Review: S-Note 3 on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3

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Samsung’s Galaxy Note is marketed primarily as a note-taking and creativity type of device, so doesn’t it make sense to start off our Galaxy Note 3 review series with a full look at the new S-Note 3.0 app?  Samsung has completely overhauled S-Note this time around, and everything is drop dead gorgeous.  Taking quite a few notes out of Google’s design playbook, Samsung has still managed to create something that looks uniquely Samsung without all the baggage that TouchWiz carries with it.  Let’s just say if this is a glimpse of where Samsung is headed with their next full user interface overhaul, we’re in for a real treat when the Galaxy S 5 or Note 4 comes out.

We’ll start this segment with a look at Action Memo, which is the new version of pop-up note.  When you launch Action Memo it acts the same way pop-up note did in that it pops up a floating note window on your screen, but this time around it’s much more fully featured.  Carrying the full array of tools that S-Note provides, Action Memo also enables pressure sensitivity; something that was completely lacking in previous versions of either S-Note or Pop-up Note.  The only feature that’s missing that could possibly be asked for is an S-Pen only mode in the pop-up window, as that seems to only be able to work in the full-screen S-Note app.  If you need to minimize the note at any time you can click the aforementioned button and Action Memo shrinks to just the size of a small icon, able to be dragged to any place on the screen you want.  This allows you to fully use apps without Action Memo getting in the way.  You can even change the color of the note and sort by color or date too, so organization is super easy.

Diving right into S-Note you’re presented with a rather fancy setup tutorial in which you can select default templates that S-Note will automatically use when adding a page to a Note, as well as the default cover that will used for each note.  Don’t worry, you can easily change these at any time in the future.  The main S-Note screen is still a preview of all the notes you’ve made, but this time around it’s just plain prettier.  Not only that but it’s more useful, as you can drag down on each note and preview all the pages, even add a page to the note you want to edit and jump right in.  Veteran Galaxy Note users will be happy to know that entering a note no longer takes a while, and much like everything else on this phone, is nearly instant.  Switching templates is a little less intuitive than before though, as the option is hidden in the menu on the main screen.  Not sure why this decision was made, but hopefully it can be updated and fixed in the future.  It’s not the first place I’d ever look for sure.

Once inside the note you want it’s easy to identify the controls and what they do.  Starting from left to right you’ve got pen tool, text tool, eraser, lasso, undo and redo.  On the bottom of the screen going from left to right you’ve got insert, page number and navigation, S-Pen only mode and settings.  While there was pressure sensitivity support on the Note II it wasn’t built into S-Note, it’s in full force here in S-Note 3.0 on the Note 3.  The rest of the settings here are the same as before, just with an updated look.  Eraser has received a new option in “Erase by Stroke” that’ll let you erase an entire stroke instead of acting like a “real” eraser on a pencil as before. Selection mode is also something new, and lets you highlight sections of your note for easy editing and moving.  You can choose between rectangle, which is a more broad selection tool, and lasso, which lets you draw a circle around any stroke and include it in the selection.  From here you can resize or move the selection anywhere on the note, change properties like the color, stroke type and size, transform it into a formula, text, shape, etc.  There’s a ton of things you can do with selection now, and it makes taking notes even more powerful.

In previous versions of S-Note you were able to toggle back and forth between the pen and eraser tools by hovering the S-Pen over the screen and clicking the button on the S-Pen.  This time around Samsung seems to have removed this feature, which is a crying shame.  Worse yet you can’t even customize what your finger does when it touches the screen, it’s simply an on or off setting.  So unlike other note taking apps on the Google Play Store such as Papyrus, you can’t choose to make your finger an eraser or any other tool found in S-Note, you can only turn finger interaction on or off.  This is a huge oversight on Samsung’s part, and unless I’m totally blind the option isn’t anywhere.  If anyone else finds this, feel free to let me know, it’ll be a huge relief.  Paste is also in a strange section, as it used to be in the logical “insert” section on the bottom left, but is no longer there.  Now you press and hold anywhere to bring up a context-sensitive box that contains the paste button if you’ve got anything in your clipboard.  I’d rather have it in both places personally, and it took me a while to figure this one out.

As before you can select from a number of backgrounds for your note.  Want to jazz things up instead of having a boring old college-ruled line type of background?  Samsung’s got you covered here, and they’ve even added a brand new store that contains dozens of new backgrounds to download.  Assumedly in the future Samsung will offer ones that cost money, and maybe even productivity pack-type backgrounds to aid in certain kinds of note taking.  Since backgrounds are an extension of templates, this allows Samsung to give you new layout styles with ease.  You can also create custom backgrounds, so if you don’t want to use a built in one feel free to be creative.

Samsung has also added new productivity tools to the mix.  You can now insert all kinds of charts, including pie and bar charts.  They didn’t just throw this in the mix though, it’s completely tailored to the S-Pen and uses full handwriting recognition and is extremely easy to use with the S-Pen.  For a bar graph you literally draw the bar on the graph, and then can either handwrite a value in the box at the top of the bar or click and drag to move the size.  Pie graphs are just as easy, making “carvings” out of the pie to add slices and adjusting the size in the same way.

Graphs can be selected after being created and adjusted in a dizzying array of ways.  You can adjust colors, borders, sizes, send the object to the front or the back and even crop the graph to only show a section.  While this isn’t Microsoft Excel, it’s an incredibly powerful way to be productive on the go.  Samsung has been gearing the Note series toward businesses increasingly more and more, so it makes sense for them to implement this feature into S-Note.

Samsung knocked it out of the park with S-Note this time around.  While there are still a number of note taking apps in the Google Play Store that do a few things better than S-Note, Samsung has implemented many needed features and fixed the awful software design from previous versions of S-Note to create a piece of software that is now truly excellent.  There’s very little that I can nitpick, and you’ll likely notice that nearly everything here is positive, and that’s for a good reason.  There’s not a lot more that I could ask for in a mobile note taking app, and even though the removal of the oft-used toggle feature between pen and eraser mode irks me quite a bit, this is the most solid overall note taking app I’ve ever used, and I’ve been with the Galaxy Note series since the beginning.

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