JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 was released as an experiment to promote the usage of the S Pen in different form factors, a feature that is taken into account in this review.
Samsung already has a tablet line-up, appropriately identified under the Galaxy Tab series, so it was strange to see a Note being stretched to 10″ just for the sake of the S Pen, but the importance of this little feature means that any marketing is worth it.
It’s not a brand new tablet, but a recent one in South Africa, hence the relevance of this review, but its features can be considered up-to-date, albeit not as striking as the ones on the Google Nexus 10. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 brings a (rather obvious) 10.1″ touchscreen display with HD resolution (1280 x 800 pixels); a 5 megapixel back-facing camera with auto-focus, HD video recording and LED flash; a 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera; a choice between 16, 32 and 64 GB in storage; 2 GB of RAM; stereo speakers located at either side of the screen; Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi and HSDPA connectivity; GPS and GLONASS; all powered by the 1.4 GHz quad-core Cortex-A9 processor sitting on top of a Exynos 4412 chipset, aided by a Mali-400MP GPU.
I avoided the discussion of display size in my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v review because it doesn’t contribute to the device’s quality, it is a rather subjective choice on the consumer’s part, but for that sake, pictures in this review pose the Galaxy Note 10.1 against the iPad 2 (9.7″) and the BlackBerry Playbook (7″).
From top to bottom: Apple iPad 2, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, BlackBerry Playbook
In terms of build quality, the tablet doesn’t feel like the most sturdy one in the market, but doesn’t feel cheap either. The most noticeable problem for me is the weight distribution, like most large tablets it’s strenuous to hold it by one hand alone. For two-hand operation, however, a split-QWERTY-keyboard has been provided, and it’s just perfect for such a large display.
The display’s mere 149 ppi density isn’t noticeable, but there’s no question that a higher resolution would enrich the experience, and such displays are already offered by many of the Galaxy Note 10.1′s competitors. As usual from Samsung, the screen offers bright and vivid colours, although not as good as the Super AMOLED Plus display on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7.
The highlight of the tablet, the S Pen, can be used take notes on the fly, draw elaborate paintings with the range of brushes and 1024 pressure points, be detected when it is being hovered, or use pen gestures to control a certain app. Samsung has included a bunch of S-Pen-compatible apps that are presented when the stylus is removed, including S Note, S Planner, Photoshop Touch, Crayon physics and Polaris Office – any one of these can be set as the default app to run when the S Pen is removed.
Unlike most tablets, this one can actually be used to make calls, even though it would look ridiculous without a Bluetooth headset – thankfully it does not bring an ear-speaker.
A disappointing feature is the connector chosen for the Galaxy Note 10.1. Instead of opting for the widely-used microUSB port, Samsung offers its own 30-pin connector that requires its own charging and data cable. For sound, a 3.5mm jack is offered, and the earphones that come in the sales package have a variety of earbuds attached to them.
From top to bottom: BlackBerry Playbook, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, iPad 2
The battery life is outstanding, with a 7000 mAh unit built to last for 2490 hours in 2G stand-by, 2080 in 3G stand-by, 74 hours 2G talk-time and 37 hours 3G talk-time.
Samsung has avoided hardware buttons on the front of the device by relying on touchscreen controls that Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich offers. Additional keys can be found on top of the Note 10.1, limited to lock/power button and volume rocker. The Infrared port, microSD and SIM slot are present on the same location.
The inclusion of TouchWIZ on top of Android increases the level of customization, with moving homescreens according to priority, resizing widgets similarly to what can be done with Windows Phone tiles; as well as bringing multi-window functionality, perhaps the best feature to ever come to tablets.
Resizing widgets in the homescreen
Multi-window is now also available on the Samsung Galaxy Note II, allowing users to explore all that screen real estate available to them. This feature is limited to the apps that are actually tweaked to work it – for now only the web browser, Polaris Office, S Note, Video Player, Gallery and Email are compatible.
Samsung also replaced Android’s music and video player with its own, and given the reputation of video support in previous Android devices, it’s an excellent move. Besides the wide support of video codecs and the ability to handle full HD video without a problem, the player window can be resized and moved across the screen while other apps run, providing true multi-tasking. Music playback benefits from the stereo speakers, the organization of the music library into diverse categories, and the choice of equalizer presets. The latter also has a mood-analyser that automatically tags music files according to their tone and places them on a graph.
Resizable and movable video player
Just like on other Samsung Galaxy devices, users can subscribe to Video Hub, Games Hub, Music Hub, Samsung Apps or Readers Hub to further enhance their tablet experience with movies and series’ purchase or rental, new games, music purchase, selected apps, and books and magazines, respectively.
Other Android apps show themselves mature enough for a tablet user interface. Downloads, YouTube, calculator, World Clock and Video Maker are trivial features found on many devices, and here they have been adapted to fit large screen of the Galaxy Note 10.1.
Google Maps with StreetView provides turn-by-turn voice navigation, but if that doesn’t fit the user’s taste, there are plenty of others in Google Play – Nokia itself is releasing HERE, a mapping solution for Android, iOS and Firefox OS, similar to what it makes available on its own platforms.
Google Maps app
Whether we look from the software side or hardware side, it’s obvious that the the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 makes for an excellent tablet, taking Android to the next level with Samsung’s own apps and TouchWIZ interface, as well as with the inclusion with S Pen, which should be a must for every mobile device. The only disadvantages that remain are the resolution of the display and the lack of a microUSB port.