Pen

ATTs Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The Short Version
If you like Droid, and you like a nice big screen backed by a powerful processor, this phone will not disappoint you.

AT&T’s Network
This phone can’t fix their network.  But it is not the device, from what I can tell, because this is my third ATT phone and the symptoms of dropping calls, dropping off the network while the phone says it is on the network, and GPS locking up in a signal-rich environment  while your friend’s phone works just fine. . . . yeah, all that has come for the ride with each phone.

So why do I stay with AT&T? I didn’t – I bounced to Sprint which was a really bad experience.  And then I talked to friends about their networks, and although Verizon came out on top of the perception surveys, it was way more expensive and it wasn’t worth it for me to experiment.

Plus, AT&T has restructured their plans similar to T-Mobile and other “a la carte” providers – so they have new bulk data plans which makes it much more reasonable to use the tethering feature on the device, and they have plans that let you go month-to-month for cell service, and pay monthly to purchase the device.  It’s much better than the 2-year agreeement BS.  I just wish they would work on their reliability…

The Basics
Let’s start with the basics.  The phone is powerful, bright, high resolution, has a gloriously large screen, and the newer version of Android brings a lot of usability features to the forefront so you don’t have to dig down into a thousand submenus to find things.

Is Android the Answer
For folks who don’t know what OS they want, I am not going to say Android is the answer! Every OS has its zealots. I am an Android Zealot, and I am pretty sure Google has cloned me and will be replacing me with the clone and taking over my life in the next 10 years.  But in the next 10 years, the ocean will be 98% water, 1% salt and 1% discarded cell phones, so whatever.  Bottom line, you need to either visit a store front or sit in front of a friend’s phone and try out Android, iOS, other operating systems and maybe even (cringe) Windows 8! Try making a call, accessing contacts, using the calendar, and other things that you will use the phone for every single day. The Galaxy Note 3 is my favorite Android phone, but I already knew I was getting another droid.

Why Not A Tablet?
Screen size was a primary factor for me – the more real estate the better.  One of my primary questions became, “did I want a big-ass phone? Or, did I want a smaller, less powerful phone and a tablet instead?”  I decided on a big-ass phone, and was looking at the Mega vs the Note 3.  The Note 3 screen is significantly smaller, but the Mega is like… buying the Playskool ™ version of the Note 3.  Why bother? Note 3 crushes the Mega in terms of screen resolution, color vibrancy,  processing moxie, and features, so Note 3 it was! The Note 3 still fits in your pocket… but with armor, it does look like you are really happy all the time…and well, I wouldn’t recommend skinny jeans and a Note 3.

Battery Life
It would take an “arc reactor” to give the Note 3 any battery life.  I pull it off the charger and listen to the battery drain like air escaping out of a balloon. That’s cool with me though, because any bigger a battery and the thing would be too thick or too heavy.  The battery can keep the phone going for about…a day, but I keep a charger within arms reach at all possible times.

Advanced Features
Samsung has a majority of its crazy features disabled when you take it out of the box, and candidly, I don’t use most of them very frequently, but depending on the user, maybe they would be handy. There’s the proximity bump-and-share thing (I grew up being taught that bumping-and-share spreads disease, so not my thing). There’s a way to do split window for multi-tasking (chat and browsing, or video conference and note taking, etc) – I’ve used it to take notes while watching a webinar.  There is even a way to draw windows and fill them with applications so you could have conceivably many windowed apps on the ready… but I don’t use it for anything other than coffee table discussion (hey look, my phone can do this…and this is the only time I ever do!).  It can tell if you are looking at it, and do facial recognition, and you can give it voice commands, and it can scroll when it thinks your eyes are at the bottom of the page… yup, I do very little of that.  Sometimes it is handy to say a navigation address instead of type it, but trying to dial one of my friends from a voice command is a waste of time (not giving actual name, but it was not “Jones”):

