I have a love-hate relationship with Samsung’s smartphones. I love the displays and, feature spam aside, many of Samsung’s software enhancements offer great features on top of Google’s Android platform. But I hate Samsung’s plasticky housings that make the phones feel like cheap toys compared to devices like the HTC One and iPhone 5s, and I also often find Samsung’s phones to be oversized. The Galaxy Note 3 changed none of that; the screen is gorgeous, the Note-specific software features are great, the build feels cheap and plasticky, and the device is far too gigantic to be used comfortably. So why can’t I put it down?
As I have written many times in the past, my main personal phone is an iPhone and then I always carry a second handset. Typically, that second handset is whatever device I might be reviewing or writing about at the time. Then when I’m done with my coverage I go back to the HTC One, which I recently called the best Android smartphone on the planet.
I began reviewing Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 about a month ago now and I still haven’t switched back to the One.
There are a few reasons this surprises me.
First of all, the Note 3 is one of the most gigantic smartphones in the world. It’s ridiculous, and I hate gigantic smartphones. Even handsets like the Galaxy S4 and HTC One are borderline for me. I like having the option to use a phone with one hand and most people simply can’t use these phones effectively without both hands.
The Galaxy Note 3 is much larger than the One or S4, as can be seen below.
I also typically can’t bear the cheap plasticky feel of Samsung’s smartphones for most than a week or so at a time. Compared to the iPhone 5s, HTC One or even some LG and Nokia phones, Samsung’s handsets feel like toys.
So why haven’t I switched back?
It boils down to two main reasons and the first is no surprise: the display.
The screen on the Galaxy Note 3 is stunning. It’s ridiculously bright, the contrast is outstanding and the clarity is terrific. Color saturation can get a bit intense just as it does on most or even all AMOLED screens, but the pros far outweigh the cons. Carrying the Note 3 is like carrying a beautiful Samsung HDTV in your pocket.
Samsung’s displays are always gorgeous, of course, so it’s hardly shocking that the Galaxy Note 3’s screen is a big draw for me. But the second reason I’m having trouble putting the Note 3 down is very surprising to me: the software.
Software, you see, is not Samsung’s strong point. Not even close. The company’s TouchWiz interface and software layer occasionally bring some nice additions to Android, but Samsung has a serious feature spam problem. The company has historically crammed as much as it possibly can into each new handset, opting for quantity over quality every time.
With the Note 3, Samsung pumped the brakes.
Refinement was key with the Galaxy Note 3 and rather than stuff in tons of new S Pen features as it did in the Note II, Samsung worked hard to improve upon the features that were already there.
Almost every stylus-related feature in the Note 3 is better than it was before. I love being able to write out notes and then having the device instantly convert my handwriting to text. The ability to type out a search and surface results from handwritten files is also fantastic, and the new Air Command widget makes accessing key stylus features a breeze.
62% of Note device owners use the S Pen each and every day according to Samsung, and there has never been a better S Pen experience than the one on the Galaxy Note 3.
The Note 3 could never be my only phone. It’s far too gigantic, and I like a more manageable handset. It’s also way too plasticky, and I like a more premium look and feel.
After using the Galaxy Note 3 for the past month, however, I want more than ever for recent “Galaxy F” rumors to pan out. Samsung is supposedly working on a new line of premium smartphones built out of premium materials instead of the company’s customary plastics.
The last pieces of this puzzle are finally starting to fall into place.
Samsung’s Note 3 dials back the feature spam and begins to focus on refinement. It also offers truly unique functionality that rival handsets do not — unless they copy various Note features, as LG’s recent G Pro and Alcatel’s One Touch Scribe HD did. This is huge. Samsung, which once created a 132-page document to show its engineers exactly how the company’s smartphones needed to copy Apple’s iPhone pixel by pixel, now sells phones with unique, useful features that rivals are rushing to rip off.
And soon, we may see flagship phones from Samsung with a fit and finish worthy of the “flagship” title.
If Samsung can manage to seal the deal and also put some of that mountain of cash behind creating high-quality content services and other value-added products that really lock people into its ecosystem, the company could position itself as not just a marketing machine steamrolling rivals with its multibillion-dollar budget, but a true market leader. It could create a massive, loyal user base that rivals Apple’s.
Also, since Samsung’s products span dozens of categories, locking customers in with services would also be a big boost for other related categories Samsung operates in. Samsung HDTVs and computers might be much easier to sell to consumers when there is a wide range of software and services that are seamlessly integrated across all device categories.
There’s no question that Samsung has its work cut out for it. Now, let’s see if the company can deliver.