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Galaxy Note 3 deep-dive: A plus-sized phone with perks and quirks

JR Raphael | Oct. 9, 2013
Samsung's new big-screen phone has a lot of great qualities, but a handful of issues keep it from reaching its full potential. So is it the Android device for you?

Confusing overlap aside, the separation between the two apps is frustrating because S Note offers the option for automated syncing with Evernote, which makes all of your handwritten notes available and searchable from any mobile device or PC. The syncing has been seamless and instant in my experience, but any notes taken in Action Memo — which, remember, pops up as part of the Air Command menu while S Note does not — aren't included.

The Note 3 itself does a good job of letting you search through handwritten notes on the device with its S Keeper function. I also really like its system-wide handwriting-to-text functionality: Anytime you're in a text field, you can hover the pen over the screen and tap a special icon to input text by writing. The Note converts your handwriting into regular text and puts it right into your document, email or whatever you're composing.

Even with my embarrassingly sloppy penmanship, the system did an impressively good job at deciphering (most of) my words. Particularly with longer messages, I often found it quicker to input text like that than by using a traditional on-screen keyboard.

Unfortunately, the handwriting-to-text functionality doesn't work everywhere, as it's supposed to; I encountered a handful of apps, including Chrome, Twitter and Google Drive, where I couldn't get the handwriting-input icon to show up. That inconsistency was irksome.

While some of the other S Pen functions struck me as more gimmicky than practical, the stylus also holds serious value for artists or anyone who wants to sketch or scribble on the go. The Note 3 ships with a version of Autodesk's Sketchbook software that shows off the pen's excellent accuracy and pressure sensitivity. And while the bundled Polaris Office app does a poor job at stylus-based PDF markup, programs such as RepliGo PDF Reader ($3) or the fully featured OfficeSuite Pro ($15) work well with the pen for that purpose.

Last but not least, Samsung has included a smart feature called S Pen Keeper that sounds an alert on the device anytime it's separated from the stylus by a certain distance. It kept me from leaving the pen behind on a couple of occasions; you just have to be sure to head into the phone's settings and enable it right away, as it's deactivated by default.

The software
The Galaxy Note 3 runs custom Samsung TouchWiz software based on the Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) operating system. Aside from the aforementioned S Pen elements, it's essentially the same user interface and feature set present in the Galaxy S4.

There are, however, a handful of new features in the Note 3's software:

 

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