PDAs have been all the rage for many years, but they have since been dethroned by our smartphones. Samsung , for its part, however wanted to bring the concept up to date by imagining a terminal with a large screen and accompanied by a stylus. This is how the Galaxy Note range was born, a range that has become very popular over the years. Each year, the South Korean manufacturer gives us a new model and it thus presented at the last IFA its new terminal, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 . A terminal that has been with me for a little over a week, and that you will be able to discover through this test.
A test which, as usual, is not intended to pour into pure technique. If you like numbers and complicated measurements taken by probes with unpronounceable names to ordinary people, this article should leave you cold like the tiles in my bathroom. On the other hand, if you are wondering what the Note 3 is worth in the field, and whether it may be suitable for your use, then you should get your money's worth.
You might as well start at the beginning. If the technical characteristics of the Galaxy Note 3 are known, and even recognized, a booster shot will not be able to hurt you. It will even allow you to put things in context.
- 5.7 inch Super AMOLED Full HD display.
- 1080p type definition, 1920 × 1080, with 16 million colors.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.3 Ghz.
- GPU Adreno 330.
- 3 GB of RAM.
- 32 GB of storage space, micro SD card slot (up to 64 GB).
- 13 megapixel CMOS sensor.
- 2 megapixel front camera.
- Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor, Barometer.
- WiFi 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC.
- Compatibility with 4G / LTE networks.
- 3200 mAh battery.
- Dimensions: 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm.
- Weight: 168 grams.
Important note, we are not all equal in the face of the Note 3. True to its (ugly) habits, the South Korean manufacturer has indeed opted for several different configurations , varying according to the markets. The technical sheet mentioned just above therefore only concerns the European model. If you live elsewhere, such as in Asia for example, you will not necessarily be entitled to the same components.
What about the specifications of this model? Not much, except that the Note 3 is positioned on the high end. It uses the same chip as that of the LG G2 or Sony Xperia Z1 and we can say that it is a guarantee of quality since the performance of the Snapdragon 800 is breathtaking. However, two peculiarities should be noted: the amount of RAM , fixed at 3 GB, and the battery , which reaches 3200 mAh. On the autonomy side, it should also be noted that this new Note is doing with all the honors. For simple use (emails, web, games), it has thus reached two days without recharging. If you are more greedy than me, it will however be necessary to count on an autonomy revolving around a day and a half.
As some of you may know, Samsung has been accused of specially optimizing its Note 3 for the hottest benchmarking solutions on the market. He would not be the only one to proceed in this way, but I still ran the usual solutions.
- BenchmarkPi: 107.
- Quadrant: 22,529.
- Linpack: 766,667.
- An3DBench: 7.935.
- GeekBench 3: 950 (single-core), 2.999 (multi-core).
These figures are only indicative, and they are not particularly revealing of anything. What I can tell you, anyway, is that the Note 3 showed no signs of weakness during my testing. Samsung is often singled out for the heaviness of its overlay, but its new phablet is incredibly responsive.
Design & Ergonomics
Phablets have often been mocked for their size and their dimensions. Samsung seems to have taken note of the criticisms by mobile users and the firm and made sure to minimize congestion Note 3. If it features a 5.7 inch screen, it is hardly more massive than the Xperia Z1 even though the latter is “content” (so to speak) with a 5-inch screen. How is it possible ? Everything is a question of borders, in reality, and those which frame the screen of the phablet are of an extreme delicacy. The result is truly stunning.
The same goes for the weight of the terminal. Contrary to what one might think, the latter is very light and it even has the luxury of being almost as light as my aging iPhone 4S (168 grams against 140 for the latter). The risk of wrist tendonitis is therefore avoided.
Note 3 will not be to everyone's liking, however. Samsung designers have indeed sought to be original by opting for a plastic back cover reproducing the texture of leather. The effect is quite … surprising, especially since they have pushed the vice to draw seams on the edges of the room. Let's be honest, the result is not really the best looking. However, the advantage of this shell is that it is removable. If you wish, you can therefore replace it with a metal shell , for example, or even the famous S View Cover .
Now let's move on to the ergonomics of the terminal, and the layout of its various sensors and buttons. On the front of the device, above the screen, we will find the brand's logo , a speaker and a notification LED . The ambient light sensor is further to the right. Below the screen, we are also entitled to the famous physical “home” button framed by two sensitive buttons. For my part, I would have preferred that the manufacturer opted for simple touch buttons, like what we find on the Z1 or G2.
