I was supposed to write this review two weeks ago. Then a week ago. Then three days ago.
I think I’ve been putting it off because once it’s written, it means my time playing with it comes to an official end. And, overall, I have really enjoyed my Samsung GALAXY experience.
I don’t fashion myself a tech reviewer — which you know if you read my BlackBerry Q10 review — so you can just hit your “back” button now if you’re here looking for things like aspect ratios and processors. I don’t have a clue what’s in the guts of my Samsung Note3. But I do know what it takes to keep a family calendar, workout sessions, meetings and grocery lists organized.
So if you’re a busy parent who’s resolved (desperately) to keep it all together in 2014, and you’re on the hunt for a new smartphone, and perhaps a smart-watch, then read on.
Thanks to TELUS for sending me the Samsung GALAXY Note3 and GALAXYGear watch to test for the last two months. Because of the company’s fantastic 4G LTE network, I was even able to use the Note3 during Ice Storm 2013 — while my iPhone on a different network went all squirrelly.
On the TELUS front, if you didn’t see any of its tear-jerking “Greatest Connection” holiday reunions like this one where a man named Shaun was reunited with his Grandma who he hadn’t seen in 30 years, please check it out. The gift TELUS gave these people is worthy of your time.
And one final noteworthy piece about something that TELUS is doing: TELUS WISE. It’s a brave new world of smartphones and social media and my children won’t know a life without either. The TELUS WISE movement exists to keep you and your family safe online — from sharing photos on Facebook to cyberbullying. There are areas designated just for parents and just for kids (aimed at tweens and teens), and I’d encourage you to explore it together. There are videos and even seminars that schools, communities and parenting groups can book or watch virtually.
So, let’s dive in. I’m going to review both devices below, so stick with me if you’re only looking for information on one or the other.
Should you be one of the rare people without a tablet who’s in need of both a phone and tablet-like device, you’d be wise to consider the Note3. The screen is sizable and makes watching videos, scrolling through photos and playing games a real pleasure. You can see far more detail than on any other phone I’ve ever used, and it truly does rival some of the smaller tablets, like the HP Slate 7, when you factor in the extra convenience of it doubling as a mobile phone.
Speaking of photos and videos, the quality is exceptional. Taking photos with the Note3 nearly ensures a good-quality shot every time. You can set it up to take photos using the round “button” that appears in camera mode OR by touching anywhere on the screen. The latter increases sensitivity, though, so you’ll probably end up with more accidental photos…like those in-between moments you really don’t want to capture for all time.
Recording videos has got to be one of my favourite features of this phone. Although there’s one thing I think Samsung has got to change (see GAFFEs), the sound records beautifully and there’s a pause button! Coming from an iPhone where you better do your whole video so-help-you-God in one take as if you’re an indie film director vying for Cannes, I relish in the pause-button feature. It makes me happy and if you take a lot of videos, especially of kids who are extraordinarily worthy of do-overs, it’ll make you happy, too.
The Samsung Note3 comes with extra pens. And if you let your children play with said pens, you’re going to need them. They’re cute and very functional but they’re tiny and I believe couch crevices and the underbellies of car seats call to them. That pen is the answer to my shorter grocery lists and random bursts of genius that are lost in 27 seconds if not jotted down.
My TELUS Learning Centre session with Bill in the Bowmanville store taught me all about the home-screen customization that’s possible. It’s endless, really, and once you get the hang of moving apps and widgets around, it’s clear that the brains at Samsung really understand one’s
desire need to stay organized — whatever organized is for you.
There are heaps of great apps for adults that are productivity-based and my kids had no problem finding some of their favourite games.
The battery life! Oh…I’m tempted to move this paragraph way up because the Note3’s battery life is so spectacular. I really want to add an expletive before “spectacular,” too, because it’s that good. Easily the longest-lasting battery of any phone I’ve ever owned. Period. With VERY heavy use, it will last from sun up to sun down and beyond; with infrequent use, it’s lasted me an entire week on one charge.
This sucker is robust. I (stupidly) didn’t put a protective case on it and between the kids dropping it on our hardwood floor a few times and one really unfortunate mishap caused by an upside-down purse, which resulted in the Note3 dropping about four feet onto the parking lot pavement at the Oshawa Centre, this is the only damage it incurred (small nicks in the silver frame in the upper-left corner):
If you’ve ever tried to power-up your iPhone once it’s died with that awful swirling before your eyes as you’re just about to complete a totally awesome Vine video (not that I’m drawing from experience or anything…), you know how frustrating it is to have to wait it out whilst it’s plugged into the wall for what seems like eternity. Especially if it’s 6:20 a.m. and you’re waiting outside your eyelash lady’s house for a 6:30 a.m. appointment and miss a flurry of texts alerting you not to come because she’s sick. The good news is that as soon as my Note3 would die of exhaustion, I could plug it in and instantly start it back up as soon as I could find the charger.
