Samsung Galaxy Note 3 $700

4th Oct 2013 | 13:30

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Smarter, longer, faster, something else-er... this is an evolution and a half

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

The phablet is here to stay and the Note 3 is the best out there - fast, powerful and supremely functional.

Like:

Fast and smooth; Great battery; Full HD display; 4G;

Dislike:

Tricky to hold; Expensive; S Pen still limited; Tacky plastic rear;

Introduction

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is looking to continue in the same vein as the original Galaxy Note and Galaxy Note 2, offering you a phone which could almost be mistaken for a tablet and wants you to believe it's both.

Let's get one thing straight before we dive into this review though, the Galaxy Note 3 is only going to appeal to a narrow segment of users, it's certainly not going to have the broad appeal of the Galaxy S4, nor catch the eye of the fashion-conscious iPhone 5S purchaser.

Ratings in depth

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

The Note 3 isn't pretending to be anything it's not. It knows it's a big, some may say huge, smartphone and Samsung understands that form factor won't be for everyone.

That said, with big size comes big price, and the Galaxy Note 3 will set you back a wallet-busting £600 (around $950, AU$1,000) SIM-free.

The hefty price tag can be softened if you choose to pick the Note 3 up on a two year contract, but you'll still be paying a relatively high amount a month for the privilege - upwards of £35 per month in the UK if you want a free phone.

In terms of competition there's not a great deal which compares to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, but its closest competitor is currently the Sony Xperia Z Ultra which boasts a massive 6.4-inch which dwarfs even this handset.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

A quick glance over the Galaxy Note 3 and it does exactly what we thought it would do: takes over the mantle as the world's most powerful smartphone, although the advantage is a lot smaller this time.

First up we have to mention the display - it's grown again since the 5.5-inch offering on the Note 2 to a palm busting 5.7 inches complete with a full HD, 1080 x 1920 Super AMOLED display.

That's the same resolution as the Galaxy S4, but as the screen is larger on the Galaxy Note 3 the pixel count isn't as great at 386ppi, so it's not quite as pin sharp as its smaller brother. It still looks pretty impressive though - and so it should for the price Samsung is asking.

We're still waiting for Samsung to embrace the full metal chassis we've enjoyed on the HTC One and the iPhone 5, but it is trying something slightly different with the Note 3.

The Galaxy Note 3 has retained the metal frame from the Galaxy S4 running around the edge of the device providing a rigid body and a more premium look, but it's on the rear where Samsung has tried something new.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Lay the Note 3 face down, take a quick glance at the handset and it appears the rear is made of leather.

It isn't, of course, it's that famous plastic Samsung is so fond off. The finish is textured to give it the appearance of leather and this actually provides some much needed grip.

Those stitches running round the outside of the back cover? Well that's just a pattern formed in the plastic. It may not be everyone's cup of tea and it looks a bit tacky upon closer inspection, but the Note 3 does feel like a solid, well built device.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

On the plus side the plastic cover can be removed giving you access to the Note 3's sizable 3,200mAh battery as well as the microSD slot which is cleverly stacked on top of the microSIM port - allowing Samsung to save some space.

Somehow Samsung has managed to make the Galaxy Note 3 slightly smaller than its predecessor, measuring 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm. That's still quite a sizable device, but considering it's got a slightly larger display, beefier processor and more powerful 13MP camera it's an impressive feat.

Those of you blessed with smaller palms will still struggle to hold the Note 3 in one hand, especially when typing is involved, but thanks to its reduced weight (it's 168g, down from 183g on the Note 2) it's certainly the most manageable Note smartphone to date.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

The sheer size of the Galaxy Note 3 means you'll be constantly shuffling it up and down your palm as you try and reach the volume rocker and power/lock keys located towards the top on the left and right sides of the handset and the menu keys below the screen.

While the buttons are responsive, we found we tended to employ our second hand to help us out when moving from the power/lock key down to the home, menu and back buttons.

Under the hood of our review unit sat an insanely powerful 2.3GHz quad-core processor, although a select few markets will be treated to an octa-core option which houses two quad-core chips.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

You also get 3GB of RAM and the option of 32GB or 64GB of internal storage in the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, while the latest version of Google's operating system - Android 4.3 Jelly Bean - runs merrily on top of all this.

From the front you'll note there's a pleasingly slender bezel running down either side of that monster 5.7-inch display, while below you get the customary physical home key flanked by two touch keys - menu on the left and back on the right.

You can't see the touch keys when the Note 3 is idle, as their backlights are only displayed when you unlock the handset or tap the area they're located in.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

They are incredibly responsive though, and you don't have to worry about getting your finger right on the logo, the area of recognition is wide enough to pick up even the most misguided stabs.

Apart from the questionable leather-effect rear the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 offers up little in terms of design. Sure it looks a little more premium than the Galaxy Note 2, and it does feel well made - but at the end of the day it's a little uninspiring.

Those will petite palms or a penchant for skinny jeans will struggle with the size of the Note 3, but if you've been taken with its predecessors then you'll be happy to hear this is the best looking Note smartphone to date.

Interface

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 rocks up with the latest version of Google's mobile operating system on board - Android 4.3 Jelly Bean - and of course the Korean firm has slapped its TouchWiz overlay over the top.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

Only a handful of smartphones are actually running Android 4.3 at the moment, with the latest instalment of Jelly Bean limited mainly to Nexus devices for now - so it's pleasing to see it make its way onto a non-Google branded handset.

With a 2.3GHz quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM under the hood the Galaxy Note 3 is giving our laptop a run for its money in terms of power, and unsurprisingly Android is one smooth operator thanks to this.

This means skipping through homescreens, scrolling through the app list and generally dicking around with the notifications bar, settings menu and myriad of widgets is seamless.

