Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2012)

Long live the stylus

Our score: 5/5
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Published: December 13, 2012 2:00 PM
Updated: December 14, 2012 10:56 AM
By Romain Thuret
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
When Samsung launched its first giant Galaxy Note smartphone, it created a new category of products—or rather, resuscitated a category of product and a method of interaction that had been declared dead ever since multimedia-oriented touchscreen devices stormed the market: the Stylus. The Galaxy Note and Galaxy Note 2 are living proof that this return to the source is indeed a viable business model, as long as the device can keep up technically and prove itself useful to everyday life. And given the success of the Galaxy Note product line, it was inevitable that the concept would spread to tablet form, and the Galaxy Note 10.1 is here to join in on its forebears' mission: to unite Android with a touchscreen stylus built by one of the world's leading stylus brands, Wacom.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

To shoulder the concept Samsung has enlisted a 10.1-inch PLS touchscreen (Samsung's version of IPS) with 1280 x 800 resolution, an in-house 1.4 GHz Exynos quad-core processor and 2 GB of RAM. The Galaxy Note 10.1 comes in a choice of 16 GB, 32 GB or 64 GB, with up to 64 GB of expandable memory via the microSD card slot. It has a proprietary port for transferring content and charging and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Like the Sony Xperia Tablet S, it has an infrared port that enables the tablet to act as a touchscreen universal remote.

On top of Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, Samsung has of course added its TouchWiz interface, which includes exclusive services and apps, some of which have been adapted here for use with the stylus.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (16 GB Wi-Fi version) is selling for the recommended price of £399.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Design & Handling4/5



Visually speaking, if you took a Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, changed the colour from pristine white to charcoal grey, added a capacitive stylus and made a home for it on the back of the tablet, you'd have a Galaxy Note 10.1. Samsung has taken very little risk with this design, either in the shape or the materials. Plastic reigns and the body sounds a tad too hollow in your hands, in comparison with other more solid, dense tablets.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

One great aspect of the design is the placement of the 5 cm speakers: they're located on the front of the tablet, at the top of either side of the screen. That means you can let your thumbs fall naturally on the (wide) borders without ever obstructing the sound.

The microSD slot cover seems sturdy, even though it's only attached with a piece of flexible plastic. Instead of a micro-USB port the Galaxy Note 10.1 has the same 40-pin proprietary connector as Samsung's other tablets. This one can only charge via USB when the tablet's turned off. When on, it charges only via the cable that comes in the box.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

At a fairly well-distributed 600 grammes, the body could have been better thought out in terms of handling. For example,  it could really use a stand or wedge at the top of the back to prop it up, making it easier and more comfortable for use with the stylus. As is, you end up holding the tablet in one hand and using the stylus with the other. And 600 grammes in one hand is a lot! As a result you naturally tend to sit down and put the Note on your lap or belly (sprawled on a couch, Roman decadence-style works).

Display4/5



By using a PLS screen Samsung has right-off-the-bat ensured itself proper viewing angles and at least acceptable contrast. And it's easily one of the best PLS displays Samsung has ever produced. True, at 789:1 the contrast isn't off the charts (in fact, it's far from the 1,000:1 and beyond that you get with the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T and Acer Iconia Tab A510), but what the Galaxy Note 10.1 has going for it is highly accurate shades of grey and black and 364 cd/m² of brightness. This combination makes for an extremely homogeneously rendered image that's outstanding to look at, especially considering the extra-wide viewing angles that don't lose contrast.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

However, while the grey tones, black, cyan and magenta are all of the highest order, we were disappointed with the rendering in the rest of the spectrum. The primary colours are a little over the top, as are others, which necessarily affects the screen's average Delta E. Delta E is a measurement that determines how different the colours that are intended to appear onscreen are from the shades that are actually displayed, where 3 and below is considered perfectly accurate, at least as far as the eye can tell. Here the Delta E equals 6. That's not a catastrophe for a touchscreen tablet, but we were expecting something a bit more "pro", given that Samsung is advertising the Galaxy Note 10.1 as a tablet that's good for editing photos with Photoshop Touch. The 3rd generation iPad is still our all-time reference, with a Delta E of 2.2.
  
The screen has a great average colour temperature of 5950 kelvins and remains consistent throughout the spectrum, at all times avoiding blue and red overtones. The ghosting time is 23 milliseconds, which is just about the average for IPS panels. The iPad is the only tablet with an IPS display that goes below 19 ms. For faster ghosting you need AMOLED (less than 1 ms).

