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Old 03-11-2013, 01:15   #1
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My new Samsung Note3: Impressions

Recently, I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, supposedly brand new, unlocked, with 1700MHz capability and compatibility with Tmobile's oddball 3G service, because Tmobile is my current carrier of choice in the U.S. but I need to be able to pop a local SIM card in overseas wherever I go. Well, not only was it NOT brand new, but it was STOLEN, and the IMEI number was blocked. I found this out when I went to the local Tmo shop to get a new SIM card, in case my handcut and several year old Tmo micro-SIM was not making good contact or something in the new Note 2.


Well, I opened up a case on ebay and got a full refund, but while I was at the Tmo shop I went ahead and bought the Note 3. I paid full price which was rather high, $733 I think, all in. Yes that sounds high but a new iphone unlocked is $100 higher than that. You can get it cheaper upfront with a 2 year agreement but then you still pay just as much, only it is spread over two years while they have you captive in their greedy clutches. I would rather not mess with that. I BUY it, period. Anyway, Tmo won't unlock it until I have it on Tmo for 40 days but it only cost me $10 for an unlock code, so it was worth it. I rooted it as well, making the phone as versatile and capable as any other computer.


Anyway, here are my impressions of this impressive "phablet", a phone that thinks it's a tablet, or maybe a mini-tablet that also makes a pretty good phone.


First of all, the obvious. This thing is pretty big. It is about as big as you can go, and still fit in the side pocket of a pair of carpenter style jeans. It is nearly too big to use one-handed, and if you have small hands, then forget about the "nearly" part. To be fair, there are some tweaks available to make it more one-hand friendly, but I haven't tried them yet. The touchy screen goes all the way to the edge of the device, making it tricky to hold in some situations. I can use my iphone 4S laying on my back or reclining in a chair. This thing basically needs to lay on its back in your hands. It can't rest on its forward edges in your hands. The lower front of the device has a touch sensitive BACK arrow to the right of the home button, and a MENU touch icon on the left. Even when they are not lit up and you can't see them, they are waiting to capture your faintest touch and do crazy things while you are trying to do intelligent things. It took a while to learn to keep my fingers away from that menu icon.


Okay, that's the negative about this hyooooge phone. The positive side is well, it has a really big display. Lots of real estate, making it a fairly practical web tool and even a pocket word processor or graphics editor. The iphone is just too small for stuff like that. Yes, you CAN do it, but it is so tedious, and the Note3 makes it much more bearable with its big ol screen.


There really is no good place to put the Power button or the Volume Up/Down buttons. Samsung puts them in a pretty conventional location near the top, Power on the right, Volume on the left. They are inobtrusive enough that I can slide the phone into a pocket and usually not activate them. So there are three hardware switches, including the HOME button. They are neither more, nor less, robust than the iphone's switches.


The audio quality is slightly better than the iphone, and in fact, slightly better than my Tab2 7.0" tablet. Of course, a bit more oompfh would be welcome, but if you root your phone there are volume tweaks you can apply at the possible risk of blowing the teeny speaker or audio amp.


The USB interface uses the new 3.0 plug. All my USB3.0 portable HD cables seem to work. A little known fact is that the micro USB cables, even though they don't engage the whole socket, will charge the phone. I haven't tried to feed any data through the 4-pin micro USB cable yet so I don't know if that will work or not, but it will allow charging. I wish they had stuck with the regular micro USB interface but I imagine that eventually the phone and many peripherals will support full duplex data xfer with dedicated in and out pins, so I guess it's a good thing. Anyway, better than the oddball connector for the Tab2, which looks like the old iphone connector, but isn't.


Battery life is not bad. Okay, it is bad, but all phones have bad battery life, to me. I want to be able to web surf, do multi-GB downloads, bluetooth tether, and watch movies all day and still have juice in the battery at the end of the day. Well, no phone can do that with its onboard battery. But compared to the iphone, battery life is pretty good for the power user. I downloaded three full episodes of "American Horror Story" without plugging in, one via torrent and the other two via UseNet. Also web surfed and texted during the download. This was at Starbucks with about a dozen laptops and a half dozen smartphones on the wifi, so this took a while but the battery was still at 30% when I left. Better than any other phone I have ever used, and right up there with the Note2 Tablet. Oh, yeah, and I watched a movie and a couple of 3 stooges episodes, too. And listened to tunes the rest of the time.


