January 4, 2014
Apparently, this time, size is not the only thing that matters.
When Samsung unveiled the first Galaxy Note in 2011, it created a brand new smartphone category: one notch higher than smartphones and one notch lower than tablets. Initially ridiculed by reviewers for its humongous size and the reintroduction of obsolete styluses, the first Galaxy Note would go on to sell ten million units as of April 2012, a resounding success considering the initial skepticism that greeted it.
Its successor device, the Galaxy Note 2, which was launched by Samsung in 2012, is a smashing hit that has managed to sell at least 20 million units. The phablet made by other manufacturers (or phones with screens five inches or more) failed to dethrone the Sammy phablet despite better specs and bigger screens. Those phablet failures only whetted the appetite of the manufacturers seeing Samsung gorge on the biggest share of the phablet pie. As the former king, the Note 2, retires, the throne isn’t as secure anymore.
While the phablet kingdom has seen the rise and fall of pretenders before, this time the pretender actually has a decent claim on the phablet throne. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is geared for war, attested by its waterproof and dustproof frame, humongous screen (even for phablet standards) and very capable hardware.
But the current heir, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, is no weak pushover. After all, it was Samsung who created the phablet category, so this phablet won’t be keen on surrendering the throne without a fight. Though it might not have the gargantuan screen of the Ultra Z, the Note 3 carries the family heirloom that propelled the Note series into phablet royalty: the S-Pen. And the equally capable hardware just begs for a fight to put the upstart Xperia in his place and prove that the phablet territory is Note domain.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
The emperor has new clothes. Sort of.
When the new phablet king/emperor was unveiled at IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung) Berlin, the tech journalists present were quite surprised with the device design that Samsung utilized with the Note 3. The much-hated hyper-glazed plastic back cover is gone, and in its place is a leather-textured back with neat little stitches at the edges to give the impression of an old-style notebook.
Furthermore, the Note 3 is markedly less rounded compared to the Galaxy S4 though the design is still unmistakably Samsung. Still plastic but less shabby and cheap-looking, there’s a touch of class. Also, it must be noted that while the Note 3 has a bump in screen size, it is still lighter (Note 3 = 5.9 ounces, Note 2 = 6.4 ounces) and thinner (Note 3 = 0.3 inches, Note 2 = 0.37 inches) than its predecessor.
Screen-wise, the Note 3 features a smaller 5.7-inch screen, which is also 1080p, but sports a Super AMOLED display. Some of you might prefer the more realistic IPS displays; however, the Super AMOLED screen is just stunning. The second-gen Note 2’s magnificent screen is partly offset by the 720p resolution that somehow lowered the pixels per inch (PPI) resulting in some pixilation if viewed closely. Though I doubt anyone would do that.
The Note 3 features a 13 megapixel rear-camera with LED flash and a 2 megapixel front-facing one. While it might sound very much like the S4’s camera, the Note 3’s camera can shoot Ultra-HD 4K videos which are double the resolution of 1080p videos and the camera comes with “smart stabilization” technology that allows the user to take (in theory) blur-free shots.
Such features would need a very powerful beating heart in which the Note 3 does not disappoint. The latest 2.3 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and the 3 GB RAM is on board the American version while an Exynos 5 octa-core processor with the same amount of RAM will be fitted on the international version just like the Galaxy S4. The Snapdragon 800 variant will be the one with LTE-A which is faster than the normal LTE while the Exynos one will have to be connected with HSPA+.
As for the family heirloom, the S-Pen, Samsung further improved the already vast functionality of the second-gen one. Air Command, a submenu, can be triggered by hovering the stylus over the screen presents the ff. S-Pen actions: S-Finder, Scrapbooker, Action Memo, Screen Write and Pen Window.
The Galaxy Note 3 will come in 32 GB and 64 GB variants with an option for further expansion with the added microSD slot. It will also come with Android 4.3 and initially available for three colors: white, black and pink.
Samsung’s new Note seems to have all things covered with the additional features and the bump in specs. The faux leather back cover is also a nice touch though still far from the classy designs used by its competitors. The Galaxy Note 3 is indeed a true heir, a safe and solid bet….
The Xperia Z Ultra begs to differ.
Sony Xperia Ultra Z
This is more of a tablet than a phone. Yeah, it can even be called a tablet that makes phone calls.
Brandishing Sony’s own Omni-Balance design, the Xperia Z Ultra is one monster phone, both in specs and size. The Xperia Z Ultra features 6.4 inch screen with Triluminous display that is a marked improvement from the much criticized, poor viewing angles of its smaller brother, the original Xperia Z.
Speaking of internals, this phone also features the same Snapdragon 800 CPU though at a lower clockspeed at 2.2 GHz. It only comes with 2 GB RAM and 16 GB internal storage (which can be expanded with the inclusion of a microSD).
The Xperia Ultra Z comes with an 8 megapixel rear camera with no LED flash and a 2 megapixel front-facing camera. It does not have the same 4k video recording as the Note 3. It makes up for this with its IP58 certification, which means it can withstand being submerged in water for 30 minutes and is also dust-resistant, making it a perfect companion for outdoor trips, provided you have a pocket big enough to fit this phablet.
For the much-acclaimed Note S-Pen, the Xperia Z Ultra has an answer. The large screen of the Z Ultra can register input from ball pens or even pencils, not just any dedicated stylus just like Samsung’s S-Pen. This can be very useful in cases when you have to write something and only your pens are lying around. It’s also a neat piece of technology that I won’t be sad to see other manufacturers adapt.
Also, the Z Ultra, despite its large frame, looks a tad better than the same old design of the Galaxy Note 3. The boxy frame and large bezels define a masculine vibe that implies stability and class at the same time. Though the glass panels in front and at the back might seem fragile at first, it’s actually a joy to hold.
The True Battleground
When the two devices clash, they will also clash with the consumer’s pocket. Proportional to their big frames are their big prices. Expect somewhere around $700-$800 for an unlocked phablet or $200 depending on your carrier. You might want to save up or you may want to sell your used electronics on eCycleBest.com, Amazon, Craigslist or eBay to add to your ultimate phablet budget.
The Note 3 and the Xperia Z Ultra are two great phablets and to be honest, both deserve the distinction of being phablet king. However, there can only be one.
If you value a bigger screen, powerful hardware, a classy frame and the feature that allows all kinds of pens as styluses, then the Xperia Z Ultra is for you. It won’t disappoint and might even surprise.
On the other hand, if anything more than 6 inches is an inch too much and you place emphasis on benchmarks, futureproof-ness, a capable camera that shoots 4K video and the latest version of Android, then the Galaxy Note 3 is a safe choice. It is a worthy successor for the well-liked Galaxy Note 2 in all aspects. The design refresh is also very welcome.
You can’t go wrong with either device. They both have big screens and very capable hardware. For a moment, forget that sleazy innuendo about size and performance.
Because we all know that size and performance go together. For phablets at least 🙂
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