Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Review: Can A Tablet Fix What The Phone Got Wrong?

The Galaxy Note was, just a wee bit big to be considered a phone. Why not make it bigger and call it a straight-up tablet? Add on some Wacom stylus tech, bump up the specs — be our guest!

What Is It?

Samsung's new flagship: A 10.1-inch Android tablet with a stylus and Wacom technology.

Who's it For?

Graphic designers. People who want to use a more advanced stylus with their tablet.

Design

Shiny plastic back, with cameras on front and back, a micro SD card slot, an IR blaster, and stylus that tucks inside.

Using It

The Note 10.1 has a ton of functions — split-screen apps, mini-apps, and the S Pen. It runs Ice Cream Sandwich with Samsung's heavy, unintuitive TouchWiz skin.

The Best Part

Surprisingly, the speakers. Samsung has put the loud, clear speakers in the best location for a tablet — on the front and high up, ensuring the sound won't be muffled.

Tragic Flaw

The S Note app could have set this tablet apart, but it's a failure. On the handwriting-to-text feature, only really large letters come out clearly, so you get three or four words per line. It doesn't always ignore your palm resting on it while you write. You accidentally close out of the app, move the cursor unintentionally, or just stop writing. In landscape mode, there are gigantic spaces on both sides.

This Is Weird...

The new 1.4 GHz quad-core Exynos processor does a great job with heavy games, but it stutters and jumps when simply scrolling through the desktop or app drawer. Even 2GB of RAM can't save it.

Test Notes

  • The S Pen's design is better than the S Pen on the Note phone. It's thicker, like a real pen, so it's easier to grip. But you still accidentally hit the button.
  • The tablet ships with an optimised version of Adobe's Photoshop Touch. It takes advantage of the S Pen's pressure sensitivity, which you can use to control brush size or opacity. It really is a terrific program, and that plus the S Pen will probably be a bit draw for the artistically inclined.
  • Samsung licensed some Wacom technology for the screen to give it 24 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity. However, it still seems to make large jumps in pressure. It also misses a ton of presses (both with the S Pen and with your finger), leading to broken lines, typos, and dead video game characters.
  • Killer battery life. With moderate use, you'll be going several days between charges, no problem.
  • Samsung has carried over a lot of features from the Galaxy S III. Things like SmartStay, AllShare Play, and the floating video module have made the jump.
  • The user experience is a mess — whereas the Galaxy S III tries too hard, the Note 10.1 goes further, with a cluttered, confusing, and inconsistent interface.
  • The IR blaster is such a killer feature. All tablets should have one. With the excellent Peel app, you can use the tablet as a remote to control your TV, DVD players, DVR, receiver, everything. You can even set up macros to switch into "movie mode," or "gaming mode," or "music mode." It's super convenient.
  • The ability to split the screen into two apps is genuinely extremely useful in some situations. It's not exactly an original idea *coughWindows7cough*, but it's welcome. (This only works with seven pre-installed apps.)
  • The 1280x800 screen is extremely bright. Definitely readable in daylight. Unfortunately, it looks rather low-res next to the current generation iPad, the Nexus 7, or even the Acer Iconia A700
  • The built-in keyboard is customisable, so it's easy to switch between a large qwerty, a split keyboard, or a floating keyboard. Unfortunately, the screen's sensitivity problems lead to typos. Pity.
  • The most popular accessory is likely to be the Book Cover. It's nice and thin, but it's a bit slippery. The magnets designed to keep it up are too weak to keep it from collapsing while you type on it.
  • The Note 10.1 is actually thinner and lighter than the current generation iPad, but because of the paneling, it seems thicker. An unfortunate optical illusion.

Should You Buy It?

No. The only possible exception would be a graphic designer absolutely convinced that the S Pen can be tamed. Even then, go to your local retailer and give it a good try first. At a $US500 starting price (no Australian price or release date yet, unfortunately), this is a very clear pass for everyone else. The Nexus 7 is only $249, and provides a vastly more enjoyable user experience. Simply put, the majority of things on this device don't work as well as they are supposed to.

Samsung makes a lot of good stuff, and that's why something like this is so disappointing. We expect better from them. Samsung's software designers are behind compared to Google's Matias Duarte. Make great hardware, let Android do its thing, and the company can have a big hit. But a cluttered tablet that you can barely type on isn't going to do it.

