Review Price £399.00
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Hands-on preview
By Andrew Williams
On August 15, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 was launched to great fanfare. With Kylie Minogue, Kelly Brook and "Charlie from Busted" in attendance at the tablet's London bash, it's pretty clear that Samsung wants the Note 10.1 to make its way to a mainstream audience - it's not just for geeks. The question is: do people really care about virtual pens?
The unique selling point of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is that it uses a stylus. It's not just any stylus either, but one that uses a Wacom digitiser. Wacom is the leading light in the professional graphics tablet market, so it should be something special. It's the same basic technology that was used in the first Galaxy Note phone/tablet, but this time the screen is much larger - 10.1in instead of 5.3in.
There are downsides to the Galaxy Note 10.1, though. The tablet has an all-plastic body that makes it feel a lot less tough and much more flexible than an iPad or Asus Transformer Prime. The thin plastic used in super-slim gadgets like this flexes a good deal more than aluminium, and this becomes all the more obvious when stretched over 10.1in.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 isn't the most beautiful tablet we've ever seen
This isn't the best-looking tablet we've ever held, either. A workmanlike mix of white or black and silver plastic, it's not going to turn many heads. However, it is slim at 8.9mm thick and fairly light, at 600g.
On-body features are pretty good, though. There's a microSD memory card slot on the top edge, to complement the 16/32/64GB of internal memory, with an IR transmitter right next to it. Also something of a rarity, there are proper stereo speakers on its front. You may miss out on some of the slick style offered by other tablets, but the Galaxy Note 10.1 does know how to pack features in.
The Note 10.1's microSD slot is a welcome addition
Typical of Samsung's tablets, it uses a proprietary charge connector, which sits on the bottom of the tab. Also on its rear is the slot into which the S-Pen fits - no need to keep the stylus in a shirt pocket here.
Software and Stylus
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 runs the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android. Although not the very latest version of the Google OS, it is the latest version you'll find in any Samsung tablet, and a Jelly Bean update is a dead cert.
More interesting than this, though, is what Samsung has done to the OS. The TouchWiz UI is laid on top, as with virtually all Samsung Android devices, and it brings with it some new features. Most interesting of the lot is Multiscreen, which offers "proper" multi-tasking, letting you split the screen in half to run two apps at the same time. It seems to work pretty well too, allowing you to watch a video while surfing the web, for example. We'll be back with more on Multiscreen in the full review.
There's also full support for the stylus, letting you use it throughout the system in place of a finger. However, to really get the most out of the stylus you'll need to use an app optimised for it. The Wacom digitiser/stylus combo can sense 1,024 levels of pressure, up from 256 in the original Note. This is the same as Wacom's Bamboo graphics tablets. It's also a good deal more sensitive than the first Note's screen in another respect, able to sense the pen while it's up to 14mm away - up from 8mm.
The new-design S Pen
We got to try out its skills in the pre-installed Note app, and as hoped the Note 10.1 is able to accurately and smoothly transition between different thicknesses in a natural manner. What we need are a few good art apps to really let the stylus fly - something we'll cover in the review.
What makes the stylus useful for more than just quick notes in the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is the reasonably large screen. At 10.1in across, it allows you to properly wrist your wrist on the tablet to securely anchor your hand, making for much more accuracy and opening up the potential for detailed drawing and such like. However, while the screen separates itself from the pack with its Wacom digitiser, other parts of the display aren't quite so impressive.
It uses a 1,280 x 800 pixel resolution. This was the industry standard for tablets this size last year, but now it seems pretty low. The 7in Google Nexus 7 features the same number of pixels, even though its screen is a much-smaller 7in across. As such, the pixel structure is fairly visible if you actively look for it.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 screen is good rather than great
The general display quality is good, though. The Galaxy Note 10.1 features a PLS panel, Samsung's take on the IPS screen type seen in the iPad and many Android tablets. Viewing angles are good, colours fairly vivid and overall image quality good. However, the tablet leaves us wishing it had a 1,920 x 1,200 res like the Asus Transformer Prime TF700.
Video and Performance
We checked out a few videos playing on the tablet, and they admittedly looked pretty great. Common to many Samsung tablets and phones, video codec support appears to be very good, including online favourites like MKV rather than just the Android standards. Stay tuned for more on just how much it can take.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 uses a quad-core Exynos CPU clocked at 1.4GHz, backed by 2GB of RAM. A quad-core chip is commonplace enough, but 2GB of RAM isn't - this is the first Android tablet we've tested to use this much. In theory, it should be able to handle just about any video you can throw at it, including 1080p movies.
The decent specs show through in general navigation too - this tablet is quick. However, it'll need the update to Android Jelly Bean before it reaches the height of its powers. Jelly Bean makes clever use of processing power in order to make Android run as quick as Usain Bolt.
In keeping with the Galaxy Note 10.1's tendency to pack in just about every feature you could ask for, the tablet has two cameras. There's a rear 5MP sensor with an LED flash and a 1.9MP user-facing sensor.
We took the camera for a quick spin at the device's launch, where the autofocus seemed a little slow. However, this was likely down to poor lighting conditions rather than a particular fault in the tablet itself.
There's one reason why the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is interesting - its stylus. Without it, this would be "just another" Android tablet, and not a particularly desirable one at that thanks to its low-resolution screen and all-too-plastic-feeling body. Is the addition of a stylus enough?
Set to sell for $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version, the entry level price is the same as the iPad. However, we have doubts as to whether that many people will appreciate the extra fidelity offered by the digitiser here, over the capacitive stylus any tablet owner could snap up for £10. However, it's a massive plus for drawing fans.