Merciless tempo that Samsung imposed on themselves as well as others with their yearly cycle of new generations of Galaxy devices bore fruit and Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2 are among the top selling models in year 2013. when it comes to Android devices. New generation of the popular phablet, a category that Samsung created, Note 3 is before us with an addition of Gear – a smart watch.
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New Note 3 is in every way an upgraded version of Note 2. This is a pretty accurate and shortest possible definition of Note 3 model. Faster processor, bigger screen in a somewhat smaller chassis, higher resolution, faster GPU, more memory, better S Pen, better camera, faster Wi-Fi and longer battery autonomy (with a “bigger” battery). Everything that could have been upgraded, Samsung upgraded it. Android OS reached the 4.3 version, while KitKat (4.4) is just around the corner. In case you’re a proud owner of Note 2, all of this looks rather impressive. If not, what are you waiting for?
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What’s the point?

However, Android ecosystem, as well as iOS for example, finds themselves in an awkward position. They’ve reached their maximum in a short amount of time, and now every new model brings noticeable improvements, but the question is raised – what’s the point? It’s the same situation as with PC as a concept few years ago. That’s why their sales decreased and tablets appeared as a novelty. If you take a better look, difference between Android-based platforms is very small if you take into account capabilities, or rather, functionality. Everything you can do on an old Galaxy S2, you can also do it on S3 and on S4. Sure, S4 will do it faster, on a bigger screen and higher resolution and whatnot, but the functionality doesn’t bring anything new. It’s the same with Note series where Note 3 is the latest generation. The first note was a strange device, for that time, with S Pen that had limited application. Note 2 improved all of the functions making the phablet class of device very functional regardless of its size. Note 3 continues the streak in the same way, but owners of Note 2 will be hard to persuade to buy Note 3. Of course, that’s only the case if the listed additions don’t mean that much to you, especially at the price for which Note 3 is selling.

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New additions

The most important functions, in our opinion, aren’t the speed, or high screen resolution, primarily because Note 2 was a fast device with a good screen. The camera is much better, so pictures in 13 MP look noticeably better than with Note 2. Picture stabilization has been improved, so even taking photos in dark conditions now isn’t that much of an issue. S Pen is more sensitive, so it doesn’t have to pressed as hard as with Note 2 in order to get a fuller line. The change was only in S Pen, because the model with Note 3 works identically on Note 2 and vice-versa. The only problem is that, due to redesign, S Pen from Note 2 can’t be inserted in Note 2 and vice-versa. Battery autonomy has been further improved by using modules for wireless communication that use less power and the screen, even though it as higher resolution, doesn’t uses more power than Note 2’s screen. With moderate use it can last for up to 3 days of autonomy (three days and two nights). Although, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would use Note moderately, at least for the first couple of months. The redesigned chassis is somewhat thinner, but the more important difference lies in edges, which are sharp, rather than smooth, as with Note 2 model. That enables the users with smaller hands to use this phone more comfortably without fear that they will drop it. The model that we’ve tested was dyed black with a nickel finish on the edges. Note 3 is made of plastic, same as Note 2, but at least it looks less hollow and more elegant. Due to contrast of the edges when compared to the upper and lower surface, and due to matt finish of the back lid (made out of plastic) which has a leather texture on the edges, Note 3 looks really amazing and doesn’t get dirty easily. And here’s where the list of real improvements, as far as we’re concerned, ends.
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Options, options, options

Samsung made an effort and filled Note 3 with novelties in the software area. Of course, that was done at the expense of the available memory out of the total of 3 GB that Note 3 has. When no additional applications are active, Note 3 has about 1,5 GB of RAM, so it’s clear that was the reason for increasing the capacity of RAM. Of course, by turning off additional options, this amount can further be optimized; however, the operating system is optimized with a maximum of four active applications, which you can notice by the red colors of the widget that displays the number of active application. Note 3 doesn’t show any signs of fatigue or lack of memory, but we would have preferred for Note 3 to come with turned off additional options, so the user can choose to turn them on at his leisure. On the other hand, less-experienced users probably would never find about those functions, which is a real possibility since there are a lot of them.

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There are options for optimizing the keyboard to be used with one hand, reducing the screen size for the same reason and the redesigned S Note application. Not to mention a huge amount of options related to tracking user movements, not only with the device itself, but hands and eyes, as well. Of course, the improvements regarding the improvements in the field of S Pen’s usability and Air command menu. All in all, a plethora of improvements and it’s up to you to decide whether that’s enough to buy the Note 3 phablet. The list of the improvements is so vast that now the settings menu requires four tabs to display them all, compared to just one in the previous version.

Processor Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400, Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
Graphics Adreno 330
Memory 16/32/64 GB internal, 3 GB RAM
Display 5.7", Super AMOLED 1080 x 1920 pix (386 ppi)
OS Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean)
Camera Back 13 MP, led flash; Front 2 MP; Video 2160p@30fps, 1080p@60fps>
Interfaces 4G, LTE, HSPA+, EDGE; WiFi a/b/g/n/ac; NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, 3.5mm audio
Battery Li-ion 3.200 mAh
Dimensions 79.2 x 151.2 x 8.3 mm
Weight 170 g
Price US $ 690

Smart watch called Gear

Our first encounter with the new member of the Galaxy family, Gear smart watch, didn’t go as well. Few days before the beginning of IFA fair in Berlin, we’ve had the opportunity to test this new gadget. Most of the models started to shut down after a few hours, which led us to believe that the watch requires daily charging, which is rather problematic, because its compatible phone, Note 3, requires charging once every two or three days. Aside from that, we’ve had lots of difficulties with Gear’s software as well, which indicated problems of every type.

