Update: now that the Galaxy Note 3 has been officially announced, head to our hands-on review of the note 3.
As we are well into the summer, a new batch of smartphone is already on the horizon, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is among the top smartphones that we are going to keep our eyes on. The handset has been (kind of) “confirmed” by Samsung and if all goes according to plan, the Note 3 will be announced at IFA 2013, which is held on September 6-11 with the press events starting as early as Sept 4-5, so expect the new Note to appear at that time. Samsung has launched the original Note and the Note 2 at that trade show, and looking back at previous launches, we can expect the Note 3 to be available in the U.S market towards the end of October. It will most likely hit Korea, Germany and other European countries before.
Galaxy Note 3 Specifications
It is to be noted that these specifications are unofficial and are derived from alleged industry insider knowledge, and a stream of leaks that have proven to be useful in prior instances. Still, take them with a grain of salt until it is all set and done at IFA.
Note 3 Operating System: Android 4.3
The Galaxy Note 3 will most likely come out with Android 4.3. This version of the OS has been widely leaked and it has appeared on previous Samsung hardware like the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S3. The Galaxy Note 2 is likely it get it as well according to some reports. Now that Android 4.3 has launched, we know exactly what the changes are, and you can read some details in our Nexus 7 II Review, but here are the highlights:
Restricted user profiles
This allows the owner to create additional user profiles with restrictions on what can be accessed, which is particularly interesting for parental control. In-app purchases, web browsing and even the camera can be setup to be “off limits”.
Bluetooth 4.0 LE (low energy)
This feature has been supported on many devices already, so this is not new, but Google has added support for it to prepare its platform to deal with a myriad of always-connected devices which can possibly include health monitoring and smart watches. BT 4.0 marks a great step forward in Bluetooth power consumption, so there is certainly no harm in having it.
Additionally, there’s an always-on WIFI location feature that may prove to be excellent for location-based apps since it could provide the OS with a “rough” location while using less power than GPS, or accelerate the GPS fix.
OpenGL ES 3.0
This latest version of the graphics API brings a few features that can improve games significantly. The most visible change is the arrival of “depth textures”, which are used for Shadow Maps, a popular shadowing technique used in a huge number of games. A better texture compression will allow game developers to use more detailed textures, without requiring more memory.
What about Android 5.0 (aka Key Lime Pie)?
There are a number of rumors that hinted at the Galaxy Note 3 being powered by Android 5.0, but at this point, this seems highly unlikely since it should be released “in the fall”. We are less than two months away from the Note 3’s announcement, and Samsung engineers need to be working on a stable OS and drivers. This is not the time for last minute foundation changes.
Note 3 Processor(s)
In late July, there was a new spat of leaked benchmarks and Korean press speculation that seemed to indicate that a Snapdragon 800 would be used to power Samsung’s latest smartphone. None of the previously leaked Note 3 benchmarks point to a score in the Antutu benchmark that would indicate that a Snapdragon 800 was used. Instead, we’re seeing a 27000 score, which is more consistent with the Exynos Octa 5.
The strongest argument for a Snapdragon 800 (or equivalent) chip is that a number of competing smartphones, including the mighty 6.44” Sony XPERIA Z Ultra, will use the latest and greatest from Qualcomm. I certainly hope that Samsung chooses the Snapdragon 800, because if anything, LG has already announced that Snapdragon 800 will be powering its upcoming phones, along with a press event in August.
Since Samsung may use a mix of Qualcomm and Samsung processors to address various markets, you may have seen rumors saying that the Galaxy Note 3 would come with the 8-core Samsung Exynos Octa 5 (the Exynos 5420 with a faster GPU), the Snapdragon 600 and the Snapdragon 800. Looking at past Galaxy Notes, we know that they have a tendency to use the same system on chip (aka SoC) has the Galaxy S line of product, so this would be an excellent base to start. This means that the Exynos Octa 5 and the Snapdragon 600/800 would be the most likely candidates, with a slight bias for Samsung’s own chip, since the Note 2 did feature an Exynos processor in all versions.
the Galaxy Note 3 should have 3GB of RAM. A RAM memory increase would be justified by two factors: 1/ the higher resolution display which means that more memory needs to be allocated for the various video buffers. 2/ slight improvement in multi-tasking performance. The latter is really important to Samsung which has been promoting the multi-tasking capabilities of flavor of Android with the TouchWiz interface.
To accommodate multiple carriers, markets and networks, Samsung will have to produce the Galaxy Note 3 in a number of variants (or SKUs for Stock Keeping Units). This is completely normal and the only way to achieve a fast global distribution. Each SKUs may have slight changes (modem, bands, colors) or fundamental differences (processor…), but the overall experience should be very comparable. At this point, four variants have been spotted.
Since the current Galaxy Note has one of the best battery life (thanks to its 3100mAh battery), but it is rumored that the Galaxy Note 3 will go beyond that with a 3450mAh battery. Some of the additional capacity is probably there to compensate for the 1080p display (vs. 720 in the Note II), but the battery life has a chance to be slightly improved.
Galaxy Note 3 Display
The display has been the topic of many rumors, and a good number of them were actually confusing the Galaxy Mega 6.3 with the Galaxy Note 3 By now, it’s just about certain that the Note 3 will use an AMOLED screen, which in my opinion would preclude a 6.3” diagonal size since the cost and power requirements would be too high. Some have reported spotting information related to an LCD variant of the Note 3, but that would be surprising because mixing OLED and LCD in the same product would be a communications nightmare.