Me: “Call Tom Jones.”
Phone: “Did you say call Fred Smith?”
Me: “No.”
Phone: “Oh, my bad. Try Again.”
Me: “Call Tom Jones.”
Phone: “Here are the people I have named Tom: 1) Tom Tim, 2) Tom Jah-Nose (spelled Tom Jones), which one should I call?”
Me: (mimicking phone’s pronunciation) “Tom Jah-Nose.”
Phone: “Sorry if I am pissing you off but the Tom’s I have are 1) Tom Tim, 2) Tom Jah-Nose. Which one should I call?”
Me: (wild guess) “The second one.”
Phone: “I don’t show a person with that name in your address book.  Would you like me to just give up?”
Me: “Yes.”
Phone: “That’s not nice. I am telling all the other Samsung devices on earth to kill you now.”

Virtual Keyboard
Because the screen is so large, the virtual keyboard is plenty roomy.  In fact, I wish I could shrink it (and it does have a one-handed mode, but still not quite what I want).  And there are a couple bugs that seem to recur – I don’t know if it is Android or just the Note 3 but sometimes the keyboard will pop up and I can type all I want, but no text displays anywhere.  I have to navigate away from the app or pretend to share my location and then navigate back in order for the typing to produce letters.

Another curious bug will display the wrong keyboard layout – it shows the chat layout, with “smileys” instead of the “Go” button, and in a web browser that isn’t the right layout! Tapping the “sym” key one or two times resolves this issue.

The Pen
I really, really, really like the pen.  Most of the time, it is faster to just type using the virtual keyboard, but I do doodle on paper and I am that guy in a meeting who has to draw two squares and circle on the whiteboard because I think it will help explain why Ewoks suck… so, the anti-Ewok pen is PERFECT for that.  They also have an app called S Sketch that is easy to use, scrap-booking and marking up content off the web is simple (when you take the pen out of the device it gives you a few options in a radial menu)…  but seriously, to capture something visually and share it, you can’t beat the pen!!

Accessories
There is supposedly a really cool health watch, but I have tried it out.  And of course, when buying a phone that costs as much as a laptop and more than most tablets, a case seemed like a good idea.  I might have just gotten unlucky, but I bought an INCIPIO case and it totally sucks rocks.  The case started disintegrating a few days after I bought it – just little chunks of it started flaking off, then a couple cracks formed, and now it has become kind-of a National Geographic observation mission as I watch with morbid fascination how long it will take this case to decompose without ever having been dropped or even bumped!! Needless to say, you can either buy an OtterBox, which makes the phone super huge but will protect your phone through nuclear holocausts and the subsequent winter, or buy some other brand… I just don’t recommend INCIPIO at all, and I think it would be better to skin an Ewok and use that to protect the phone (I am pretty sure they are the one life form that PETA actually supports killing, but I haven’t researched their position in earnest).

App Store
As a droid, the Play Store is of course the store-front of choice, but as a Samsung, folks can also take advantage of that store-front although most apps are available on both stores.  I haven’t looked into it a lot.  Samsung & AT&T have some apps that overlap with Google’s and gives you choices, but sometimes the apps get annoyed with each other… I still get the messaging app from Samsung popping notifications for SMS messages on occasion even though I use the Google app for that, for example.

Smart TV Integration
Yeah – I have read complaint after complaint about how the Smart TV app (Samsung Smart View) does not work on the Note 3, and I tried getting my phone to talk to my friend’s Samsung Smart TV… it didn’t go well.  But I will probably do a separate write-up on Smart TV after a while.  I couldn’t get the screen to share at all, the remote control was not reliable, and you are still stuck typing using the TVs funky on screen keyboard which is stupidly slow.  Samsung will probably fix this, I would think, for one of their flagship mobile devices, but as of this writing…no love.

Summary
I know, I put it up top…but hey… I really dig this phone.  As usual, technology has a long way to go before it is as smooth as we see when watching television or movies. You don’t see actors waiting for buffering, dealing with network drops, browsers hanging, etc… . .or the shows would turn from dramas into comedies.  And as usual, comedy usually renders a more faithful depiction of technology than drama.  But, as far as mobile gadgets go, the Note 3 is impressive and very functional.