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

All things considered, this is a very nice screen. But let's talk resolution. A question comes to mind: in today's world, is 1280 x 800 enough for a 10.1-inch screen? Sure—if it weren't for the iPad with Retina Display, Iconia Tab A700, Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T and Google Nexus 10 (which Samsung built, by the way), each of which offers Full HD or more. How can you ignore the fact that the Galaxy Note 10.1 has just 149 dots per inch (dpi), when these competitors have 224, 263, even 298 dpi?! The end result is a less detailed image, which you can especially see with small text.

You could conjecture that this is just Samsung trying to stay consistent with the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1... But the explanation lies with Wacom: as it turns out, Wacom can only handle 1280 x 720 pixels for its stylus-touchscreen interactive technology. Samsung had to take it or leave it.

But if you consider one of the Galaxy Note 10.1's biggest consumer target groups, a budding graphic designer could get more out of this screen than your average joe with a Retina infatuation ever could. Not to mention, if the Galaxy Note 10.1 did have, say, 1920 x 1200 resolution, then Samsung would surely have had to give it a bigger battery, which would have made for a considerably heftier tablet...

Interface & Navigation5/5



We handed the Galaxy Note 10.1 over to our graphic designer to see what she thought of the stylus and how well it interacts with the featured apps such as S Note and Photoshop Touch.

If you've already used Samsung mobile devices, especially the Galaxy Note I and II, then you're on familiar ground here. If you're new to this world, then here's what to expect.

For a few years now Samsung has been augmenting the basic Android interface with its TouchWiz overlay. TouchWiz is: a number of exclusive apps, a recognisable graphic style, dynamic proprietary widgets and a system of mini-apps that can be brought up at any time (calculator, e-mail, music player, etc.). And as of a few months ago, the whole show runs extremely smoothly and fluidly.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Now, as it's part of the whole concept of the Galaxy Note 10.1, what really interests us in this review is the stylus and its uses with the tablet. Samsung has deftly avoided the stylus becoming a sort of novelty feature by coming up with all sorts of well-thought-out ideas for how to make it a relevant, if not pivotal, companion to its Galaxy Note products. One big feature is S Note, an app for taking notes and memos, which you can do by writing with the stylus, typing with the virtual keyboard or simply dictating.

There's a feature called Handwriting to Text that recognises the words you write with the stylus and suggests words and phrases before you've finished jotting them down, converting your memo into text form. Our graphic designer, Fatiha, expected this to be a throwaway feature, but was quickly blown away by how effectively it works. You can even write mathematical equations in S Note; the 'Functions' mode links up to an online database for formulas and results. And the database appears in the web browser... with S Note open right alongside it!

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Feel free to pinch yourself, people, because you are not dreaming—this, ladies and gentlemen, is the birth of true multitasking on a tablet. A screen with one app open on one half of the screen and a second app open on the other. Pure bliss! For now, only a select few apps make use of this capability: the web browser (only the built-in one; Chrome and Firefox won't do it), S Note, the video player, Gallery, Mail and the Polaris Office suite. This means you can watch a TV show and type an e-mail or jot down a memo or shopping list without having to close your show. Or, for example, you can type an e-mail on the right half of the screen based on a note you scribbled the day before, which you have open on the left half!

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Another of the advantages with the Galaxy Note 10.1—at least in theory—is that Photoshop Touch, which normally costs £6.99 from the Google Play Store, comes pre-installed. While it doesn't quite rival the experience of CS5 or CS6 on a Mac or PC, it does let you do a good bit of photo editing on your tablet—only with certain limitations, such as a smaller history of actions (less than ten), fewer customisation options and fewer advanced features, such as multiformat documents.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Any graphic designer will quickly get bored with the app, but novices will learn the basics of Photoshop with the well-designed tutorials and a stylus that's good enough to make you forget your mouse altogether.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Keep in mind that S Note is primarily a success in terms of use. It can be a bit inflexible, especially when it comes to managing visuals you've inserted (there aren't many editing options), and aesthetically speaking it's rather bleak. But it's user-friendly with well-chosen options, easily accessible features and top-notch stylus interactions (pressure points, recognition, etc.).

