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Samsung Galaxy Note 3 + Gear review

Android champions such as the LG G2, Sony Xperia Z1 and Galaxy S4 are all muscling in on the Note’s phablet territory with their 5in displays and salivating spec sheets, and monolithic titans such as the Sony Xperia Z Ultra aren’t making Samsung’s job any easier.

Can the Note 3, armed with its stylus and armoured with Samsung’s big bag of Android tricks fend off and conquer its fierce competitors? It’s time to find out.

It turns out the back of the Note 3 is still plastic, but it’s disguised to look like leather, complete with fake stitches.

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Soft and rubbery to the touch, the new backside means we finally have a Galaxy device that doesn’t leap out of the hands like a greased up water wiggler. Given the Note 3’s large dimensions and our attempts at tricky one-handed use (more on which later), this extra grip is a godsend and should save many people from accidental gravity-influenced screen wipeouts.

The actual style of the Note 3’s new not-quite-leather wardrobe, as with any aesthetic debate, is subjective. Chomee’s (ANC) supporters will definitely gag at its skeuomorphism and label it tacky, but before close inspection it does look relatively classy.

Ergonomically, the Note 3 sits comfortably in the hands with well-balanced weight, but the usual phablet caveats apply – you’ll need to engage in some finger balancing acts to use it one-handed. While not on the same insane scale as the Xperia Z Ultra (which requires Hagrid-sized mits), the Note 3 is still a device you’ll be using with two hands most of the time.

A Note wouldn’t be a Note without an S Pen, and on the Note 3 it’s tucked in the familiar bottom-right corner of the device. We found it pretty tricky to remove from its slot, though, even after a whole two days of practice – that means it’s unlikely to drop out unaided, but does make quick note-taking a bit less, well, quick.

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Your first glimpse of the Note 3’s charging port will fill you with dread, revealing what appears to be a proprietary connector. But fear not: what you’re actually looking at is a shiny new but soon-to-be-standard microUSB 3.0 port.The newer port also offers faster data rates for media transfer, but that won’t stop the Jony Ive brigade from shielding their eyes from the rather ugly connector while holding their minimalist Lightning cables close for comfort. Don’t set alight to your tangle of microUSB 2.0 cables just yet, though, because they can still plug into the right-hand section of the Note 3’s port. Backwards compatibility for the win.

Our eyes have no complaints whatsoever when staring at the Galaxy Note 3’s pixel-packed Full HD Super AMOLED Plus 5.7in screen. It’s crystal clear, bright, and serves up bold colours and crisp, easy-to-read text. In short, it’s everything you’d want to see from a flagship device.

Camera

The Note 3’s 13MP rear snapper is impressive, and it trades blow-for-blow with the LG G2’s superb 13MP camera – currently the benchmark for Android snappers.

In most regular shots in good light the Note 3 produces photos that are a little more saturated, but with slightly greater contrast. Some of the G2’s shots look pale by comparison, with a little less in the way of finer textures and details picked up.

The Note 3’s HDR mode is very good, with greater emphasis on detail thanks to the higher range of contrast. As with most HDR modes there’s a slight processing delay, and many serious snappers avoid their over-emphasising ways, but if you like your photos extra sharp there’s little to argue about here.

The Note 3’s S Pen stylus is one of the main things that separates it from the competition, but we approached it with a little trepidation as we’ve never found its ancestors very easy to use.

Once we eventually slid it out from deep within the Note 3’s innards (pro tip: nails are invaluable), we were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to doodle and make notes on the Note’s generous screen. It’s a million miles away from the slippery, hard tip of the original Note’s stylus and offers even more grip than that found on the Note 2’s. And it also works with the capacitive back and menu buttons, a feature we’ve been crying out for since the very first Note.

Our usual video rundown test is processing as we speak and we’ll update the review with the results forthwith, but in everyday use the 3,200mAh battery does a fine job of powering the massive screen and mass of software extras for more than a day of moderate use. It’ll certainly outlast an iPhone 5, although won’t keep going for as long as the battery freak that is the G2.

In Conclusion

Put simply, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is the best phablet in the world right now. Its glorious 5.7-inch screen pumps out crisp detail and punchy colours while still remaining pretty portable, at least compared to the gargantuan 6.4-inch Sony Xperia Z Ultra.

It has a superb camera that more than holds its own against the LG G2 in all but dim conditions, and it eats Android, 3D games and multitasking for breakfast.

The S Pen is a doodler’s dream and feels far more natural than any other stylus we’ve used, and if you throw in the Samsung software extras that are useful to you, the Note 3 should be the number one choice if you’re keen to follow the phablet path.

