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We are what we think & my blog entries reflect how I think. Have a sip of the poison of my mind.. It's not always lethal.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hands-On With The Galaxy Note 3

(Not a review, just a quick & dirty hands-on take on things, considering the queue at the Note 3 demo booth is piling up fast behind me):

I'm a fan of the Galaxy Note series of devices because the functionalities of the S Pen (and the S Pen is one of the most underestimated of devices because most folks don't see it past a normal capacitive stylus but it's actually more than that), the multi-windows feature and the big screens of the Note devices all combine to give me not only a much more enjoyable mobile multimedia experience but also better productivity and efficiency, like the way they aid me with my blogging, for example.

And now, a new member of the Note family has just been unleashed upon the world - the Galaxy Note 3. Hang on, I don't embed sound files here on my blog site but make pretend you just heard a drum roll that went along with the previous sentence. You know, getting in the appropriate mood and all.

So I'm now at the Samsung store in the mall to see for myself in person and play with the Galaxy Note 3. Actually, the display demo sets have already been made available for public molestation since a few days back but I only have the convenience and opportunity to fondle the device today, right now. Honestly, since I already have the Galaxy Note 2 and based on what's been revealed about the Note 3, the Note 3 is a 'must definitely try out but I don't really have to rush to do so' device for me.

Faux Leather

Before we can dive into the guts of gadgets, we set our eyes and hands on their physical appearances and physical forms first, yes? We start from their outsides and work our way into them. When I saw the videos and the photos in articles showcasing the Note 3, I really liked the direction Sammy took with the device in the looks department: the more squared-off look and the faux leather backplate.

Make no mistake regarding the faux leather back which even sports fake threadings that simulate the leathery look, because the material is still plastic. Even though such things are matters of subjective preferences, to my eyes at least, the faux leather looks so much better and more executive, especially on the black model. I'm holding the Note 3 in my hands right now and my fingers are experiencing a pleasant sensation as I slide them across the material. Heck, the new material thrashes the old glossy and slippery design which is a fingerprint magnet.

I'm just wondering whether those fake threadings will slowly fall apart if I keep taking the phone in and out of my jeans over a period of time though.

Regardless, I'm liking the faux leather look and feel to the extent I'm thinking to myself that if I should get the Note 3, I might just throw a clear screen protector on it and forgo using any case on it, except when I go travelling overseas or if I go to some rough & tumble places. The official S-View cases with holes in them for your notifications and quick info glances are looking good though, and I'm especially liking the mustard yellow and orange ones. And since I'm doing things in public mode right now, I'm resisting the urge to do a nose-on on the backplate to see if it smells like leather, which is hard.

Internal Storage

Welcome to the here & now finally, Samsung :) What took you so long to realize that 16gb of internal storage is so pre-historic, especially considering how much space TouchWiz requires? We have the Galaxy S4 fiasco  to thank for Samsung's move to 32gb of internal storage, since lots of flak were thrown their way when S4 users discovered the OS ate up almost half of the S4's 16gb internal storage when it launched. Mobile famine much?

Sure, there's the external micro SD card which is great but app data (not talking about just the APK files here but the data which takes up the bulk storage space-wise) can't be installed on external memory by default and even though I can circumvent the situation by moving my app data to my external SD with FolderMount because my device is rooted, I'd rather have more internal storage space from the get-go to begin with. There's necessary hacking and there's unnecessary hacking that shouldn't even have to be done in the first place.

Besides, not everyone likes or have the needs major enough to justify having their devices rooted, so making noise and screaming at Samsung to get with the times to cater to the broader general market is the much better choice. No noise, no budge. So thank you, S4-slingers. It's good to see that Samsung finally made the move and about damn time too.

It's time to dive into the software side of things:

Air Command

Unsheathe the S Pen of the Galaxy Note 3 and out pops the Air Command menu which gives you access to 5 functions, namely: Action Memo, Scrapbooker, Screen Write, S Finder and Pen Window which you can read about in detail here.

