PROS / It has a stunning screen and superb internal components. With a stylus to write with, the Note 3 all but replaces tablets.
CONS / The phone is so big that holding it to your ear looks and feels absurd.
VERDICT / So long as you own or are willing to buy yourself a headset, the Galaxy Note 3 is one of the best, most powerful Android phones you can have. Just don't try holding it like a normal phone.
Over the past few years, smartphones have steadily grown in size. The days of Android phones with 4-inch displays are well behind us; most modern flagships have settled into a new preferred screen size of around 5 inches. A few, however, have grown even beyond that pocket-stretching limit. These new phablets – so named because they toe the line between phones and tablets – are most notable for the real estate they offer, but some sport internal components that blow the competition away.
Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 is the new phablet poster child. Packing 5.7 inches of screen real estate and a built-in stylus for taking notes, it's a miniature tablet in all but name. The Note 3 is too big to hold to your ear without looking foolish, or to use with just a single hand, but we still love it. After all, its stylus and multitasking capabilities are all but unseen in other phones, which helped it earn our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is huge. Standing almost 6 inches tall, its display alone stretches 5.7 inches corner to corner – the largest you'll find on an Android smartphone. With 1080p resolution, that screen technically offers the same number of pixels as other top flagships with smaller displays. However, the Note 3's interface feels much more open and spacious. You can fit more text on the screen, and videos fill more of your vision. Sure, the device's pixel density is only 386ppi, but even the sharpest eyes can't see pixels beyond around 300ppi anyway.
One of the Galaxy Note 3's best attributes is that it's surprisingly light. For other phones, weighing in at under 6 ounces wouldn't be an impressive feat, but for a phone of this size, it's a welcome relief. Samsung kept the Note 3's weight down by building it inside a plastic chassis. The result is a phone that has more than enough heft to it, but still feels somewhat cheap. The back cover's plastic has even been molded to look like a leather case, replete with fake stiches. It's a design decision you'll either like or find incredibly tacky.
Aesthetic choices aside, the Note 3 is an otherwise shining example of a great phone. One of its best features is the S Pen, the phone's built-in stylus that slips inside the phone when you're not using it. The S Pen does more than transform your phone into a scratchpad; it unlocks some great pen-based gestures, too. The Note 3 supports picture-in-picture multitasking, so if you're working on an email and need to quickly add some figures together, you can draw a rectangle on the screen. The gesture creates a miniature, movable window into which you can load one of a number of different apps. Just select the calculator app and get to adding, without ever leaving your inbox.
Multitasking is probably the single most transformational feature we've used on any smartphone in recent memory. The ability to open multiple windows, move them around, minimize or maximize them, and do so fluidly by simply drawing rectangles with the S Pen – it's worth dealing with an oversized handset for this alone.
The Galaxy Note 3 has one of our favorite rear-facing cameras on any Android phone. A 13-megapixel shooter, it can shoot 1080p video at up to 120 frames per second. You can then play back that video at normal speed and enjoy quarter-speed slow-motion video, something a few other Android phones come close to matching, but can't quite reach. Some models even offer 4K support, letting you capture up to five minutes of action at the same quality you'd enjoy in a digital movie theater. And since the Note 3 runs Samsung's latest version of TouchWiz, you get access to all of the UI's improved camera functions, as well, like Drama Mode and Erase.
In drama mode, you hold the phone still and take multiple, sequential photos of a moving target, like a loved one jumping off a diving board. The phone then stiches the images together, so it looks like your subject is in multiple places at once – on the board, in the air and splashing beneath the surface. Erase uses the same technology, but in reverse – instead of adding moving objects into a shot multiple times, it removes them completely.
Battery life is the bane of every big-screen phone. Running a bright visual display draws more power than any other activity. The Galaxy Note 3 does its best to compensate by including a truly massive 3200mAh battery that offers up 25 solid hours of talk time and an impressive 13.5 hours of video playback. Its weakness is web browsing: Since most websites have all-white backgrounds and pushing pure white pixels draws the most energy, you'll only be able to browse for a solid five hours before you'll need to recharge.
The Galaxy Note 3's internal components are its best attributes. Not only is its quad-core, 2.3GHz processor one of the best on the market – after all, the only Android phone that's faster is Samsung's other flagship – it also has 3GB of RAM for desktop-level multitasking. Should its built-in 32GB of storage not be enough for you, there's a microSD card slot you can use to expand your storage capacity and pack in those extra songs, photos and videos.
Everything you'd expect from a flagship Android phone can be found tucked away in the Galaxy Note 3. The phone can connect to 4G LTE networks around the world, or with other electronic devices right next to you using its near field communication chip. The onboard Bluetooth wireless will come in handy should you want to use a wireless headset, though be prepared to look like a 2005 hipster. You can even control your TV using the phone's integrated IR blaster, taking the place of all those remotes in your home.
The feature list doesn't stop at hardware. With the latest version of Samsung's TouchWiz UI, you get access to fun features like Smart Scroll and Smart Pause. The former lets you scroll up and down by tilting the device back and forth, while the latter will pause video that's playing if you glance away from the screen. Their usefulness may be questionable, but they're still fun to play around with.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is a monster among Android phones. Unabashedly big, it's perfect for on-the-go productivity, watching movies, taking notes and multitasking with gusto. It might not make the best phone for long calls – plan on looking ridiculous if you ever decide to talk to someone with it against your ear – but if you want power, the Note 3 has most of its competition handily beat.