Not everyone will be, and for those people there are more fantastic flagship phones available than ever before. But for those who want to replace the phone and tablet with one do-it-all device there is a new champion – the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Our 32GB review model Galaxy Note 3 Retails at R8 999.

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Thankfully the Gear isn’t actually as big or chunky as the pictures suggest, and we’re pleased to report that its metal construction is solid. Only one button (for power) graces the clutter-free chassis, and we’re rather taken by the four corner screws that have been left visible.

Its 1.63in 320×320 Super AMOLED display won’t win any resolution contests with its 278ppi figure, but it’s more than sharp enough for a watch. You might notice that text and icons aren’t quite as sharp as you’re used to (especially if you’re lucky enough to have been spoiled by the multitude of superb 1080p smartphones now available), but given that the Gear is meant to act as a secondary screen, we don’t think that’s a problem.

The strap is rubber with a metal clasp, and it’s easily adjustable before clicking securely into place. It also houses the 1.9MP camera that’s present as a fairly inconspicuous bump on our review model, with the black circular lens blending in with the black strap.

After passing the build quality muster, we turn our attention to pairing the Gear with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

 

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Before we carry on, there are two things you need to know. First off, as with most smartwatches, the Gear needs to be connected to a smartphone if you want it to be, well, smart.
Once you fire the Gear up for the first time you’re met with very basic on-screen instructions that tell you to encase it in a very unattractive, bulky plastic case that clips around the watch face.

The plastic case/cradle (or the Gear’s ugly sister, Big Bertha as we’ve taken to calling it) houses an NFC module, and is required if you want to automate the Bluetooth pairing of the Gear to your smartphone via NFC, making for a speedier first connection – at least in theory.

In reality, it’s a very clunky method, and doesn’t exactly form the first impression expected from a supposedly cutting edge piece of 2013 tech. By the time you clip the case on and faff around with the Gear’s strap to ensure a decent back-to-back connection with your smartphone, you’ll realise that it’s a lot easier just to pair up with Bluetooth devices the old fashioned way, with a quick passcode confirmation.

Once it’s connected your phone will automatically download and install the Gear app, which can be accessed at any time from the phone’s notification menu. The app let’s you easily manage your Gear by changing its theme, installing apps and managing notifications.

Once you’ve done all that then you can put Big Bertha to rest and never have to worry about seeing her ugly plastic mug again.

Oh wait, no you can’t.

If you’re assuming there’s a microUSB ingeniously hidden underneath a flap on the Gear’s body, you’re sadly mistaken. It turns out Big Bertha has a secondary function, and that is to clip onto the Gear and charge it via the metal charging pins. Without the ugly and fiddly plastic cradle, there is no power

So the Gear is charged and wrapped comfortably around your wrist. But what does it actually do?
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Well for one thing, it tells the time, and there’s a good selection of pre-loaded clock faces ranging from simple black and white numbers with temperature and weather icons to an old fashioned roman numeral analogue watch. You can also download more designs from Samsung’s Gear section of the app store, but there’s not much of a selection available at the moment.

A flick of the wrist automatically turns the Gear’s screen on for a moment so you can glance at the time, but while the accelerometer does a decent job of turning the display on most of the time, it’s not perfect – a number of times we found ourselves shaking our wrists to awaken the Gear’s screen but achieving nothing more than looking as though we were swatting away hordes of invisible hornets.

You can read messages in their entirety and choose to open them up on your phone so that you can respond instantly, craft a reply via S Voice, or ignore them if they’re not important.

It’s not all perfect, though. On some occasions there are delays of up to 20 seconds between the Note 3 receiving a message and the Gear notification pushing through. We’d also like to have the option to delete messages directly from the Gear itself.

The Galaxy Gear is a well-made, comfortable smartwatch that offers decent (if not perfect) functionality as a secondary device to compliment the smartphone resting in your pocket. But it’s not without flaws.

Its limited compatibility to Samsung products, coupled with its usability niggles and ghost town of an app store makes it very hard to justify the massive R4599 price.

We’ll be the first in line to try out the Gear 2, assuming it’s more affordable, has an integrated charging port, more polished software and greater app support, but this first-generation smartwatch just isn’t smart enough for any but the most dedicated followers of gadget fashion to seriously contemplate.

Papi Mabele
Tech enthusiast at heart. Lover of all things digital. Papi is the founder of SA Vibe and has been sharing his love for gadgetry since 2010. Papi sees no need for wearable tech in his busy schedule and considers the Xbox One as non existant. He may come across as bias at times, and still holds a grudge at BlackBerry for creating the 8520.
http://www.savibeza.co.za
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