Samsung led the way with big smartphones. It started the phablet name. So now that the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is here we're eager to see third time really is the charm.
At 5.7-inches this is definitely putting the tablet in phablet. But at 8.3mm slim and 168g light it real doesn't feel that big in the hand - nor does it bulk much in the pocket. And it's worth the size when you look at that 1920x1080 Super AMOLED display. It's balanced nicely in the hand and feels premium thanks to the slim bezel - Samsung has really got plenty of screen into the minimum amount of frame.
The textured back feels good with plenty of grip even when stretching your hand to hold it. While the serrated pattern on the sides is mainly a fashion statement it definitely adds a little to the grip, which is always good when handling a device of this size.
Despite that large screen to power battery life is claimed to be decent thanks to the 3200mAh battery and efficient 2.3Ghz quad-core processor (4G version), or 1.9GHz Octa Core (3G). As you'd imagine in a hands-on environment, even when multi-tasking, there is very little we can do to slow this thing down. That might also be something to do with the whopping 3GB RAM. Lag free.
Click S Pen mightier than the pen?
The new S Pen looks much like the last, meaning it's light and comfortable to use. The Air Command feature lets you, at a click, access the various features it has on offer.
Action Memo is great for taking notes quickly and converting them into text if you need. It lets you go from that detail, say a phone number or address, to easily use it to make calls, look up addresses on a map, search the web, and task a to-do list.
Scrapbook lets you put your YouTube links, web addresses and Gallery snaps in one place - ideal for organising. Apart from categorising your content it conveniently lets you go back to where you found it, like a web address source, to view it instantly. Wrote down a recipe and not eh ingredients list? Just click back to the website where you found it.
S Write is a quick way to take a screen grab. This even works for drawing - say you did a star next to a word in a note but couldn't remember the word, just draw the star and it'll search for that.
S Finder is a great way to find pretty much anything on the device – this is genuinely useful, especially when hunting for a downloaded document you can't find.
Finally Pen Window lets you open another window just by drawing it - this felt pretty surreal but really useful, in a magical sort of way. Reading a message in a chat window and need a calculator? Just draw a window where there's a space and select calculator to open in that window. This was really intuitive and would be genuinely useful day-to-day.
The new S Note felt much the same as old but now works with Evernote. And with the new Easy Clip feature you can easily draw around chunks of images or web pages you want and convert them into a cropped image. We could see this being used a lot as an alternative to sharing entire web links. And the content syncs across your devices, so anything you write in S Note is also on Evernote - and the Note 3 includes a 12 month Evernote subscription.
Display your way
This huge screen means more options for feeding you information. My Magazine, in an HTC BlinkFeed kind of way, delivers personalised news, social media, entertainment and "in-the-money content" thanks to a Flipboard partnership. That partnership is pretty clear from the layout. It seems good but we'd need more time to assess if it's something we'd actually use day to day.
The larger screen, and 3GB RAM, embraces multitasking with aplomb.
The new Multi Window lets you toggle between apps easily, or run one app in two windows at once - perfect for comparing web pages at a glance, or reading one message while sending another. The Drag and Drop feature comes into its own here where images can be literally moved from one window to another. Or with two chats at once you can take the words of one person to drag and drop them into the other chat.
Group Play has also been updated to allow Multi Vision, which lets multiple devices share a video simultaneously or connect up to five devices for big-screen viewing. When you'd ever actually have the opportunity to do this in real life is beyond us.
The famed 13-megapixel Samsung Galaxy S4 camera with Smart Stabilisation and CRI LED flash produce great photos on this big screen. While it may not hold up against the Nokia Lumia 1020 it certainly is more than good enough for everyday use.
Video can be shot in UHD at 30fps - that's 4k quality footage. We couldn't see it on this screen but imagine it's impressive with that frame rate. And of course 1080p video looks great too, capable of 1080p 60fps shooting, especially slow motions video shot at 120fps. Audio was upgraded to 24-bit also but from the speakers here it's hard to notice any improvement. Playback has been improved too with about three more hours of 1080p video playback, so Sammy claims.
All the usual Sammy camera settings are included like Drama Shot, Sound & Shot, Animated Photo, Eraser, Best Photo and so on.
If larger displays make your life easier, and taking notes quickly is a must, this is the ultimate phablet.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3, in 32GB or 64GB flavours, will be on sale from 25 September.