The power button is located on the right side of the terminal. The buttons dedicated to volume control are on the other side, and therefore on the left edge. They will naturally fall under our thumbs when we hold the Note 3 in front of us. The headphone / microphone jack has not changed place, it is still on the top, the exact opposite of the port dedicated to charging and data synchronization.
Since we're talking about it, and as some of you kindly pointed out to me, this port is not an owner port. Samsung has effectively opted for a micro USB 3.0 connector capable of absorbing 900 mAh against 500 mAh for the previous standard. Basically and to put it simply, it will recharge your terminal faster, while leaving you the possibility to connect your old micro USB cable if necessary. I obviously want to apologize to you for this terrible mistake. In order to atone for my sins, I also asked my wife to whip me all night long with freshly cut nettles. I now feel better about myself, despite these morbid hallucinations that haunt my daily life.
Android & Samsung Overlay
The time has come to tackle the big part of the article, and therefore to take a serious look at all the peculiarities of the Galaxy Note 3, and more precisely on the functions specific to Android and to the Samsung overlay . So, if you're pressed for time, it might be best to take a break and come back to the area a little later. With a little coffee or a beer, depending on what time you read these lines.
It all starts with the lock screen, it's the first thing that comes to our eyes when we pick up our smartphone. In this regard, the Note 3 offers exactly the same as all other Android devices. The notification center icons thus appear at the top of the screen, surmounting a widget displaying the current time and date. Further down, we have the area dedicated to unlocking the mobile, an area whose content varies depending on the user's settings. Sometimes, you will just have to slide your finger there, at other times you will have to repeat a pattern previously defined in the terminal options.
Jelly Bean requires, this screen is perfectly capable of displaying widgets , exactly as on the home screens. To activate these, just perform a vertical swipe in the upper part of the screen. The local weather forecast will then be displayed within seconds. By browsing through the settings of the Note 3, it is also possible to activate the display of additional widgets, or the integration of shortcuts pointing to certain dedicated applications.
The notification center
Now let's move on to the notification center. If you have already had the opportunity to lay your hands on a recent terminal produced by Samsung, then you should not be disoriented since there are exactly the same options. At the top, we will thus be entitled to a horizontal bar made up of shortcuts pointing to certain settings of the device. In a few seconds, you will have the possibility to activate or deactivate WiFi , GPS , screen rotation , Bluetooth , NFC and a lot of other things. A quick press on the top right button will allow you to display all these icons on one single page. This famous bar is fully customizable and you can add the shortcuts of your choice, and even modify their order if necessary.
Just below, we will also find a slider to change the brightness of the screen, with a small checkbox to give control to the terminal. In a row, we will also have a button giving direct access to Samsung Knox , a very practical tool that will be discussed in detail a little later in the article.
Finally, at the bottom, we have the list of notifications, notifications varying according to the applications installed on the smartphone. The operation of this area is similar to all terminals running Android. Following these notifications, we will also be entitled to small messages generated by our old friend Google Now.
As mentioned above, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has a 5.7 inch screen. It's not as big as that of the Xperia ZU, that's true, but it's still very comfortable and the manufacturer has done it pretty well by incorporating a special function to split the screen into two distinct areas. Why ? To simultaneously display two applications, of course! Nothing new on this side, since Note 2 already offered this feature.
To access multi-windowed mode, you will have to start by pressing the button stuck against the left border of the screen to reveal a vertical dock made up of several icons. One tap will suffice to open the associated application in windowed mode, on the express condition that another application is already running, of course! Simple and practical, but it is not finished since these famous windows can be perfectly resized to your liking. All you need to do is put your finger on the blue ball located between the two windows and slide it up or down.
Not bad is not it ? Certainly, and there is still better since a simple tap on this famous blue ball will reveal a discreet menu giving access to several interesting functions. In seconds, you'll be able to swap your two windows , delete a window, or even move content from one app to another .
Not everyone will be interested in this multi-windowed mode, but you have to admit that it can help in some cases, like when you're writing an email and want to check certain references, for example. The only downside is that not all Play Store apps are supported.
Home screens and edit mode
It won't come as a surprise to anyone, but the Note 3's home screens work the same as any Android device. We will therefore be limited to a maximum of seven home screens , on which we can place shortcuts pointing to our favorite applications or even nice widgets. It will also be possible to rely on files in order to better organize ourselves. Good, on the other hand, to create directories, you will have to switch to edit mode, or display a context menu. Not very ergonomic.
