The age-old question when deciding whether to fork out a few hundred quid on your next big device. So, stick with the Note 3, or step up to the Note 4?
Each year we’re treated to a new Samsung Galaxy Note at IFA in Berlin, Germany, but 2014 gave us both the unusual Note Edge and the hotly anticipated Note 4 too. So how does the new king of phablets, the fourth Note in the family, compare to its predecessor, and is it a worthy upgrade?
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Design
2014 has proved to be somewhat of a revolutionary time for Samsung’s smartphone design story, but it all really started last year with the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy Gear – the first hint that, when it felt like it, the company could put together a product made with premium materials and do it well.
This year the Samsung Galaxy Alpha was our initial indication that metal was now on the menu for Sammy’s smartphones and sure enough, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 comes sporting a sexy new milled chassis, complete with shiny, chamfered edges. It ups the build quality by a surprising amount, feeling better put together in the hand and yes, more fitting of its premium status than last year’s model.
Glancing back at the 2013 Note 3 and we’re stuck with the crimped, chromed plastic edging that, from a distance might be mistaken for premium, but up close looks and feels just that little bit tacky, particularly when you consider the price tags associated with the Note line.
The removable plastic back, whilst useful in that it lets you get at the battery and microSD card slot, features a leatherette finish with faux stitching. It’s not the worst piece of design in the world, but as Samsung is having to learn, sometimes less is more and so, on the Note 4, the stitched edge is gone, leaving a textured back with excellent levels of grip. The Note 4’s back also incorporates a heart rate sensor, just like the Galaxy S5, and speaking of sensors, there’s now a PayPal-certified fingerprint scanner in the home button too.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Screen
Samsung has always preferred the punchy colours of AMOLED screen technology to your conventional LCD, and whilst there are always pros and cons for both sides of the argument, both the Note 3 and Note 4 sport stunning displays.
The Note 3’s 5.7-inch Full HD SuperAMOLED is not to be sniffed it. Samsung has poured a lot of effort into its display technologies of late, resulting in very bright AMOLED panels with impressive outdoor legibility and good whites. The Note 3 has to concede to the Note 4 based solely on resolution, but to be clear; it’s still a cracking screen.
Just as LG was the first to showcase a Quad HD LCD with the LG G3, Samsung used the Note 4 to debut one of the first Quad HD SuperAMOLED panels on the market (after the Korean-exclusive Samsung Galaxy S5 LTE-A). In the flesh it’s nothing short of stunning, with excellent clarity, rich colours and solid viewing angles. Discerning individual pixels is a fruitless exercise as the distance from phone-to-face has to be so small to spot any, you’d have no other reason to be sticking your face so close to the screen.
We’d naturally take the Note 4’s higher resolution 5.7-inch panel over the Note 3, but either way, you’re presented with an excellent choice.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4: OS
At present both Notes come running a skinned Android 4.4 KitKat, but that hasn’t stopped Samsung from making some tweaks and changes on the newer phablet.
General UI alterations fall to flatter iconography for apps, a new dynamic lock screen with context sensitive information now features and there are translucent widgets to better display your wallpaper of choice without obstructing either it or the information on screen.
Multitasking is unquestionably the biggest change to the user experience. The Note 3 lets you snap two apps on-screen simultaneously with a bar to resize which one gets priority over the display real-estate, but the Note 4’s beefier hardware means you can drag any full screen app from the corner and it’ll immediately transform into a floating-windowed version of the application; fully functional, only smaller. It’s more akin to true desktop computer multitasking than any other device we’ve come across and very impressive.
Drag multiple windows around and even minimise them to little floating chat head-style icons if you wish, the whole experience seems to work, even though it doesn’t feel like it should. The only awkward element is dragging from the top corner of an app in the first place, as sometimes the Note 4 mistakes this for calling upon the notifications bar instead – not an issue with the simpler multi-app display of the Note 3.
An instant remedy is by use of the new S Pen, which when paired to the display inherits a few new tricks of its own: such as the ability to cut out multiple selections simultaneously to share and 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, double that offered by the S Pen experience on the Galaxy Note 3.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Performance
The Note line is always a well-specced offering and one of the most future-proofed lines on the smartphone market. The Galaxy Note 3 packs a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 – the best silicon Qualcomm had to offer in 2013. This paired to 3GB of RAM ensures that even now, it feels fresh when other handsets have started to sprout grey hairs (in the world of technology at least). The 32GB of inbuilt storage, 3200mAh battery and micro SD expandability (up to an additional 64GB) is some of the best in the business too.
The Note 4 pulls the same processor trick, but with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 chip, in this instance clocked at 2.7GHz and again tied to 3GB of RAM. In real-world everyday use, you won’t notice the difference right now, but with that Quad HD display and Samsung’s Gear VR to power, it’s nice to know there’s clout to spare.
The advantage of picking up the Note 4 when it hits retail is that just like the Note 3, it’ll age gracefully and is probably the most suitable handset for a 24-month contract. The fast charge feature sweetens the deal too, with 50 per cent charge attainable after just 30 minutes plugged into the wall – the Note 3’s smaller battery takes nearly twice as long to reach the same level.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Camera
The 13-megapixel snapper on the Galaxy Note 3 is feature-packed and served as one of the first smartphone cameras able to capture 4K footage, the Note 4 gains a bigger sensor, turning out snaps at 16-megapixels, but is more evenly specced on the video side of things, with 4K recording at 30fps and Full HD recording at up to 60fps.
OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) and DIS (Digital Image Stabilisation) have teamed up to create significantly smoother shots on the Note 4’s camera, so although we haven’t yet been able to try this out, on paper, the Note 4 snapper will have the edge.
Selfie fans should also consider the newer Samsung as the Note 3’s 2-megapixel front-facing camera has been upped on the Note 4 to a 3.7-megapixel camera.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Verdict
As is often the way in these annual upgrade dilemmas, the Note 4 has made a lot of incremental changes that add up to a much better overall package, but this isn’t necessarily large enough a change to warrant a full-blown upgrade if you’re still enjoying last year’s Note 3.
Even now, the hardware inside the Note 3 is still very current, the same processor having just launched in handsets like Nokia’s Lumia 930. The stylus experience too is beaten only by the Note 4. So unless you need a metal-bodied Samsung in your life, more robust multitasking from your smartphone or a Quad HD display, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 should have more than enough to hold your attention for the next year or so at least.