The third (and final) part of an article series documenting my search for the perfect Galaxy Nexus replacement.
The story so far:
With my current Galaxy Nexus smartphone being out of contract, I started looking for a replacement for it. Of course due to my work with DVD Catalyst, I keep an eye out for all major new device releases, so throughout the year I already determined which devices I would consider.
My own personal needs for a smartphone are pretty basic, especially since I have tablets I use when I am at home for media consumption, but considering the replacement will have to last for quite some time, I definately wanted a high-end device.
Last month I started writing down my actual needs, my current and expected usage scenario as well as other determining factors, as well as the smartphones that would possibly work with those requirements.
From there, I dug through reviews, product pages and other information available for the contenders. One thing I didn't bother myself with was specifications. It is a big part of every review, but they just provide a static number, and doesn't really give an idea how the device actually performs. With most companies cheating with benchmark tools (detect the app and speed up the processor a bit when it runs), it doesn't have any real-world use.
I picked out the main things that matter the most for me, and based on that, I dropped a few devices.
Then, I went out into the wild to hunt down the remaining contenders to see them in real life. Of course there are plenty of pictures and videos on the web, but nothing tells you more about something than actually touching it, playing with it, feeling it.
At the store, I played with the majority of the contenders, and ended up trying one of the phones I actually dropped, the Galaxy Note 3, and loved it.
The reason I dropped it was because of the size. Affected by most of the reviewers bringing it up and seeing pictures on the web of the Note 3 next to other devices, I dropped the Note 3 from my list. But, when actually holding the device, it wasn't as big as I was made to believe. Sure, it is quite large for a phone, but when compared to the Galaxy Nexus that I was using, it isn't "that" much of a difference, and as a result, it ended up being back on the list.
After part 2, aside from the re-entry of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, I was left to choose from the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, Sony Xperia Z1 and the Apple iPhone 5S.
I was really hoping to come out of this search with a non-Android device, just to have something different. The Windows Phone devices are unfortunately lagging behind a bit with limitations imposed by Microsoft to ensure stability. As a result, Apple's recently released iPhone 5S was the only non-Android device left for me, but even with a slight bias towards "something different", it didn't make the cut.
I updated my wife's iPad 3 to iOS7 and "borrowed" it from her a couple of nights, and I really wish I didn't do the upgrade. The new icons by themselves look nice, but all of them combined, and with some other apps installed, makes it look a bit "off". I knew my way around with previous iOS versions, but with iOS7, I feel a bit lost every now and then. Based on a lot of comments on the web, I am not the only one. It seems that with iOS7, Apple is trying to go for new users, rather than its loyal customer base.
On top of that, the strange aspect ratio of the Apple devices also comes into play. With its iDevices, it seems that Apple is more focused on apps rather than media consumption. Sure it has the videos in iTunes, but with a square iPad and a screen size on the iPhone and iPod Touch that is optimized for having room for a certain amount of icons rather than maintaining a proper display for video, it feels "off" when the rest of the devices you use are media-oriented.
The above, and the lower stated battery-life, accompanied with more than a few people complaining about battery issues, accelerometer calibration issues, and a clear dislike from the sales people I talked to in the store were enough for me to skip it.
While the phone itself is perfect for me, unfortunately Sony's track record towards how it treats its customers resulted in moving it down a few notches. Not the phone's fault, but just me not wanting to get burned again. Who knows, maybe in a week Sony will remove the touch-screen functionality of the phone because someone tapped on the screen to start a non-Sony approved app.
The biggest thing going for the HTC One over the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy Note 3 is the aluminum body. Holding it in the store made it actually feel like a high-end smartphone.
But, after flipping through some stuff on the phone, I could feel the warmth the processor coming through, and I wasn't even playing a game, which made me worry. I then moved towards the Samsung table and did the same with the S4 and the Note 3, and no warmth coming through.
After coming back to the HTC One after holding the Note 3, my mind was made up already.
Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy Note 3:
It came down to making a choice between the Note 3 and the Galaxy S4. I was holding out for the HTC One Max, but with the same specs with only a screensize increase, I believe HTC missed the ball. Sure, it is better safe than sorry, but if you are releasing a flagship-class device, it needs to be better than the one before it.
With a quote from part 2 of the smartphone search:
Galaxy Note 3:
While I like the battery life of the Galaxy Note 3, the device itself is too large in size for me. I have plenty of tablets to use, including a Galaxy Note 10.1, and while an “inbetweener” would partially eliminate the need for using a tablet, carrying something that size with me is a bit too much.
I was leaning towards the Galaxy S4. But, after playing with the Note 3, I decided to go for that one instead. I'm not sure what made me select it over the S4, since aside from the size, it has a pen that I didn't really care about, but it just felt right while holding it.
I've been using the Galaxy Note 3 now for a little over a week, and I love it. Yes, it is big, but it changed things for me considerably.
The plastic feel (I have the white one) was an easy fix. I have a ZAGG screen protector on it (InvisibleSHIELD HD) and picked up a wallet case (Amazon.com: [Note 3] Cellto Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Case Premium Wallet Case with Screen Protector [Slim Ultra Fit] [Premium Black] Diary Cover /w ID Pocket Top Quality for Galaxy Note 3 Note3 N9000 + 1 Premium Cellto HD Clear Screen Protector: Cell Ph).
With the wallet-case, I replaced the wallet I normally carry around, so even though it is a larger phone, I actually saved some space there.
Before I hated bringing my phone, but needed to because my wife needed to be able to reach me. Now, I actually grab my phone automatically. Of course part is because it now has my wallet with it, but also because I am using some of its features quite often. S Health, while I haven't fully set it up yet, counts my steps, and as a result, I try to walk a bit more. I use S Note, a simple note-taking application, to keep a shopping list and for other things I need to remember. And because I now have the thing with me a lot more often, I am also starting to use core smartphone functions such as Calender and Alarms a lot more.
I'll post up a full review in the next few weeks (maybe multi-part, who knows), but so far, I'm very pleased with the Galaxy Note 3