The term "phablet" is a fairly 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 sheer girth can make it cumbersome to hold against your ear, but the Note 3 packs more in that massive frame than many of the other smartphones in our reviews offer.
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 some phones with smaller displays 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 cheap. 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 paint, 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 predate 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 you've drawn. The feature seems small at first, but it will transform how you think of multitasking on your phone.
American models of the Note 3 have 13-megapixel cameras. Like the cameras of every smartphone we've reviewed, they can shoot 1080p, but a few models can also shoot 4K video – four times the resolution of 1080p, 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.
As for the camera itself, its pictures are beautiful and serviceable, but err on the overexposed side and are often rife with tiny artifacts at full resolution. If you just take pictures and post them on Facebook, you'll never notice the difference, but shutterbugs may scoff at the breakdown of detail in complex shots. Look at our gallery for examples of the photos we took with the Note 3.
Bigger screens usually mean more power draw, which can play havoc with even the best smartphone'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 1/2 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 a large amount of power, you'll only be able to browse the web for about five hours at a time.
The 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 has, 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 top 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 is invaluable in certain apps. Communication technologies like Bluetooth 4.0 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 the Note 3's processor. The only major issue with the Note 3 is its size: Its width makes it cumbersome to hold like you would another phone, and you'll feel foolish doing so. If you own a Bluetooth headset or a pair of headphones with an integrated microphone, use them, or risk feeling ridiculous whenever you answer a call.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 offers plenty of screen real estate and a stylus for taking notes, so you can put that tablet of yours in a drawer.
Due to its size, 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.