And back to the size... this phone is really thin. That's really cool, but I would rather have it 1/4" thicker and have a big monster battery. An aftermarket back, with room for a battery big enough to jumpstart your car, would be a good 3rd party accessory. This thin-ness craze is the tail that wags the dog, and it is mostly at the expense of battery size.


There are only a couple of real phones that are bigger. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra, at 6.4", and Samsung's Galaxy Mega, at 6.3" both outdo this 5.7" phone, but I personally don't think they would make very good pocket devices. YMMV. This is about the upper practical limit, for me, I think. I have made phone calls on my Tab2, but it feels all clunky and dorky. The Note3 still feels like a phone when making or taking a call.


I am using a 64Gb micro SD card, and with the 32Gb onboard RAM, that's a respectable amount of storage. But why not multiple card slots? Sure, 64GB of extra storage is sweeeeeeet, but 128GB or 256GB would be even better. I guess they got to save something for the Note4. And why not dual SIM slots? Cheap CHinese knockoff phones have dual SIMs. Why not a good phone?


A lot of folks have criticized the fake leather back, but I kind of like it. It makes it a little easier to hold on to, but doesn't interfere much when going in or out of a pocket. Looks kinda strange but who cares?


The camera is one of the few things that the iphone does better but the Note3's camera is still pretty awesome, and does good stuff in low light without flash. Resolution isn't bad. But I haven't played around with the various modes or settings yet so it might end up proving to be the better phone, after all. And the screen is pretty awesome, too, about as good as the retina display that apple is so proud of. Big improvement over the original Note, or the S2. It is brighter than my Tab2. Colors are stunning.


The Android operating system just keeps getting better, while iOS keeps getting tighter and more obstructive and restrictive. This device came with Android 4.3 onboard. I haven't tried any custom ROMS on it yet, partly because there aren't any yet. Google made a token effort to block custom ROM flashing, but it can and will be done. Rooting is fairly straightforward, though. Once you have full root access, a Droid really grows wings. Bluetooth/Wifi tether, anyone? Torrent? UseNet, FTP?


The GPS seems a good bit more sensitive than the iphone, on par with the Tab2. I have not had the GPS signal drop, yet. It performs well for both land and marine navigation. Even indoors I get pretty good performance.


To be honest, I don't even notice the much vaunted S-Pen. I have only pulled it out maybe 4 times to play around with it. But it's not in the way, so no biggie. Some folks will like it, though.


Voice apps work great. Google has a nice little widget... I get its attention by saying, "Google!" and then I can tell it what I want. I can ask for directions and ask it to navigate me to my destination, set it down in the seat of my truck, and not even look at it. It literally tells me by voice step by step how to get where I need to go. It does google searches by voice, of course. It isn't as good of a conversationalist as Siri, but who wants to have a conversation with their phone, anyway?


The quad-core chipset seems to be doing a great job of providing true computing power without draining the battery too quickly. I haven't tried any games but file operations are pretty quick. Text string searches, file searches, copy, cut and paste, move files, delete, all happen at the speed of thought.


Be sure to check out the Galaxy Gear watch, a "smart watch" that interfaces with the phablet so you can do stuff without taking the phone out of pocket, briefcase, or backpack. Kewl. But I spent enough on the phone already, and my Casio still keeps better time than a Rolex, so I'm not biting yet.


The phone comes with a LOT of bloatware. However, some of it just might prove useful as I get more used to the phone. The "TouchWiz" interface and all the S-Pen's apps and features seem like a ball and chain shackled to a racehorse right now. Later, I will probably turn a bunch of stuff off or get rid of it. One of the nice things about a rooted droid is being able to do stuff like that. There should be an option to turn off the stuff that is S-Pen centric even in an unrooted phone, for those who just can't be bothered, but obviously Samsung is really proud of their pet stylus so I don't think that's gonna happen.


PLASTIC PLASTIC PLASTIC! ALL PLASTIC! I thought it at least had a metal band around the edge but that is plastic, too. Oh well. No biggie. But there should be some aluminum or magnesium in the case for this price, I think. The back cover seems very flimsy when you take it off. Once it is locked back in place, though, it seems fairly solid and substantial.