If we're picky the transition of returning to the homescreen after pressing the physical button below the display is a touch slower than the other movements, but it's certainly not an issue.

While general operation is noticeably quicker than its predecessor (the Galaxy Note 2) there's no obvious step up in performance when you compare the Note 3 to the likes of the Galaxy S4 or HTC One.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

We've pretty much hit the top speed for navigating operating systems now and even though the Galaxy Note 3 has a massive processor squashed inside its plastic and metal frame, there isn't really any way for it to show off in the everyday interface.

Applications open promptly, holding down the home button furnishes you with the multi-tasking menu in next to no time and we could happily have over ten applications all fizzing around in here with no effect on performance.

There's a few options surrounding the lockscreen and these can be found in the 'Device' section of the Settings menu.

From there you can choose whether or not you want the time, date and weather displayed along with a personal message and app shortcuts when you hit the power/lock key on the right of the Note 3.

You can have five shortcuts on the lockscreen and these can be customised to any applications installed on the Galaxy Note 3.

Samsung appears to have merged its water-ripple unlock effect from the Galaxy S3 and the shard of light from the Galaxy S4 to provide what it's calling a 'watercolour' effect when you drag your finger across the lockscreen.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

It may not be anything special, but it's an attractive animation which we spent time just playing with, partly because the Note 3 can detect your finger even when it's not touching the screen.

This allowed us to hover our digit over the handset and still create the effect on screen, without unlocking the Note 3. Sometimes it's the simple pleasures in life which are the best.

Get past the lockscreen and you're greeted with several widget-heavy homescreens as standard. We deleted a lot of the widgets as they simply got in the way and we had no need for them - although with the vast selection on board you'll probably find a couple of things you'll want.

As with many Android handsets these days you can edit the number of homescreens you have, with a maximum of seven on offer, by simply pinching the display.

The 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display itself is as bright and colourful as you'd expect from a Samsung device, yet the quality isn't quite as good as the One, S4 or LG G2.

It may be full HD, but due to the Galaxy Note 3's larger screen the pixel density isn't as high and on comparison with other flagship handsets it's lack of clarity is noticeable.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

If you don't have another top of the range smartphone nearby though you probably won't have any complaints with the screen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Pull down the notification bar from the top of the Note 3 and you'll see Samsung's usual quick settings bar persists here - allowing you to toggle features such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC without having to visit the main settings menu.

We're big fans of quick settings and we've even seen Apple adopt a similar setup in iOS 7 with the inclusion of Control Center - but Android is where is happened first.

Hit the button in the top right of the notification panel and you'll be able to see all the quick settings available. There's a massive choice, with 22 options provided on the Galaxy Note 3.

You can edit which ones display in the bar on the main notification page by clicking the pencil icon at the top of the screen and then dragging and dropping the settings you want instant access to.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

Thanks to those impressive innards multitasking is no problem for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. To see which applications you currently have running hold down the home button and the familiar column of thumbnails will appear.

You can swipe across any particular thumbnail to close the application, and there's a close all button in the bottom toolbar along with a link to Google Now and the Task Manager.

From multitasking to multi-window, hold down the back key below the screen and you'll notice a little tab appears half way up the left side of the display.

Click this and a slender column of apps will appear. You can drag and drop these onto the screen to open them. Instead of having just one open however, you can drag two apps onto the screen and they will share the space 50:50.

Not every application is available to screen share, so you may find the choice a little limited depending on what you want to do, but it's a nice feature which works well.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

We've already mentioned about the Note 3's unwieldy size for one handed use in the introduction, but dive into the main settings menu and under 'Controls' you'll find the 'One-handed operation' option.

Hit this and you're severed up with various ways to customise the interface on the Galaxy Note 3 to improve usage if you commonly use just the one hand to hold your phone.

The Note 3 can adjust the position of the keyboard, dialling keypad, lock pattern and even the calculator to make things easier if you've only got one hand free.

We found this was a helpful feature, although the keyboard became smaller and thus we needed to ensure we were hitting the correct keys as travel between them was greatly reduced.

There's still the issue of actually being able to hold the Note 3 in one hand and for some of you that just won't be possible, with two hands required for a steady and secure experience.

S Pen

The S Pen, which has been given another overhaul in terms of design and software capabilities on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, is hidden in its own dedicated slot in the bottom right of the handset.

Now Samsung doesn't like to use the word "stylus" when talking about the S Pen, as it's much more than just a simple pointing device - but to all intents and purposes that's exactly what it is, an elaborate stylus.

Draw it out and the Note 3 vibrates and plays a little sound to let you know it's on its way. It's not always easy to slide the S Pen out, and we found it was harder to hook than on the Note 2. You'll need to have some nails to dig into the top of the pen to pull it free.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

We were a little perplexed when we unboxed our Galaxy Note 3 to find a small plastic bag with a pair of tweezers and four tiny pegs inside. There was no indication as to what these were and we spent some time looking for holes on the handset to stick them in.

It finally dawned on one of our colleagues that these were in fact spare nibs for the S Pen, and the tweezers where there to remove the current nib inside the stylus. A short, sharp tug and your used nib is free - make sure you fully engage the new one before wielding the stylus around though, or you'll find it flying out.

The top of the S Pen is metal, but that ribbed finish only accounts for a quarter of the stylus - the rest of which is rather cheap feeling plastic.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

The button still resides two thirds of the way down the S Pen, giving you some extra functionality above the generic tapping of icons and scrawling of notes.

Writing on the Galaxy Note 3 with the S Pen is by far the smoothest experience we've had with any of the Note smartphones.