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A few months later, Gear was available for purchase, so we, reluctantly, decided to test it. First problem was the white color of the bracelet. Not the color itself, but the fact that objects of that color requires more frequent maintenance. But, it turned out we were wrong and material was pretty stain resistant. Another problem was its “box” charger. Plastic box can be opened and via connector on the inside enables the Gear to be charged over any charger with a microUSB connector. The box is symmetric, same as Gear, so it provides difficulties for matching the contact points, which results in the inability to charge. Aside from that, if the watch has to be charged daily, it means that the said box, as well as the charger, has to be carried along with the watch, because you never know when the battery will expire. It’s pretty problematic for something that tends to be a “smart” watch.

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Albeit rather reluctantly, the author of this text had to wear this watch, and to his surprise, he continued doing so for a while. After a whole afternoon spent in fiddling with this device, the impression is very positive. Of course, first we had to turn off a “few” options that we didn’t like, such as the always active Pedometer and option for Gear to activate on its own when the arm is raised upwards. This last option is intended for eliminating the need to push the power button every time you want to look at the watch, but the problem is that the watch activates on its own during regular walking. By turning off these two options, the battery consumption has been significantly decreased, so we came to a conclusion that in this mode, it could last for two to three days. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that much time to determine that exactly.

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Gear has its own camera, of very limited photographic capabilities and even more limited practical capabilities. Its intention is, probably, to serves as first aid in some situations, because in order for Gear to make sense, you need to have Note 3 close by, in order for them to synchronize. Also, in the band’s buckle there are a microphone and a speaker. It’s not possible to use Gear as handsfree because the speaker is too weak. Conversations are possible in, aptly named “James Bond” pose, although we would have preferred for speaker and microphone to be a bit louder and on the upper surface, next to the screen, so Gear could be used in “Dick Tracey” pose. We believe that Gear could be used that way by drivers without compromising their driving capabilities.

Processor 800 MHz Exynos
Memory 4 GB internal, 512 MB RAM
Display 1.63'' Super AMOLED 320x320
OS Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean)
Camera 1.9 MP BSI sensor; video 720p
Interfaces NFC on power adapter, Bluetooth 4.0
Battery Li-ion 315 mAh
Dimensions 36.8 x 56.6 x 11.1 mm
Weight 78.3 g
Price US $ 300

Gear itself is a solidly built piece of hardware, which is quite surprising after generations of plastic smartphones that we’ve seen from Samsung. The weight isn’t negligible, but it’s also not uncomfortable. Notifications function up to 10 to 15 meters from Note 3, to which is connected via Bluetooth. Already there’s a decent amount of applications for Gear, but don’t forget that each one contributes to decreasing the battery autonomy which is the Achilles’ heel of these types of devices. As a watch and notification device, Gear is a perfect companion for users that are constantly on the move. The simplicity of viewing received messages on the watch isn’t comparable to anything, not to mention that by using it this way, saves up the battery on the smartphone. A Bluetooth connection that they use is of the latest generation and doesn’t spend that much power, as was the case before. We would very like to see a model such as Gear, only without the camera and microphone and a more powerful speaker on the upper side, but whether Samsung will develop such a model in the near future, remains to be seen.

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Problems with Gear are often in terms of practicality. Would you wash your hands with Gear on your arm? Probably not, because it’s not waterproof, this automatically brings up the question of using it during rain. On the other hand, Super AMOLED screen is protected by sapphire glass, which is very shock-resistant and scratch-proof. The charger is a very clumsy solution, so Gear would be a perfect candidate for wireless charging. Even next to the smartphone and smart watch, the drivers will have to use clumsy handsfree, even though a better-placed speaker and microphone could have solved this. This means, that along with a large Note, Gear on the arm, its “armor” for charging, you’d have to wear a Bluetooth headphone for driving.

Good combination?

In the end, what’s left to say for Note 3 and gear? First of all, this general increase in number of everyday devices that are transformed into smart devices is becoming a trend, which is not a bad thing at all. Second of all, Note 3 isn’t much of an upgrade for Note 2 owners and it just isn’t worth the investment. Note 3, as an upgrade from a smaller model is an ideal solution. Even the price difference when both Note 2 and Note 3 are available is worth it this time. Gear, on the other hand, still isn’t worth it. Our advice is to wait for the next version of Gear, and if you’re getting it free along with Note 3, because service providers are packaging it with Note 3 for the fastest users, all the better. In case you think Note 3 is a too big device, think again, because from our experience, it’s just a matter of habit. In case you still think that S4 is just the thing for you, perhaps wait a few months, because there’s a rumor that S5 will be presented at the end of February because of S4’s bad reception. That means that you could buy the newest model as early as end of March. On the other hand, that’s quite a wait.