Name: Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
The Back Story: Samsung took a huge risk earlier this year with the release of its tablet-phone hybrid, the Galaxy Note. As mentioned in our review, the device was a “notable prelude to the tablet-phone market,” but was missing some of the latest smartphone features and optimized apps that properly utilized the manufacturer’s new high-tech stylus known as the S-Pen. Now the company is looking to the put the future of its tablet division behind an even bigger version of the Note: the Galaxy Note 10.1.
With a bigger form factor, robust spec sheet, and a new Walcom-powered stylus, Samsung looks to have the “next big” tablet on its hands. But is the latest entry in the Galaxy Note series the game-changer Samsung’s been pushing for or is it simply a modified Galaxy Tab with a stylus?
• Best multitasking tablet: Samsung’s made it much easier to engage in numerous tasks without lowering windows or closing programs. The new Multiscreen feature is capable of running a number of apps side-by-side. For instance, users can edit spreadsheets, jot down details in S Note, and check emails simultaneously. Then there's the Pop-up play option brought over from the Galaxy S III, which lets you watch videos in the background while accessing other apps. In addition, the mini-apps tray opens the floor to more on-screen customization. How's that for multitasking?
• S-Pen optimization: Stylus functionality on the Galaxy Note was criticized and branded gimmicky, but on a 10.1-inch display, the pen makes for a phenomenal accessory. Sensitivity levels have been bumped up to 1,024 degrees of pressure, so everything from scribing notes to drawing pictures has a much smoother and more accurate feel. The S-Pen’s detection system is spot-on, too, allowing you to rest a palm on the screen without interfering with the display when the stylus is in use.
• Stylus-enabled software: The selection of optimized apps is scarce, but valuable. Photoshop Touch, a creative platform that thrives with stylus functionality, usually runs for $10 on the Google Play market, but you get it for free with the Note 10.1. Samsung’s smartened up by expanding into the education sector, pre-loading the device with Kno Textbooks, which serves as a virtual bookbag that stores textbooks and offers some dope note-taking options. S-Memo also comes in handy for scribbling notes and reminders.
• Enticing spec sheet: Samsung beefed up the hardware this time around, employing a 1.4GHz Exynos quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM. The inclusion on an IR blaster for TV remote purposes and a MicroSD slot for memory expansion expands the tablet’s multimedia capabilities.
• Awesome speakers: Tablets aren’t known for their audio quality, but with Samsung pushing its speakers to the front of the display, media playback, and even the annoying TouchWiz liquid animations, sounded loud and clear. FYI: That email whistle notification might get you in trouble if seated next to a conservative dime piece.
• Future possibilities: Samsung did confirm plans for a Jelly Bean update in late 2012. The assurance of more S-Pen-enabled apps also looks more promising here than what we were told with the first-gen Galaxy Note, especially when taking into account the company’s new partnerships with Adobe and several other software developers.
• Underwhelming performance: No quad-core device should show signs of lag. We noticed some slowdown when swiping across the homescreens and delayed transitions during multiscreen mode. In terms of screen clarity and resolution, the Note’s 10.1-inch panel doesn’t match up well against the "new" iPad or Transformer Pad Infinity’s display. Viewing angles aren't very good and the only way to really enjoy videos or games is by cranking the brightness levels to the max, which isn't easy on the eyes.
• Weak design: Like its mobile Galaxy line-up, Samsung continues to drape its tablets with an all-plastic chassis that lacks the attractiveness and premium quality of its competitors. Truthfully, it resembles an oversized Galaxy S III.
• Steep price tag: Retailing at a higher cost than the Nexus 7, while falling into the same price range as the iPad and Transformer Pad Infinity, doesn't give the Note 10.1 the competitive edge it needs. Then there is Samsung's cheaper alternative in the Galaxy Tab 2 Student Edition bundle with keyboard dock for $250.
Final Say: The Note 10.1 has taken some harsh criticism for its performance issues and plain design, even being dubbed a Galaxy Tab 2 with a stylus. OK. An argument can be made there, but Samsung’s latest tablet isn’t the botched experiment that many tech experts have deemed it to be. There are a number of hallmarks such as its multitasking features and amazing speaker quality. On top of that, the enhanced S-Pen functionality proves that there is room for stylus integration in the tablet market, possibly encouraging other manufacturers to step up their pen game. The price tag might seem unwarranted when taking into account some of its shortcomings (and competition), but it’s nothing a markdown can’t fix. And with a Jelly Bean update in the cards, there might be more to this tablet come the end of the year.