Samsung NotePRO Hands-On: Tablets Just Got Handier

Samsung doesn’t do anything small or by half, which is why this year at CES it released a 12.2-inch super-tablet with impressive specs. We’ve been playing with it on the show floor, and it’s indeed a big deal.

The NotePRO is a 12.2-inch tablet which promises the best of both worlds: the goodness of a consumption tablet with the capabilities of a real laptop or desktop computer.

The screen is an eye-popping 2500×1600 WXGA display, and a form factor that aims to replicate the size and feel of an A4 notebook (once you include the bezel). It’s got 3GB of RAM, 32GB and 64GB storage variants, an expandable microSD slot (up to 64GB) and a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera.

Samsung is also aiming to fill this thing to the brim with free content out of the box, promising around $700 of freebies from various providers including Dropbox, Hancom, Bloomberg Businessweek and more. Samsung Australia claims that roughly two-thirds of the content provided to Americans will be available to Australians, so that’s something. We’ll have to wait and see on local exclusives when it comes to content, however.

The new Magazine UX is what strikes you first about the new NotePro. Built on top of Android 4.4 (hurray!), it’s meant to take the sour taste out of your mouth left there by TouchWiz. The easiest way to describe it is a cross between news app, Flipboard, and Windows 8’s Metro Start Menu interface built for Android. Transitions are fast and fluid while still being showy enough to wow you as you navigate around the tablet.

Samsung has told us that Magazine UX is dependent on Android 4.4, meaning that it might not come to some of the newer devices Samsung makes — think the Note 10.1 2014 Edition or the Note 3 — for a little while so if you want it, buy it on the NotePRO.

The NotePRO is meant to straddle consumption and productivity devices, and with a combination of great productivity software it’s got that more than under control. Samsung is including its Knox suite for security and VPN abilities, as well as Cisco WebEx support, a bespoke LinkedIn app, Remote PC capabilities and a decent Android document, slideshow and table editing suite for you enterprise users.

Samsung wants people to type better on the new tablet, enabling Windows-style keyboard shortcuts on the touch keyboard. Cut, Copy, Paste, Undo and Select All are available via the new Keyboard shortcuts.

The best part is the screen. Not only is it massive at 12.2 inches (measured diagonally), it’s packing a resolution of 2560x1600, which might just melt your brain if you look at it for too long.

The NotePRO lets itself down when it comes to execution. The best thing about the Surface Pro for example is its ability to act as a tablet and a decent laptop all-in-one. It runs Windows, you can use a full keyboard and a variety of Bluetooth gadgets. It’s the ultimate portable productivity machine in a tablet form factor.

The Samsung NotePRO is attempting to replicate just how useful products like the Surface are, but it lets itself down when it comes to convenience. Samsung has done away with the connector at the base of the unit, which means there isn’t really a tidy way to hard-wire a keyboard into the device if you dislike the new on-screen keyboard.

The on-screen keyboard isn’t terrible mind you: quite the opposite in fact. The Windows-style shortcuts are great for Copy, Paste and Select All for example, but it still manages to take up half of the 12.2-inch screen when you open it, which in turn cuts off half the viewing area for your document, presentation or otherwise. That’s annoying.

If you want to use a keyboard, you’re still best to carry an external one (which Samsung makes). That’s the real problem: it’s still clunky when you want it to be a productivity powerhouse with the one device.

It’s a nitpicky little problem considering how well Samsung has put the rest of this giant tablet together. It’s remarkably thin and very light at around 700 grams.

The on-screen keyboard and the new shortcuts are handy, the new don’t-call-it-Touchwiz Magazine UX is gorgeous, and the other productivity apps like Cisco WebEX, Remote PC and an Android document editing suite are the most powerful software additions we’ve seen on a tablet to date.

It represents a shift in the market that even Android tablets are now productivity tools, and that shift will continue throughout 2014 until we end up with tablets that we can literally do everything with.

Luke Hopewell travelled to CES 2014 as a guest of Samsung Australia.

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