Apps I like to use a lot on this phone:
Ttorrent (With PirateBay browser app)
PowerNZB (a Usenet client that supports NZB files and UseNet indexing sites)
PDANet, a tethering utility.
TomTom, the famous land navigation app
Notepad, a 3rd party text editor. The built in app is too pen dependant and simply isn't simple enough for me to find practical and efficient
Google Earth
Google Maps-- both these apps of course interface well with Google Search
TouchTunes, a jukebox control app that lets you play music on any enabled jukebox with your own personal playlists and credits that nobody but you can play.
Root Explorer, a good file manager that interfaces nicely with the Android OS
DGS Tides
Navionics marine navigation apps
MX Mariner
OpenDocument Reader
Polaris Office 5


Apps I am waiting for:
VLC. The current version doesn't play on my Note3.
SeaIQ, a marine navigation app that can utilize the CM93 electronic chart portfolio, as well as most of my other charts. I love it on my iphone. The Android port of this great app is still a work in progress.
OpenCPN, my favorite marine navigation all for windows or linux laptops. This app runs the CM93 charts as well as most other nautical charts. OCPN really needs to be fully ported to Android. There is a very kludgy workaround involving running Linux on a Droid device in a loop file, and installing OpenCPN within the linux environment, but to me, it aint nothing pretty.
A good DOS environment complete with some flavor of BASIC, as well as BAT file support, for quickie programming tasks.
Open Office, the open source MS Office replacement. This needs to be on Droid, too.


My iphone was running iOS 5.1, jailbroken, and I could have upgraded to 6.0 to 6.2 and re-jailbroke before the window to install that version closed, but I didn't. I was actually okay with running 5.1 forever. However, SeaIQ, that most excellent and versatile marine navigation app, won't run on less than iOS6, and since I can't install 6.0 on an iphone 4S now, even with the correct blobs, I had to upgrade to 7.0 and the jailbreak for iOS7 is not out yet. Until I had a pocketsize droid that was rooted, I couldn't do without jailbreak on my iphone. Now I can rely on my new rooted droid as my pocket computer, at least until the iOS7 jailbreak is released, and I only keep the iphone around to use SeaIQ with my own charts. So getting this new Note3 has enabled me to add SeaIQ to my bag of tricks, without losing any of my former capabilities since the droid covers pretty much all my other needs.


SPECS
Chipset: Qualcom Snapdragon quad core
Speed: Each core runs at 2.3GHz
Battery: 3.2 amp/hour. Pretty awesome, actually.
Display: 5.7in full HD 1080p Super AMOLED
IR Blaster for use as TV or appliance remote
Hotspot functionality
Back camera: 13mp with LED flash, lots of tweaks
Front camera: 2Mp resolution.
Digital image stabilisation
Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n, micro SD, micro USB, 3.5mm headphone jack
Bands: GSM, CDMA, HSDPA, 4G (Frequencies vary with model) 700, 800, 850, 900, 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2600 MHz
T-Mobile branded model SM-900T uses the following bands:
GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900
UTMS: Band 1 (2100), Band 2 (1900), Band 4 (1700), Band 5 (850)
LTE: Band 4 (1700), Band 17 (700), Band 1 (2100), Band 2 (1900), Band 5 (850), Band 7 (2600)
So the T-Mobile version has just about every band that any GSM carrier in the world would require in a handset.


Size: 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm
Weight: 168g
Other: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, temperature, humidity, gesture
And a bunch more stuff I don't remember or don't think is very important in the big scheme of things.


Final comment: The T-Mobile variant, model SM-900T, gets two thumbs up in spite of being about $50 more than I would expect it to be. If you don't need or want a big screen, and don't need a "SuperWatch" to make calls or do google searches from, consider the Galaxy S4 instead.
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Old 03-11-2013, 03:10   #2
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Re: My new Samsung Note3: Impressions

