Hands-on with the Galaxy Note 3

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The Galaxy Gear smartwatch bbviously stole the show at Samsung’s Unpacked event in Berlin tonight, but what about the Galaxy Note 3? It’s worth remembering that Samsung was mocked in some corners (including by me, regretfully) when it launched the original oversized Note, but now that phablets are outselling tablets and laptops combined in Asia, and everyone else is rushing to catch up with their own models, Samsung looks to have been the canny one a couple of years ago.

The Note 3 is a big upgrade to what’s gone before. And by big, I mean the screen is now a whopping 5.7inches in diagonal: but like the change between S3 and S4, the physical size of the Note 3 is fairly unchanged from the Note 2. It’s slightly slimmer, in fact, and amazingly not as wise (although it is taller). Measuring 151.2×79.2mm and weighing 168g, it does feel quite different in the palm.

But it’s not the specs that have that effect. The back of the tablet is now stitched leather.

While that could be a complete design cliche, it actually works very well. The Note 3 feels more comfortable to hold, lighter and slightly slimmer and the leather back should prove more robust than the previous plastic – it also makes a change from the usual run of the mill materials we see everywhere, and even aluminium frames get tired after a while Plus, Samsung has fixed my biggest bugbear with the Note 2 – you can now use the S Pen to operate the softkeys at the bottom of the phone (before, switching between fingers and pen was frustrating).

Not happy with that? There’s a ton of covers, windowed and flip, available in a variety of materials and colours to suit your taste. Including some designer ones from the likes of Moschino available at launch.

The S-Pen has been redesigned and there’s a new series of gestures to interact with the phablet through a command wheel Samsung is calling Air Command. Hold the action button, the wheel appears and presents you with arange of options for clipping content from websites or writing handwritten notes.

Those, by the way, can now turn into system commands automatically – write a name and a number and you’ll prompted to save the details as a new contact. Scribble a location, and it’ll open up the maps app for directions. The S Note app, meanwhile has also been redesigned and still syncs with Evernote – in fact, it now comes with a year’s free subscription to Evernote premium.

And, of course, it works with the new Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch.

Multitasking has been overhauled, too. You can now drag and drop things like pictures between running apps, and have two instances of the same app open – so you can run two chats at once or view two picture galleries. There’s special attention paid to some basic apps like the calculator, which now float over the top of other windows so you can quickly use them then close them down.

S Finderis a new omnisearch feature which will look for a string in everything you own, including handwritten notes.

It touts some serious specs as well: a 13MP camera on the back with a redesigned flash, and 1.9MP on front. More impressive is the fact it can shoot 1080p videos at 60fps, or even directly encode 4K video recording from the camera – if you have a TV to match. Audio processing gets a kick too, it now has 24bi/192kHz sampling, just like a professional sound card.

Inside there’s 3GB RAM and a 3200mHa battery, which Samsung says it good for 13 hours of 1080p video play. As with the S4, there’s two models available, one with a 2.3GHz four core Snapdragon 800 chip that does LTE, and another with a 1.9GHz Exynos processor for 3G.

You also get Samsung’s Knox thrown in, which is useful.

On sale date is the same as the Galaxy Gear – 25th September in 149 unspecified countries, October for the rest.

Adam Oxford

Adam Oxford

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.

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