Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review: This time it’s a tablet

by Robert Nazarian on
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The Galaxy Note was a huge success despite many critics saying it was too big. Many wondered if it was a phone or a tablet. Some even called it a phablet, but it didn’t matter because sales were much stronger than anticipated. It’s no surprise that Samsung would try to capitalize on that success by coming out with a full-fledged tablet. Samsung is promising the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet is a multitasking powerhouse with features you won’t find on any other device. Is it original enough, do these features actually work, and do you need them? Hit the break to find out, but you can also check out our hands on from the launch event here.

Design

There’s no mistaking the Galaxy Note 10.1 is a Samsung product because it’s plastic and it’s shiny. It also resembles the design of the Galaxy Note 2 10.1, but with more shine based on my memory. I personally don’t like the shiny plastic so it’s not the most aesthetically appealing tablet. In fact, it was so shiny that it was nearly impossible to take photos of it because of the constant glare. If this were a cheaper tablet, I wouldn’t mind at all, but since it’s priced at $499, I’m having a hard time with it.

Most of the ports and buttons are at the top, which include (from left to right) the power button, volume up/down, microSD slot (with cover), IR port, and microphone jack. The bottom has the proprietary charging port and on the back, you will find the camera lens, while the front has the front-facing camera. The highlight of the design is the speakers. Just like the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, you will find the speakers on the front face with the left one to the left of the display and the right one to the right of the display. This creates the best separation and sound experience possible.

The S Pen fits neatly in it’s holder at the bottom right. In fact, if I gave you the Note 10.1, and you didn’t know it had an S Pen, you might not even realize it was there for weeks.

The Note 10.1 comes in at 8.9mm thick and weighs 597 grams, which is inline with high-end tablets.

 

Hardware

The Galaxy Note 10.1 features a 10.1-inch WXGA (1280 x 800) LCD display, a 1.4GHz Exynos quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 5MP rear camera, 1.9MP front camera, choice of 16GB or 32GB of storage, microSD slot for up to an additional 32GB of storage, 7,000mAh battery, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi, WiFi Direct, USB 2.0 Host, mHL, and iR LED.

Performance

The Galaxy Note 10.1 performs very well as it should with a quad-core Exynos processor and 2GB of RAM. You will have a hard time finding any hesitation when swiping through home screens, playing games, or running any other apps. The real question is how it performs when running two apps side-by-side on the screen (more on this later)? It actually does a pretty good job. Initially Samsung’s plan was for this tab was to sport a dual-core processor, and I think it was smart to delay the launch in favor of a quad-core.

You will find a lot of complaints in other reviews about the display, but I’m not sure why. WXGA has been a standard for 10-inch displays for a while now so this is no different. Will it blow you away? Absolutely not, but unless you’re a major connoisseur of displays, you won’t have an issue.

The accompanied S Pen is what makes the Galaxy Note 10.1 different from other tablets. Many consumers will call this a stylus, but it’s far from that. A stylus can’t tell the difference between how hard or light you’re pressing on the display, but the S Pen can thanks to Wacom technology. You can see what I mean in our hands on video. Of course this might not be all that important for simple notes, but if you want to do any serious drawing or anything artistic, it’s very important. This year’s S Pen has a better design and is definitely an upgrade. Things have come a long way since the Palm Pilot days.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 speakers performed very well. The fact that they are placed at opposite sides of the display is what makes it so pleasing. Not only is the sound directed towards the user, but it also gives you the best possible separation.

Battery

I ran my usual video rundown test in which I run continuous video while the display is turned up to about 2/3′s. I was able to get just about 9 hours and 30 minutes. This is a little lower than I would have liked, but I can’t complain. It certainly isn’t a deal breaker as most people should be able to live with that amount of time.

Software

The Galaxy Note 10.1 features TouchWiz on top of Ice Cream Sandwich, but that’s only part of the story. Samsung has a unique UI in that the Note 10.1 allows you to truly multitask. Android in itself does allow you to multitask by simply switching between apps, but the Note 10.1 allows you to display two apps at the same time (only compatible ones). For example, you can have the S Note application open on the left part of the screen, while the the Browser is open on the right. This allows you to look up things at the same time. You could also have the Gallery open on the right side so that you can crop part of a picture and drag it into your S Note. You can see how this works in our hands on video. Compatible apps that you can do this with are S Note, the Browser, the stock Email app, Gallery, Polaris Office, and the stock Video Player. It’s pretty slick, but I do have to ask myself how many times you will really need this?

