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Hands-On: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Gear

Article Comments  16  

Sep 4, 2013, 12:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Samsung's third-generation phablet is an impressive improvement and the Gear adds a unique twist to how we interact with smartphones.

from Samsung

Note 3 

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is a marriage of the Note 2 and the Galaxy S4 with a few unique details tossed in for good measure. It's the latest phablet from Samsung and isn't shy about offering the best specs on a device this year from the Korean company.

The Note 3 is a bit boxier than last year's device, with sharper corners and sharper edges, to boot. The phone takes some design cues from the GS4 with its silver-colored polycarbonate edge, but thankfully makes a big change with the rear cover. Samsung has ditched the oft-bemoaned slippery battery cover for one that has a faux leather feel to it. The back cover has a soft-touch finish that looks and feels like hardened leather, though it is still made from plastic. If you're thinking it must be cheesy, don't worry, it isn't.

The Note 3 is still quite large. I have grown used to the size of the Note 2 over the course of the last year, and the Note 3 is a bit smaller. I have mixed feelings about the feel in the hand thanks to sharper edges. I wish it had the rounder profile of the Note 2. It is big, but still pocketable thanks to its slim profile. It is also lighter than last year's phone. I think the weight is really quite nice, and it is easier to hold onto for a long period of time.


Note 3

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The display is fantastic. It measures 5.7 inches across the diagonal and uses Samsung's Super AMOLED technology. It is a full HD screen, which gives it 1920 x 1080 pixels. Colors pop off the screen and everything looks razor sharp. I honestly can't offer enough praise for the screen, it's that good.

As with Samsung's higher end devices, there is a single physical button below the screen for accessing the Home screen. There are capacitive buttons on either side, left is Menu, right is Back. They worked just fine in our time with the device. The rest of the buttons are placed right where you expect to find them. The volume rocker is on the left and the screen lock button is on the right. Both have great profiles and feel very good to use. There's a clean satisfying click when they are pressed that I really like.

The device runs Samsung's latest version of TouchWiz on top of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. It carriers over most features from the GS4, but adds several new features that have to do with the S Pen (see video).

Samsung found that many people don't use the stylus because they forget it is there. Samsung made the stylus stand out a bit more along the bottom, and when it is removed a smart piece of software called Air Command launches to let you know what you can do with the S Pen. Air Command is a tool that lets you access all the other tools that are part of the S Pen and its software.


Note 3 Interface

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The new functions are called Action Memo, Scrapbook, Screen Write, S Finder, and Pen Window. Action Memo makes scribbled notes actionable by letting you interact with phone numbers or addresses. It's pretty cool. Scrapbook lets you capture content from a web site or other document and store it in a scrapbook-like app. What's better is the content is live and searchable. The Screen Write feature takes a screen shot when opened and then lets you write notes on top of the screen shot. The S Finder tool lets you search through all your notes (even the handwritten ones) and everything else on the device as well. It's really cool that the Note 3 lets you search your handwritten notes, that's a big feature to add to the device. You can also tag your notes to make them more easily found. Last, Pen Window acts just like LG's QSlide apps. It opens small sub-apps that run on top of whatever other app you're using. This means you can use a calculator when looking at a spreadsheet, or watch YouTube videos while also scanning your email.

Last, Samsung updated the multifunction feature. It is now possible to drag and drop content from one window to another. For example, you can drag a photo from the gallery and drop it directly into an email that you're composing. It's a really neat addition to the multi-pan functionality.

The Note 3 is Samsung's premiere device, and it didn't leave out anything. Every spec and feature you can think of is included. It will be available from U.S. carriers beginning later this month. Pricing has not yet been announced, but expect it to fall in line with that of last year's phone.

Gear Smartwatch 

The Galaxy Gear smartwatch is a device that offers a few unique features that should set the tone for what smartwatch is and isn't. It is not a stand-alone device. It is an accessory for the Galaxy Note 3 (and eventually other Galaxy smartphones).

The Gear is made mostly from plastic. It has a metallic face and comes in six different colors. The shades include black, beige, gray, green, orange, and gold. It looks really large when you hold it in your hand, but doesn't feel awkward or weird on your wrist. I had trouble adjusting the strap to fit, but once I found the right size it was comfortable. There is only one button on the watch and it is easy to find and use. It is a Home button that always takes the Gear back to the home screen, which is a clock and the weather.

The little screen looks surprisingly good. It measures 1.63 inches across the diagonal and offers 320 x 320 pixels. It uses an AMOLED screen and is bright and colorful. Though most of the menus are black and white, photos that I saw really popped. There's a pretty steep brightness cut-off when the device is viewed at an angle, though, and that's kind of crummy for a watch.

One of the surprising features include a 1.9-megapixel camera baked into the band that can also record 720p HD video and a speakerphone. The camera may not offer the best quality in the world, but it's a last resort for those can't-miss opportunities that sneak up every now and again. Using it wasn't too awkward, though it's hardly quick to launch. You can make it a favorite app which gets it higher in the menu hierarchy, but it is still several steps to open. The speakerphone is just loud enough to make using the Gear for phone calls a worthwhile endeavor.



Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The watch is not really a stand-alone device. It can be used without a smartphone, but will only be able to use some of the features. The Galaxy Gear does not have Wi-Fi, nor an independent connection to the internet. Similar to Sony's SmartWatch, it relies on a nearby smartphone for most of its functionality. This is perhaps its greatest strength and greatest limitation.

For starters, the Gear will only work with the Note 3 smartphone. Samsung said it hopes to offer functionality with other Galaxy smartphones later this year. It did not say if or when that might be, nor which phones (think Galaxy Note, Note II, and GS3, GS4). Though the Gear has plenty of its own apps, it can't be used as a stand-alone music player. In fact, if you want to listen to music, you'll have to do so with Bluetooth headphones, as the Gear doesn't have a headphone jack. The lack of an on-board music player stinks in my opinion.

The Gear runs on Google's Android operating system, but you wouldn't know it to look at the thing. The interface has been stripped down so it can be easily used with one finger by those on the go. It offers a handful of clock faces that also show the weather, and uses swiping gestures to get from screen to screen and app to app.

The Gear runs plenty of apps. It includes a handful of simple tools, such as a stopwatch, music player controls, and pedometer, as well as more advanced functions. The Gear has rich notifications that automatically interact with the Note 3 smartphone, and it can be used to dial phone calls directly rather than using the Note 3. It interacts with S Voice, Samsung's voice-command and search tool, and can also be used to find a lost Note 3 smartphone (and vice versa with the companion smartphone app). In addition to these, it comes with a handful of third-party apps from the likes of Evernote, eBay, MyFitnessPal, Path, RunKeeper, and Tripit. Samsung says more apps are on the way.


Gear UI

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The Galaxy Gear is a capable device and sets the bar for what smartwatches can do. Whether or not the feature list is long enough, or if people will really buy it together with the Note 3 (a sizable purchase combined) is another story.

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Subject Author Date
Rich Corinthian Leather bluecoyote Sep 4, 2013, 12:46 PM
i got to be negative nancy... :( Futuredevildogx Sep 7, 2013, 10:56 PM
Samsung has done it again! Ann Droid Sep 4, 2013, 5:29 PM
Bravo! Doom Wolf Sep 5, 2013, 10:25 AM
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