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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?

Samsung's Multi Window multitasking feature has a few new tricks up its sleeves. The feature — which lets you split your phone's screen in half and have two apps open and visible at the same time — now allows you to drag and drop content between windows. With certain programs, like chat services, it also lets you have two instances of the same app open side-by-side.

With the Note 3's large screen in particular, I found Multi Window to be both cool and useful for times when I wanted to write an email while referencing a Web page, for instance, or look something up in Chrome while watching a YouTube video. Even if you only use it once in a while, it's a valuable option to have.

The Note 3's new news-viewing tool, My Magazine, is unnecessary and annoying. It's basically just a custom-branded and dumbed-down version of Flipboard, and it's integrated into the Note at such a core system level that it's hard to avoid and easy to launch by mistake.

Excellent Google services take a back seat to subpar Samsung alternatives on the Note 3, even more so than on past Samsung devices. The Note 3 has system-wide access to the shoddy S Voice app, for instance, but not the far superior native Android Voice Search tool. And there's no longer a system-wide shortcut to get to the frequently praised Google Now intelligent assistant.

From a corporate-goal perspective, it's not difficult to understand Samsung's motivation in promoting its own services over Google's — but from a user-experience perspective, given the sharp drop in quality, it's disappointing.

At a Glance
Galaxy Note 3
Price: $300 at AT&T, $250 at Sprint, $300 at Verizon Wireless (starting October 10) with a new two-year contract; T-Mobile for $0 down and a two-year $29.50/mo. payment plan; U.S. Cellular sometime in October (no price yet available)

Pros: Excellent display; USB 3.0 for fast charging and data transfers; microSD slot for storage expansion; good battery life; superb pressure-sensitive stylus with accurate handwriting-to-text functionality

Cons: Hardware design feels cheaper and less premium than other smartphones; dated button configuration; inconsistent performance with occasional stutters and delays; bloated user interface; sporadic software errors

I've encountered semi-regular software glitches while using Samsung's S Pen apps and functions — usually several seconds of black followed by a force-close error. This kind of thing absolutely shouldn't happen with native software on a new phone. I can only hope Samsung addresses these issues with an over-the-air update soon.

I'm not going to spend much time talking about the Note 3's user interface, since it's largely unchanged from the Galaxy S4, but I will say this: You're getting Samsung's standard mishmash of clashing colors and inconsistent elements. You can, at least, cover up some of those sins with a custom Android launcher such as Nova Launcher, Apex Launcher or Action Launcher Pro. I tested the Note with each of those apps, and all the S Pen-specific enhancements — and even general Samsung-added software features like Multi Window —were accessible and worked fine in the third-party environments.


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