Does size really matter? Is bigger really better? When the Galaxy Note phablet (eugh) first hit the market, everyone started scratching their heads. 'Whatever will we do with such an enormous, category-straddling device?' 'Wouldn't this S-Pen stylus concept do better in a tablet?', they asked. That's a good question, and now, we have a good answer: the Galaxy Note 10.1 — a supersized version of the Note phablet. Should you buy it?
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Author's note: for every time I use the word phablet in this review, I'm putting a dollar in the tech swear jar.
What Is It?
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: it's a 10.1-inch version of the head-scratch-inducing 5-inch Galaxy Note phablet from last year.
It's got a 1280x800 screen with a pixel density of 149 pixels per inch, and sitting behind it is a quad-core Exynos 1.4Ghz processor, a whopping 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. The one we've gone hands-on with is the 16GB Wi-Fi model, but Samsung have assured us that larger storage variants and 3G models are on their way down under.
In Australia, this slab of tech will set you back $589.
As you run down the list of features, there's a lot to like about the Note 10.1, but it all comes down on itself as you get closer to the end. Let's dive in.
The Note 10.1's party piece is the S-Pen — a silver-topped stylus that slides out of the bottom right of the device for all your artistic needs. Like the rest of the device, it's got a very plastic feel to it, but it fits into the hand beautifully, and already that's a slam dunk. If the S-Pen were any thinner or any smaller, this tablet would be an insta-fail.
The sensitivity of the S-Pen on the screen is also excellent. It'd really turn off the design crowd if you could only draw on the screen with one pen thickness. Fine swishes of the pen gives you the shading abilities you need to add depth to an image, for example.
Photoshop Touch comes bundled with the device, and it's the full version of the software which is great. No trial versions here. You get an amazingly powerful image creation and editing tool straight out of the box so you can get down to being arty.
Powering all your creative pursuits is the quad-core 1.4Ghz chip and a whopping 2GB of RAM. It's no surprise that these two combined monster the benchmark tests.
Thanks to this quad-core, RAM-loaded lunacy, the Note 10.1 is able to support the same picture-in-picture media streaming that the Galaxy S III can. Basically it means you can float your video in a smaller window in the top right hand corner (or wherever you like, really) and keep doing things in the foreground.
Multi-screen — the ability to put two apps side by side — is also amazing. It saves you dropping in and out of the multi-tasking menu if you want to sketch something, for example. More tablets should have these last two features, for sure.
These positives give way to some pretty glaring negatives, though.
The screen, for example, isn't what it should be for this price point. For $589, you can pick up a third-generation iPad with that crazy Retina display and pick up a Bamboo stylus for under $30 for the graphic design oriented. Sunlight/outdoor performance leaves a lot to be desired, and the visible pixels on the device really put me off. Coupled that with the overly cheap plastic body, it's not winning any style awards any time soon.
There are also a few issues I have when it comes to ports on this device. The button/headphone jack placement on the top of the device (when held horizontally) is also pretty baffling. Either your headphones will get in the way of your screen when watching content, or you run them around the back, shortening them considerably.
The only other port gripe is the proprietary connector. These tablets have been powered by microUSB for years, why change now?
Also, what's with the no Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean? The new Note 2 phablet announced at IFA is coming with it. What's the deal, Samsung?
Should You Buy It?
The Note 10.1 then feels a bit 1.0 at the moment. The Note's S-Pen is a terrific party trick and it draws people in, but ultimately, it's not something the average tablet user is likely to use every time they pick up the device.
Samsung still seems to be throwing every tablet and phone variant it can at the wall to make it stick. At last count, the company had 10 tablets on the market in Australia alone. Samsung knows that the Galaxy line of smartphones is gaining traction around the world — 20 million Galaxy S III devices don't lie — so we're seeing some real dedication to that line, but everything else still feels like it's being experimented with.
The Note 10.1 is great for anyone specifically looking for a Samsung tablet, but it's not enough to get people who already have a Samsung, Apple or Asus tablet to drop what they're doing to run out an buy one, nor does it seem enough for the graphic designer crowd to abandon their Wacom gear. The S-Pen is just a party piece and the screen is disappointing.
What would be great is if Samsung folded the best things about the Note 10.1 and the Tab 10.1 into the same device. Right now, the Note 10.1 just feels like a product without a market.