For the first time in three years, Samsung is going downmarket with its Note line, releasing a budget alternative of the Note 3. The Neo edition scales down on specs, sporting a 5.5″ 720p HD display instead of 5.7″ 1080p, slower processor, 2 GB of RAM instead of 3, and 8-megapixel camera instead of 13 MP.
On the other hand, it has identical design, software features, and the venerable S Pen stylus. We also get a large 3100 mAh battery that is just shy of the 3200 mAh unit in the Note 3, which bodes well for the perspective endurance…
A more compact Note 3 with 5.5″ display
With its 148 x 77 x 8.6mm, and 162.5g, the Neo offshoot is shorter and less wide than the Note 3, and almost as large as the 5″ Xperia Z1. This makes it more pocket-friendly, and easier to operate with one hand than the typical phablets of late, despite its hearty 5.5″ display. Granted, the top left quadrant of the panel would still be terra incognita for your right thumb, but at least you are able to reach the context menu or home keys, without the immediate risk of dropping the Note 3 Neo.
Just like the Note 3, the outer appearance is done in the new Samsung stylistic of metal-imitating side rim and a removable back cover that resembles notebook leather, stitching accents at the edge and all. The removable back means you can quickly swap with a spare battery, and add more storage, in the best of Samsung’s traditions. The S Pen stylus is tucked the same way you’d find it on the Note 3, at the lower right corner, and overall the handset’s looks scream “Hey, I’m a Note, too, just smaller”.
The biggest tradeoff is 720p HD resolution, all Super AMOLED quirks and virtues apply
Note 3 Neo sports a 5.5″ display, which has 720×1280 pixels of resolution, resulting in 267ppi pixel density. This panel is also the biggest difference when you compare it to the 5.7″ 1080p screen of the flagship Note 3, that flaunts a 386 ppi pixel count. Its HD resolution means that detail won’t be as defined, and doodling won’t look as precise as on the 1080p displays of the Note 3 or S4. For everyday purposes, however, the pixel density of the Note 3 Neo’s display is perfectly adequate. Its panel is still of the Super AMOLED variety, so it will offer you oversaturated, somewhat cold colors, deep blacks, and excellent viewing angles.
Interface and functionality:
Samsung Nature UX features and S Pen apps galore
Our prototype version of the Galaxy Note 3 Neo is loaded with Samsung’s TouchWiz Nature UX on top of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. The retail won’t come with KitKat either, but we hope it will be updated shortly thereafter. With NatureUX, however, the most apparent visual differences that KitKat brings, like a transparent status bar and full-screen wallpaper, are present stock, so there’s not much of a surface difference at first look.
You can expect all the bells and whistles that come with Samsung’s homemade interface overlay, like Smart Stay, which keeps the screen on while you are looking at it, and the multi-window mode that can run two different apps on a split screen.
The Note 3 Neo’s display size is very conducive to multitasking, and when you add the S Pen apps to the mix, the handset becomes in a league of its own. It offers the excellent S Note application, various drawing and annotating functions in the Gallery or Calendar, as well as the Air View and Air Gestures that let you hover above the display with the stylus or a finger, marking links and evoking pop up info.
Typing on the largish display with one hand is still a chore when you have to reach for the upper left or right corner of the keyboard, depending on the side. You can enable Swype-like functionality that traces your finger from a letter to a letter, and inputs the word for you, instead of pecking at each individual key.
Samsung also offers its Assistant menu in the Accessibility settings, that floats a small square on top of the screen, which contains large back, notifications, menu and so on buttons. This way you don’t have to stretch all the way down to the capacitive buttons, for example, just to hit the back key, while juggling the large handset on your index finger – a helpful feat with plus-size phones.
The first hexacore Exynos has slow 1.3 GHz clock speed and may not be a benchmark monster, but comes with decent 2GB of RAM
We have a new kid on the Exynos block, and it the hexacore CPU found in the Note 3 Neo. It has two Cortex-A15 cores, clocked at 1.7 GHz maximum, and four Cortex-A7s, clocked at 1.3 GHz. The new Exynos is paired with a decent graphics processor, too, ARM’s Mali-T624, so it’s unlikely you’ll have interface or app lag and hiccups, though for heavy 3D games it might be throttling the effects down. This one will go into the LTE version of the Note 3 Neo in one of the best Upcoming verizon smartphones in 2014, while the 3G one will get a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor.
Still, the hexacore Exynos here is clocked much slower than the 2.3 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 or the 1.9 GHz Exynos 5 Octa versions of the Note 3, so the difference in benchmarks is poised to be very significant. Same goes for the GPU, which is likely to be faster than Mali-400 in the Note II, but weaker than the Adreno 330 or Mali-T628 graphics processors that can be found in the Note 3.
Moreover, Samsung has put 2 GB of RAM in the phablet, so you can line up many apps open at the same time without slowing it down. There are 16 GB of internal memory (11 GB user-available), plus a microSD slot for storage expansion on the handset.