With each successive iteration in the Galaxy Note series from Samsung, the company has offered more performance, bigger screens and incremental improvements. For this third time around, we get a truly flagship quality product in the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, boasting some of the beefiest specs on the market with one of the biggest screens in the business. Now that the novelty factor of larger smartphones has worn out a little, do we still want to have a device like this for our daily duties?

The Noteworthy Spec Sheet


When the first Galaxy Note was released, Samsung wasn’t really sure how the public was going to react. Now that a couple of years have passed, we can quite plainly see that phablets are not only here to stay, but they’ve also become something of a sensation. With even larger devices like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, we’re clearly seeing that we’re using our phones as phones far less than we are as multimedia and web-connected handhelds.

The key features on the third Galaxy Note largely reflect this kind of sentiment. Behind that gorgeous 5.7-inch 1080p (386ppi) Super AMOLED display, you’ll find a quad-core processor (varies by exact model), a whopping 3GB of RAM, 13MP rear camera, 2MP front camera, 16/32/64GB of internal storage, up to 64GB of additional storage via microSD, LTE support, S Pen, Android 4.3 and a 3200mAh battery. For the most part and for the time being, these are industry-leading specs and deservedly so.

A Refreshed Look and Feel


In the first couple of Galaxy Note smartphones, we got this glossy plastic back that was incredibly slippery to hold. Especially given the larger dimensions of the line, we need to get a better grip. To that end, Samsung has refreshed some of the design cues for this go around with a language that is echoed in the 2014 Edition Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet as well.

The most notable here is the premium-ish back. It’s still made of thin and flexible plastic, but you get a leather-like texture that offers a better grip. It’s still not super grippy, but along with some of the grooves in the chrome sides, the Galaxy Note 3 doesn’t suffer from the same “cheap” appearance of its predecessors. You can even replace the back with a case that integrates both the back and a smart flip cover. That’s pretty cool.

S Pen and Multitasking


It wouldn’t be a Galaxy Note without the stylus S Pen. We definitely see that here again with the improved S Pen sliding into its dedicated slot in the lower right of the phone. This isn’t a terribly different experience from the Galaxy Note II and I didn’t find myself using the S Pen features all that much, but there are nifty functions that you may enjoy.

Yes, you still have the ability to take handwritten notes and you can still scribble on your screenshots or other images, of course. It is nice how, if you take the S Pen out, hover it over the display, and press the little button on the side, you bring up the partial circle for some quick access to five different features and functions. For example, the Pen Window lets you draw a rectangle of any size, proceeding to occupy that space with a floating web browser, calculator, YouTube window and so on. This all hovers over whatever you were previously seeing, making for some great multitasking. And yes, you can draw multiple windows.

Camera Photo Samples

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Sample Photos

Sure, you could look to the 41-megapixel camera on the Nokia Lumia 1020, but the 13-megapixel shooter on this phone isn’t exactly a slouch either. I was able to get some very usable shots in a variety of lighting conditions and, following Samsung’s tradition, the camera app comes with different settings and effects that you can use too.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Sample Photos

I would not say that the resulting photos blew me away, particularly when it came to tougher contrast situations like the Christmas light display shown above, but as far as smartphone cameras go, the Galaxy Note 3 holds its own just fine.

Benchmark Scores: AnTuTu and 3DMark

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It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that the benchmark scores on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 are right near the top of the class. The AnTuTu benchmark saw scores in the 36,000 range, beating out the Sony Xperia Z Ultra (34,000 range) and the LG G2 (30,000 range). That’s very impressive. Using the most intensive 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, the Galaxy Note 3 got scores in the 19,000 range. If you’re looking for a powerhouse, this is it.

MEGATechie Next Big Thing or MEGATechie Not a Big Deal?


Make no mistake. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is easily one of the most powerful smartphones on the market today. It boasts a gorgeous display, offers more than ample performance, and then you have the S Pen for added functionality. I appreciate the more premium feel of the device compared to previous generations, but it’s still unmistakably plastic. It’s also debatable whether you want to contend with something that has such a large 5.7-inch display.

Samsung has made some optimizations to improve one-handed operation, like being able to push the numeric keypad to one side or the other. You can even shrink the entire display, so to speak, into a smaller “window” if you’d like. All this said, it’s still notably larger than its smaller cousins and the lack of true pocketability could be a deal breaker for some.

If you’re willing to accept the size and the plastic, the Galaxy Note 3 is a solid choice for as low as $150 on contract. Then again, CES is next week, so the entire landscape could be turned upside down again.

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