Samsung's overlay does very well in edit mode. It will actually suffice to place two fingers side by side on the screen and move them apart to distance ourselves and simultaneously display our home screens. From there, we can change their order, add new screens or even delete them if needed. It's quick and easy.
Stylus related functions
The main particularity of the Galaxy Note 3 is obviously its stylus. If the latter did not convince me at first, it can be very useful in some cases. Note also that the entire overlay can be controlled through it. Samsung has, however, done things right by integrating specific functions accessible through a special menu: Air Command . And everything is in the title, of course.
To activate it, simply place the tip of the stylus near the screen and press its button in the process. There, in a few seconds, a special menu will appear, a menu made up of five shortcuts pointing to as many modules:
- Action Memo: This is an application entirely dedicated to note taking, an application that will be displayed in windowed mode. It will allow us to do a lot of things, including writing, erasing or even creating links to other applications. With a simple button, it will also be possible to reduce the window to go to other content before returning to our note.
- Album: Another very useful module, used to cut out certain areas of the screen to put them aside. Thanks to this, well you will be able to immortalize your scores during your frenzied games, recover an image or even collect an extract from a web page without any problem and without having to go through a dedicated application.
- Capture: It's all in the title. This tool will simply allow you to take a screenshot and annotate it in passing before sending it to the application of your choice. There, well, you can share it on your social networks, send it by email or even store it on Evernote if you feel like it.
- S Finder: As its name suggests, this module is positioned as an internal search engine, which even supports handwriting. If you're struggling to get your hands on content, this tool is exactly what you need.
- Floating Apps: They work exactly the same way as LG's QSlide Apps and it is simply a matter of hanging on an area of the screen an application chosen from a given selection, such as YouTube, Samsung's web browser or even a calculator. Obviously, on a screen as large as that of the Note 3, it is very appreciable.
Not bad, but it's not over as there is also a very well thought-out “easy capture” tool, a tool that will allow you to record part of what is displayed on the screen to put it on. side. To enjoy it, just take the stylus, press its button and draw a selection on the Note 3 screen. There, a small bar will appear at the top left of the screen, to easily modify our selection. Then, well we will just have to click on the icon of the application of our choice, at the bottom, depending on what we want to do.
In the same vein, it is also possible to take a capture without having to go through Air Command. How? 'Or' What ? By keeping the stylus button pressed and pressing the screen for a few seconds. There again, the options are numerous and we can very well annotate our image, modify its framing or send it to the application of our choice by pressing the appropriate button.
HTC has its BlinkFeed, the Note 3 has its news module. The idea is quite simple since it involves displaying content on a few pages from certain sites, certain social networks or even user data. Access to this screen is fairly simple, by means of a simple vertical swipe from bottom to top, or by three quick presses on the “home” button on the terminal. The serious things then begin since we will find ourselves facing the interface of … Flipboard ! This is obviously no coincidence since Samsung and Flipboard have been working hand in hand for a few years now. The application even made its debut on Android thanks to the Galaxy S3 if my memory serves me well.
At the top left, we will find a button giving access to the three main sections of the module: news , personal files and social networks . Basically, therefore, all the news will fall in the first while the second will present our personal data, the same data extracted from the gallery, S Health, S Planner or even Albums. It is obviously very practical to be able to find everything in one place. When it comes to social networks, well I think it is not necessary to go into details …
It's good but there is better. On the right, we will have another button that will allow us to quickly launch the applications of our choice, and in particular calls , the camera , emails , search or even the web browser . As if that were not enough, we will find at the bottom of the list a last icon referring to the list of applications installed on the terminal. Rather clean, and very intuitive.
Applications offered by Samsung
Manufacturers are used to installing a ton of applications on their mobile terminals. Samsung is obviously no exception to the rule and the Note 3 is thus delivered with several dozen tools . The following list does not pretend to be completely exhaustive, but it will undoubtedly allow you to see it a little more clearly.
- Album: As mentioned above, this application brings together in one place all the content put aside by the user using the stylus.
- ChatOn: No need to present it since it is instant messaging developed by Samsung, a messaging system that offers the same functions as all other tools of the same kind.
- Sketchbook: This is a drawing application, an application aimed at the most creative mobile users and which is developed by Autodesk. If your thing is to doodle portraits while squatting in the little cafes of Montmartre, then this should be what you are looking for.
