Samsung has done it again - and it made it look so easy. The Galaxy Note 3 can pretend it has no competition, while otherwise remarkable rivals know they'll will have to live with - but not quite live up to - comparisons to the gadget that defines an entire segment.
Three generations into it, Samsung is returning to a playground which now has to be shared with others. There are bigger screens out there, waterproof bodies, impressive cameras and immensely powerful chipsets. But the Galaxy Note 3 is in no mood to share the spotlight, and is keen to show everyone that it doesn't break the rules - but makes them.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 didn't need a massive screen to make its point. What Samsung did instead looks like a smart move. The new leather-look finish is great but that's not the only advantage in terms of design. The new Note is the size of the Note II, but thinner, lighter and with a bigger higher-res screen and even ampler battery. It's also powered by two of the best chipsets available and comes with the whopping 3GB of RAM.
Samsung it well aware though that specs can be matched and eventually beaten. It's the experience that counts, and the Galaxy Note 3 is bursting at the seams with all the premium features of the Galaxy line of smartphones.
And we don't just mean the various Air Gestures and things like Smart Stay and Smart Scroll, which are actually part of the standard equipment, so to speak. It's the S Pen features, the optimizations for single-hand use and the multi-tasking capabilities, which after the multi-window update are unrivaled that take the Galaxy Note 3 to the next level.
Being able to comfortably move content across applications and the new search feature are only beginning to tell the story. The S Pen is made to count almost everywhere in the interface. The dedicated single-hand mode isn't limited to just a smaller keyboard and dialer that you can move around and place within comfortable reach.
Any screen, and we do mean any - from the homescreen to the deepest setting - can be resized for single-hand use, and when you do that the main controls (Home, Back and menu) are moved over to the dock at the bottom of the screen, and so are the volume controls - so you don't have to stretch your hand to reach the hardware volume keys on the phablet's side.
Honestly though, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 doesn't have to worry so much about size not permitting single-handed use. To take full advantage of the Galaxy Note 3 you really need to have the device in one hand, stylus in the other. That said, we do think most of the likely rivals will have a hard time besting the Note 3's handling.
Sony recently unleashed the Snapdragon 800-powered Xperia Z Ultra. It has a massive 6.44-inch 1080p display responding to pen and pencil input. The phablet is water and dust resistant, on top of having one of the hottest bodies in business. The Xperia Z Ultra is seriously bigger than the Galaxy Note 3, though, and while the screen size may be a legitimate advantage, the LCD quality isn't quite a match for the Note's AMOLED. Still, the Z Ultra is around €100 cheaper and can go under water so it might manage to build a loyal following.
LG's first attempt at phablets, the 5.5" Optimus G Pro, is obviously too old to seriously trouble the Galaxy Note 3. The gadget runs on a Snapdragon 600 chipset and has a 13MP camera. It is considerably cheaper than the Galaxy Note 3 at around €480, but omits the stylus input.
The LG G2, even though sporting a 5.2" only 1080p display, is much closer to the Galaxy Note 3 in terms of functionality and speed. The latest LG flagship is powered by the Snapdragon 800 chipset, offers a host of multi-tasking features and a respectable Q-Note repertoire. If the smaller screen is not a problem, it's definitely worth checking out. Currently the 16GB model costs €200 less than the Note 3 but, considering the lack of memory expansion, the 32GB version might make more sense.
The recently-announced Liquid S2 is also a very interesting alternative. Acer will probably struggle to match Samsung and Sony's level of brand recognition, and like the rest of the competition, the S2 lacks a stylus. With a 6" 1080p IPS LCD, it's powered by the same Snapdragon 800 chipset and is capable of shooting 4K UHD videos, making it the Galaxy Note 3's only equal for the time being. In fact the Liquid S2 also adds a ring-flash for much better performance under low-light and will run you €100 less.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is the phablet benchmark for the competition to live up to - and a matching price tag is perhaps the only piece of bad news. On the other hand, without the advantage of the S Pen, rivals haven't got too many options - they just deliver as much horsepower as possible and the push screen size as far as they can and hope for the best. The first obvious casualty is the comfort of handling. And the irony of it is that a device like the Note, which clearly is supposed to keep both hands busy, is more compact and more optimized for single-handed use than its main rivals.
Oh well, Samsung and the Galaxy Note 3 have done it again and the bad news for the competition is that their phablets have just been relegated to just huge phones by the latest installment of the one that once started it all.