The term "phablet" is a relatively recent addition to the smartphone dictionary. It describes phones with screens so large they begin to feel like small tablets. Silly though the name may be, it's an apt description for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The device's girth can make it cumbersome to hold against your ear, but the Note 3 packs more in that massive frame than almost any other phone on the market. That's why we've given it our TopTenREVIEWS Silver Award.
The Galaxy Note 3 is big. Thanks to a plastic chassis, it's lighter than some 5-inch smartphones, while being almost 6 inches tall with a 5.7-inch display. The screen is full 1080p, and though there are some phones with smaller displays that pack the same resolution, the interface on the Note 3 feels comfortably spacious. At 386ppi, the screen's pixel density might not compare to the crispness of competing phones, but your eyes won't be able to tell the difference.
The Note 3's physical construction is one of its few low points. Made entirely out of plastic, it feels cheaply manufactured. The phone's back cover has the look and texture of leather, complete with faux stitching along the rim, but it's just a polycarbonate shell. Even the metallic trim on the phone is only painted on, and pales in comparison to the aluminum and glass the competition enjoys.
Of course, all that plastic helps keep the Note 3 under the 6-ounce mark and hides some great features, including the device's trademark S Pen. A stylus that fits snugly inside the phone when not in use, the S Pen turns your Note 3 into a handwriting-recognizing machine, much like the Palm Pilots that predated smartphones. It's not just for jotting down notes, though; you can use the Pen to draw multitasking windows on the screen. Need to open up the calculator? Draw a rectangle on the screen, select the Calculator app from the menu that appears, and it will fill the rectangle. You can move your newly opened window, minimize it, maximize it or overlay other windows that you've drawn. The feature seems small at first, but it will transform how we think of multitasking on a phone.
American models of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 have 13-megapixel cameras. Like every smartphone we reviewed, they can shoot in 1080p, but a few models can also shoot 4K video – four times the resolution of your average HDTV, and the same format used in digital movie theaters – for up to five minutes. Which model you get depends on your carrier, so be sure to check the carrier's specifications page and look for references to 4K or UHD (Ultra-HD) video. You might feel a bit short-changed if your particular model can't, but thankfully, the Note 3 impresses anyway. Its camera takes crisp, beautiful shots in a variety of lighting conditions, and Samsung has included a number of software features that shutterbugs will enjoy.
Erase, for example, captures multiple photos and digitally removes objects that are in different places in each photo. If, for example, you want to take a picture of a building and cars keep passing by, you can take multiple photos; the moving cars will appear in different spots in each one. By then using the Erase function, you can remove those cars entirely from the final, composite shot.
Bigger screens usually mean more power draw, which can play havoc with a phone's battery life. Thankfully, the Note 3's size allows it to carry an extra large battery, giving it plenty of life between charges. You can enjoy 25 hours of talk time and over three weeks of standby time, or watch videos continuously for 13 and a half hours. The only area that the Note 3's battery struggles in is web browsing. Because most websites have bright white backgrounds, and showing a full screen of white uses up large amount of power, you'll only be able to browse the web for about five hours at a time.
The Galaxy Note 3 has a screaming-fast processor. It's not quite the speed of a 64-bit CPU, but it's the next best thing. The chip is a 2.3GHz quad-core and is mated with a full 3GB of RAM – more system memory than any other smartphone, which is why the Note 3 can multitask so well without slowing down. Of its 32GB of internal storage, only about 24GB is usable space; the rest is taken up by the Android operating system and Samsung's graphically heavy TouchWiz interface. Of course, like most Android devices, the phone has an expandable storage slot if you need more space for your music, photos and videos.
The Note 3 has all the technology features you'd expect from a modern smartphone, and a few you might not. Its compass, accelerometer and gyroscope work together so the phone always knows where it is and how it's oriented, which can be invaluable in certain apps. Communications technologies like Bluetooth wireless and 4G LTE connectivity come standard. You'll also be able to enjoy growing technologies like near field communication: The Note 3's NFC chip can talk with special scanners at extremely close ranges, so you can pay for a meal by waving your phone over a compatible pad. You can even control your TV with your Note 3, thanks to its integrated infrared blaster.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is a love-it-or-hate-it smartphone. If you enjoy having a lot of screen space to play with, you won't find a bigger phone. If you want a lot of speed, few CPUs can compete with its processor. The only major issue with the Note 3 is its size: It's incredibly cumbersome to hold like you would another phone, and you'll look foolish doing so. If you own a Bluetooth headset or a pair of headphones with an integrated microphone, use it, or risk feeling a tad ridiculous whenever you answer a call.
With plenty of screen real estate and the option to use a stylus to take notes, you can put that tablet of yours in a drawer.
Using the Note 3 as a phone can feel ridiculous.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is a giant smartphone that everyone can love – unless you're averse to wearing an earpiece or headset.