And by the way, I was just wondering why the Air Command menu was taking so long to pop out with the pen already out and I was trying to access it again by holding down on the S Pen's button on several attempts when I unintentionally tapped on the button just once, let go right away and out pops the Air Command menu immediately. So uh, if you keep holding down on the S Pen's button, Air Command will be delayed. You just need to press and let go as in Zen. How embarrassing..

I'm finding all 5 of the Air Command menu functions handy except for the Pen Window which has me scratching my head. I don't find it to be completely useless, don't get me wrong, it just seems rather tedious (for lack of a better word) in the absence of Quick Command, which for some reason, Samsung has decided to let it go AWOL on the Note 3. I'll explain this in detail in the next following section.

I almost made the conclusion that the Screen Write function is rather redundant, considering you can achieve the same result as Screen Write by just holding down on the S Pen's button while placing the tip of the pen on the screen to generate an editable screenshot. However, not every Note user is aware of or remembers the technique for taking screenshots with the S Pen and Samsung is trying to encourage more usage of the S Pen, so viewing the situation from this angle, including Screen Write in the Air Command menu serves to remind users that the functionality exists and all it takes is just a tap this time.

And now, about that Pen Window..

Rectangles and Redundancy

One of the things I love about my Note 2 is the Quick Command feature which allows me to launch any app using gestures, or rather, keywords, which I can program my own keywords to launch my own selected apps. All it takes is holding down on the S Pen's button while swiping up on the screen and Quick Command pops out like a jack-in-a-box. You then input the keyword tied to the app you want and the app gets launched.

For example, I can program Quick Command to launch the Flipboard app everytime I write the letter 'F' (or any combination of letters) in its window with the S Pen. You can also launch functions and settings like WiFi and Bluetooth with it, not just apps. So as you can imagine, Quick Command can help with accessing your commonly used apps quickly, you just need to program keywords tied to each of them. Well, if you should forget any of your keywords, you can see everything you've programmed by going into the settings.

The multi-window can allow you quick access to apps also, but if you are not rooted, you cannot add additional apps to it other than the pre-determined default ones, unless you wanna take things to this extent.

Since the Quick Command feature is useful to me, you can imagine my dismay upon my discovery that it seems to have gone AWOL on the Note 3. I've been standing here doing swipe-ups repeatedly with the S Pen while holding down on its button, hoping against hope that I will soon see Quick Command popping out.. but no, Life has decided to be cruel.

If the Samsung staffs here at the store happen to be observing me, they ought to be wondering by now if I'm trying to see if I can create a groove on the Note 3's screen by repeatedly slashing the S Pen across its surface. I hope their hearts break if they are also seeing the sad expression on my face too, sniff. I think I should stop torturing the screen now, if something is not there, it's not there.

Oh wait, it's dawning on me that Quick Command could have been replaced by Pen Window. I begin to swallow hard.. involuntarily. You see, there are only 8 pre-determined apps (the calculator, clock, YouTube, contacts, phone, ChatOn, Hangouts and the browser) you can launch with Pen Window. Whoopydoo, just 8.. and you cannot program your own keywords in Pen Window to launch your own selected apps. Regression is a scary thing.

To add a dash of comedy to injury, Pen Window works in this way after you've selected it from the Air Command menu: you draw a rectangle of any size you fancy and a window containing those 8 apps appear. Select any of those 8 apps and it gets launched, supposedly in the same size as the rectangle you just drew earlier. Now pray tell me, Samsung:

  1. Wouldn't it be faster if the apps selection list gets launched immediately right after you select Pen Window from the Air Command menu instead of having to take the time to draw a rectangle first? The size of the launched app doesn't seem to be exactly the same size as the rectangle I just drew anyway, which means I might still have to adjust the window manually and so, I would rather adjust the launched app's window size right after it gets launched without having to draw a rectangle first.

    Dragging a corner of a window to resize it is faster and easier than having to draw a rectangle first - the former basically only requires you to drag in one direction while the latter requires you to drag the S Pen in 4 directions to create a box. For both methods, making adjustments to position the window exactly where you want it after the app is launched can count as an extra step too, but that's moot since it can apply to both cases, considering the size of the rectangle you draw doesn't seem to tally exactly with the size of the window of the launched app anyway.