An impressive review. For someone who is not especially techie, I don't have a clue as to what the abbreviated items are and what they do and why they are useful. I use a Samsum S3 which seems to have a mind of its own and constantly see things change on their own...For example the txt icon decided to become hidden and I had to discover that there is a setting to hide of unhide an icon. My sense is that the capabilities exceed most average users of these devices. I find the miniaturized keyboards absurd. But I marvel at the thumb typers. Speech to text is a hoot despite no punctuation and failing to recognize lots of words. I wouldn't use text messaging if the feature did not exist. The google maps feature for street nav has a mind of its own and I don't see a setting for north up or heading up. I don't care for its zoom in and out interface. Or am I too dumb to learn how to make it do what I want? I have no trouble what so ever with the IQue3600 approach to all this and find it vastly superior and user friendly. Perhaps we need to go for smart phone lessons as there is no real way to learn all this stuff, whether it is even useful to your life... other than trial and error. For example this review taught me nothing about using Android as much as what acronyns is does and doesn't do well. I switched from an older Iphone which I found limiting (size). Got the wife a tab 2 which seems to be a good alternative to a laptop for web surfing which is what she does. For DOING work I prefer a desktop with a good keyboard and a large or pair of monitors. Can't stand track pads on laptops either. The tricks are coming out faster than this old dog can learn them.
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Old 03-11-2013, 05:00   #3
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Re: My new Samsung Note3: Impressions

Excellent review!

Sounds like an excellent device. As an early smartphone adopter, who has been using them since the original Sony Ericsson P800i, I am watching with interest the convergence of tablets and phones.

I have a Samsung Tab2 which I like but which is definitely too big to be a phone.

My present phone is a Sony Experia Z which I love. It is a pretty good tablet, and works as a phone without any compromises. To boot, it is waterproof. I agree with all the comments about Android -- it is remarkably good and getting better all the time; no comparison at all to the iron straitjacket of the IPhone system. I have even managed to stop missing the wonderful MeeGo system I had on my last phone, a Nokia N9.

Using the Experia, I wonder why no one thought earlier about bigger screens. As long as it fits in a shirt pocket and falls easily to hand, and is not too heavy or too thick, I don't size is a disadvantage. The 5" Experia is for me in no way less convenient to carry than my previous 4" Nokia. So interesting -- could we keep going, on to 6", say, without becoming awkward to carry or use?

I would be interested in playing around with one of these Samsungs.
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Old 03-11-2013, 09:09   #4
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Re: My new Samsung Note3: Impressions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sandero View Post
An impressive review. For someone who is not especially techie, I don't have a clue as to what the abbreviated items are and what they do and why they are useful. I use a Samsum S3 which seems to have a mind of its own and constantly see things change on their own...For example the txt icon decided to become hidden and I had to discover that there is a setting to hide of unhide an icon. My sense is that the capabilities exceed most average users of these devices. I find the miniaturized keyboards absurd. But I marvel at the thumb typers. Speech to text is a hoot despite no punctuation and failing to recognize lots of words. I wouldn't use text messaging if the feature did not exist. The google maps feature for street nav has a mind of its own and I don't see a setting for north up or heading up. I don't care for its zoom in and out interface. Or am I too dumb to learn how to make it do what I want? I have no trouble what so ever with the IQue3600 approach to all this and find it vastly superior and user friendly. Perhaps we need to go for smart phone lessons as there is no real way to learn all this stuff, whether it is even useful to your life... other than trial and error. For example this review taught me nothing about using Android as much as what acronyns is does and doesn't do well. I switched from an older Iphone which I found limiting (size). Got the wife a tab 2 which seems to be a good alternative to a laptop for web surfing which is what she does. For DOING work I prefer a desktop with a good keyboard and a large or pair of monitors. Can't stand track pads on laptops either. The tricks are coming out faster than this old dog can learn them.
LOL! I feel your pain! Smartphones can be infuriating that way, with all the hidden tweaks and controls and settings and options. It is a process. I keep finding things I can do to make my droid or my jailbroke iphone work better. Good 3rd party manuals either in paper or PDF can be a big help. Of course, it helps to be able to store and read the document right there on the device! For navigation app orientation, BTW, look for a North arrow. Try tapping it. Try also subscribing to the various online smartphone forums. There are some for iOS and some for Android. Usually there is a mix of ignoramuses who always answer with, "RTFM" or "Read the FAQ!" or "That's what the Wiki was created for, to answer all these newb questions", along with the truly helpful and knowledgeable folks who will patiently walk you through a solution to your problem and educate others reading the thread, as well as yourself.

The more you read and the more you explore the capabilities of your phone, the more you will discover that you can do. A good smartphone can do more cool stuff and do it well, than most users can even imagine. You never learn it all! I mean never. They are such capable and versatile devices that you will actually invent things to use them for, on your own, in time.