The S Pen glides a lot easier across the screen, the responsiveness of the Note 3 is excellent and with the display being so near to the glass, this is as close as you'll get to actual handwriting on a mobile phone.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

Of course it's still obvious that you're dragging the S Pen over a sheet of glass and not a piece of paper, but we're unlikely to every get the same physical experience on a smartphone - just make sure you don't write too big, otherwise you'll run out of space pretty quickly.

As you'll see below Samsung has added lots of functionality for the S Pen on the Galaxy Note 3, but we can't help but feel a lot of it will purely be ignored by users.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

Sure most of these features are interesting, but we didn't experience a great deal of value add. They were cool to show off to our mates in the pub, but when it came to day-to-day operation we found the old ways were the best. Finger, tap, done.

Air command

When you've draw the S Pen from its Galaxy Note 3 cubby hole you'll notice a circular pop-up menu appears on screen labelled "air command."

There are five options here, and hovering the S Pen above each one on the screen, without touching it, will highlight it and display the name of the action.

The options are Action memo, Scrap booker, Screen write, S Finder and Pen window, and don't worry we'll explain what all this means.

If you're already wielding the S Pen in your hand and want access to the air command menu, just click the button on the stylus while holding it over the Note 3 screen and it will reappear.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

Action memo

Tap Action memo and the Note 3 will pop up a note taking window for you to scrawl on. There's a tutorial bubble over the top when you first select Action memo giving you a brief overview of what you can do here.

In simple terms Action memo lets you quickly note down things such as a phone number, email address or physical address and the Galaxy Note 3 can then convert your handwriting into actual text and link you to the dialler, messaging screen or map.

We were surprised at how accurately the Note 3 was able to read our poor handwriting, with mobile numbers and email addresses proving no issue.

Postcodes seemed to outwit the Galaxy Note 3, but we could get a pretty accurate location on a map by writing the first line of an address with the S Pen.

It's a clever setup from Samsung, but we're not sure if it really speeds up the process of noting down someone's number, address or email. You have to draw the S Pen out of the Note 3, select the Action memo icon and then ensure you're handwriting is at least half decent enough for the phone to recognise.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

Scrap booker

The second option in the air command menu is scrap booker, which allows you to draw around whatever is displayed on screen and save it for later.

It's more than just a simple screenshot tool though. Fire up the browser for example, circle an image in an article with the S Pen and the Galaxy Note 3 will cut that image out and save it to the Scrapbook app along with a link back to the website.

You can add notes to each scrap you collect and organise them into various different folders.

The concept is nice, but in practice we struggle to see when we'd actually use the scrap booker feature, with websites easy to bookmark and the screenshot function allowing us to capture whatever's on screen without having to mess around with the S Pen.

Screen write

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung is obviously keen for people to capture what's happening on screen on the Galaxy Note 3, as screen write takes screen capture to another level.

Tap the option in Air command and the Note 3 will take a screenshot of whatever is on screen at that time, and shoves you directly into an editor where you can use the S Pen to write/draw/doodle on top.

There are some potentially useful scenarios where you might employ screen write, such as annotating a map, highlighting points on a webpage or simply defacing a picture of your boss.

You can change the colour of the ink, and the style of brush, pen or pencil to give you various effects, plus crop and rotate are also present.

S Finder

S Finder is less complex than the previous few offerings here, offering up a search functionality for content stored on the Galaxy Note 3.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

Not only will S Finder search the handset for a word or phrase, it will also do a web search to offer you up even more results.

As well as selecting S Finder from the Air command menu you can quickly launch it by holding down the menu touch key below the screen.

It's hardly a breakthrough feature and its reliance on the S Pen is very minimal, but if you're looking for a particular item on the Note 3 and can't locate it then S Finder may well come in handy.

Pen window

The final option in Air command in Pen window which allows you to draw a window of any size you please on the screen and then select an app from a pre-determined list to fill it.

If you draw a window too small the Note 3 will automatically resize it to the smallest dimensions allowed - which is about a quarter of the screen.

Samung Galaxy Note 3 review

There are eight pre-installed apps which can be displayed in one of these pop up windows; calculator, clock, YouTube, Phone, Contacts, ChatOn, Hangouts and Internet.

Some applications downloaded from Google Play will also be added to Pen window, in our case WhatsApp also made an appearance in our line up.

Once you've selected an app you can move the window around the screen, resize it, make it full screen and close it - as well as actually use the app and continue to navigate around the phone using the rest of the remaining screen space.

You can have as many of these pop up windows open as you like, but we see absolutely no reason why'd you want more than one clogging up your screen at a time.

Contacts and calling

Contacts

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung's TouchWiz interface has always done a pretty good job of managing contacts and that continues with the Galaxy Note 3.

All your best buds, colleagues, vague acquaintances and doting family members can be found in the Contacts app, which has the same design as previous TouchWiz incarnations.

You can sign in to all manner of accounts from email to social networks and the Galaxy Note 3 will pull contacts from all sources into one contact list, doing its best to match people up with their various profiles.

The Galaxy Note 3 will pull through profile pictures from the likes of Facebook and Google+ (there's no Twitter tie-in though) to brighten up your contact list, and it also shows you which accounts have been linked to each person by the way of little icons next to their name.

This makes it easy to check that your buddies are linked up to all their various accounts, or if some manual joining is required.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

There will be some manual linking that needs to take place if you want your contact list in ship shape condition, especially is your friends use different names on their social accounts. This is easy to do, just tap on the contact you want to join and hit the chain icon to select the accounts to link together.

If you're blessed with a lengthy list of contacts you can quickly jump to the person you wish to speak to by typing in their name in the search bar, or by sliding your finger down the right hand side of the Note 3 display to jump to a particular lettered section.

You can directly call or text someone from the contacts list without having to tap through to their card - a simple swipe across their name from left to right will jump you straight into the dialler, while moving your finger in the opposite direction will see you transported to the new text message screen.

