Samsung’s annual IFA presser is typically its Galaxy Note coming-out party and this year is no different. JK Shin, the Korean company’s President and CEO, has just announced the line’s latest addition: the Galaxy Note 3.
With a renewed emphasis on how it feels in hand, Samsung has built this note with a faux-leather back, which should go a long way towards silencing critics of the company’s former plastic-reliant ways. It also comes pre-loaded with Knox, the company’s secure BYOD solution, support for super-fast LTE Category 4 and integration with the just announced Galaxy Gear smartwatch.
The new Galaxy Note 3 stretches past the dimensions of its predecessor with a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED screen (vs 5.5-inches), weighs 168 grams and comes in three distinct colors — one of which is pink (!). Further details on this plus-sized smartphone’s internals are still scarce at the moment, but Shin did confirm that it will launch globally beginning on September 25th.
As you might expect, no new Samsung device can be unleashed on the public without a slew of software features and this Note 3 doesn’t disappoint. First up is Air Command which is an S-Pen features that pings up a menu wheel from which users can navigate through apps and actions. Action Memo does mostly what it says, linking your scribbled memos to specified actions like placing a call by scribbling a number. Whereas Scrapbook is a dead simple S-Pen feature: it lets you copy and save any content you draw a circle around.
There’s also S Finder, a feature that uses keywords to effect searches across your device, and the updated S Note, which has been given a UI overhaul to be much more intuitive for users. Oh, and as a bonus for new Note 3 adopters, Samsung’s throwing in a year of Premium Evernote access to sweeten the deal.
Two years ago, at a consumer electronics show in Berlin, Samsung took to the stage and unveiled the introduction to what is now a booming smartphone genre. The 5.3-inch monstrosity, called the Galaxy Note, has blossomed into one of the Korean manufacturer’s biggest brands. Today the same company is unveiling the Galaxy Note 3, the second sequel in a series of supersized stylus-smitten smartphones, which is even taller, narrower and thinner than the first two of its kind. As expected, the new 5.7-inch Note not only utilizes a S-Pen but enhances its functionality and adds better hardware and components to ensure it’s able to handle anything you can throw at it.
We had an opportunity to play with the black and white versions of the Note 3 here at IFA 2013 and while it was largely the same user experience we’ve grown accustomed to with previous Notes, Samsung still found a few clever ways to tweak both hardware and software to make it more appealing to consumers. Let’s take a much closer look at the whole package after the break, but first enjoy a full gallery of images and a lengthy preview video that shows off many of the device’s new offerings.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition)
With all the hubbub about the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy Gear, any hype surrounding a new Galaxy Note tablet prior to IFA 2013 was severely downplayed — but worry not, because you’ll be able to get your S-Pen fix with a fresh Note 10.1 regardless. The new version of the tablet device, aptly dubbed the 2014 Edition, reflects the leather-clad design language of its smartphone companion in a much larger package.
We had the opportunity to briefly play with the latest and greatest Note tablet, which will be rolling out globally this quarter in jet black and classic white, though pricing and specific availability is still unknown at this point. We’ve compiled a full gallery of images for you to enjoy below, and then continue past the break to get more of our first impressions.
We’ll start off with the hardware. The 2014 edition, as we mentioned earlier, is closer to the design language of the Note 3 than its own predecessor. It offers the same leather material on the back, with stitching on the borders. While this likely doesn’t add anything to the tab’s overall durability, it at least exudes more of a “classy” look — though it isn’t a perfect solution to a lengthy build quality concern, we at least prefer this over the previous model’s glossy plastic, which loved fingerprints more than life itself. Samsung has also decided to go with a single color across the back (with your choice of black or white), rather than a two-tone scheme as seen on the original Note 10.1. Don’t be fooled, however, by the chrome edges of the device: while they look like aluminum from a distance, Samsung reps informed us that they are indeed a plastic build; true enough, when you take a closer look, it’s much more readily apparent — and it makes the tablet look cheaper as a result.
There’s not much to the back of the new 10.1, as it features an 8MP rear camera with BSI and AF and LED flash below it — and that’s about it, aside from the obligatory logos. The units we looked at offered both a Samsung logo and the global LTE symbol (in other words, not the special US LTE logos). You’ll be able to choose between this version, which will be available with a 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 chipset, and 3G / WiFi or WiFi-only models, which will use the Exynos Octa-core chipset clocked at 1.9GHz. In our brief time with the device, we expectedly had no qualms with the snappy performance, largely thanks to the next-gen silicon. Also, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that unlike the Note 3, the 2014 edition doesn’t come with a removable back cover nor replaceable battery. Still, we doubt that the 8,220mAh battery stuffed inside the device will be much of a reason for anyone to complain; this should give you more than enough life out of your tablet in between charges.
You won’t find the front to be anything overly unique visually, though Samsung is now offering the set of three buttons (two capacitive and one physical) on the bottom of the tablet when held in landscape mode; the company used the same setup on the Note 8.0 but had it situated in portrait mode instead. Both capacitive buttons are compatible with the S-Pen, which makes it much easier to get into the menu or go backwards without having to set the stylus aside. A 2.0MP camera sets up on top and just a little off-center, right next to the proximity sensor.
As for the display itself, Samsung is using a WQXGA (2,560 x 1,600) LCD panel, which translates into a pixel density just barely shy of 300 ppi. We’ve seen this kind of screen in another recent Samsung device: the Nexus 10. This is one of the best you can get on the market for a tablet of this size, and we were just as taken with it this time as we had been in its first physical manifestation.