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

The Galaxy Note 10.1 is highly responsive: it's fluid and prompt to act in all circumstances, even when you're watching an HD movie and decide to jot down a note with your stylus, with the Handwriting to Text function on.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Now for the stylus itself. Included with the tablet, the stylus is a veritable instrument for work or pleasure. Design-wise it's the same as the one that comes with the Galaxy Note II, but thicker, with a similar feel.

The stylus is precise and, combined with the tablet's real-time handwriting recognition and 1,024 points of pressure sensitivity, you're left free to let your creativity run wild.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

You can alternate thin and thick strokes at your whim and the various pens and brushes to choose from behave as you expect them to, as does the ultra-precise pointer.

Now, while the Galaxy Note 10.1 marks the arrival of the first true multitasking, what really gets our mouths watering is the upcoming Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update: up to four(!) simultaneous tasks, a larger selection of apps capable of multitasking, new apps designed specially for the stylus, etc. Samsung's on a roll. It just keeps building on the stylus concept with extreme intelligence.

Multimedia5/5



The Galaxy Note 10.1 offers one of the best web browsing experiences that exist in slate form. As always on Android tablets, we recommend using Chrome, although there's a wide range of browsers to choose from. Web pages load swiftly and vertical scrolling runs smoothly without slowing things down.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

The only slight drawback is the 1280 x 800-pixel resolution. Text is more legible in landscape mode than in portrait mode, with less finely hewn characters in portrait mode. But the zoom function, which comes in handy in these cases, is fluid and precise.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

As many have come to expect from Samsung mobile devices, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is a gem for consuming multimedia. It has one of the widest ranges of compatibility on the market and HD movies play without a hiccup. You can even watch videos in definitions higher than the screen's resolution (Full HD 1080p runs flawlessly). The Galaxy Note 10.1 supports the containers MKV and AVI, as well as subtitle files.

When it comes to gaming, the Exynos quad-core processor and its GPU cohort, the Mali 400 MP4, deliver high quality rendering on all the biggest, newest games at the Google Play Store. We ran the most processor-intensive games that exist for tablet and found no snags, no lags.

As for the universal remote function, the infrared port/Peel app combo isn't as extensive as the Sony Xperia Tablet S's universal remote feature; it offers fewer choices for displaying remote controls and has a limited number of commands. The idea's there, but Samsung still has a ways to go with it.

Battery Life4/5



The Galaxy Note 10.1 has a 7,000 mAh battery. That's the same capacity as the one in the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, but the engine behind the display is an entirely different beast, so we were expecting some (bad) surprises with it. In practice, the slate lasts a bit longer than 8 hours and 15 minutes with continuous video playback, and anywhere from 8 hours to 9 hours and 40 minutes with more varied usage (smaller video games without loads of graphics, web browsing, e-mails, photo editing and some video). That's just as long, if not longer, than the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, proving that Samsung's Exynos quad-core consumes about the same amount of power as the Texas Instruments dual-core.

Once you start launching tasks that push the CPU to its limits, such as processor-hungry 3D video games and marathon sessions of digital photo editing, the Galaxy Note 10.1 loses 45 minutes to an hour of battery time. That's still good, especially with the TouchWiz interface running things... But today many of Samsung's competitors offer 9 ½ hours. The Galaxy Note 10.1 takes 3 ½ to 4 hours to charge.

5/5 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 DigitalVersus 2012-12-13 15:00:00

Pros

  • Super-responsive
  • Highly precise stylus
  • Great apps for creative activities
  • Extensive media player
  • Finally, true multitasking!
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update (coming soon)

Cons

  • Too much plastic / Body feels a little chintzy
  • Screen resolution
  • Onscreen colours could be more accurate
  • Battery life slightly behind competition
  • No stand to prop it up with

Conclusion

The Galaxy Note 10.1 is a one-of-a-kind product that deserves your attention if you're looking specifically for a mobile device on which you can edit photos, jot down notes, scribble drawings and express your creativity. It's perfect for students or professionals of graphic design that need a go-to device when on the move. The biggest advantages are the 'little extras' that come in the form of the stylus and its advanced apps and tablet/user interactions. However, if you're just looking for 'a regular' 10.1-inch tablet, you can find much cheaper from other brands (or with other Samsung products) for nearly the same performance. The Galaxy Note 10.1 is a niche product, but it's a great niche product.

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