The fact that so much capability has to be packed in such a small package nearly defies the very laws of nature and ensures that they will always be somewhat cryptic, with lots of hidden "easter egg" type features that are absolutely not obvious to the user. A full desktop computer has everything more spread out, and there is usually a half dozen ways to perform a particular task. Not so most smartphones. There is no hardwired keyboard, and the screen can be covered by your hand. Multiple windows and true multitasking are hard to manage efficiently and easily. It's a size thing. One of these days we will just have a chip implanted in our heads and we can just think stuff and get it done, but for now, portability comes with a price.

One thing about Rooting a Droid, or Jailbreaking an iphone... it increases your ability to do cool things, or even things that are simple on a big computer, but it also gives you the power to really mess up your device. Always proceed with caution after making a verified backup of your entire device and ensuring that you will be able to restore it fully, one way or the other. If you only have one Android phone, I wouldn't root it. If you have two, ROOT THAT SUCKER AND HAVE FUN!!!!
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Old 03-11-2013, 09:45   #5
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Re: My new Samsung Note3: Impressions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
Excellent review!

Sounds like an excellent device. As an early smartphone adopter, who has been using them since the original Sony Ericsson P800i, I am watching with interest the convergence of tablets and phones.

I have a Samsung Tab2 which I like but which is definitely too big to be a phone.

My present phone is a Sony Experia Z which I love. It is a pretty good tablet, and works as a phone without any compromises. To boot, it is waterproof. I agree with all the comments about Android -- it is remarkably good and getting better all the time; no comparison at all to the iron straitjacket of the IPhone system. I have even managed to stop missing the wonderful MeeGo system I had on my last phone, a Nokia N9.

Using the Experia, I wonder why no one thought earlier about bigger screens. As long as it fits in a shirt pocket and falls easily to hand, and is not too heavy or too thick, I don't size is a disadvantage. The 5" Experia is for me in no way less convenient to carry than my previous 4" Nokia. So interesting -- could we keep going, on to 6", say, without becoming awkward to carry or use?

I would be interested in playing around with one of these Samsungs.
I think the somewhat bigger Galaxy Mega can be had, unlocked, for under $500 but it is probably not quite as capable as the Note3. If it is just a question of having the S-Pen and associated apps, I think it is a fair trade myself because I am not loving the S-Pen so far. I am not even aware that it is there most of the time. The Note2 is still being sold, and it is about the same price as the Mega but not quite the phone that the Note3 is. The Note3 is actually slightly smaller but has a slightly bigger screen than the Note2. On the plus side, that makes the Note2 slightly easier to handle by the edges of the device. You might find a used one for a good price if it is just something to mess around with.

One of the most important things for us of course is a true GPS, giving you position determination even in the total absence of a cel phone signal. This is a pretty common feature now, though, and many phones even incorporate the Russian GLONASS system with the GPS, for more refined position. One of the great things about a smartphone is it is yet another means of fixing your position and navigating out of sight of land or visual nav aids. There was a time when our primary means of ocean navigation was celestial, with a good DR being not only an integral part of that, but also our backup. Then the start of the radio age gave us RDF to supplement that. Then we got cool stuff like DECCA, LORAN A, OMEGA, LORAN C, SatNav, GPS, all that stuff, and usually we had one of the above, with Celestial and DR as a backup. Now it is becoming increasingly practical (if still slightly imprudent!) to learn to sail without even learning celestial navigation at all, and with multiple and redundant battery and battery charging options, one could use paper charts with a traditional GPS, or a chart plotter GPS, along with a tablet or smartphone, and it is your choice which is primary and which is backup. These things are definitely changing the face of navigation, and not necessarily for the worse as I once believed. Paper charts are great, but now, with a proper plan of total redundancy, I am not so hostile against the idea of a paperless navigation station. It can now be done safely, with a good bit of thought and care. The smartphone is quickly becoming the Navigator's best friend. But there is no room in my pocket or on my boat for a smartphone that can't navigate in mid ocean, and there shouldn't be in yours, either.

With all that, if you are curious about these new bigger phones, I say get one and have fun with it! And Samsung is not the only game in town, either, thought right now they seem to be leading the pack with the S4 and the Note3, and the sheer volume of users makes it easy to get support from other users, which is very important if you want to either root or unlock your device. Root apps/methods and custom ROMs are always going to be out for Samsung before the smaller players.
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