The Galaxy Note III is Samsung's latest "phablet" just launched at the Korean manufacturer's "Unpacked 2" event in Berlin. It sports a new, more angular design with a leatherette back and all the internal components have been upgraded to the latest generation, making for, at least on paper, a powerful high-end device.
The Note III is the first Galaxy Note with a 1080p resolution screen. Compared to its predecessor, the Note III has grown slightly from 5.5 to 5.7 inches, but thanks to a reduced bezel, the overall dimensions have not increased. The new model is even 1mm thinner than the Note II.
In terms of camera we should expect the same performance we have seen from the Galaxy S4 smartphone but the Note III adds 4K video recording to the mix, making it the first mobile device to offer this option. We've now had a chance to spend some more time with the device. Read on to find out how we got on with it.
Key Photographic / Video Specifications
Body & Design
The size and shape of the Note III are very similar to its predecessor, the Note II, but upon closer inspection some differences become visible. The new model sports a more angular design and the metal strip around the edge we first saw on the Galaxy S4 smartphone. It's also 1mm thinner than the Note II and approximately 20 grams lighter.
The brushed metal front gives it a premium look and feel, but the real news is the faux-leather covered back. This feels quite pleasant in the hand and when combined with one of the optional front covers makes the Note III look like a real old-school notebook.
The control layout is the same as on previous Samsung devices. The home button underneath the screen is the only control on the front of the device. The power button is located on the right side of the device and the volume rocker is on the left. To the left and right of the home button you'll find two more capacitive buttons but they only light up when touched, so you'll have to remember where they are.
Camera module & hardware
From a specification point of view with its 13MP backside-illuminated CMOS sensor the camera module looks very similar to the Galaxy S4, which we were quite pleased with in our review. It captures images on a 13MP sensor, but unlike some competitors doesn't offer an optical image stabilization system. The aperture is F2.2 and the equivalent focal length 31mm.
The big imaging news on the Note III is the 4K video capability though. Unless you're one of the few owners of a 4K television set, you won't be able to view your output in its full high resolution glory but with this recording feature now appearing on mobile devices, it's only a question of time before 4K screens start conquering living rooms across the globe.
The camera also offers simultaneous HD video and image recording, geo-tagging, touch focus, face and smile detection and an HDR mode, making the Note III an interesting option for mobile photographers with a weakness for large screens.
We hope to get a reviewable unit back to our offices soon, but for now we've taken a couple of shots at the Samsung booth in Hall 20 to give you an idea what the Note III's camera is capable of. Click on the thumbnails below to open the original image.
A look at the other hardware specs leaves no doubt that the Note III is a high-end device. The processor has been upgraded to a new version of Samsung's Exynos 5 Octacore processor that is clocked at 1.9 GHz (Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.3 GHz for LTE markets) and 3GB of RAM, which should allow for snappy execution of apps and multitasking. Other notable hardware features include a fingerprint reader that works with KNOX, Samsung's U.S. Ministry of Defense approved security platform, and an improved S-Pen stylus that now allows for easy access to memo, scrapbook and multitasking features.
The Note III is the first Note with a 1080p resolution screen. It has slightly increased in size from the Note II's 5.5 to 5.7 inches but thanks to the thinner bezel the outer dimensions of the device have not grown. With its pixel density of 386 ppi the Super AMOLED screen looks very sharp and is a pleasure to view and work with. The increased screen real estate helps making use of the Note III's capability of running two or more apps side by side.
Camera UI & features
The camera app on the Note III is pretty much the same we've seen on the Galaxy S4 and other previous Galaxy devices. Shutter and video buttons are located on the right side of the screen. The little settings icon on the left gives you access to a range of parameters such as flash, video recording mode and sound recording. A second tap on the settings icon takes you to the menu. You can focus by tapping anywhere on the live-view image.
The mode dial on the bottom right opens up the mode selection screen with all the options we've seen on the Galaxy S4 including Rich Tone (HDR), Animated Photo for creating gifs, Eraser for removing unwanted objects from the frame or the Panorama mode. Surround shot is a new mode and seems to be a slightly modified version of the Photosphere feature that Google introduced with Android 4.2.
Surround shot stitches a sphere out of a multitude of frames you take from the same position. Your framing is guided by a dot target on your screen. Once you have completed the sphere the final result is stitched together and then can be viewed on the device. We would assume the Surround shot images can also be uploaded to and viewed on Google Play, just like Photospheres, but we still need to confirm this.
Galaxy Gear smartwatch
The Galaxy Gear smartwatch was launched together with the Note III and is meant to be a companion device. As a standalone device, it's basically a fancy digital watch, so you'll need to use it in conjunction with the Note to unleash its full potential.
The Gear runs Android 4.2 and is powered by a 800 MHz processor. It features a 1.63-inch AMOLED display with 320x320 pixels and connects to the Note III via Bluetooth. In its wristband there's also a camera with 1.9 MP backside-illuminated CMOS sensor.
The Gear notifies users incoming messages or calls and gives you a preview of those messages. You can then decide if you want to accept or ignore a call or read the entire message on the screen of the phone. Like many Samsung mobile devices, the smartwatch can also be voice-controlled. For example, you can make calls, draft messages, create new calendar entries or set alarms by voice.
The Galaxy Gear's built-in 1.9-megapixel camera allows you take snapshots of your environment or video-chat without getting the Note out of your purse or pocket.
The Note III makes a step forward from its predecessor in every respect. The metal frame gives it a sleek, premium look and personally I prefer the more angular shape over the previous generation's more organic design language. The leatherette back feels nice to hold but might not be everybody's cup of tea.
Inside the Note III you'll find all the ingredients for a high-end device and won't need to worry about sluggish performance or latency in operation. Looking at the camera specs we should be able to expect pretty much the same results we've seen on the Galaxy S4. It also offers 4K video recording which you might find useful if you're one of the few people to actually own a 4K screen.
So overall the camera doesn't look bad at all, but it seems that other manufacturers, such as Nokia with the Lumia 1020 and Sony with the Xperia Z1, are currently putting more emphasis on camera development in their mobile devices. In the case of the Z1 we don't know about the results yet, but it would be nice to see Samsung jump onto the same train and surprise us with some really innovative imaging technology in one of their next devices.
The Galaxy Gear companion smartwatch is a real differentiator for the Note III but at a suggested retail price of $299 it remains to be seen if consumers are willing to spend the extra cash for the additional control over your Note from the wrist. Whether you use it with the Gear or on its own, there's no doubt the Note III is an absolutely solid high-end device that you can't really go wrong with.