Pen Window, lets you define an area and then open a secondary app into that from a small selection: calculator, clock, YouTube, phone dialler, contacts, ChatON, the Android web browser and Google Hangouts. Screen Write takes a screenshot and lets you write or draw onto it, and then save and share the product. S Finder is a device search tool. Action Memo lets you take short notes and then perform actions on them, such as call a phone number, visit a website or find a location in Google Maps. Scrap Booker lets you capture a screen area into an app called Scrapbook for annotation and later use.

This is only a selection of the available pen-based actions. There are pen-enabled apps such as S Planner and S Note, and Autodesk SketchBook for Galaxy — which you need to download (all 10.8MB of it), but which responds to the stylus's pressure-sensitive features.

And on any screen, you can draw round an area to copy it and then paste it into a selection of apps — as an email attachment, for example, or as a note. It's a simple, easy way to share a small piece of information.

Samsung claims 13 hours of wi-fi internet usage for the Galaxy Note 3, whose 3,200mAh battery should deliver all-day use to most people. Heavy workloads during the review period meant that we needed to give the device a power boost each afternoon, but a typical usage pattern should see you well into the evening before a recharge is needed.


Samsung has added some interesting usability features to the Galaxy Note 3 that make it a clear step up from its predecessor. Building a larger screen into a smaller, thinner and lighter chassis is an achievement, while the 5.7-inch full-HD sAMOLED screen is a joy to use. Whether what's on offer here is worth nearly £600 (inc. VAT) SIM-free is debatable, but price aside, the Galaxy Note 3 is extremely impressive.