This is a feature which has long been a staple in Samsung's TouchWiz interface and although it's simple we always find it incredibly useful.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Tap through to a particular person's contact card and you'll see all the contact information the Galaxy Note 3 has managed to pull in for them from the various networks you've signed into.

A swipe sideways with a finger will see these details replace by a stream of that person's social media updates - allowing you to find out what they've been up to without launching a separate application.

You can star contacts to mark them as a favourite, and you'll see that they will also be displayed under the "Favourites" tab in the contact app, letting you get to the people you contact most regularly faster.

Adding a new contact is simple, just hit the plus button at the top of your contact list and you'll be shown a form where you can enter all the vital details on your new found friend.

Calling

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Unsurprisingly your main port of call when it comes to physically speaking to someone is the Phone application on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

There's nothing really new within the application, with the dialler being the default screen displayed when you open it up.

Smart dialling is enabled on the Galaxy Note 3, meaning the phone will offer up contact suggestions as you start typing in a number, plus it will also recognise names - e.g "323" is seen as Dad.

If you want to call someone back quickly tap the "logs" tab at the top of the screen and you'll be able to view a list of your most recent communications - both texts and calls - and with a swipe left to right you can call them immediately.

The favourites we mentioned in the contacts section are also available in the Phone app, allowing you once again to easily reach the people you speak to or message the most.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Lastly there's a link to the Contacts app, if you realise the person you wish to speak to is not one of your favourites and hasn't been in contact recently.

We found call quality on the Galaxy Note 3 to be very good, with crisp clear audio on both ends of the line, even when we were in nosier surroundings.

Calls made and received with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch however were less impressive, with the person on the other end complaining about the poor audio quality.

The Galaxy Note 3 also did a good job of holding onto signal and we didn't experience any connection issues or dropped calls during our review period.

Messaging

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 plays host to a wide range of messaging options from text and emails to social media and live chat.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung has preloaded the Galaxy Note 3 with a variety of applications which includes the stock Email, Gmail and text messaging apps, along with Google+ - the search giant's social network - and its own ChatOn instant messaging application.

If you fancy getting onto Facebook and Twitter then you'll need to pop over to Google Play and download the applications as they don't come pre-loaded. It's a little odd as to why Samsung doesn't have these preinstalled as it usually goes to town with bundled apps, so two more surely wouldn't hurt.

First up is text messaging, which sports an application which will be familiar to anyone who has used Android before, and to be honest it's not going to outfox those who are new to Android.

The Galaxy Note 3 does pull through your contact's profile pictures to the message overview page - something that not all smartphones do these days - and this makes the app look a little more appealing.

As we mentioned in the contacts section, you can quickly jump into the new message screen from the contacts app (or via the call log tab in the Phone app) by swiping your finger from right to left over a person's name.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

If you don't fancy this sliding interface then you can always do things the old fashioned way and hit the new message tab in the app and manually select your recipient in the "Enter recipient" box.

You can easily transform your SMS into a MMS by attaching a photo or video to the message - just hit the paperclip icon next to the text entry box. Make sure you check your tariff though, as these types of messages usually carry additional charges.

If the text is a little on the small side to read comfortably just hit the volume rocker switch on the side of the Note 3 and you can increase (or decrease) the font size. You can also do this by pinching the display.

The Note 3 will then remember the zoom level you have selected next time you return to the messaging application. It's a nice addition by Samsung and one which we found really useful.

As with all Android smartphones these days the Galaxy Note 3 comes equipped with both a standard Email app and Google's own Gmail offering which solely looks after googlemail addresses.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

The Gmail app is the same as you'd find on any Android phone, with a clean, simple layout making for an intuitive application.

Over in the general Email app things are a bit more developed, as you can sign into several email accounts here (including Gmail) and have them all feed into one universal inbox, saving you time as you don't have to route through each address for new emails.

If you are very popular and the unified inbox is becoming overrun you can view accounts on a singular basis too - just select the account you wish to browse from the left hand menu.

While the Galaxy Note 3 automatically zooms in on a HTML email when you open it - making it easier to read - unlike some other handsets you can zoom out to see an overview of the whole message on screen.

Thanks to the large screen on the Galaxy Note 3 you get more information - be it an email or text message steam - displayed at one time, meaning far less scrolling is required.

The full HD resolution also means text is crisp and clear, so reading the latest newsletter in your inbox is a breeze.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung's ChatOn service looks to take on the likes of BBM, iMessage and WhatsApp in the instant messaging game and while the application is well laid out and attractive enough, the reality is not enough people use it.

Samsung claims it now has over 100 million people signed up to ChatOn, so there's always the possibility that some of your mates will be on it.

Only seven of our friends in our extensive contact list actually had a ChatOn account, but we rarely saw any of these people online, meaning we didn't have much use for the application.

As we've already mentioned the Facebook and Twitter apps need to be downloaded from Google Play as they don't come preinstalled, but once up and running the Galaxy Note 3 provides enough power for a seamless social networking experience.

Keyboard

When it comes to typing on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 things can get a little tricky thanks to the sheer size of the handset.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

With the stock Samsung keyboard under thumb we struggled to tap out a message one handed, with our stubby digit really fighting to reach the other side of the display. This meant two hands are almost always needed if you actually want to type at a half decent pace on the Note 3.

Dive into the settings menu though and you'll find the "one-handed operation" section, where you can have the Galaxy Note 3 float the keyboard towards the left or right side of the screen.

This does allow you to reach all the keys a bit more easily with one hand, but they are smaller meaning errors are more likely to occur as your fingers can hit the wrong keys - ours certainly did.

