The Galaxy Note 3, unveiled Wednesday, has a soft, leather-like back. It feels like you’re holding a fancy leather-bound journal. Grooves on the side of the big-screen phone make it easier to grip.
There’s too much going on. Between Scrapbook, My Magazine, Air Command and dozens of other functions, it might take even the most experienced smartphone user several hours to figure out.
With its leather-like back and the stitching around it, the phone feels expensive and well made in my hands. The soft back can be snapped off the phone to reveal the battery. Samsung will sell replaceable back covers in several different colors, but the phone itself will come in just three: black, white or pink.
The Note 3 has a bigger screen than its predecessor, measuring 5.7 inches (14.5 centimeters) diagonally compared with the Note 2’s 5.5 inches (14 centimeters). But it still weighs less (5.9 ounces (167 grams), compared with 6.4 ounces (182 grams)) and is slightly thinner (at 0.33 inch (8.4 millimeter) rather than 0.37 inch (9.4 millimeter)).
The biggest changes are with the S Pen. The pen unlocks a new feature called Air Command. With that, you can open five other features:
- With Action Memo, you can handwrite a note.
- Scrapbook lets you circle content you like, such as a YouTube video or a news article. It automatically saves and organizes the content into a format that’s easy to scroll through. Scrapbook, with its boxy format, looks a lot like social media site Pinterest.
- Screen Write captures a screen and allows you to write comments on that captured image.
- S Finder is the phone’s search engine, to find chat messages, documents or other content on the phone.
- Pen Window, the most promising of the five, lets you access one of eight apps by drawing a box of any size on the screen. Let’s say you’re on a Web page and need to calculate something. You can open Air Command, then Pen Window. Draw a box on the screen, and eight icons pop up. You then click the one for the calculator. Pen Window currently opens a limited number of applications: calculator, clock, YouTube, phone, contacts, a Web browser and two separate chat apps – Samsung’s ChatON and Google’s Hangouts. It’s possible Pen Window will support additional apps later.
During a presentation beamed into the New York hotel’s TV sets from Berlin, where Samsung unveiled the device, a company executive said pointing the pen to the screen was all it took to open Air Command. That wasn’t the case. A Samsung representative in New York showed me how to use it.
Another new feature, My Magazine, was also hard to find. My Magazine was developed in partnership with Flipboard, an app that pulls content from news sources and your social media accounts and presents it in an easy-to-read magazine format. My Magazine does the same thing. It is customizable, pulling news content from various news sources based on subjects you want to follow, such as business or food related articles. You can also sync it with your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and other social media accounts. My Magazine is well designed and is a place where you can easily catch up with all your social media accounts and news in one place.
The redesigned S Pen is tough to use. It is small and thin, making it hard to grip. Not surprisingly, the button on the stylus was quite small, too. You end up spinning the pen around every time you need to click it. The phone and tablet is very geared toward the pen, rather than pinching and swiping with your fingers as with other phones such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone and even Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S4.
The phone’s screen is crisp and very clear. I watched several YouTube videos and a preview for “Iron Man 3.” The bigger screen makes watching video a joy, and I can see myself watching movies on it instead of a tablet. The new phone’s screen resolution is far better on the Note 3 – at 386 pixels per inch rather than 264 on the Note 2. (By comparison, the iPhone 5 is at 326 pixels per inch.)
The phone’s 13 megapixel camera took clear shots, but it was slower than I’m used to on my iPhone 4S, the model from 2011. A processing alert pops up for a second while a photo is saving.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, also unveiled Wednesday, has the same features of the Note 3 phone, just with a bigger, 10-inch (26-centimeter) screen. Like the phone, it has the leather-like backing and grooves on the side.
The tablet has a few extra bells and whistles. One of the big perks is the tablet’s file organization system, which is similar to that of a traditional personal computer. It lets you create folders and sub-folders for documents, providing easy access. Also like a PC, the tablet lets you create up to eight profiles, so you can let your kids, spouse or guests use the tablet without fear that they will read your email, delete your photos or access apps you don’t want them to.
The tablet also comes with a host of freebies that the phone doesn’t have, including free trial subscriptions to The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek and other news sources, along with extra space with online storage service Dropbox.
The tablet’s display is bright and clear, good for watching TV or viewing photos. It also has stereo speakers and cameras on both its front and back sides.
Samsung said the phone and tablet will ship worldwide in most countries on Sept. 25, but it will come later in the U.S. Samsung didn’t say when, other than some time before the holidays. The company also didn’t say how much the devices will cost.