That leaves us with the 5.5”, 5.99” and 5.7” rumors. The 5.7” and 5.9” seem like the most plausible ones (in that order) because Samsung would not make any radical changes on a formula that has proven to work very well despite the initial skepticism from many observers. The fact is: a lot of people like “phablets” and by now, nearly all the handset makers have announced something to address this market. More recent information hinted to the fact that Samsung may have been testing all the above screen sizes, but nothing remotely conclusive has come out yet.
A 1080p resolution is a given, and you can mark this as near-certain. By now, the cost of building 1080p displays should have reached an acceptable level for use in this handset, but don’t forget that Samsung is also integrating a pressure-sensitive Wacom sensor for the S-Pen. This is an expense that the Galaxy S4 does not need to have, so this makes it a bit harder in terms of profitability, but since Samsung Mobile is highly lucrative and represents most of the Android handset profits, I can’t imagine that this will stop them.
Unbreakable display? Probably not
Ever since Samsung showed their latest Youm flexible display during CES, there has been intense speculation that it would show up in the Note 3. The technology is very interesting, and the first benefit of a bendable display is that it would be very resistant to shocks. Conventional LCDs require a layer of glass, which my shatter under stress and although AMOLED displays are made of plastic, in practice glass is still used if not for anything other than the touch sensor and to protect the display layer itself.
Today’s smartphone glass is often built with artificial sapphire or other high-strength glass like Corning’s Gorilla Glass (see official site), which makes them nearly impervious to scratches and only diamond or other hard mineral can easily damage them. Removing that layer of strong glass may prevent the display from shattering, but the threat of scratches may become more likely.
As of 7/25, this rumors was still alive, and Asia Economics reported that this unbreakable display could even delay the launch of the Galaxy Note 3.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Galaxy Note if there was not a pressure-sensitive S-Pen. At the moment, there are no significant or reliable rumors that would hint to a big change in that respect. Frankly, the most important improvement that we wanted was a faster “ink”, since a higher responsiveness would improve the user experience right away. In theory, the newer hardware platform should help significantly.
Galaxy Note 3 Camera
Taking photos is probably the second most important smartphone activity after “communications”, so we can be sure that Samsung will take this seriously. The latest information that is out on the web would indicate that a 13 Megapixel sensor will be used for the main camera and that the Galaxy Note 3 will come with the now mythical Samsung ORB, a camera feature equivalent to Android’s 4.2 photosphere, a 360-degrees panorama application that allows the users to capture a full spherical photo. This is a great feature for static environment like landscapes or apartments. Although we’ve heard about Samsung ORM since February or so, the Note 3 may be the first Samsung handset to actually have it. Handsets like the LG Optimus G Pro have had a similar feature since Mobile World Congress in Feb 2013.
Finally, the Note 3 camera may come with an optical image stabilization (OIS) system. The original word on that came from Korean newspaper ETnews, however, we’re not sure how reliable the information is. The main issue with an “optical” stabilization system is that it generally requires a larger camera module, which has room to absorb shakes and unwanted minute motions. Given that the Note 3 could be only 8mm thick, those two pieces of information may be conflicting. Is it possible to have an OIS and a super-thin body? Maybe, but it is very, very hard.
Galaxy Note 3 Industrial Design
Overall, it is expected that this smartphone will use the same design language as the rest of the galaxy family. The many leaks would indicate as much, and you can simply look at photos of the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Mega 6.3 to imagine that the Galaxy Note 3 would land somewhere in between. Samsung will most likely try to make thinner bezels in order to slightly increase the display size, while preserving or improving upon a form-factor that has been “proven”.
Metal or plastic? Most likely plastic.
There were rumors flying around that Samsung was playing with a metallic design for the Galaxy Note 3, and while we can completely believe that the company was looking at many options, it is hard to imagine that Samsung would depart from the current Galaxy design language. Beyond the simple “if it works, don’t fix it” logic, there are other forces at play:
1/ A metal body would be significantly heavier. It’s simply physics, and unless Samsung starts using carbon or other exotic materials, the eight of a large-display phone may exceed what users want. This is a clear “no go”.
2/ Polycarbonate is much more manageable when manufacturing millions upon millions of devices. This requires less time because using molds and a relatively flexible material is easier than carving super-precise components from blocks of metal.
3/ Polycarbonate allows for a removable battery. While this is not a big deal for everyone, it would otherwise be a deal break for many customers who absolutely want to be able to change the battery or opt for a battery extension.
At the end of the day, the risk/reward of a metal body seems just too high, and since the current metal/polycarbonate design sells like hotcakes, there is no compelling reason to bet the farm on a new exotic design to please a specific group. If anything, Samsung would spin a new Galaxy M “metal edition” before turning on of its star product into a design experiment.
We expect the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to be a good update over the current Note 2. At the very least, a feature parity with the Galaxy S4 would provide a noticeably better display, newer software features and a performance bump that would be appreciated. This is even more important on the Note 3 since the virtual “ink” of S-Pen would feel substantially more “natural”. Of course, although we believe that the information above are close to the real thing, we have yet to see the final specifications of the Galaxy Note 3.
It is believed that mass production will start in August to accommodate a September launch and gradual worldwide availability in the next 30-45 days following the launch. As for pricing, this is going to be a high-end handset, so expect something around $700-$800 in the U.S market. That’s about the same price that the Note 2 sold for when it came out. No real surprise there.