- Gallery: Everything is in the title, this is the place where all the photos taken with the terminal will be stored. The “cloud” being fashionable, the tool is also capable of aggregating content from Picasa, or even Dropbox.
- Clock: The routine, since this application gathers in one and the same place the alarms, the world clock, the stopwatch and the timer.
- Music: A music player that I haven't really taken the time to test since all my music is on Spotify.
- S Note: An app entirely dedicated to your notes, with a ton of bonus options. In a few moments, we will be able to choose the cover of our notebook, and a model for its pages. Better, each notebook can be synchronized with our Samsung account or with Evernote. The editor, for its part, is fairly classic and we will thus find the usual tools.
- S Planner: A nice diary with a view by years, by months, by weeks, by days, by lists or by tasks. In short, everything you need to keep busy people or organization maniacs happy.
- Samsung Apps: If you have trouble finding the right fit on the Play Store, you can always fall back on these app selections, selections made by Samsung employees of course.
- Samsung Hub: An application that brings together the various stores of the manufacturer, stores dedicated to music, digital books, games or learning methods.
- Video: If the Note 3 screen is particularly suitable for playing videos, Samsung has not pushed the concept very far in its dedicated player, a player that is satisfied with the bare minimum and which has personally left me on my hunger.
- S Voice: Samsung's voice assistant, rather complete. In bulk, it will allow us to activate or deactivate certain settings, send SMS, open applications and even read the news from Flipboard. Only downside, the voice is very mechanical, and particularly annoying.
- S Health: An application designed for “Quantified Self” followers. It works like a pedometer, and it will allow you to keep a full track of calories burned and absorbed. Better, it will accompany you even during your exercises in the room near you. Not bad, especially since the tool can also synchronize with a Galaxy Gear.
Besides that, the Note 3 also integrates many tools published by Google and in particular Chrome , Gmail , Google+ , Hangouts , Play Films , Play Games , Play Books or even Play Music . All these applications are stored in a single folder, aptly named… “Google”. You had to think about it.
Safety is important, especially in business. Samsung apparently seeks to seduce professionals and the manufacturer has thus developed a software solution operating on the same principle as BlackBerry Balance.
Knox, that's its name, comes in the form of an encrypted container capable of accommodating applications and data completely independent from the rest of the terminal. Very concretely, when the executive wants to access their professional messages, all they need to do is press a button to start Knox . Its home screens and its usual environment will give way to a new virtual office regrouping the applications of its choice as well as its documents.
Be careful, however, because Knox is not compatible with all applications. It will therefore be necessary to be satisfied with the tools developed by Samsung and its partners. The South Korean giant has also grouped all compatible software solutions in a special store. In the lot, there are also some famous heads like Dropbox , Polaris , Citrix , Wunderlist , Zoho and many others. The products published by Google are unfortunately not in the game.
Orange Business Services, for its part, has also chosen to integrate Knox into its own management platform, Device Management Premium . A platform that will be the subject of a dedicated article in a few days, or a few weeks.
The Note 3, like all devices running Android, does not lack settings and if some are rather common, others are specific to the overlay developed by Samsung. It is obviously on these that this part of the article will focus. Because hey, everyone already knows that it is possible to change the brightness of the terminal screen, right?
Among the nicest things, there is the possibility of activating or deactivating multiple windows , and therefore the multi- window mode mentioned a little above. If you don't use it, you might as well turn it around to lighten the overlay as much as possible. Connoisseurs will also appreciate finding a screen entirely dedicated to the shortcuts pane , and therefore to this famous bar at the top of the notification center. There, well you can arrange the order of your shortcuts as you see fit and add new ones if necessary.
Then there is the simplified mode. This is not a novelty specific to the Note 3 but it can be very practical in certain cases since this mode will simplify the home screens as much as possible so that they are easily usable by neophytes, like your grandmother. . Further on, you will also have the option to activate or deactivate voice control and hands-free mode . In the first case, these are specific instructions for taking incoming calls, managing alarms, using the camera or even controlling the music player without having to put your hands on the terminal. The hands-free mode, for its part, will be of particular interest to frequent travelers. It will actually be able to read incoming calls, received messages or even scheduled events.
There are also some options for the stylus. There is nothing to break three duck legs either, but heads in the air will no doubt be delighted to find an option to trigger an alert when moving while the stylus is not stored in his location. Same thing for the display of the pointer when approaching the mine of the screen, a pointer which can be very useful in certain cases.
