Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

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

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review
The next step in the Note family?

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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.

John McCann
Global Managing Editor

John joined TechRadar over a decade ago as Staff Writer for Phones, and over the years has built up a vast knowledge of the tech industry. He's interviewed CEOs from some of the world's biggest tech firms, visited their HQs and has appeared on live TV and radio, including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, LBC and BBC Radio 4. Originally specializing in phones, tablets and wearables, John is now TechRadar's resident automotive expert, reviewing the latest and greatest EVs and PHEVs on the market. John also looks after the day-to-day running of the site.