The screen is responsive and the keyboard relatively accurate, although due to the width of the Note 3 it took us some time to get used to the spacing of the keys and work up to a decent typing speed.

There's a pretty decent spell check and next word prediction engine baked into the Samsung keyboard, but for an overall better typing experience we'd still recommend downloading SwiftKey.

Of course you can ditch the keyboard altogether in favour of the S Pen, which gives you the option to hand write your messages.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

While it's a novel idea we found that in practice it was actually quicker to use our fingers and the on screen keyboard to tap out a message.

The handwriting recognition was surprisingly accurate, but there's a noticeable pause between writing something and the Note 3 translating your scrawls into text.

Internet

As is customary on Android devices these days we're treated to two internet browsers on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 - the stock Internet offering and Google Chrome.

There's not a great deal of difference between these two options and you'll get a decent web surfing experience which ever one you plump for.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Chrome is a marginally cleaner offering with a light grey colour scheme and just the URL bar and tabbed browsing icons on display at the top of the screen, while the Internet browser also squashes in back and forward keys and a shortcut to bookmarks in this top bar.

Minimalism versus functionality then - take your pick.

Thanks to the beefy quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM stuffed inside the Galaxy Note 3 browsing speeds are pleasing quick, with the desktop version of TechRadar fully loading in just under seven seconds over Wi-Fi and 3G in both browsers - although you can start moving round the page and clicking links after four.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Mobile sites take around three seconds to load on a strong Wi-Fi or 3G connection, and you can take another second off all these load times if you're rocking a 4G connection on the Galaxy Note 3.

So load times are impressive putting the Note 3 up there with the best of them, and if we had to choose between the two browsers we'd say Chrome was a shade faster - but it's hard to tell.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Open a desktop site in Chrome and you'll see a zoomed out, full width display of the page, but in the Internet browser it automatically zooms in on the page, meaning you have to pinch the screen and zoom out manually to see an overview.

We prefer having the full width of the site shown to us when we visit, as it makes it easier for us to zoom in on the relevant area.

The 5.7-inch full HD display means text appears sharp and images well defined, but the clarity doesn't quite match the likes of the Galaxy S4 or HTC One.

Sadly there's no automatic text reflow in either browser. A double tap on an area of text will see the Note 3 zoom in so the text fits the width of the display, but it will still be too small for some.

You can zoom in further, but you end up having to scroll sideways to read sentences as well as down. You can adjust the text size of sites in both browsers, just hit the menu button below the screen and select settings.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

The stock Internet browser does have an ace up its sleeve in the form of Reader mode though. You'll see a green icon appear in the URL bar and if you hit that the Note 3 will strip out all the page furniture from the article you're viewing, serving you with just the text in a far more manageable form.

Both browsers support multiple tabs, allowing you to have several websites open at the same time, and it's easy to switch between them, add new ones and delete the ones you've finished with.

There's an icon in the top bar of both browsers providing a link to your open tabs, with neat little thumbnails showing which sites are open in each window.

If you need to do some private browsing then both clients support incognito mode, and an added benefit with Chrome is its ability to sync with Chrome on your other devices such as a laptop or tablet, allowing you to access the same favourites and have the same tab open on multiple devices.

Camera

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 comes rocking a powerful 13MP camera and the same fancy camera features found on the Galaxy S4, plus there's a 2MP camera round the front for those all important "selfies."

The camera app UI and shooting modes on the Galaxy Note 3 are borrowed from the Samsung Galaxy Camera, just hit the mode button on the right (when held in landscape) to bring up a scroll wheel of options.

You can view all the options at once by hitting the button in the bottom left corner of the screen if the wheel isn't clear enough, and we found it was much easier to find what we wanted in this exploded view.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Standard options such as Panorama and Sports modes are pretty straight forward, but Samsung's "innovation" comes into play with some of the more left field options such as Sound & Shot, Beauty Face and Animated Photo.

There's even a specific "Golf" mode included on the Galaxy Note 3, perfect if you're a regular on the green - and utterly useless if you've never set foot on a fairway.

If you're someone who likes taking photos of people then Best Photo and Best Face will be attractive options for you to use, with the former taking a eight snaps for you to then select the best one to keep.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

The latter is a similar concept, but focuses on the face only and it's capable of picking out several faces in a single picture. This is great for group shots as once you've taken the picture you can select each person's face and choose from five snaps to find their best smile.

These functions are all well and good, but you have to actually remember to turn them on when you come to take the photo, as the Galaxy Note 3 can't do these fancy things on auto.

This is annoying as we often forgot to switch a particular mode on, and the times we did the added process meant our subjects weren't quite as we'd hope they'd be.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

We found that most of the time auto mode was good enough, be it taking in a city landscape or going up close and personal with dinner.

There's also Samsung's bizarre picture-in-picture mode on the Galaxy Note 3, which uses both the front and rear facing cameras at the same time, so you can create a photo which features yourself as well as the subject you're shooting.

We're still a little perplexed as to when you'd actually use it, but the option is there if you find such an occasion.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Something we found irritating on the camera app on the Galaxy S4 and S4 Active was the shutter sound, with could only be turned off if the whole handset was on silent - and it's the same case on the Note 3.

A single LED flash just below the camera lens on the rear of the Note 3 is there to help you out in lower light too, plus a 4x digital zoom helps you get closer to the action - but image quality does suffer.

Shutter speed and auto-focus are both very quick and this means you can take a succession of photos without having to wait in between snaps.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Thanks to its larger sensor the Galaxy Note 3 is capable of taking some very nice photos, with a maximum resolution of 4128 x 3096.

Images on the whole are well defined, bright and detailed, plus the tap-to-focus allows you to get the depth of field just right.

