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AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review: One amazing phablet

AT&T Wireless Samsung Galaxy Note 3


The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 may be the world's most popular phablet, and with good reason. I tested a demo unit from AT&T Wireless, and the Galaxy Note 3 offers myriad gee-whiz features on a sleek, beautiful phone which somehow manages not to seem huge despite its giant 5.7" display.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has the standard, easily configurable Android home screen.
Beth McIntire
The Note 3's onscreen keypad sports multi-function keys and a top number row.
Beth McIntire

The term "phablet" has come to refer to a smart phone with a screen larger than 5" - thus making it larger than a standard smart phone but a bit smaller than a 7" tablet. For comparison, a premium smart phone like the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 5" display. All current iPhone models have 4" displays.

Measuring 5.9" by 3.1" by .3" and weighing 5.9 ounces, the Note 3 doesn't waste much space - it takes up nearly all of its frontage with screen real estate and has little extraneous framing. The Note 3's gorgeous display offers breathtakingly lovely HD videos, sharp and easy to read text and vibrant game playing.

Those who have trouble with the text and video size on smaller phones will delight in the Note 3's large letters and outsize viewing screen. Whether you watch YouTube videos, take in HBOGO movies, play games such as Words With Friends, read Kindle books or simply work with emails and texts, the Note 3 has you covered.

The Note 3 sports an onscreen keyboard with large, multi-function keys and a top number row. Those with large hands or who otherwise have trouble using a virtual keyboard may consider the Note 3's S Pen stylus a big selling point. The S Pen slides neatly and snugly into the phone to keep it safe yet easy to access quickly.

If you do have trouble using an onscreen keyboard, you may also want to try Android's voice typing capability along with Samsung's S Voice feature for hands-free operation of your phone. Like the Galaxy S4, the Note 3 offers the ability to wave over the phone to accomplish certain tasks, but the voice capabilities seem more impressive and useful to me.

With its 2.3 GHz quad core processor and 3 GB of onboard memory, the Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) Note 3 boasts almost unrivaled performance, with lightning quick app installs and ultra-smooth overall operation. The Note 3 comes with up to 32 GB of storage, and I recommend adding a microSD card for additional space. The Note 3 can take up to a 64 GB card.

Using a free storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive can help you manage the space on your phone if you regularly or automatically upload to the cloud and then clear pictures and videos from your phone on occasion.

The Note 3's 13 MP camera with 4x zoom and LED flash takes amazing pictures and HD videos plus 2 MP front-facing pictures. The device also includes a mind-boggling collection of photo editing and enhancement tools.

Examples include Drama Shot for taking a series of action shots and knitting them together into a single picture, Sound & Shot for capturing audio along with your still pictures, Beauty Face to brighten or darken skin tones and hide imperfections in portraits and Best Photo to choose the best out of multiple shots.

The photo tools also let you choose from a variety of different special effects, draw inside the picture or even erase from the picture. You can use Panorama to make a single widescreen picture from consecutive shots. The "Stickers" collection lets you choose from dozens of sticker-like additions for your photos, such as mustaches, hearts, smilies, sunglasses, hearts, stars and hats. The frames options let you choose among various different frames for your photos.

The Note 3's battery can last for several days with light usage. The device does have a user replaceable battery, meaning that if the battery starts to have problems like not holding a sufficient charge, you can open up the back and replace it yourself. Strangely, the Note 3 uses a non-standard charger, so you can't re-purpose an old wall or car charger for it, even in a pinch.

With a Galaxy Note 3 instead of a standard-sized smart phone, you give up two main things - the ability to comfortably carry the phone in a pants pocket, and a significant chunk of change for the purchase price.

AT&T currently charges $299.99 for the Note 3 with a two-year contract, but you may find a lower price if you watch AT&T's Web site for sales. The Note 3 makes excellent use of AT&T's zippy 4G LTE mobile network, and I picked up a strong AT&T 4G LTE signal anywhere I went with the Note 3.

The Note 3 also includes Polaris Office 5 for working with MS Office documents and spreadsheets. AT&T offers several add-on (extra cost) services, too, such as Family Map and Mobile TV.

One of Samsung's big marketing hooks for their upper-tier mobile devices like the Note 3 is their new line of Galaxy Gear, with gadgets that integrate with the phone, such as a wristwatch.

The Galaxy Note 3 has far more features than I can adequately cover in a normal-length review during a relatively brief demo period. You may have a Galaxy Note 3 for many months and only scratch the surface of the device's capabilities.

You don't have to buy Galaxy Gear or even consider yourself technologically inclined to find plenty to love in the Note 3, though, such as the dazzling large screen, nicely sized keyboard keys, smooth and speedy performance, fantastic camera and included stylus for more precise input.

If you want a combination of a giant screen and one of the best smart phones available, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 should make the short list. You'll have trouble finding a phablet to rival the Note 3.

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