Samsung also included PhotoShop Touch (a $9.99 value) and it’s S Pen optimized. There are so many things you can do with the PS Touch app that it’s overwhelming. Thankfully they included a bunch of tutorials that walk you through the process. I would say the tutorials are pretty good, but not great. Maybe I was just dense, but I had a hard time following a couple of them.

I mentioned the S Note app above, and that’s what you will use for most of your notes and journals. It works similar to the original Note’s S Note app, but they added a few things like auto shapes. If you draw a circle, it will automatically clean it up so it looks more uniform. It will also find answers to formulas that you jot down. If you don’t want your handwriting to show up on the page, you can easily convert it to cleaner text as well. Again this is all cool, but it’s not always easy to make things look good. For example, lining up text correctly on each line isn’t an easy task and editing is also a challenge at times.

Samsung also included the Kno Textbook App, which makes this ideal for students because they can purchase their textbooks. Each book has interactive 3D models and videos. You can easily highlight words or even look up the meanings of words quickly. There’s no question that eventually every child will go to school with a tablet as opposed to carrying textbooks, but the question is if the Kno app carries enough books? At this time, there are about 200,000 books, which seems like a lot, but then again it might not be. I also wonder how teachers will feel if you walk into their classroom with a tablet instead of the book. For some schools that have adopted tablets, that won’t be a problem, but for others, I suspect teachers might have an issue. As far as Android goes, the Kno app is only compatible with the Note 10.1, so if it’s something you desire, than this is the tablet for you.

Samsung continues the tradition of including the Peel Smart Remote app. It’s a really nice app that lets you control your home theater system as well as browse what’s on TV. I did a quick hands on with the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus so you can check it out below. It starts at about 4:20 in.

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The full list of S Pen optimized apps installed on the device include: Crayon Physics, Kno Textbooks, Polaris Office, Adobe PhotoShop Touch, S Note, and S Planner. There are a lot more S Pen optimized apps available on Google Play or by going through the Samsung Apps Store / S Suggest.

The Note 10.1 also features many of the newer Samsung-only apps that were introduced in the Galaxy S III such as Popup Video, AllShare, and Share Shot.

Camera

Samsung threw in a 5MP shooter in the rear and a 1.9MP lens in the front. If you’ve read any of my previous tablet reviews, you know I don’t generally review the camera unless it’s an extraordinary offering. The camera in a tablet will most likely only be used in emergency situations, and if you find yourself in that situation, the Note 10.1 will get the job done. The front facing 1.9MP lens is definitely adequate for any of your video chatting needs.

Closing

You will have a hard time finding a positive review or a recommendation to buy the Galaxy Note 10.1. This is a tablet that is priced at $499, which isn’t cheap, but it really isn’t for the mainstream. To me it’s for the people that really like to create. If I were one of those people, I would probably buy it, but I’m not. Samsung pre-installed a lot of cool features that you won’t find on any other tablet, but I just don’t think that it will be useful to most people. There is a big difference between cool and useful.

We all know the Galaxy Note was very successful and the Galaxy Note II will probably be as well, but those are different devices. The Galaxy Note (and Galaxy Note II) is a phone that isn’t priced much higher than other high-end phones. I think most of the success of the Galaxy Note was because of the display size, and not the S Pen. Yes, the S Pen is cool, but I just don’t think that most people bother with it. I’m not basing that on anything other than my own feeling. Assuming that’s the case, why buy a tablet version of the same product? Unless you really are certain you will utilize the S Pen, there is no need to spend $500 on it just because. If you are a creative and think you will really utilize what the S Pen offers, than I have no problem recommending the Galaxy Note 10.1 to you. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but it’s the only product of this kind, and it will continue to evolve. I just think this tablet is geared to a very small niche market, even though Samsung probably feels its more of a mainstream device. If you really want a 10-inch tablet and you know that the S Pen will probably stay in the slot more often than not, I would recommend the ASUS Transformer Pad TF300. All the specs are equal or better, it has already been upgraded to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and you will save $100.

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  • Belly2009

    This could become a popular (minority user) class of device. Not necacerily just in Android.
    Got it and love it! Especially the Stylus and multitasking. The multitasking, comes handy because I dont have to switch from app to app.And with the super PLS LCD display and 1280 x 800 resolution, the experiencereally perfect! Watching movies on Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is greatly improved. Well, really enjoy it and I have got many tips and apps for my Galaxy Note from Enolsoft blog.