This is more an Android thing than a Samsung thing, I think, but I love being able to tag names in Facebook. I can’t seem to do that with my iPhone and it irritates me to no end. Now, this comes with its own gaffe, which you’ll read about shortly, but I’d live with it to have the ability to tag in status updates and threads.
When it’s working seamlessly, taking calls on the GALAXYGear while my Note3 was in my purse or somewhere nearby is a breeze. It comes in, you swipe to accept the call and you talk. No fumbling for a phone, switching over to speakerphone — nada. Swipe and speak. That’s it. And it’s great if you spend a lot of time in a car. When it works the way it’s supposed to…we’ll get to that.
I loved using the pedometer on the smart-watch, and discovered that I’m actually getting my 10,000 steps in most days, which was a huge surprise.
Overall, the GALAXYGear is easy to use once it’s set up. You can customize the kind of watch-face you see (I chose old skool Roman numerals) and the background colour of many of your widgets (I went with turquoise). It fits the smallest of wrists (and I would know because my wrists, ankles and fingers look like they belong on a petite model — which I am most definitely not).
Synching the Gear and Note3 right out of the box was far from intuitive. I usually pride myself on figuring tech products out without reading manuals. Not only did I read the manual (in English and French; even though I don’t understand French, I figured it couldn’t hurt), I read the instructions numerous times and certainly looked Neanderthal as I banged the two devices together trying to follow said instructions. It took my 1:1 TELUS Learning Centre session to finally get it synched.
The GALAXYGear smart-watch has a pretty large face and band. Should you be a bigger-framed person, it will probably look and feel like a good fit. However, even though it will fit a small wrist, it’s going to look huge on you. It feels bulky on me (and though Samsung did probably as good a job with the design as they could), but for its safety function during my commute and the pedometer, I would never choose to wear it just to tell time. Colour may make a difference here and the white band could be more feminine than the black one I have.
The most frustrating part about the Gear, though, is that even with my Note3 well within the recommended 1.5-metre range, the Bluetooth constantly disconnects. Then you have to go through the exercise of re-setting the Bluetooth function on the phone. This is especially inconvenient — not to mention dangerous — while driving. As I mentioned, when its connectivity is working, there’s nothing better than being able to accept a call on the GALAXYGear; but it was too finicky for my liking. So if you’re thinking about getting it just for commuting and making/accepting calls, I’d wait until version 2.0 comes out. At $330, it’s just too much money for me to spend on something so temperamental.
Making calls and sending texts using the smart-watch is quite easy, even if you do still need to do a couple of swipes to do either, which I’m not sure is any safer or faster than using the voice-command option on the Note3.
The problem, then, is that the voice control on the Samsung GALAXY Note3 is no Siri of iPhone fame. It’s not nearly as accurate in its voice-to-text translations. By way of an example, after voice-texting Big B something about having lunch ready for him, I said “Bye!” and the Note3 texted “Five!”
I rarely made phone calls on the Note3 in public because it looks bloody ridiculous. Just imagine watching someone with something nearing tablet size up to her ear, chatting away. Ridiculous. And I am certainly not going to be one of those people who uses a Bluetooth earpiece while I’m walking down the street; you can’t tell who’s crazy anymore! I’m not taking any chances.
It’s got such a big footprint that it doesn’t sit easily in one hand up to my ear either, making it look all the more clumsy. On my 6’6″-framed husband, however, it looks completely normal and feels “right” in his hand.
The number of good, free apps available for kids pales in comparison to that available at the Apple AppStore.
The video feature on the Note3 starts recording the second you switch it from a still camera to the video camera. I hate this. I want to be able to switch it over, set up my shot, give people a warning (if applicable) and then choose to record when everyone’s ready. Dear Samsung: please fix this.
Back to tagging in Facebook. You know when you’re on your laptop or desktop and you tag someone’s name in Facebook, and as you type the name, it auto-fills the rest of the name when you select it? Well, follow this same pattern on the Note3, and you end up with something like this: Let’s say I start typing my own name… “Andr.” At this point, any Andreas or Andrews in my feed will pop up and this is when I can select which one I wish to tag. After selecting, this is what will appear on the status or post or thread: “Andrea TraynorAndr.” EVERY. TIME. This happens in Twitter, too. It’s a time-waster.
I have a love/hate relationship, that’s heavier on the hate side, with the auto-correct. Even when words are spelled correctly, Samsung’s auto-correct feature will change my word, as if it knows better which word I should be using in its place. Just stick to correcting mis-spelled words, please and thank you. And though sometimes it can predict my next word with uncanny accuracy, sometimes corrections are way off, like last night when I tried to type “Happy New Year” to my Facebook fans, which was auto-corrected to “Happy New TEATS.” Yeah.
Samsung GALAXY Note3 smartphone: 4/5
Samsung GALAXYGear smart-watch: 2.5/5
So…where can you get it?