Ease of Learning: 4 / 5
Ease of Use: 4 / 5
Enjoyment: 3 / 5
Design: 3 / 5
Value for Money: 4 / 5
During the last year or so, Samsung has been experimenting somewhat with the release of a number of different smartphone and tablet releases. If you take a look at some of their high-profile launches of 2012, their catalogue contains the likes of the Galaxy SIII, Galaxy Note II, Galaxy Tab 2, Galaxy SIII Mini, Galaxy Beam, the impressive Galaxy Camera and even Google tablet, the Nexus 10. After being spotted earlier in the year at the Mobile World Congress, when the Galaxy Note 10.1 was released in August 2012, it included the catch phrase: “The next big thing is already here”, no doubt taking a dig at the, yet to be released, line-up of new Apple devices, including the iPad Mini, iPad 4 and iPhone 5. After the dust has finally settled on all the 2012 releases, we can have a closer look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is see how it compares to its older brother, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and the Galaxy Note II.
Thanks to the success of its smartphone range, and particular the S-Pen enabled Galaxy Note, the Galaxy Note 10.1 was released with a ‘true fine-tipped stylus’, promised to give the user a more precise and natural pen-like features and interaction with documents. Unlike the Galaxy Note II (and original Galaxy Note), which falls somewhere between a large-screened smartphone and a tablet, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is strictly a tablet. When released, it came standard with Google’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS (later upgradable to Jelly Bean), and the same S-Pen stylus you now find on the Galaxy Note II.
Whichever way you look at it, Samsung it sticking to its signature look and plastic enclosures. Despite the recent brushed-aluminium look adopted by other OEMs, the plastic build is vindicated by Samsung as being more durable, while still looking the part. All arguments aside, it’s not the worst design to have adopted, although is not in keeping with the times. Strangely enough, the prototype featured at MWC had a different, matte enclosure, which most have preferred to the glossy look.
The ports and buttons remain the unchanged as to the previous line of Samsung tablets. The dual-speakers also remain on the front sides of the device. In fact, the only noticeable difference between the designs of the Note 10.1 and the Tab 2 10.1 is the silver strip along the top of the back of the tablet. The biggest changes, then, lies predominately with the internals of the Note 10.1, which we explore next.
Although the Galaxy Note 10.1 was released one month prior to the Galaxy Note II, it was inevitable that this comparison would take place, as well as with the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. The easiest way to conduct a comparison is by comparing specs; although it doesn’t provide the full picture, it holds some merit. The Galaxy Note 10.1 packs a Quad-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A9 CPU, Mali-400MP GPU, 5MP (2592х1944px) camera and 7000mAh battery under its hood. The Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 sports a Dual-core 1GHz Cortex-A9 CPU, PowerVR SGX540 GPU, 3.15 MP (2048x1536px) camera and 7000mAh battery. The Galaxy Note II has an impressive line-up of specs including a Quad-core 1.6GHz Cortex-A9 CPU, Mali-400MP GPU, 8 MP (3264x2448px) camera and 3100mAh battery. Spec-for-spec, the Galaxy Note 10.1 falls between the more powerful Galaxy Note II and, somewhat less impressive, Galaxy Tab 2 10.1.
Despite the improvements in terms of the hardware specs, the biggest point of entry for the Note 10.1 is its S-Pen, and how it performs on the larger tablet-sized screen. The S-Pen still feels light, despite being slightly bigger than the one found on the Note II. As always, it’s mostly plastic, making it feel slightly less valuable than it should be, which saddens me a little. On the S-Pen itself you will also find a function button, providing different uses depending on the app. Samsung has also unveiled two different pens as an after-market purchase for those looking for a slightly different look and feel.
The S-Pen has an improved sensitivity level; increased to 1024 degrees of pressure (if that makes sense). Using the S-Pen-optimised apps only improves the precision of the device. When you’re ready to use your stylus, once you slide it out from its holder a vertical menu slides out from the right, which provides five pen-optimised apps and additional settings. The slide-out menu itself is customisable, allowing you to open a specific app or list of apps when the stylus is removed. There are five S-Pen optimised apps designed by Samsung including S Note, S Planner, Crayon Physics, Photoshop Touch and Polaris Office, in addition to using the stylus as touch point, or long-pressing the function to take a snapshot. When using the stylus, the tablet provides a function called ‘palm rejection’, which has the ability to detect the stylus while your hand rests on the screen, much the same as if you were writing on a page. In addition, the S-Pen is also capable of picking up movement as the stylus hovers above the screen, triggering drop-down menus when browsing.
Although the S-Pen functionality already provides some exclusivity over the Note 10.1’s rivals, the addition of the multiscreen option makes it even more business driven. Not only does it allow you to take notes using the stylus, you can now open documents within a separate window in which to compare against or make further notes. There are currently only six apps that allow for multiscreen use, which includes S Note, Gallery, Video, Browser, Polaris Office and Email. Being a business-driven feature, this should more than suffice for the requirement. Additionally, multitasking also allows for pop-up videos, run apps from onscreen shortcuts, or drag-and-drop clipboard content from the browser, S Note, Gallery, etc. Using this function with more than five apps at a time would still perform without any noticeable change in performance.
Since Samsung has released its S-Pen SDK to developers, we can only assume that more optimised apps will become available during 2013. In its current form, the Note 10.1 is near the top in the list of Android tablets; much better than its brother, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. With a price ranging from R6,500 to R8,000 it isn’t the cheapest around, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many matching the list of features available. If you already own the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, you needn’t necessarily want to upgrade, especially if you’re not going to make full use of the stylus. If you’re in the market for an 10” Android-based tablet, your obvious choices will be between the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and Samsung Nexus 10.
You can find the full specifications here.