The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 brings the S-Pen stylus to larger screen surroundings, but is it enough to draw closer comparison to the new iPad?
Just like skinny jeans and flannel plaid shirts, there are simply some things you don’t expect to come back into fashion, and in the tech world no one could have expected the stylus to be as desirable as it once was when it was attached to palm pilot.
If the 10 million Samsung Galaxy Note sales are to be believed Samsung are giving the people what they want and now it’s bringing the S-Pen to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Build and design
Available in deep grey and white, we had our hands on the latter and it's fair to say that you will not mistake this for a new iPad. That’s thanks in no part to certain design elements most notably the grey bezel that flanks a white bezel which ultimately gives the Note 10.1 a very cheap, budget look even when compared to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1.
At 600g, it’s slightly heavier than the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and despite jumping up slightly to 8.9mm thickness it is barely noticeable in the grand scheme of things. As standard, you’ll find the proprietary charging port on the bottom, speakers on situated on the sides of the bezel with volume rocker, on/off button, Micro SD card slot and headphone jack on the top of the device.
Upgrades from the 2 10.1 include the ambient light sensor for optimum screen brightness, the IR blaster to use the Note 10.1 as a remote control for your TV, the Flashbulb which sits alongside the rear-facing camera and of course the compartment which stores the S-Pen.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Screen
It’s the same 10.1 inch WXGA TFT touch screen 1280 x 800 display as seen on previous iterations of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and invariably is not in the same league in terms of screen quality when you compare it to the Retina display-toting new iPad or the full HD resolution display on the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity.
Boasting a significantly lower 149 PPI compared to the 264PPi of the new iPad and 224 PPI of the Asus Transformer, it also struggles to match the clarity of these two tablet heavyweights but it will still deliver a bright, multimedia-friendly display that is no doubt the same to keep the tablet more affordable, but it's no less disappointing not to see something more impressive in this department.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Ice Cream Sandwich
Having now had our hands on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 and 2 10.1 we're more than familiar with the Android Touchwiz mash-up. Expect the same onscreen buttons, Samsung web browser, desktop app launcher with Samsung applications seemingly pouring from every homescreen orifice.
There are some minor tweaks for the S-Pen support, with the new vertical app launcher that appears when you remove the stylus from its compartment revealing the six S-Pen-friendly pre-installed apps. For some reason we now get that same watery sound each time you unlock the tablet which has been unnecessarily carried over from the Samsung Galaxy S3.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Processor
When a significantly cheaper Android tablet like the Google Nexus 7 is able to pack a quadcore processor (plus a fifth companion core) we were surprised that the Tab 2 10.1 didn’t follow suit, but with some of the multi-tasking features on offer Samsung has opted to include an Exynos Quad-core processor and an above tablet average 2GB of RAM.
This is particularly useful for Multi-Screen, one of the best features which let’s you have two applications running and the ability to move content like pictures and diagrams into the other application or watch a video in pop-up mode. This undoubtedly has an impact on the Note 10.1’s running prowess but it showed no signs of a struggle.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: S-Pen
Undeniably the star of the Samsung tablet show, the advanced smart pen is based around technology used for the Wacom digitizer which is comfortably the best tablet for creative types and the first time that pressure-type stylus technology has been brought to a consumer tablet.
With a choice of a rubber or a plastic tip (with replacements in the box) to offer very different types of friction with the display, the S-Pen aims to make it easier to take notes, modify images and offer more accuracy in terms of interacting with the tablet.
Swiping and selecting aside, holding the button located on the side of the S-Pen also adds extra functionality such as the ability to open S-Note with a double tap and take a screengrab just by pressing on the screen.
Like the modern version of smudging fountain pen all over your book and hand, palm rejection technology means while you are writing with the S-Pen any part of your hand will not affect your work. This works particularly well, but of course is not a feature that is currently supported by all apps which we will move on to next.
Essentially there are six apps already on board that make the most of the S-Pen,S Note, S Planner, Crayon Physics, Photoshop Touch and the excellent Polaris Office. Samsung’s S Suggest application offers suggestions for more S-Pen supported apps but we found better luck simply typing in ‘S-Pen’ in Google Play.
The S Note and Adobe Photoshop Touch, which is usually a paid for app, show what the S-Pen is capable of. Handwriting recognition is particularly impressive if you write cleanly and legibly, while Wolfram Alpha integration means it’s also great for recognising formulas.
One of the coolest S-Note features is the ability to record notes which makes it great for reviewing design and thought processes and begins to show you the true benefits for those who still yearn for the manual working experience on a tablet.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Camera
In what is simply another case of the camera on your smartphone doing a better job, the 10.1 Note hosts a 1.9-front facing camera and a 5-Megapixel rear-facing camera which is up from the 3-Megapixel sensor on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and while the LED flash has been reinstated.
But don’t expect a massive upsurge in snapping performance. When we took some snaps we found were ultimately disappointed by the results. Photos lacked colour and vibrancy and crucially any great deal of sharpness.
There’s some nice shooting modes like the Cartoon mode and Buddy Share feature taken from the Samsung Galaxy S3, but ultimately this doesn’t make up for the distinctly underwhelming camera performance.
The same can be said about the 720p video recording delivering footage that is largely dull and lifeless and struggles in comparison to the 1080p video recording qualities of a tablet like the AsusTransformer Pad Infinity.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Battery
With a quadcore processor on board powering the Note 10.1, the battery life is key and packing the same 7,000mAh battery as the 10.1 2, you can expect to get through an entire day in general use, but if you're taking full advantage of its quadcore powers, it’s more likely to be around 7-8 hours.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Audio
In the grand scheme of making tablets a great place to consume all of your multimedia, audio seems to be neglected or simply not delivered to the same standard as the screen technology, but we were impressed by the performance of the internal speakers which offered both loud and rich audio and things got better with the surprisingly decent in-ear headphones included in the box.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Verdict
It’s hard not to be immediately sceptical of a device that on the face of it is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 with an S-Pen thrown in.
Once you spend some time with it, you begin to see the benefits and understand why having a souped-up stylus on a big screen makes more sense than having it on the 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note. It’s the closest we’ve come to a real pen on paper experience on a tablet, but is that enough?
The impressive S-Pen gives it serious business appeal and it doesn’t neglect its duties in the multimedia department either. The Multi Screen mode is a brilliant multi-tasking tool which runs smoothly thanks to the quadcore processing power and increased RAM which makes up slightly for Samsung’s decision not to upgrade the display.
Apps is where most of the Galaxy Note 10.1 success lies, but as it currently stands, beyond the six S-Pen optimized applications already on board, there’s only really a handful of decent Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 apps on Google Play.
You really have to be sold on the S-Pen because in every other department, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 pales in comparison to the new iPad, Asus Transformer Pad Infinity and even the Google Nexus 7. Maybe the next iteration of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 will deliver the full package because at the moment, it’s not quite there.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 availability: End of August 2012
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 price: £499.99