Digital Life

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Phablet fine on holiday

Long years of experience as a digital relationship expert have convinced us that we can never really establish firm and lasting bonds with our technology until we have experienced it in different settings.

Further, just as holidaying together provides insights that can make or break human partnerships, the opportunity to experience personal technology away from the role it plays in daily life can deepen the attraction or expose unsuspected tensions.

We suspect these interactions will become even more complex, with the recent announcement by Intel of a new generation of devices with ''human-like senses'', but even now it is quite clear that technology develops distinct and powerful personalities.

We had been increasingly impressed, for instance, by the sheer flexibility of the Samsung Note 3 ''phablet'' in demanding work environments. In that world, this hybrid of the smartphone and tablet form factors represents a sensible compromise between size and convenience.

But we were curious how companionable it might be when we took it to Daylesford for a week of rest and recuperation during the Christmas-New Year break.

Quite by chance, at a Daylesford cafe, we happened to overhear a particularly gloomy conversation between three iPhone owners at the next table. Their enthusiasm had clearly been undermined by closer acquaintance.


One had been given an iPhone 5S at work and was frustrated by unstable apps. Another complained that the camera took too long to activate. The third was disappointed by audio glitches and battery life under iOS 7.

Happily, we were settling into an ever more agreeable relationship with the Note 3. The 5.7-inch touchscreen that some people might find too big for daily use as a smartphone becomes more attractive, however, when it's put to recreational use.

When it comes to watching videos, for instance, the Note 3's full HD (1920×1080) display is more than acceptable, and its use of USB 3.0 (for which it requires a special cable) meant that we could transfer a substantial selection of television shows to it in about one-third the time it would have taken on a USB 2.0 phone.

That Super AMOLED screen has twice the resolution of its predecessor, the Note II, and is 55 per cent brighter. According to the image quality authority, DisplayMate, it's 25 per cent brighter than the formidable Galaxy S4 screen. That means it is much more visible than other mobile phones, even in bright sunlight.

The DisplayMate evaluation and recommendations are worth reading at

It wasn't until we installed the Amazon Kindle app and settled on a couch with a copy of The Book Thief that we realised just how well this screen performs as a holiday e-book reader.

The latest version of the Kindle Paperwhite and its predecessor has more features and is marginally easier on the eyes, and we are increasingly impressed by the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX that we've just started playing with, but the Kindle app on a Note 3 is surprisingly effective.

The ABC's radio app, which streams more than 20 stations to Android or iOS devices, is a great resource in the city, but in rural areas it didn't allow access to the Grandstand test cricket commentary because of licensing restrictions. But once we downloaded the Cricket Australia app, we were able to enjoy the latest instalments of the demolition of English pretensions to the Ashes.

The stylus, which many users reportedly find to be the most compelling reason to choose the Note over a conventional smartphone, was also very handy for keeping card-game scores. Samsung's already acceptable handwriting recognition is even better on this device, and the ability to write down a phone number in Action Memo - one of the apps on the Air Command quick access dial that pops up when you remove the stylus or push its button - and insert it into the phone dialler is quite brilliant.

Easy Clip, which allows you to draw around an object on the display and then clip it and save or share it in a variety of apps, including Evernote, Dropbox or email, is also useful.

We hadn't realised just how versatile Samsung's S-Note app was until we discovered that one of the objects you can insert in one of these notes - apart from a voice memo, image, video or map - is an ''Easy chart''. You can create bar charts and pie charts and drag up the levels as you choose.

That discovery very nearly tempted us to interrupt our holiday with some professional activities. Fortunately, The Book Thief tempted us to return to the hard work of relaxing.