The camera on the Note 3 won't disappoint and while it doesn't offer the same quality as the Lumia 1020 or Sony Xperia Z1 you're unlikely to find issue with it. Its size however, may be a hindrance when it comes to actually holding it up.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

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Video

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 offers up a bit of a treat when it comes video recording, as it supports 4K quality footage at 30fps.

This makes the Note 3 one of very few smartphones to offering this UltraHD recording level, and it's all down to the Snapdragon 800 processor housed inside.

That means it can output video at 3840 x 2160 - although you'll only be able to truly enjoy it if you have a 4K monitor or TV. Saying that, it still looks great on whatever screen you watch it back on.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

If you fancy saving some storage space you can always opt to record in 1080p, full HD at 60fps instead.

Whether you opt for 4K or 1080p the Galaxy Note 3 produces relatively smooth, colourful footage, although if there's a lot going on in the scene it will struggle to work out where to focus.

You can always tap the screen to override the auto-focus here, and if you do so a button labelled "AF" will appear on the display allowing you to return to auto-focus if you so wish.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

A nice feature we enjoyed using while recording was the ability to take pictures, as the camera shutter key stays on screen even when you've started rolling.

If you want to use the LED on the rear of the Note 3 as a light while recording you'll need to turn it on before hitting record, as there's no way to toggle the light when filming.

As with the camera you can implement the 4x digital zoom while recording, but footage quality will take quite a hit so we'd advise against using this.

Thanks to that 4K recording quality the Galaxy Note 3 is capable of capturing some of the best video of any smartphone, so any budding film producers out there will want to check this out.

Media

With a huge amount of power and massive full HD display the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is ready to take on all the media you can throw at it.

There's the choice of 16GB, 32GB and 64GB of internal storage, and if you plump for one of the latter two you'll have plenty to be getting on with. However if you find yourself reaching the limits of the Note 3's internal storage help is at hand in the form of a microSD slot.

Hidden behind the removable plastic rear cover the slot can support cards up to 64GB in size and we find this is the best way to get new content onto the Note 3 as it saves you having to plug it into a computer.

Of course if you don't have a microSD card to hand you can always dig out the bundled USB cable and hook the Note 3 up to your PC, where you'll be able to simply drag and drop content over to the phone.

Music

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

If you want to listen to tunes on the Galaxy Note 3 head over to the well equipped Music app where you'll be greeted by an intuitive setup with a wealth of options available to you.

When you open the app up you're greeted by the usual list of tracks sorted by title, artist, album and playlist, making it easy to find the song you want and the inclusion of album art in these sections makes everything look a whole lot nicer.

Tap a song to start playing it and a bar will appear at the bottom of the screen allowing you to see what track you've chosen while you continue to browse your music.

You can get to the now playing screen by tapping the bar at the bottom of the screen, and once transitioned you'll find the usual options of play/pause, skip, shuffle and repeat.

Favourite tracks by hitting the star icon just below the album art and view queued tracks in the current playlist by tapping the icon in the bottom right corner.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

At the top of the screen a simple volume slider resides in one corner while on the other side is a device selection option.

From here you can select to stream music to or from another device, allowing you to share your music with others or listen to a track which lives on your computer.

Press the menu key below the screen and you'll be greeted with more settings to play with such as pairing with Bluetooth speakers or headphones, sharing your tunes with other Note 3 and Galaxy S4 handsets via Group Play and setting the track as a custom ringtone.

Tap settings in this menu and you'll be given some more options including various sound setups via SoundAlive, playback speed adjustment and whether or not to show lyrics.

Smart volume will monitor each track and adjust the volume of the Galaxy Note 3 to ensure they are equal - saving you from any nasty audio shocks when a floor filler follows a heart-felt love song.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

The music app also comes with handy notification bar and lockscreen widgets, giving you control over your music playback from pretty much anywhere on the Galaxy Note 3.

Playback via a half decent set of headphones is very good while the rear speaker on the back has been given some love since the Note 2 with a less tinny sound - although it's still not the best quality and doesn't match Boomsound on the HTC One.

If you fancy checking out some new music then there's a vast library in Google Play where you can purchase and download songs, plus Google's new All Access streaming service lets you play millions of songs for £9.99 a month.

The Samsung Hub is an iTunes-esque offering of music, movies, TV shows and books and it boasts a decent selection of tracks if you're looking to grow your library even more.

Video

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

The 5.7-inch full HD Super AMOLED display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is well equipped for video playback and it doesn't disappoint.

We dubbed the Galaxy S4 "head and shoulders above the rest" when it came to video playback and while the Note 3 doesn't quite reach the same heights thanks to a lower pixel density due to the size of its screen, it's still manages to hold its own.

The Galaxy Note 3 comes with a dedicated video player app pre-installed, something we don't see very often on phones, and while it may not be stuffed full of features it is easy to use.

We already know the Note 3 has some impressive processing power behind it, and you're reminded of that when you open the video player, as all the thumbnails of the videos you have on the handset start to play at once - given you an excellent little preview of what you have at your finger tips.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

The frame rates are greatly reduced in order to do this which makes everything a little jumpy, but that's not really a bad thing and it's an impressive feat to behold.

On the main player window you're not overloaded with options, but it does offer up a few extras above play, pause and skip - the main one being pop out play.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Pop out play lets you stick the video you're watching into a little window on screen and then go about using the Note 3 to complete other tasks such as browsing the web or sending a text message.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

There's less than a second of delay from clicking the button to the app closing and the video window appearing on your homescreen, and it's a noticeably quicker transition than we experienced on the Galaxy S4 and S4 Active.

You can pause the footage (and then resume it) at any point with a single tap on the pop up window, and a double tap will see you returned to the full screen action.

Playback quality is really good with crisp textures and rich colours making for an excellent movie viewing experience.