How not to talk about one-handed operations? Let's be honest, as it is, the Note 3 cannot be used with one hand. Unless you have really long fingers, and so on. Samsung has therefore put in place options allowing, for example, to change the scale of the home screens so that they are smaller, and therefore more accessible. If you wish, you can also reduce the width of the touchscreen keyboard and stick it right against the edge of the screen. The same goes for the unlocking pattern. On paper, it's very nice for the manufacturer to think of us but you have to be honest: when you buy a phablet, you know its strengths , and its weaknesses . The size of these terminals is just as much a part of one as the other. If the 5.7-inch and larger screens are very comfortable for surfing the web, watching movies or even relaxing in front of games, they are also very large and you often have to have both hands free to enjoy them.
Samsung has also thought of grouping all the settings related to movement control in one place. Just like the S4, the Note 3 does take advantage of some advanced features that modify the user experience. The Air Gesture , for example, will allow you to control the terminal by passing your hand over the sensor. We will also be entitled to two or three things related to the movements of the phablet, such as tilting it to zoom in on an image for example. In addition, there are palm movements and all the options related to the Smart Screen , such as Smart Pause and Smart Scroll.
The Note 3 was therefore thought of as a smart smartphone, and that's quite a good thing.
Multimedia, Photo & Video
I touched on the performance of the Note 3 at the beginning of this article, so you know that the Note 3 benefits from considerable raw computing power. It is perfectly capable of playing 1080p videos without any problem , and without suffering any slowdowns. In this respect, it has no trouble competing with the Sony Xperia Z1 ( tested here ) or even the LG G2 ( tested there ). However, when watching a movie or even a series, the onboard chip is not the only element to take into account. The screen also plays an important role.
Luckily, at the moment I have all three terminals at home. Listening only to my courage, so I placed them side by side before launching the first episode of Game of Thrones in Full HD on each of them.
The conclusion is clear. For me, the Note 3's screen doesn't quite match that of the LG G2 and Sony Xperia Z1. It's too dark for my taste. Regarding the other two terminals, well the rendering is not the same either, with warmer colors for the LG G2 and cooler for the Z1. Note, however, that this is a personal opinion, and therefore subjective. Some do prefer AMOLED to IPS, so it's all a matter of taste.
On the positive side, Samsung had the good idea to integrate several display modes into its terminal. If these are automatically managed by the terminal, it is possible to force the display of our choice according to our use. This trick will allow us to get better results when playing videos.
Now let's move on to the Note 3's photo and video skills. When the light conditions are ideal, or even correct, the terminal does quite well. On the other hand, as soon as the light begins to lack, then it is the disaster with extremely noisy and perfectly unusable images. Again, if we had to compare the Note 3 to the G2 and the Z1, and the phablet would come last.
The time has therefore come to take stock of the experience. In order to give you my opinion on the Galaxy Note 3, it's important to put things in context. Basically, I actually had a lot of prejudices about the terminal. It seemed too big to me and the plastic finishes did not inspire me any confidence.
The first hours were difficult. However, after removing Samsung's widgets and configuring the homescreens to my liking, my initial misgivings started to disappear.
And I sincerely enjoyed the experience. Admittedly, the Note 3 is not necessarily a canon of beauty. It suffices to place it alongside a Z1 to realize this. Same thing, it is not a terminal designed for the most mobile users either, and it is therefore very difficult – if not impossible – to use it with one hand. However, it is clear that you get used very quickly to your screen, and to its dimensions. It suffices to open a web page, launch a game or even play a video to realize that its weaknesses are also assets.
There remains the stylus. There, in all sincerity, I am not yet completely convinced. For taking notes, for example, I much prefer the Evernote + Dragon Swype combo. There, I only need a few seconds to type a paragraph. With the stylus, it would take me much longer and the same goes for short notes. On the other hand, when it comes to taking a capture, or making a small sketch, you can hardly find better than the stylus. Bad luck, I don't sketch.
There is also this story of photos and videos. If our smartphones do not replace a good old reflex, a hybrid or even a luxury compact like the RX100 II , they at least have the merit of being always at the bottom of our pocket. On this point, the limitations of Note 3 can be very disabling.
Is the Galaxy Note 3 a perfect product? No, certainly not, but it does not lack interest and it should also appeal to professionals thanks to its stylus and its ecosystem. I am thinking in particular of Knox which can be very practical in certain cases.
In short, against all expectations, I liked the Note 3.