Name: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Carrier: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon

Price: $300, $250, $200, or $300 w/two-year contract

The Back Story: Despite the disbelief and skepticism expressed by industry experts, Samsung’s smartphone/tablet hybrid has gone on to become a huge success for both the electronics giant and mobile industry. The original Galaxy Note sold over 10 million units with mixed reviews, where as the Galaxy Note II upped the ante and received universal acclaim for its incredible performance, tripling the sales of its predecessor. Following the rule of three, the Android powerhouse decided to expand its phablet franchise, recently launching the Galaxy Note 3 just in time for the holidays.

Backed by dynamic software, powerful hardware, and a moderate design facelift consisting of a faux-leather backplate and prime aluminum accents, the third-gen smartphone bears all the virtues to make it the best smartphone in its class. But is the Galaxy Note 3 a huge step up from the previous models or more of the same with a stronger spec sheet? You be the judge.

DOPE

• Productivity features and S Pen Integration: Multitasking is where the Note series has always excelled and the Note 3 doesn’t break from tradition. The popular dual-screen, Multi-Window mode spearheads the entire experience, splitting the screen and allowing users to have two apps open and visible simultaneously. You also have the opportunity to resize the windows, plus drop content from one panel into another. This comes in handy for creative types looking to edit multimedia files (film, music, photos, etc). Samsung enhanced its hi-tech stylus by adding a new feature dubbed Air Command that provides immediate access to S Pen functions when pulling it out of its built-in slot at the bottom. In doing so, a small window appears with five preset options: including Action Memo, Pen Window, S Finder, Screen Write, and Scrap Booker. The handwriting recognition is much more accurate this time around and makes scribbling notes seamless in Action Memo.

• Monstrous performance: No expense was spared here, as the phablet is fitted with the most powerful spec sheet out there. Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 800 quad-core CPU serves as a workhorse that pushes grand benchmarks and fast processing speeds. Our Quandrant Standard reading had the handset scoring in between the 21,000 ranges and that was with over 10 apps running in the background. Those results are to be expected with 3GB of RAM sitting under the hood. Data speeds are also solid with downloads clocking at an est. 15 Mpbs. Considering the amount of juice-sucking attributes the Note 3 boasts, it's surprising how much energy can be squeezed out of the 3,200 mAh battery. One can expect a solid 10+ hours on moderate use and a good seven to eight during heavy engagement. 

• Gorgeous screen quality: Aside from its massive form factor, the other major facet that stands out on the Note 3 is its beautiful 5.7-inch, 1080p Super AMOLED display. Visuals look crisp and vibrant, promoting rich colors and great viewing angles. Playing 3D games and watching HD content is far more rewarding here than on any other smartphone and most mid-tier tablets. Netflix streaming is a marvel to watch on the screen. All that screen real estate opens the lane to edit and view documents, images, and spreadsheets in convinient on-the-go fashion. It's worth noting that Samsung introduces a new touch sensitivity feature to accommodate on-screen navigation for anyone wearing gloves. And yes, it works pretty well.

• Upgraded camera: Enhancing on the Note II’s 8MP camera, Samsung brings over the 13MP sensor from the GS4 and improves on it by welcoming a 4K shooting mode. Anyone fortunate enough to own a UHD television can mirror and watch recorded footage on the display, which looks impressively good on the big screen. The S4’s camera doesn’t offer optical image stabilization, yet it’s still capable of capturing high-quality shots in bright environments. All the shooting modes and gesture tricks found on GS4 remain intact as well. It’s no Lumia 1020, but the Note 3 makes a strong argument for best Android camera phone.

• Multi-device support: Those who pre-ordered the smartphone in advance noticed most of the carriers offering discounted bundles on Sammy’s new hi-tech timepiece: the Galaxy Gear. Pairing the smartwatch with the Note 3 opens the lane to perform commands like answer calls and receive notifications directly from your wrist. Samsung’s new Gear Manager app makes it all possible.

NOPE

• Several useless (and clunky) features: All of the GS4’s motion-gesture features are present, along with new S-Pen functionalities. That’s cool. But lets be real here—the average Joe isn’t going to use 80 percent of them on the regular. Not to mention, most of the touchless controls are faulty and barely work most of the time. Smart Pause, S-Voice, and the eye-tracking technology all need major work.

• Buggy software and lots of bloatware: A series of bugs were present in our demo unit, which could either be blamed on the Android OS or TouchWiz. The camera option on Instagram would consistently come up when accessing the app and we found random emails being opened upon entering Gmail. Bloatware is another issue, as Sprint pre-installs 13 different apps on the device that are all practically expendable. Granted you have the luxury of disabling each one, it’s extra work on the user’s end.

• Poor audio quality:  Placing the speaker at the bottom of the device is a design flaw Samsung failed to acknowledge. Not only does audio ouput sound distorted and unbalanced when screening calls via speakerphone, but holding the handset in landscape mode blocks the sound, too. We noticed a lack of high volume as well during multimedia playback. 

Final Say: The newest entry in the Note series is a notable upgrade that carries over the best traits of the GS4 and houses more premium specs. This of course has its pros and cons. While Samsung’s gone the extra mile to optimize mobile performance on nearly every level, minor inconsistencies still exist within the software and touchless command experience. However, the majority will easily overlook such imperfections after basking in the phone’s efficient productivity features, insane benchmarks, and stunning display. Mobilephiles in search of a smartphone with tablet-like features should heavily consider investing their upgrade on the Note 3.