We chucked a whole load of video formats at the Galaxy Note 3 and it happily played everything including AVI, WMV, MP4 and DivX.

If you fancy watching something new then you can head over to Google Play or the Samsung Hub where there's a vast array of movies and TV shows available to buy or rent.

Photos

The gallery is the place you need to be if you fancy browsing your photos, with everything from the ones taken with the Note 3 camera to those pulled through from social media sites awaiting your perusal.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Everything is laid out in clear, attractive thumbnails making it easy to flick through pictures and find the ones you like.

Select any picture and you can share it via social media or another communication method such as email, as well as stream it to a larger screen so you can show off your holiday snaps at your next box social.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

If you're not completely happy with some of your photos then hit the edit option and the Galaxy Note 3 will take you into a basic picture editor where you'll be able to apply all manner of effects, frames and stickers to create a masterpiece.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

The drawing option is worth looking into a bit more here, as the inclusion of the S Pen on the Galaxy Note 3 means you're able to make more accurate annotations and touch ups.

You can select from a number of brush styles and line thickness, plus there's a whole host of colours available via a colour picker to ensure you get the perfect shade.

Battery life and connectivity

Battery life

Battery life on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is impressive. Part of that is down to the Snapdragon 800 processor which provides various power saving capabilities and the other part is down to the 3200mAh battery Samsung has squashed inside the slender frame.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

There's more good news in the battery department with the rear cover coming off the Note 3, giving you access to the removable power pack. This means you can carry fully charged spares with you if you know you'll be away from a plug for a while.

We feared battery life might not be up to much thanks to the full HD, 5.7-inch display which adorns the front of the Note 3, but we were pleasantly surprised.

An hour of music playback while playing a game for 20 minutes and a bit of social media and emailing saw the battery drop by just 7% on our morning commute.

We even tethered our Galaxy Note 3 to our laptop to benefit from its mobile internet connection, and even that didn't drain the battery greatly.

With average usage - emailing, texting, a few calls, a bit of gaming, some social media fun and web surfing - the Galaxy Note 3 was able to comfortably see out the whole day without wailing for a charger.

Of course as soon as you turn the brightness up to full and settle down to watch a movie the battery life starts to suffer, but it certainly isn't anything to worry about.

We ran our 90 minute video text, with screen brightness on full and various accounts syncing in the background and the Galaxy Note 3 only lost 13%

This makes it far superior to the Galaxy S4, HTC One and Sony Xperia Z which all lost at least 19% of battery life during the same test. Impressive stuff Samsung.

If you find you're struggling with battery life then turn on Power Saving Mode - there's a toggle in the quick settings of the notification bar - to eek out some precious extra life from the Galaxy Note 3.

Connectivity

There's a wealth of connectivity options at your fingertips with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, with all the usual suspects such as Wi-Fi, 4G and Bluetooth 4.0 low energy all present and correct.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

As well as the standard Wi-Fi a/b/g/n support you can also turn the Galaxy Note 3 into a wireless hotspot, allowing you to share your network's internet connection with other devices such as laptops and tablets.

If you're lucky enough to have a 4G SIM-card inside the Note 3 you'll be able to get some pretty descent speeds through the hotspot connection, just make sure you keep an eye on your usage so you don't rack up a huge bill.

Near field communication (or NFC as it's better known) hides below the plastic rear of the Note 3, and you'll need to use it to pair the handset with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

You can also use NFC to share data such as contact details, photos and videos with other enabled handsets as well as pair your Note 3 to NFC capable accessories such as home entertainment systems and headphones.

GPS is on board ensuring the Galaxy Note 3 can pinpoint your location on Google maps as well as attach your location to any Facebook status or Tweet you post to the world.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Thanks to the quick settings panel in the notifications bar you can easily toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, mobile date, NFC and the wireless hotspot at pretty much anytime without having to dive into the full blown settings menu.

To complement the 32GB/64GB of internal storage housed inside the Galaxy Note 3 you can expand on it by up to 64GB with a microSD - just pull the cover off the back of the handset and slot your card in on top of the microSIM.

DLNA support also features on the Galaxy Note 3, allowing you to stream video, photos and music to other enabled devices such as SmartTVs and laptops.

This means you can watch a film on your Note 3 on your big TV at home without having to dig out a cable - handy.

Maps and apps

Maps

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 comes equipped with the excellent Google Maps, which is the best mapping solution for mobile currently available.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Firing up the Maps application the Note 3 was able to pinpoint our location in just a couple of seconds and maps rendered quickly, which is great as we've been left waiting for ages by other phones as they churn through all the data.

Panning and zooming is smooth and fluid, thanks in part to the powerful processor and decent chunk of RAM inside the Note 3, making browsing the maps and working out routes a pleasing experience.

The expansive, full HD display on the Galaxy Note 3 comes in handy when viewing maps, as more information can fit on screen at one time and the high resolution means even the more detailed parts of the map are clear.

If the standard map view is a little boring you can always open the menu on the left and select satellite for a birds eye view of the land, and if you fancy getting up close and personal Google's StreetView functionality is available too, allowing you to virtually walk along streets.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

You can save sections of the map for viewing offline, perfect if you're travelling abroad and want a map of the local area on your phone. Just tap the search bar and scroll down to the bottom of the suggestions and you'll find the "make this map area available offline". Tap this and the Note 3 will start downloading the map.

It can only save small segments of a map at a time, so you won't be able to save the whole of England, but we were able to save the whole of London in one go.

You can also use Google Maps to plan routes by car, foot, bicycle or even public transport, with it offering up three potential routes to your destination and estimated journey times for each.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

This is taken a step further with the free turn-by-turn navigation system included with Google Maps and we found the Galaxy Note 3 was a great sat-nav replacement thanks to its large screen and loud internal speaker for the verbal instructions.