Further reading


SAR Value 1.23 W/kg (body), 0.81 W/kg (head)
Body Color Black
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, proximity sensor, digital compass, barometer, thermometer, gyro sensor, hall sensor, humidity, gesture, RGB sensor
Additional Features TTY compatible, DLNA Certified, Text-to-Speech (text recognition), multitasking, sharing media via DLNA, S Pen multi-input, Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), Android Beam, S Beam, Smart stay, Easy Clip function, Face tag, intelligent typing (SWIFTKEY), Wi-Fi Miracast, HD Voice, infrared remote control, Glove mode, Samsung Smart Pause/Smart Scroll, Samsung Adapt Display, Air View/Air Gesture, Dual Camera function, Group Play function, Dual Recording, Smart rotation, Samsung Link (AllShare Play), Dual Video Call, Dual Shot, Scrapbook function, S Finder, Action Memo, Pen Window, Multi Window, Smart Screen function, Easy Mode
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Application Software Air Command, Bloomberg+, Downloads, DropBox, Evernote, Flipboard, Gallery, Google Chrome, Lookout Mobile Security, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, My Magazine, PEN.UP, Polaris Office 5, Pop Up Play, S Health, S Note, S Planner, S Translator, S Voice, Samsung KNOX, Samsung WatchON, Sketchbook, Story Album, T-Mobile My Accoun, Task Manager, Webkit
Type Smartphone
Navigation A-GPS, GLONASS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider AT&T
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean)
User Interface Samsung TouchWiz
Input Device Multi-touch
Sensors RGB sensor, accelerometer, barometer, digital compass, gesture, gyro sensor, hall sensor, humidity, proximity sensor, thermometer
Messaging & Internet
Cellular Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Messaging & Data Features Microsoft Excel support, Microsoft PowerPoint support, Microsoft Word support, PDF support, XHTML Browser, handwriting recognition
Mobile Services Air Command, Bloomberg+, Downloads, DropBox, Evernote, Flipboard, Gallery, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Chrome, Google Latitude, Google Maps, Google Now, Google Play, Google Play Books, Google Play Magazines, Google Play Movies, Google Play Music, Google Search, Google Search by Voice, Lookout Mobile Security, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, My Magazine, PEN.UP, Picasa, Polaris Office 5, Pop Up Play, S Health, S Note, S Planner, S Translator, S Voice, Samsung Apps, Samsung ChatON, Samsung Hub, Samsung KNOX, Samsung WatchON, Sketchbook, Story Album, T-Mobile My Accoun, T-Mobile Name ID, T-Mobile TV, Task Manager, Video Call, Webkit, YouTube
Messaging Services Google Hangouts, MMS, SMS
Supported Email Protocols IMAP4, POP3
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Facebook, Google+, Twitter
Clock Speed 2.3 GHz
Manufacturer QUALCOMM
Processor Core Qty Quad-core
Communication Features Internet browser, mobile Email client
Data Transmission EDGE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE
4G LTE Band Band 17, Band 2, Band 4, Band 5, Band 7
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
WLAN Security WEP, WPA2
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Hands-Free Profile (HFP), Human Interface Device Profile (HID), Object Push Profile (OPP), Personal Area Networking Profile (PAN), Phonebook Access Profile (PBAP)
Technology Full HD Super AMOLED
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Display Format Full HD
Diagonal Size 5.7 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 14.43 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.7 in
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass (scratch resistant glass)
Color Support color
Personal Information Management alarm clock, alarm clock with snooze, calculator, calendar, countdown timer, reminder, stopwatch, synchronization with PC
Digital Zoom 4
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Features Animated photo, Anti-shake, Beauty face, Best face function, Best photo function, Buddy photo share, BurstShot, Drama Shot, Fast Motion mode, Geo-tagging, Multi-shots, Slow Motion mode, Smart Stabilization, Smooth Motion mode, Sound & Shot, Zero Shutter Lag, face detection, tap to focus, video recording, video stabilizer
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards MKV, VC-1, FLV, AVI, MPEG-4, WMV, ASF, 3GP, H.264, H.263, TS, WebM, HEVC, MP43
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, WMA, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, AMR, MP3, FLAC, AAC +, OGG, eAAC+, MIDI, M4A
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDHC, microSDXC - up to 64 GB
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps
Run Time Details Talk: up to 1500 min
Standby (WCDMA): up to 530 hrs
Standby (LTE): up to 420 hrs
Technology Lithium ion
Digital Camera
Digital Zoom 4
Focus Adjustment automatic
Self-Timer Delay 10 sec, 2 sec, 5 sec
Camera Light Source LED light
Video Recorder Resolutions 1920 x 1080 (1080p)
Features Animated photo, Anti-shake, Beauty face, Best face function, Best photo function, Buddy photo share, BurstShot, Drama Shot, Fast Motion mode, Geo-tagging, Multi-shots, Slow Motion mode, Smart Stabilization, Smooth Motion mode, Sound & Shot, Zero Shutter Lag, face detection, tap to focus, video recording, video stabilizer
Navigation System
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps
Brand Samsung
Product Line Samsung Galaxy
Model Note 3
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Sensors RGB sensor, accelerometer, barometer, digital compass, gesture, gyro sensor, hall sensor, humidity, proximity sensor, thermometer
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Additional Features Action Memo, Air View/Air Gesture, Android Beam, Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), DLNA Certified, Dual Camera function, Dual Recording, Dual Shot, Dual Video Call, Easy Clip function, Easy Mode, Face tag, Glove mode, Group Play function, HD Voice, Multi Window, Pen Window, S Beam, S Finder, S Pen multi-input, Samsung Adapt Display, Samsung Link (AllShare Play), Samsung Smart Pause/Smart Scroll, Scrapbook function, Smart Screen function, Smart rotation, Smart stay, TTY compatible, Text-to-Speech (text recognition), Wi-Fi Miracast, infrared remote control, intelligent typing (SWIFTKEY), multitasking, sharing media via DLNA
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC, AMR, FLAC, M4A, MIDI, MP3, OGG, Ogg Vorbis, WAV, WMA, eAAC+
Supported Digital Video Standards 3GP, ASF, AVI, FLV, H.263, H.264, HEVC, MKV, MP43, MPEG-4, TS, VC-1, WMV, WebM
Sound Enhancements Samsung Adapt Sound
Installed Size 3 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 32 GB
Max Supported Size 64 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDHC, microSDXC
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 13 megapixels
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Full Contract Period 1 year
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty

Where To Buy


Where To Buy

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Part Number: 6880631