    So what's the point of having to draw out the rectangles?

  2. Which is faster: holding down on the button of the S Pen while swiping it up to activate Quick Command, followed by inputting a keyword to immediately launch an app, or having to select the Pen Window within the Air Command menu, start taking the time to draw a rectangle which activates a list of the 8 apps (you may need to manually scroll down on the list if the rectangle you just drew is too small or too narrow to show all 8 apps at once, taking albeit short but still an extra amount of time) and then selecting the targetted app to launch it?

    So why did Samsung get rid of the much more efficient Quick Command and replaced it with something else that requires more steps and which allows a lesser selection of app choices? Last I checked, the Galaxy Note devices were meant to be tools for efficient productivity. Taking a longer route to accomplish something is so efficiently unproductive, no?

It seems like progress just took 10 steps forward and 1 step backwards. All is not lost though, since the floating windows derived by the Pen Window and the ability to shrink them down to Chat Head-like bubbles can have their uses and conveniences. But damn it, having to draw rectangles is unnecessary and I will definitely miss Quick Command if I should end up getting the Note 3.

And In The End..

There is no mistaking that in the area of hardware specs, the Note 3 is definitely better - the 1080p full HD screen (the Note 2 has 720p), the 32gb of internal storage (16gb on the Note 2), the 3gb of RAM (the Note 2 has 2gb) and the faster and more power-efficient CPU - all these combine to not only give the eyes more candy, they also ought to help make the new Note zippier and smoother.

Other than the issues I've mentioned above, everything else about the Note 3 is better and much improved.

But it's not like the Note 3 has already started making my Note 2 seem ugly nor is it making me feel I'm wading through binary molasses with my Note 2. Uh-uh, far from it. I still feel that the Galaxy Note 2 is one heck of a device, just like how Hard Rock and Heavy Metal can still pump me up and make me headbang in an era of whimsical teenybopping Pop music that keep singing about how guys and girls wanna do the Hara Kiri on themselves just because the girl or guy they fancy refuse to look their way. They even twerk while they are at it.

I suppose if you are using the venerable original Note, the S2 or the S3, upgrading to the Note 3 will be a great upgrade indeed. If you have any other phone and would now like a new phone geared towards productivity and multitasking, or if you think that the functionalities of the S Pen can aid you in your everyday tasks, well, the Note 3 might just be ideal for your needs.

Will I upgrade to the Note 3 myself? Now that's a tough question for me, honestly. I don't know 100% yet and I'm still on the fence, but right now, I'm leaning more towards the option of waiting for the Note 4. I'm still happy with my Note 2, you see. I don't think I'll mind waiting for my contract with my telco to expire and getting the Note 4 subsidized on a re-contract next year. Never say never though.

Update: Oh bloody hell, now there's the KNOX issue to consider too. Hitler would have cracked a smug one with this one. Security is a good thing but not when it throws handcuffs on you and doesn't leave you with a choice when it's your very own device, so screw you Samsung.

You should have made this optional instead. If the end-user could choose: 'No, I don't wanna activate KNOX', just like in checking the box next to 'Unknown Sources' under the Security options but ends up fucking things up, nobody could blame Samsung anyway.

What exactly does KNOX truly stand for anyway, Kaput 'N Obstruct Xda?

One thing I'm sure of though: despite the Pen Window issue, the demise of Quick Command (sniff) and that KNOX issue, the Galaxy Note 3 is a very nice device to have.

I'm sorry I couldn't give a more in-depth analysis of the new Galaxy Note 3 and there could be many more things I've missed which I can only discover with prolonged usage and experience with the device over a reasonable period of time. But like I've already mentioned in the beginning, this had to be a quick and dirty hands-on, since it's time for me to move away from the booth and make way for the guy waiting behind me patiently all these while.

The guy is now playing with the same Note 3 I've just tangoed with. If I suddenly hear him screaming in agony as I walk out the store, it ought to be because of his discovery that Quick Command died.

-De Lion Speaks

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