It was able to keep track of our location in a built up town as well as in the open countryside.

Apps

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Unsurprisingly the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 comes with Google Play on board, giving you access to over 900,000 applications and games.

There's a wide range of apps available for free - but watch out for hidden charges in-game - and paid for options start at a reasonable 69p/99 cent.

It's not just applications and games in Google Now, as we mentioned in our media section it also offers up movies, TV shows, music, books and magazines.

Taking all that onboard it seems like Google Play has everything pretty much tied up, but not according to Samsung which forces its own app store onto its handsets as well.

Samsung Apps provides a smaller selection of apps and while some of the bloatware found in Google Play has been removed everything available here can also be obtained from the Play store.

In some rare cases apps are actually more expensive in Samsung's store, so always make sure you check both before parting with your cash.

We'd recommend ignoring Samsung Apps altogether and focussing all your download efforts into Google Play instead.

Samsung likes to preinstall lots of its own applications onto Android smartphones in an attempt to add extra value, and the Galaxy Note 3 is no exception.

You get the apps such as S Note, Scrapbook, S Health, Knox and Story Album all included on the Note 3 out of the box.

My Magazine

The popular Flipboard application, which automatically curates a news magazine based on your interests and reading habits, has been baked into the TouchWiz interface on the Galaxy Note 3.

Slide up from the bottom of the screen, as you would to launch Google Now on the Nexus 4, and you're transported to the My magazine app, which uses the Flipboard backend to curate an enhanced experience for Samsung users.

As well as getting your general news posts from around the web and the social integration we've come to expect from Flipboard Samsung has added a "Personal" channel to My Magazine, which keeps track of the key things you've been doing on your Note 3 and suggests applications which may suit you.

It's had a slight design overhaul too, although it's not much of a looker and we much prefer the native Flipboard app in terms of functionality as well as aesthetics.

S Note

No prizes here for guessing what sort of app S Note is - yep that's right it lets you take notes. Pretty simple stuff on the surface.

It is a little bit more complicated than that though, thanks to the inclusion of the S Pen. With this you can handwrite notes onto the screen and then have it transformed into text. As well as transforming text S Note is also capable or recognising shapes and formulas.

You can select different styles of brush for the S Pen along with colours if you want to get really creative, plus you can add several pages to your notes, and even an index page, making them into folders of information.

There's the option to add media to your notes such as voice memos, images, video, maps and more, leading the humble note taking application into the 21st century.

S Health

Samsung is looking to get in on the growing fitness with its S Health app aimed at keeping people moving by tracking exercise and counting calories.

S Health comes preinstalled on the Galaxy Note 3 and monitors your vital statistics, such as weight and height, alongside your workout schedule and diet to give you various goals to aim for.

If you want to keep things simple you can just fire up "Walking Mate" (a pedometer) to make sure you're hitting 10,000 steps a day (or however many you want to do).

There's even a handy homescreen widget to keep you updated on the number of steps you've done so far.

For those of you looking for something a little more intense however then the S Health also has you covered with a wide range of activities to choose from.

Select the workout you're going to perform, cycling for example, and the S Health app will be able to monitor how many calories you've burnt.

Overall S Health is an intuitive application which will be great for anyone looking to do some exercise, but anyone who's more invested in workouts may want to look at third party options which provide greater detail and more options.

Hands on gallery

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Official gallery

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is alive and kicking and breathes yet more life into a mobile form factor many thought would be dead on arrival, ramping up the specs and the size to give us a new monolith of mobile.

It's size certainly won't appeal to everyone, but those looking for a super-powered smartphone with all the latest tech on board should definitely be checking out the Galaxy Note 3.

We liked

It may be big, but the full HD, 5.7-inch display is fantastic and the Super AMOLED technology makes everything pop from websites to movies.

You're able to fit a lot more on screen at a time and that means less scrolling in messages, on websites and down your long contact list and that can only be a good thing.

What really impressed us with the Galaxy Note 3 though was its battery life. With such a big screen and powerful processor we were half expecting to find ourselves dashing for the charger shortly after lunch.

Instead we managed to coast all the way to bedtime still with a respectable chunk of battery left after relatively high usage throughout the day.

That power also produces a beautifully smooth and fluid user interface, and coupled with the power of 4G you won't be kept waiting by the Galaxy Note 3.

We disliked

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The price is steep, but we always knew it would be. The Galaxy Note 3 is, after all, the most powerful smartphone currently on the market, but the price tag still makes us wince every time we see it.

Samsung is sticking by plastic, for now, and while that's not a terrible thing to do we have taken issue with the rather tacky faux-leather rear of the Note 3. While from the front and the side it looks like a premium device, it's really let down by the finish on the back.

We're also still not sold on the whole S Pen idea. There's a stronger case for its use on tablets with the bigger screens allowing for better usage, but at this size we find handwriting is slower than typing and it's generally just a bit of a hassle having to dig the S Pen out all the time.

The Air command features Samsung has included are clever, but we struggle to see why anyone would use them regularly, if at all.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is a great phone and if you were to own one you wouldn't be disappointed. It provides a great onscreen experience - as long as your hands are big enough to reach across it - and its stuffed full of tech to almost warrant its lofty price tag.

Its size will be a real stumbling point for many and we'd recommend going into a store and just holding the Note 3 for a while to see if it's something you can cope with.

There will be some people out there who will love the inclusion of the S Pen, and it totally makes sense in the Asian markets where text input is greatly enhanced with a stylus, but in the Western world its uses are far more limited.

This is the best Galaxy Note smartphone to date and if you're a fan of the range then you'll love the Note 3 - but if you're looking for the best smartphone in the world you'll need to look elsewhere.

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