“Despite ranking below the Note 3, Samsung’s latest phablet is still a formidable device in its category.”
Samsung should be credited for unwittingly kickstarting the phablet craze. When the very first Note was launched three years ago, the average user was still averse to smartphones with large displays. But unlike most big-screen devices, the Note actually made use of all that real-estate. It brought back the stylus, which had become associated with unresponsive resistive touchscreens, and with it, a handful of apps designed exclusively to work with it. Coupled with great hardware and commendable performance, the Note lineup quickly became one of Samsung’s most popular series, where it remains today.The latest entrant among the Note series is the Note 3 Neo. A mildly downgraded version of the Note 3, the Note 3 Neo brings all the features of the flagship, albeit at a lower price. We’ve been using it for over a week now and you might have read our first impressions and slideshow review, but if you’ve been waiting for the juicy details, here’s the big one.
Definitely not a budget NoteThe fascia is home to a notification LED and the front camera, along with proximity and light sensors. At the bottom is a single physical home button, with the touch sensitive Android keys on either side. Related read: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo vs Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Skips 1080p, but still stunning
Feature-packed snappers, pleasing resultsThe Note 3 Neo sports an 8MP rear camera and 2MP front shooter. The camera app is choc-a-bloc with all the same filters, controls and editing options as the Note 3. You get a choice of several filters, which can be applied before or after editing. From the settings menu, you can adjust metering, ISO, White Balance and Exposure. The camera also offers a burst mode, face detection, tap to shoot, and smart stabilisation. There are a few scene modes as well, such as Beauty Face, Best Shot, Drama, HDR, Panorama and Sports. Expecting decent low-light images from a smartphone camera is next to impossible, but the primary camera does enough justice to make them usable. We can’t say the same for the front camera, though, which gave us overly grainy results, and should be strictly reserved for daytime selfies and video calls. Both cameras are capable of 1080p video recording.
TouchWiz is a bag of tricksThe phablet runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, but there’s no news on a planned KitKat upgrade, which has already been seeded out to the Note 3. Any trace of the minimalist Android interface is overshadowed by Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, which can be overwhelming with its colourful icons and crowded menus. The Note 3 Neo comes with a repository of fancy tricks and pre-loaded apps, which you may or may not end up using (we’re leaning towards the latter). However, there are a few useful features like Multi Window, which allows you to divide the screen in half and run two apps simultaneously. There are also several face detection gimmicks, like Smart Pause, Smart Stay and Smart Scroll, although these only worked when we held the device at eye level and looked at the screen directly. Honestly, if you don’t want to end up with a neck ache, you’d be better off using the manual controls. We liked the Palm motion gestures though, which let you capture a screenshot by swiping across the screen with your palm, or mute sounds by covering the screen with your hand. In the app drawer, you’ll find a Samsung folder with several apps, which being Samsung’s own, you can’t delete even if you want to. We won’t go over the whole list, but it does include Story Album, S Health and WatchON. Taking on HTC’s Blinkfeed you get My Magazine, an app which sources content from Flipboard and sports a similar UI. The app can be accessed by swiping upwards on the screen from the bottom, and displays three feeds for news, personal and social updates. Among the third-party apps on offer are Flipboard itself, Evernote, Dropbox and TripAdvisor.
More than just a stylusPulling the S Pen out of its slot seems almost natural on the Note 3 Neo, and we found ourselves using it for non-specific tasks too. Unlike regular styli, the S Pen is useful for artists and corporate folk alike, making it versatile in functionality. Samsung has thoughtfully packaged extra S Pen tips and a clamp to remove them in the retail box, so you can replace tips when they get worn out.
Good performance, but glitchy gamingThe Note 3 Neo is powered by a hexa-core Exynos 5260 SoC. It’s made up of two separate clusters, a quad-core clocked at 1.3GHz and a dual-core clocked at 1.7GHz, and switches between the two depending upon the requirements of the apps and games being run. Unlike the Note 3, which also had a Snapdragon variant (not available in India), the Note 3 Neo sticks solely to Samsung’s own processor. The chipset is coupled with 2GB of RAM, which handles day-to-day tasks with ease. The phone rarely slowed down or became unresponsive while we used it, although we did find that the auto-brightness tended to be glitchy at times. The big display means the Note 3 Neo has space for a large battery, but nothing prepared us for its 3,100mAh tireless monster. Lasting us 14 hours and 20 minutes in our video loop test, the Note 3 Neo’s battery is one of the best we’ve come across on any smartphone and tablet in a while, which makes it a refreshing change from most of the power-guzzlers out there. This ensures the device can comfortably get through a day and a half of heavy usage, and you could stretch it to two days if you used it sparingly.
Pricing and verdictjust dropped the price to Rs 33,990. This makes it almost Rs 7,000 cheaper than the Note 3, which retails for approximately Rs 41,000. Ideally, the device should have sported a sub-Rs 30,000 price tag, but now that we’ve seen an official price drop, it should be available for less on online retailers. Price aside, in terms of specs and performance alone, the Note 3 Neo still outclasses most of the phablets currently available, and is a good bet for those of you who want a fully-loaded performer without the jaw-dropping price, or simply think mint green is your colour. Editor’s rating: 8 / 10 Pros:
- Vibrant display
- All the trademark Note features and apps
- Battery that lasts long, really long
- Commendable day-to-day performance
- Decent rear camera
- No planned KitKat update
- Too much bloatware
- Not great for gaming
- A tad pricey