In addition to the specs we’ve already mentioned, the Note 10.1 will also give you 3GB RAM, Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, compatibility with the Galaxy Gear, dual-band WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac support, Bluetooth 4.0, USB 2.0, your choice of 16, 32 or 64GB internal storage and microSD support for up to 64 additional gigabytes. It also supports 192kHz and 24 bit audio.
We don’t want to spend too much time on the software because the enhancements we saw on the 2014 edition are exactly the same as they are on the Note 3, and we go into more detail about those changes in our preview. The Flipboard-style Magazine UI is there with a swipe up from the bottom, and you’ll have the chance to take advantage of Air Command, Scrapbook, Multi-Window enhancements and Pen Window, among other features. Curiously, we noticed that the S-Pen was a little more difficult to unsheath from its holding place, much like the Note 3; we’re not sure if this is more noticeable because it’s a pre-production device or if it gets easier over time, but it felt to us as if the pen was simply too flush with the rest of the unit, with only a tiny spot at the end for our nails to grab it and pull it out.
We’ll have to wait and see what kinds of changes, if any, will take place between now and the device’s actual launch. Either way, we’ll certainly be waiting to review it, and we’ll give you the full scoop on the latest and greatest Note tablet in Samsung’s lineup.
Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch
Wrist watches, smart or otherwise, are simply not for everyone — there are more smartphone users in the world, many times over, than there will ever be smartwatch owners. Despite the limited market for such a device, however, Samsung’s decided it’s time to join in on the fun. The Galaxy Gear, as we’ve known it to be called for a few weeks now, was hardly guarded with a level of secrecy that’s become standard for a flagship smartphone, but as the device is finally official — and expected to launch in more than 100 countries within weeks — just how does it perform? Find our take after the break.
The centerpiece of the Galaxy Gear, as you may have read by now, is a 320 x 320-pixel, 1.63-inch AMOLED touchscreen. There’s a speaker and a pair of mics for recording and playing back video content and communicating with a caller via the built-in dialer, which works with the native phone app in your connected Galaxy device. The Gear includes an 800MHz processor, a 315mAh battery, and — in a somewhat surprising twist — a BSI sensor and autofocus lens mounted in the wrist strap that’s tasked with capturing 1.9-megapixel stills and 10-second video clips at 720p, 640 x 640 or VGA resolution with sound. That camera, designed for on-the-go captures where convenience, not image quality, is a priority, is paired with a pre-installed app called Memographer. That application, and dozens of others that will be available at launch, are key to boosting the Gear’s appeal, and setting it apart from the competition.
Like other smartwatches we’ve seen and reviewed, such as the monochrome Pebble, the Gear organizes apps, watch faces and other pages in swappable cards. With such a limited display resolution, it’s only possible to display one at a time, and that’s where touch comes in. To navigate through the wearable’s many cards, you can swipe with a finger. There’s a single button, located on the right side. Press it once to go to the home screen. A double press launches S Voice, and a triple tap activates the “safety assistance” feature, which sends your location info to a saved contact, along with a message notifying them that there’s an emergency.
We haven’t been blown away by any smartwatch’s performance, and that’s much the case here. The Gear feels awfully sluggish, whether you’re launching an app such as Evernote or Path, or swiping down from the home screen to activate the camera. Watch faces, which you can upload from the Gear’s Android companion app, performed well, as did the Music card, which simply serves as a remote for any music app (native or third-party) currently active on a connected device.
The Gear is very much a first-generation device when it comes to usability, too; you can only load a total of 10 third-party apps, for example, due in no small part to the limited 4GB of built-in storage. The interface also feels a bit clunky and unpolished at times, and the S Voice feature, which responds to commands just like its smartphone and tablet counterparts, can only be activated by tapping the home button twice — hardly convenient when you’re running or riding a bike.
As for the device’s physical appearance, it’s a bit svelter than leaked reports would suggest, but it’s still a substantial product. Some colors, such as Rose Gold and Mocha Gray, were designed with female users in mind, but with a design that’s significantly larger than many traditional watches, it may be a bit too cumbersome for petite wrists. That said, we didn’t find it too large for male users, who might prefer the JetBlack or Oatmeal color schemes. According to Samsung reps, sporty types might opt for Wild Orange or Lime Green, and considering third-party apps like RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal, along with the bundled pedometer, athletes are clearly a target demographic here.
Samsung opted for an industrial design instead of a more elegant finish. There are four visible screws above and below the face, for example, and the metal buckle, which houses the speaker, doesn’t feel terribly well made. Many of the colors are a bit too “sporty” to be an appropriate fit for formal occasions or business attire, so unless you opt for an all-black Gear, you may end up leaving the watch at home more often than not. That wouldn’t be a terrible call, however — the embedded battery is rated for a day of “regular” use, which means more active users will be spending a lot of time attaching the watch to the bundled micro-USB-equipped plastic charging dock, which connects to the device through five metal leads on the rear.
As we’ve come to expect with many first-generation devices, the Gear has quite a few shortcomings, some of which likely have yet to come to light. The prototype devices we used were noticeably sluggish and occasionally unresponsive, S Voice is not entirely hands-free, and battery life has been pegged at a full day, at best. Perhaps the biggest setback, however, is that the Galaxy Gear is only compatible with the Note 3 and the new Note 10.1, and while it will likely work with the GS4 once that device gets an Android 4.3 update, we don’t expect that it’ll ever function with non-Samsung smartphones and tablets. Pricing is another unknown, but we imagine more info will come forward there before the Gear begins shipping on September 25th.