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Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Note III

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The Galaxy Note III succeeds the Note II and is the newest model in Samsung's line of high-end "phablets."

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

  • 13MP camera
  • 4K video
  • HDR video
  • Dual-shot

Other Specifications

  • Exynos 5 Octa-core processor 1.9GHz / Snapdragon 800 2.3 GHz quad-core (for LTE markets)
  • Android 4.3 
  • 1080p 5.7-inch Super-AMOLED screen (386 ppi)
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32/64GB memory options
  • microSD cards up to 64GB
  • S-Pen stylus
  • NFC
  • jet black, classic white and blush pink color options
  • 3200 mAh battery 

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 Note II's curvy design had to make way for a more angular look of the Note III.
The faux-leather cover on the back feels pleasant in your hand.

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.  

Power button is on the left ...
... and volume rocker on the right.
The speaker and front camera can be found above the screen.
The Note III comes with Samsung's signature central home button. To the left and right are capacitive buttons that light up when touched.

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 Note III comes with a 13MP camera that we assume is the same unit as in the Galaxy S4 smartphone.

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. 

ISO 64, 1/33 sec
ISO 64, 1/50 sec

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.

Hover the S-Pen over the screen and press its button to access the new S-Finder feature that lets you record memos, create a scrapbook and organize your multitasking windows.

Screen

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 layout of the Note III's camera app follows familiar Samsung Patterns. 

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.

Shooting modes include the new Surround shot mode.
In the video settings you can set your recording size to a whopping 4K. Finally an excuse to buy that new TV.

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.

Surround Shot works in the same way as Google's Photosphere feature.
The software guides to create a sphere piece by piece and stitches the final result that can then be browsed on the device.

Galaxy Gear smartwatch

The Galaxy Gear smartwatch is offered as a "companion device" to the Galaxy Note III.

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 features a 1.9 MP camera in its wristband.
The Life 360 app allows you to follow the whereabouts of your family members and set geofence alerts when they leave a predefined area.

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. 

First impressions

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. 


Comments

Total comments: 10
2001
By 2001 (Sep 16, 2013)

Really curious but profoundly frustrated, I feel that manufacturers Samsung included although they are more adventurous than most really need to abandon the notion of a phone and make a fully fledged 7 inch device that covers as much as it possibly can. The notion of phone, tablet and computer is gradually eroding but being held back by incompetent and conservative ideas of what these devices do and who they are for. You can always count on the morons in market research to f.ck things up abysmally. I have and both love and am profoundly frustrated by my Galaxy Note 11, it does a lot but I can think of so many things that it could do so much more if it only had a 7inch screen and a flash drive of at least 64gb this is not rocket science it's more than feasible now. I hardly use the Note to make phone calls, using Skype on my computer 4 years ago! TO MAKE PHONE CALLS already has more than adequately prepared me for this paradigm ! When I look at my ilc's realizing that camera manufacturers finally made a digital camera worth using that they could have made 10 years ago is astonishing. When I look at a huge but ordinary consmer grade dslr with an lcd screen the size of a 35mm negative, it is grotesque, repulsive and quaint. What ever my feelings may be from day to day towards this camera, I thank God I never have to use it again. This is how I feel and I'm sure many consumers feel about woefully conservative and incapacitated technology that is antique even before it's purchased. Give me a fully functioning device! I don't care whether you call it a tablet a phone or a computer ! Just give me something that is smaller than a paperback that works! Half measures don't count. The Note 3 may be a nice intention but given the technology available right now it's far from satisfactory.

0 upvotes
Goodmeme
By Goodmeme (Sep 24, 2013)

Not really sure what you want. Do you just want a Note 3 that is 7 inches with 64GB built in storage?

How much more could you do with such a device compared to a Note 3 with 64GB micro SD at approx 6 inches?

I kind of agree with you, and am a bit peeved the Galaxy Mega is not oled and doesn't have an s- pen. But I still don't get why you're annoyed, or what is available right now that is missing?

0 upvotes
Stitzer23
By Stitzer23 (Sep 15, 2013)

What about optical zoom?

0 upvotes
Stealthy Ninja
By Stealthy Ninja (Sep 19, 2013)

Galaxy Zoom is what you want.

1 upvote
halc
By halc (Sep 9, 2013)

Preview: "you won't be able to view your output in its full high resolution glory"

Yes you can.

The camera is VERY unlikely to resolve even 720 lines.

So even HD ready display would be more than enough to resolve all the detail that the camera can capture in it's video mode.

A full HD display will certainly resolve everything.

0 upvotes
sonnytev
By sonnytev (Sep 9, 2013)

One thing to be considered is shutter lag. Reducing this makes the smartphones more photojournalist-friendly.

0 upvotes
AkinaC
By AkinaC (Sep 7, 2013)

About the 4K video, so when you watch on the phone is still display as FHD? And only if you can afford one of those expensive 4KTV or Sony's flagship projector there's no way you can actually see how good the video quality is?

btw, I know is not relevant to this artice but will DP get a hands on the Xiaomi 3(aka L920 running Android lol), it's capable of taking RAW files which interested me.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Sep 7, 2013)

well, the display is 1080p, so you can only see 1080p

1 upvote
Joe Ogiba
By Joe Ogiba (Sep 16, 2013)

Amazon sells 39" 4K UHDTVs for $699 and 50" versions for about $400 more. BTW I view 4K videos from youtube and Vimeo on my 30" 2560x1600 monitor.
http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7436/9677022544_0dffcc8220_o.jpg

http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3699/9681201477_ac5d1ee9e0_o.jpg

0 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (Sep 6, 2013)

Hope they add 4K video recording to the 2014 Note Tab 10.1 too.

Yes, I know how "silly" it is to use a full-sized tablet to shoot video, thanks. It's just that I want to purchase the full-sized tablet also allowing for real work with the Wacom stylus and not just a phone, but would still want to play with 4K recording.

Comment edited 21 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Total comments: 10
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