Released toward the end of last year, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is the latest in the company's series of flagship phablets. Sporting some of the latest processing tech as well as unique and innovative features, the Note 3 has gotten high scores from many reviewers on the internet as an all-around great phone. But how does it stand up as an option for the serious gaming crowd?
With a screen rivaling any dedicated gaming devices on the market right now, the Note 3's 5.7" 1080p display makes it perfect for media consumption of any kind. In fact, I was a little surprised when I casually laid my phone down next to my Vita one day and noticed that the phone had a bigger screen. Sure, you may say, "But that's too big for normal phone use!" Well this isn't a "normal phone use" review, so drop it. Drop the subject, I mean, not the phone. That'd be bad. In fact, the bigger screen size not only allows for easier viewing of your games, but more space on the screen for those pesky touchscreen controls. This is especially nice for games that allow you to manually re-size the on-screen controls, as it means more space for visuals and less space covered up by your thumbs. The Super AMOLED display offers bright colors and drastic contrasts, so visuals look amazing on the screen. Additionally, it's bright enough to be visible in nearly any lighting condition, so playing games while riding in a car or waiting outside for a bus is not just a dream, it's a reality!
Pictured Here: The Galaxy Note 3's extremely non-pretty method of solving the one-handed use issue.
As a side note, because many may consider the screen as too big to use with one hand, Samsung has included a "One-Handed Mode" which shrinks the contents of the screen down to a smaller size, making it more manageable with one hand. The result isn't exactly pretty, but it gets the job done.
Sporting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and 3GB of RAM, this thing can handle pretty much any game you can throw at it. I made an effort to run the most intense games I could think to throw at it. Some of the games tested included Injustice, Horn, Grand Theft Auto III, Riptide 2, and Ravensword: Shadowlands, as well as several various emulators. At almost no point did I ever notice the system stuttering or slowing down. In addition, the phone does remarkably well at staying cool. I often was able to play a game for 30-60 minutes and never run across that uncomfortable feeling of holding a small sun in my hands. After dealing with some past phones which would heat up in a matter of mere minutes, this was a welcome change. Additionally, the fact that the phone starts at 32GB of internal storage by default is nice because it allows that much more space for the enormous files required by those intense games.
Yes, technically the battery is part of the internal hardware, but I felt like it was particularly worth mentioning here. With its almost unreasonably large 3200 mAh battery, the Note 3 seems to last practically forever. From a normal use standpoint, I've often been able to go two entire days of normal to fairly heavy use before having to charge the phone. And the phone's gaming capabilities are just as impressive. During my hour long playing sessions, I would often use a measly 5-10% of the phone's battery, and this is playing some pretty graphically intense games. For example, I was able to play an hour worth of Injustice and go through just 8% of my battery. By comparison, I was able to play precisely one match of Injustice on a Galaxy SIII and plow through a whopping 5% of the phone's battery. So, while many of us often only use our phones for short bursts of gaming, the Note 3 can also support really long stints of boredom when necessary.
The S Pen might not seem like the most useful feature of the phone at first sight, and that's because it isn't; but by God is it useful at times. When it comes to games like Draw Something (do people still play that?) or House of the Dead, when you require precision it's nice to have a thin and accurate stylus to give you that edge. Now you don't have to block your vision, guessing where to plop your finger down to next. No more screen smudges either. Granted, the S Pen isn't going to improve your performance on every game. Hell, it probably won't improve your performance on most games. But when the time comes to use it, you'll be glad you have it.
How could I not mention the Note 3's use of Android as an operating system? While one can argue that iOS offers some unique games not available on Google's OS, Android itself offers some unique upsides for gaming. In addition to having most of the major games released on iOS available on Google Play, Android also supports many emulators without having to jailbreak your device. So, if you want to play your copy of Super Metroid on the go without having to drag an SNES around with you, you need only find a means of transferring your game to ROM form. Problem solved! Of course, touchscreen controls are not always ideal for such games, and emulation is always a bit of a legal gray area, but it seems like something worth mentioning, nevertheless.
The design of the Note 3 is a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to gaming. On the one hand, it's large size makes it a bit more comfortable to hold for long periods of time. No longer are your forced to cramp up your hands to make it to the end of the level. Of course, the phone is also heavier as a result. Not something you'll normally notice. But if, let's say, you occasionally like to play games in bed, lying down, you may notice the extra effort it takes to keep the phone hoisted up after a while. The large size also makes it a bit more difficult to tote around for those with smaller pockets. If you've got normal pants or a purse, you should be fine. However, if you're one who is prone to wearing ladies' pants or skinny jeans, you may run in to a bit of difficulty. Lastly, the very rectangular design of the phone means that the corners can occasionally dig into your palms depending on how you hold the phone. However, the size of the phone usually means you can find a comfortable spot to hold it that doesn't involve embedding the corners into your hands.
The use of the capacitive back and menu buttons is also a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it means that you free up more space on the screen for actual visuals, instead of having to take up space for the menu bar. On the other hand, it's all too easy to accidentally press these buttons during your game. I often found myself accidentally resting part of my hand on one of them and inadvertently entering the menu or exiting the game altogether. It's not a constant problem, but definitely one to be aware of. On the plus side, the home button is a physical button, so it's pretty hard to press that one by accident.
Normally, I'd put this in the Terrific section, but I place it here because, at the moment, if you happen to be running the newest version of Android on your Note 3 you'll find that taking advantage of the expandable storage is a tad difficult. Because of this, only some users are able to take full advantage of the feature. It's a great option, as long as you can use it. Hopefully Samsung and Google will find a way to resolve this little issue.
In a change from the Galaxy Note 2, which had its external speaker on the back of the device, the Note 3 now has it placed on the bottom of the phone by the charging port. This is, seemingly, in an effort to let people set their phone down on the counter or table and not have the speaker be obstructed, and it works fine in that respect. The problem arises when you try to hold the phone sideways, something you will do often when using it for things like watching movies or playing games. Because of the placement of the speaker, it is a constant concern to make sure you are not accidentally covering it up with your palm when trying to play a game. I often found myself blocking the speaker whenever I readjusted my hands in order to get them in a more comfortable position. Sadly, the world has yet to conceive of a smartphone with hand grips.
Featuring some top-notch hardware, a large and vibrant screen, and several features unique in the smartphone world, the Galaxy Note 3 is an excellent option for those who want to use their smartphone as a gaming device. Its large size may make it difficult to tote around for people with tiny pockets, and using the phone one-handed, while not impossible thanks to Samsung's one-handed mode, is not particularly easy. However, for those who don't mind that, the Note 3 is one of the best possible smartphones out there for gaming on.
A bonus fun fact for those of you still reading. Remember earlier when I said dropping your phone is a bad idea? Well, I probably should have listened to my own advice. In what can only be described as a series of unfortunate circumstances, my shiny new phone managed to find its way to the cold embrace of our tile floor; a floor which is infamous amongst my friends for instantly killing phones. I bring this up not simply to tell you that my phone broke, but the somewhat unusual way in which it broke. The glass and body of the device actually went completely unscathed. Unfortunately, a tiny crack formed on the LCD itself, causing the screen to cease functioning. It would seem, then, that the phone actually has a rather rugged construction, and as long as you avoid dropping it on things with absolutely no give at all, it should seemingly be able to withstand a bit of abuse.
Bonus material for those who want to know more about the Galaxy Note 3 as a general smartphone! Here are a few links to some general reviews of the phone: