Over the next week, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 will be released on all major US carriers. On its own, this would be a fairly momentous occasion — the Galaxy Note and Note 2 are two of the best-selling mobile devices ever, with 38 million sold worldwide — but to push us over the edge, Samsung is also releasing the Galaxy Gear smartwatch at the same time. Read on for the Galaxy Note 3 hardware specs, release date, and a hands-on video of the Note 3 and Galaxy Gear smartwatch working in perfect harmony.
The Galaxy Note 3 is mostly an iterative update, with a slightly larger screen (5.7 inches vs. 5.55), a much higher-res display (1920×1080 vs. 1280×720), a lot of software tweaks, and a nice new faux leather back that’s infinitely nicer than the slick plastic on the Note 2. Despite the larger screen, the Note 3 is actually thinner, narrower, and lighter (168 grams vs. 180) than its predecessor — but it’s still much too big to be comfortably held in one hand (unless you have gargantuan hands like me). The Note 3 even has a slightly larger battery (3,200 mAh) than the Note 2 (3,100 mAh). All in all, the Note 3 is a seriously impressive piece of hardware.
Hands-on, the Galaxy Note 3, with its big, bright screen and faux leather back looks and feels very good. The stylus feels a bit small, and hitting the button to pop up the new Air Command menu can be a bit fiddly — but if you have average-sized hands, you’ll probably be just fine. The Galaxy Note 3, whether you’re flicking through the interface or doodling with the stylus, feels very responsive.
The Galaxy Note 3 has the dubious luck of being one of the two devices that will bond with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, the other being the Galaxy S4. The hardware specs of the Gear are fairly inconsequential: There’s a poor-quality 1.9-megapixel camera, 4GB of on-board storage, an admittedly sexy 320×240 display, and Bluetooth and NFC connectivity.
If you bring the Galaxy Gear within an inch or two of the Note 3, an NFC connection is made, and a setup wizard pops up on the Note. The Note downloads some software, pairs with the smartwatch via Bluetooth… and that’s it: You now have a smartwatch. As you can see in the video above, using the Galaxy Gear to make calls is easy enough. I don’t demo it in the video, but you can also use S Voice to make calls and send messages — but it’s not a completely hands-off experience, requiring you to hit a small button on the Gear, making it somewhat hard to use while walking along.
Samsung Galaxy Gear. This photo was taken with the Nokia Lumia 1020, incidentally. Yes, the 41-megapixel camera is seriously impressive.
As you have probably surmised just by looking at it, the Gear is not a very comfortable wristwatch. It also goes without saying that, once you’re out of Bluetooth range of your Note 3 or Galaxy S4, you can no longer make calls, send texts, use S Voice — or do anything except take low-res photos, really. Basically, the Galaxy Gear is an overly expensive second screen for your smartphone. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it’s really,really fun to talk to your wrist like a spy when making calls, though. (See: These aren’t the smartwatches you’re looking for.)
The Galaxy Note 3 is available on T-Mobile on October 2, Sprint and AT&T on October 4, and Verizon on October 10. The Note 3 costs $300 on a two-year contract with all carriers. The Galaxy Gear is being released on the same days, as it’s completely useless without a companion smartphone. The Gear costs $300, but it’s not part of the two-year contract.