We're going to be spending more time with it and it will be featured in our upcoming Battlemodo. If it shows signs of improvement (either through software updates, or just through us warming to it) we'll let you know. Samsung has promised an update to Jelly Bean before the year is over. We'll see if that does it any favours.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Specs

• Network: Wi-Fi

• OS: Android 4.0

• CPU: 1.4-GHz quad-core Exynos processor

• Screen: 10.1-inch 1280x800 pixel LCD

• RAM: 2GB

• Storage: 16GB or 32GB + up to 64GB microSD

• Camera: 5MP rear / 1.9MP front

• Battery: 700 mAh Li-Po

• Price: $US500 for 16GB, $US550 for 32GB, no Australian release date or pricing yet

• Giz Rank: 2.5 stars

The Galaxy Note 10.1 will be available starting August 16 in white or grey in the US.


Comments

    Given your stance on most things by Sammy I'll reserve my judgement till when I actually get one in my hands.

      I don't think they have issues with Samsung stuff as such, it's just that most of them seem to be Mac users, so they approach things from a very different perspective and probably fail to appreciate features that your or I really like. A good example is any laptop with a trackpoint - Mac users will at best only mention that it is there before going into a long paragraph comparing the trackpad to the one on their MacBook Pro. It never occurs to them that a lot of Windows users are actually more interested in the TrackPoint and would like to know how good it is (they are all good, of course). So I think you are right to take any criticism with a grain of salt but I think it's a little unfair to characterise the journos as biased. I think they do the best they can most of the time.

    How they loved the shit out of the SII & SIII and have issues with their other stuff? What stance is this?

      Leads me to assume that they have different dev teams for their line-ups. And they dont really share notes.

      I did a Google and read all the reviews that are available and Gizmodo's article is by far the most negative. Some reviewers would've preferred a screen with a higher pixel density, and some thought it was on the pricey side but all of them thought it was at least a decent tablet (with a few claiming it to be very good).

        So what you are saying then is that the gizmodo review was the most thorough in terms of flaws.

        Additionally you failed to miss my point where I asked what is "Stance on all things Sammy" was, like I said, they loved the shit out if the s2 & s3. In fact the review for the s3 is linked in the article and was written by the same guy. It got four out of five.

      Trackpoint is awesome - but most windows users don't know the benefits of it either. Most people want to use a trackpad which never made sense to me until I used a macbook. Apple certainly does the best trackpad implementation that I've ever used. I've always been a thinkpad fan but they aren't built the same as they used to be.

    So its just a big(ger) galaxy note?

    My experience with wacom pens is that their performance is dependant on the program you're using them with, not usually so much the OS or the drivers. I wonder if it's the same situation here- re the pressure sensitivity?
    I also wonder if you can use real wacom pens with this?

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      I don't know if Brent Rose is an Apple fan, but here he seems to go to great pains not to compare the Note 10.1 to the ipad, not even in resolution. This article seems pretty fair really, unlike your accusation.

    What's the response like though? If I draw will it keep up with the pen or will it always be a few mm's behind (like most phones)?

    TouchWiz is a cultural issue Sammy needs to address for its western market, we just don't dig cutesie apps and features that fall into the 'wouldn't it be cool' category, think wobbly headed toys plastered across your car's dash. Some cultures dig it some don't.
    I can't understand why Sammy doesn't fast track stock Android builds and follow up with their suite as an 'optional' extra for those inclined to use it. Having to wait for Sammy to tweak it's launcher when most just replace it with something more usable is very frustrating. I have the Galaxy Note 'phone' and updates have been a painful wait....

    Hmm beginning an article with a false assumption makes the whole article circumspect. "Given note fone is too big ....... " Well mine is just right for all i do including making calls etc. Just as my 6 seater van is just right for me and the kids and dogs etc. I am sure you would argue that a van is too big for you and your wife and maybe you are happy with your Suzuki Swift. Me i just like my Tarrago of a fone because it suits me. But to argue that Suzuki Swifts are to big or small etc is absurd and a nonsense. It kinda just depends on your perspective, which means that your point of view has zero value.
    Thanks Jeff

      Not really as this is a review of a tablet and not a phone.

    Useless review by gizmodo again. I'll have to come to my own opinion as this is filled with bids riddled junk. No where near objective. Lift your game gizmodo.

    LOL, I Don't even need to read the stupid article. When I read the headline, I knew its written by an iDiot.
    So Samsung got it WRONG with the Galaxy Note? They created a whole product line known as "Phablets" and SUCCESSFULLY sold nearly 10 million worldwide, and you reckon they got it WRONG?
    Yeah RIGHT, put down that puny 3.5 inch phone and use a Galaxy Note for a month before you talk shit about it..
    Waiting for August 29 for Note II announcement with 5.5 inch Screen, BTW Gizmodo is OFF my feed list now, Good Day :)

    tbh, most reviews have been like this. I must admit there was no detailed explanation for most of the negatives. I'm still looking at buying this thing either way. I don't know if the guy doing the review is an Android user, but Android and iOS are two very different beasts. You almost need two perspectives on reviews these days.. one from either side.

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