Samsung Galaxy Note 3: a closer look at the digital note-taker

5 Sep 2013

Galaxy Note 3

These days, carrying a notebook and pen can almost be seen as Luddite behaviour. But just because mobile devices have become more common doesn’t mean that they can offer the ultimate creative control that putting pen to paper gives you. However, Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 3 certainly tries to match that, and more.

With the Note 3’s stitched leather casing and serrated side to mimic the feel of stacked pages, it’s as if Samsung has taken design notes from Moleskine. It’s a modern-day device with an old-school feel.

The personal notebook style is furthered by the range of changeable covers revealed along with the device. There are nine colours available at launch from the muted ‘Taste of Autumn’ collection, while ‘Holiday Glam’ comes in bolder shades with a metallic finish. Samsung has even partnered with designers Moschino and Nicholas Kirkwood for patterned designs, so there’s a wide variety of options for those looking for a more individual touch.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 S View covers in 'Taste of Autumn' range

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 covers in ‘Taste of Autumn’ range

But the Note 3 doesn’t just imitate the classic notebook in its design, it does so in its operation, too. The specially designed S Pen stylus now lets users do even more and makes the Note 3 experience more intuitive and natural to use.

According to David Park from Samsung Electronics headquarters’ marketing team, “dot, circle, box” is all there is to it.

Air Command

‘Dot’ refers to the small dot seen when the screen recognises the stylus hovering overhead. By pressing the S Pen button when this appears, Note 3 users will prompt a fan-shaped control panel to pop up. This Air Command module contains five features that can be accessed anywhere users can see the dot: Action Memo, Scrapbook, Screen Write, S Finder and Pen Window.

The Air Command menu on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The Air Command menu on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3

With Action Memo, users can handwrite something and then take action on this note by tapping ‘Link to action’ on the memo. For example, if you scrawl a phone number, ‘Link to action’ will give you the option to call, text or save contact details. Other actions include email, search, search on map and create task.

Scrapbook lets users save all sorts of content in one place to revisit whenever they feel like it. Using the stylus, they can circle the content they want to save – be it a webpage, text, images or a video – and then decide which scrapbook this particular item belongs to. The concept is very Pinterest-like and it’s clever of Samsung to tap into a quickly evolving habit stemming from the growth of this network.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 specifications:

  • 151.2mm x 79.2mm x 8.3mm, 168g
  • 5.7-inch full-HD super AMOLED screen with 1,920 x 1,080 resolution
  • 2.3GHz quad-core processor (4G version) or 1.9GHz octa-core processor (3G version)
  • 13MP rear camera with BSI sensor, High CRI LED flash and Smart Stabilization
  • 2MP front-facing camera with BSI sensor and Smart Stabilization
  • Full-HD video recording at 30fps (4K shooting in some editions)
  • Ultra High Quality Audio (UHQA)
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • 32GB and 64GB storage options (micro-SD expansion up to 64GB)
  • 3GB RAM
  • 3,200mAh battery
  • NFC
  • Bluetooth 4.0

Screen Write simply captures a screenshot that can then be annotated by the user while S Finder lets users search for content on the device regardless of type, even handwritten text and symbols in notes.

The ‘box’ element comes into play with Pen Window. With this function selected, users can draw a box of any dimension on the screen to pull up a list of useful, commonly used apps. When an app is selected, it opens up in a window the size of the box that was drawn and so allows for quick access to daily tasks that need to be performed quickly without obscuring information from another open app.

Park demonstrated Pen Window by using a calculator to tot up figures sent to him by a friend in ChatON. The very practicality of this feature received applause from the audience. Having tried it out myself, I discovered there is a limit to how small the box can be drawn, but with reasonable dimensions, Pen Window remains faithful to the size drawn.

A true digital notebook

While many of us are married to our mobile devices and manufacturers strive to provide us with the functionality to serve every need, my fingers still reach for a pen and paper for many things. Let’s face it: typing on smartphones is still an imperfect experience and our propensity for writing things down often triumphs over tapping them out.

Samsung seems to understand that and, with the Note 3, attempts to bridge the gap. Instead of trying to force a new way of operating on us, the Note 3 recognises our already in-built habits and the device works to suit you instead of the other way around.

Park and the marketing team will say it’s simple, but it’s not at all. It’s an incredibly sophisticated piece of technology that, instead of trying to change the way we work, works with us. A true digital notebook.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

More new features

There’s no shortage of new features and enhancements with the Note 3. S Note has been updated to complement the new Note experience and Samsung has teamed up with integrated service Evernote to offer up to 12 months’ free Premium subscription.

Multi Window, introduced with last year’s Note II, has also been improved. Users can now have the same app open in two different windows and, as demonstrated by Park to much applause last night, dragging and dropping content from one screen to the other has been enabled in apps like ChatON.

Just like Group Play allows Galaxy S4 users to pair a number of S4 smartphones for synchronised playback of the same audio, Multi Vision lets Note 3 users split the display across multiple screens.

There’s also a new My Magazine feature gathering up users’ news and social feeds in a magazine-style format. This will roll out first in the US and then to the rest of the world.

The Galaxy Note 3 also features category 4 LTE with support for all LTE networks, no matter where in the world you are (so long as you have LTE access there, that is).

The Galaxy Note 3 will reach the US and Japan in October but for the rest of the world it should arrive later this month.

More from IFA Berlin:

Samsung’s new Galaxy: Note 3, new Note 10.1 and the Gear smartwatch

Sony puts focus on smartphone camera prowess with Xperia Z1

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.