A Writer’s Wicked Review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3Reviews on new tech are a dime a dozen online. But I’m not going to bore you with a slew of sterile specs on this little device. You can look those up all over the web. What I AM going to tell you is that I’ve been waiting for weeks to review this particular device. As a writer, the pen option (not to mention the larger surface/display) had me all excited before I ever saw one up close.

You see, the problem with being a person who loves high tech and “old school” manual things — both at the same time — is usually one of practicality. I may spend longer than necessary trying to make technology work in a way that’s not really suitable — for instance, I may struggle with trying to make an app, my fat finger and a smallish phone screen work (poorly) when what I really need to do is jot down something with a pen and a piece of paper. The problem is, I travel light when possible, and although I always have my cell phone, I seldom have a pen and paper quite so handy these days.

I was looking for something that would bridge the gap between a cell phone, a tablet and a Moleskine journal with a pen. Now that you know my perspective, you can move along to my very personal review of the Verizon Galaxy Note 3. I’m a techie, I’m a writer, and I am impressed with a pretty GUI, so your mileage may vary…

First impressions

Yeah, I may be easy to impress at the beginning, but then I dig a little deeper… at first I thought three things:

  1. Wow, look at the SIZE of that screen! It’s so pretty! *grin*
  2. Ohhhh. look how THIN it is! It’s so light in my hand! *grin*
  3. Huh? What the hell is THAT? Where’s my microUSB charger slot? *groan* Oh, ok, ok, … it’s a USB3, the kind with the “squished” midsection instead of the blue plastic guide. As long as it’s not a “proprietary” cord, I’m ok. Whew! *deep breath*

What I discovered as I played a little longer

Graphics/Display

The screen responsiveness is kinda awesome and I must admit I like the animation on the lock screen (even though I removed the lock screen within minutes of powering it up). Lock screens bug me and slow me down about 300 times a day. the AMOLED screen is brilliant — in any light. I know. I tested every lighting situation I could find.

Dual/Split Screen

Dual (split screen) functionality – two apps at once! This is available from any screen by pulling out the left sidebar and selecting an app. The apps on this pull out drawer can be personalized and re-ordered by using the little “arrow” image at the bottom of the drawer. If you don’t like that pull tab for the drawer for some reason (say, for instance, if you are insane), you can turn it off by holding down the back button (hard button on the bottom right below the screen) until it disappears. Make it return the same way, when you discover the error of your ways and want it back. 🙂

The S Pen

The pen – crazy cool functionality! Admittedly, this feature fascinated me before I ever touched the Note 3. The fact that it stores inside the device (like the old palm styluses did) means it’s ever “at-the-ready.” Now that I have used it, it’s going to be really hard, if not impossible, to go back to a device that doesn’t offer the pen software. Simply put, I love being able to jot a note and organize my thoughts using a pen. I even like sending texts by writing out longhand. And the S-Note app gives me different notebooks in which to jot my thoughts. I’m in love.

Multiple Apps at Once

Beyond the dual screen, there is the ability to “draw” the size and shape of a new “floating” app that would stay on top of the active app for quick use. And… you can “draw” more than one and shrink them to tiny “bubbles” when not being used to keep them handy, but out of the way. Not all apps are available to be drawn in, but most of the ones I use most often for a quick info lookup or info storage are available: calculator, clock, YouTube, phone, contacts, Google hangouts and a browser. I’m not sure if the available apps can be changed or not.

I constantly create “floating” apps to use without interrupting other activities (like responding to a text without stopping my enjoyment a good movie on Netflix). Or calculating something to send information out (using the built in calculator) while sending an email — without losing my place in the email.

A Search … No, Really, A GREAT Search!

One search to rule them all…search all your apps and your phone itself from a single search prompt (accessible from the pen hovering menu). It searches chrome history for that article I was reading at work earlier today. It searches my calendar. If you are using Evernote and Google Drive apps (like I am), it also searches all your content there too! No more trying to remember where I put that thing I wanted to find later. So dang cool. That is all.

Make me a Scrapbook, or Two, or Three…

Using the scrapbook option from the pen menu is sweet! This amazing little tool to makes it easy to collect information while using the phone — something sorely lacking in all other smartphones I’ve used. I’ve already added test scrapbooks for three of my current projects and one for each of my blogs to gather ideas on things to cover or develop later. You can even write on top of whatever is on your screen (even webpages) and save THAT to a scrapbook.

Old-School Writing on a New Platform

Many of the apps offer a “writing” option via a pen icon that hovers near text boxes when you have the pen out. Touch that icon and a writing area pops up. The software does a great job of deciphering my chicken scratch into perfectly printed (typed) words. It’s really nice.

