Gadgets

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 1280×800 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 1280×800 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.


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