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The phone I thought i'd hate is the one I don't want to send back
For the past month i've been using a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (N9002) from Mobicity. It's the dual SIM version sold in China and, well... I love it.
It probably helps that the device I was using before the Note 3 was the HTC One Max. Now, the Max is a real beast of a device. The combination of a 5.9" screen, aluminium body and BoomSound speakers make it something of a monster, albeit a monster that is incredibly rewarding if you can put up with the size. Switching from the Max to the Note 3 really serves to highlight what Samsung are actually good at. Yes, the device is plastic, yes, it could arguably be a bit better made - but the overall size of the device taking into account the fact that it packs a 5.7" screen is mighty impressive. One handed use is still troublesome of course... if you are holding the device in your hand and trying to type with the thumb of the same hand, you may well struggle - without giant hands, I do.
Specs wise, the Note 3 ticks just about every box you could wish for. A Snapdragon 800 processor with 3GB RAM and 16GB of ROM means everything positively flies along (even with that dastardly TouchWiz on board). Should you crave more storage than the 16GB offers, there's a microSD port together with a removable / replaceable battery (which itself is a not inconsiderable 3200mAh unit). That 5.7" screen is full HD AMOLED of course in traditional Samsung style and is fantastic (with the usual AMOLED caveats). The S-Pen stylus has remained largely in it's silo (it's not really my thing), but it's a nice to have for occasional use. Dual band WiFi? Check. NFC? Check. Bluetooth 4.0 (and actually supporting my Fitbit)? Check. Pretty decent 13MP camera? Check. Infrared for changing the channels on the TV? Of course, one of many similarities it shares with it's S4 sibling.
I can't talk about the Note 3 of course without talking about 'Faux Leather', Samsung's new, less plasticky design language. My first experience of it was actually on a white Note 3 and i'm going to be honest, I didn't like it at all. Somehow the material must be different on the black model however because - and I can't believe i'm saying this - I quite like it. It feels pretty good in the hand, looks OK and appears to be pretty durable. The fake stitching is probably a bit tacky, but overall it works. What really amazes me is how many people see the phone (non techie people) and say how great the back looks. What do we know eh?
Beware the sharp plastic by the USB 3 port, a disappointing oversight by Samsung
Being the N9002 variant, there are some differences compared to the European N9005 device.
The big one of course is the dual SIM functionality, which comes at the expense of LTE support (which, frankly, I don't care about at the current time). In my usage there are two main situations where dual SIM is useful.
The first, which i've really made the most of in the past month, is when travelling. When i'm abroad I tend to use a local SIM to get access to cheap data which is cool, but either means carrying two phones or missing calls and texts from my main number. the N9002 solves this problem, and very effectively - the dual SIM implementation is slick and works beautifully with barely any noticeable effect on battery life from powering an additional radio. This may well be helped by the fact that the second SIM runs in 2G mode only. Not really an issue for me, but worth bearing in mind if your main SIM is on a network such as Three, which mandates being used in a 3G phone.
The second situation where I use dual SIM is here in the UK where my main SIM is on T-Mobile (in a fantastically good contract) and I also have a second SIM on Three (also in a fantastically good contract). Between the two I pay under a tenner a month, which gives me lots of minutes and texts with 3GB of data on T-Mo and unlimited data on Three. The reality is that I can sometimes exceed that 3GB of data... with the N9002 I can pop my voice / SMS SIM into the second slot and make the most of the high speed, unlimited data I have via Three. Excellent. If I were someone who was forced to carrying around a work and a personal phone, then being able to combine them in the Note would be fantastic.
Android devices sold in China ship without Google Apps, which means out of the box the N9002 has no Play Store, Gmail etc. While this may be an issue for 'normal users', for us here on MoDaCo it really is a non issue. Flash custom recovery. Flash Gapps. Boot. Problem solved! I've been using the device with Gapps and no ill effects. I've also rooted to allow me to install Titanium Backup for disabling the smattering of preinstalled Chinese apps. They are easily disabled and no problem at all.
Regular readers will know i'm a fan of HTC / Sense and not at all a fan of Samsung's TouchWiz. So how have I found it on the N9002?
Out of the box, there's no question that TouchWiz grates. The watery sounds, the nasty keyboard, the ugly S-Planner calendar app, the launcher... they don't do it for me at all. But the Android world is changing, if you don't like things, it's easier than ever to replace them. Sounds? Disabled / changed. Keyboard? Hello SwiftKey with Emoji. S-Planner? No thanks - Google Calendar for me. Samsung Launcher? Google's new launcher from the Nexus 5 with Google Now integration sideloads on the N9002 a treat and before I know it, i'm actually being exposed to very little of TouchWiz. The pull down notification shade isn't the prettiest, but it does give access to useful quick toggles. The dialer is Samsung-ified, as is the Messaging app, but they're not too bad and essential to make the most of the dual SIM implementation.
If we're being honest, not all TouchWiz customisations are bad either. The S-Pen features and support are good and the camera application is excellent - I particularly appreciated the ability to make animated GIFs directly on the device for uploading to Google+ - fantastic fun on holiday in the snow! After all, have you seen the stock AOSP Android camera app lately - it's still not good. In fact, it's terrible. Good riddance! One thing that is particularly infuriating about the Samsung camera app though is that when your battery is low, it stops you taking pictures. What is that all about? Sure, my battery is low, but i'd like to be the one who decides how to use those last drops of battery thank you very much.
The N9002 isn't cheap by any stretch of the imagination - on Mobicity it currently comes in at a cool £615 in white, black or pink. But it is a heck of a phone that i'm so impressed with, i'm seriously contemplating buying one as my daily driver. Given the devices I have at my disposal, that is some commendation.
It might make good use of it's size, but it's still a big phone!
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