What I discovered by living with the device for a month

The antenna sucks. Sorry, it just does. There is no hope, not even a sliver, of getting a good connection on my farm. When shopping in a warehouse in town, I couldn’t get any signal at all (my Bionic had 4 bars of 3G in the same location.) Yes, I realize that antennas are still what my father calls a “dark art” — but it’s an art that most Motorola phones seem to have mastered. Samsung has not.

Fun with WiFi

The phone was auto-disconnecting from WiFi due to poor signal strength. It turns out, this isn’t a device issue, it’s an andriod setting. It happens when the signal isn’t great — so the phone switches you to LTE from WiFi to improve your experience. On the farm, that did NOT improve my experience, it had me talking smack to a phone.. a phone that politely told me to go to blazes, that it did not want to connect to a signal that was not rock solid. Basically, it told me that my wifi in the boonies wasn’t to its standards, so it was not going to connect at all… thank you very much.

(Note: To fix with any android device refusing to stay connected to a poor quality wifi connection and throwing errors… try this: (settings –>WiFi–> menu (the “hard button on the left bottom – not on the screen –> Advanced –> Auto network switch (uncheck that box!) Now. Life online can continue without harassment.)

Once this setting was tweaked, the Note 3 did just fine on WiFi — everywhere I went.

Voice Quality

The voice quality was abysmal in some environments — until I found the “noise cancellation” icon (on the display during a call) — and turned it off. Then, the voice quality is pretty dang good. That one took me a few days (and a few complaints from my callers) to figure out. I could hear them just fine, you see, so I didn’t immediately realize there was a problem. Without the noise cancellation, I’d say the voice quality is above average.

Holds up to Impending Doom – And a Month of Klutz Drama

This was my month of being a Klutz. I haven’t been this klutzy since I was a teenager. I’m not sure WHY, but the Note 3 survived me. When I test a device, I really live with it. I don’t just play with it at my desk a couple of times and call it done. It’s by my side (or in my pocket) 24/7.

I dropped the Note 3… SEVERAL times. It bounced. On hardwood floors, on carpeted concrete office floors, even on pavement as I stepped out of my van (forgetting that it was on my lap). This is a full-sized conversion van (none of that wimpy mini-van foolishness) so it was a LONG fall.

I also slipped on a step, lost my balance, and tumbled down a couple steps and landed on my backside. My fall broken by my amply padded behind and the Note 3 which was tucked in my back pocket. I’m amazed I didn’t crunch it on each of the endurance tests I unintentionally gave it. It collected a few small dings, but nothing serious.

All this was without any kind of case or protection. It just survived. (Thankfully, I did too.) This month appears to be a much less dangerous one than last (but it’s only a couple days in…)

Easy Mode

I write quite a bit on technology for senior citizens — what’s hot in this fast-growing segment of the technology market. With that said, I found an interesting little setting on the Samsung Note 3 called “easy mode” which simplifies the main functions of the device.

My first thought was — “Wow, this would be a really great way to ease someone into using all the features of this phone.” After all, the phone already offers a larger-than average screen which will prevent the errors caused by tiny icons and even smaller forms on websites. Heck, I can read the Note 3, even when I’ve misplaced my glasses … again.

Conclusion

I want to keep it. I love it. It’s the perfect size, the display is amazing, it has a PEN, it has built in software for the note-taker and journalist in me. It makes fantastic pictures. It’s pretty. It survived an amazing amount of abuse.

I can read on it (I haven’t used my Nexus 7 7″ tablet once since I got the Note 3 to test — I just use the Note 3). The battery is impressively long-lasting — especially in such a slim form. The onboard 32 gigs of storage can be expanded with a mini SD card (or multiple ones if you are the nerdy type that is prone to carry one SD card full of movies along with the one that is usually in the phone — not that I would do anything like that mind you — but some people are that geeky). *Whistles and looks at the clouds*

I was not able to test it as a mobile hotspot, since the demo unit I adopted didn’t have that feature added to the service plan. I would hope that it’s as impressive as a hotspot as it is in most other areas.

There were two updates the first week I had the device. One was a Verizon update, the other was a Samsung. Both did their thing without incident. No snags, nothing broken. Smooth. Nice.

I will own one. It offers too much. I’m not spending as much time on the farm these days, so I can forgive a little on the antenna issue (begrudgingly, but it offers EVERYTHING else I’ve ever dreamed a phone would offer). I WANT one.

The family and friends keep asking how I’ll manage when I have to send it back (today), and how long before I can buy myself one. I’m not sure on either count. I’m on “month to month” with Verizon, so I’ll have to pay full market price to get one — so it may be awhile. I can’t afford to go under a contract again because I’d lose my unlimited data that I have grandfathered in. And if you used as much data as I use every month, you would understand.

So, for now, I wait. Soon, though, I’ll have me one of these little beauties. SOON, I tell ya!

Disclaimer: I reviewed this product on request and gave my honest opinions of the strengths and weaknesses. There was no agreement as to the content of my review and the opinions expressed herein are my own.

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