Review

Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Late last year Samsung released the first in their Galaxy Note series, the weird smartphone/tablet combination that packed a monster 5.3-inch screen and the useful S-Pen stylus. Samsung's back in the latter part of 2012 with a full-blown tablet follow up, imaginatively called the Galaxy Note 10.1 - it packs a similar S-Pen and similar software to provide what they hope is a solid note-taking platform.

For those of you who have been following Samsung's confusing tablet product line-up, you may have noticed that the Galaxy Note 10.1 is essentially the same as the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 except with the stylus support. The Galaxy Note 10.1 does feature an upgrade to the Exynos 4 Quad chipset over the dual-core TI OMAP used in the Tab 2, and a few other upgrades to things such as the camera, but the core design and display remain identical.

A big shout-out again goes to Mobicity for providing the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 - as always they provide fantastic service so you should really check them out if you are in the market for a smartphone or tablet off-contract. The unit they provided for review was the Galaxy Note 10.1 16GB 3G model, but options also include 32 GB of storage and Wi-Fi only models.

Specifications

As I mentioned above, the Galaxy Note 10.1 includes Samsung's Exynos 4 Quad chipset - the very same one I used first in the Galaxy S III - to power the tablet. To be specific, it's the Samsung Exynos 4412 chipset with a 1.4 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 CPU and Mali-400 MP4 GPU alongside an increased 2 GB of RAM.

Other improvements compared to the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 include a camera increase from 3.15-megapixels to 5-megapixels while adding an LED flash, support for up to 64 GB of microSD storage, and a slimmer body that reduces the thickness from 9.7mm down to 8.9mm while retaining the same 7000 mAh battery.

You can check out the full specs of the Galaxy Note 10.1 below:

 

  Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
Product Codes N8000
GSM Bands 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
3G/4G Bands HSPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 (3G model)
Display 10.1-inch PLS TFT LCD at 1280 x 800
149 ppi pixel density
Corning Gorilla Glass
Processor Samsung Exynos 4 Quad
1.4 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU
Graphics Mali-400 MP4
RAM 2 GB
Storage 16/32/64 GB internal user storage
microSDXC slot
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
A-GPS & GLONASS
Infrared
DLNA/Wi-Fi Direct/Wi-Fi Hotspot
Camera 5 MP rear camera with LED flash
1.9 MP front camera
720p/30 video recording (rear), 720p/30 recording (front)
Ports Samsung proprietary connector
3.5mm audio jack
S-Pen slot
Battery Li-ion 7,000 mAh non-removable
Launch OS Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich"
Touchwiz UX
Launch Date August 2012
Size & Weight 262 x 180 x 8.9 mm
600 g
Price Starting at $649

 

Design

Before I launch into a scathing attack of the Galaxy Note 10.1's build quality, it's probably best to go through and look at what is good about the device and where the vital components are located.

The front of the device has the display in the center, flanked by speakers to the left and right in a silver panel that runs around the edge of the white (in this model) bezel; to the top is a front-facing camera and a light sensor, and to the bottom is a Samsung logo. The entire front of the device appears to be protected by the super-smooth and very protective Gorilla Glass 2, so your fingers will be whooshing along without hindrance.

The stylus, or S-Pen as Samsung likes to call it, is located on the right hand side (when the display is facing you) in a hole along the bottom edge. It's reasonably easy to remove and insert the stylus into it's place, and when this is done there is a slight vibration and some software actions which I'll go over later. The S-Pen is slightly wider than it is tall, and it features a button similar to the original Galaxy Note, but is much easier to push because the pen is much larger than on the phone - I also found the pen to be reasonably ergonomic.

The back of the tablet is basically a giant slab of plastic, with the camera module implanted in the center of a silver feature panel. The top ridge features the power button - which I generally found to be slightly too far in to the center - volume rocker, microSD card slot, infrared port, 3.5mm headphone jack and SIM card slot. The bottom ridge features a proprietary Samsung USB/charging connector and a microphone.

Why Samsung chose to use a proprietary connector is confounding considering that a) microUSB cables are much more common, in fact I have two on my desk right now; b) microUSB ports are smaller, more convenient and easier to attach the cable; and c) it's confusingly similar to an iPhone connector yet the two are not interchangeable.

The tablet is also thin and light, which helps improve the portability and prevents fatigue when holding it for too long.

Now, on to the build quality: simply put, it's appalling. Samsung seriously thinks that for a tablet that you are paying upwards of $600 for, a cheap, flimsy, visually awful plastic shell is appropriate. The plastic used here is in no way textured or refined, so instead of something soft-touch or nice to hold, you are left with a slippery fingerprint magnet.

Not only that, but the plastic feels just marginally better than what you would find in a Poundland Flying Pegasus toy. I ask you Samsung, how can you look at competitors' tablets like the aluminium-shelled Asus Transformer Prime or Apple iPad, or even the sturdy, but pleasing plastic-shelled Acer Iconia Tab, and conclude: yeah, this plastic that feels like arse and costs a few cents is the right material choice for our flagship tablet? Why do you keep bringing out devices that feel hundreds of dollars cheaper than they actually are!?

I feel confident that the display is sturdy and protected because it's protected by a non-Samsung-made Gorilla Glass, but the back has noticeable flex as if there is a gap between the back plastic and the battery underneath. Putting pressure on either side of the tablet makes it feel like it's bending in the center, which again is not a good feel for a "premium" tablet.

Samsung I implore you to review your design and construction process, and choose a material to make your tablets from that makes me feel like I've just bought a $600 device. Your ATIV S uses aluminium, so I hope that in the future other devices can follow suit.

Display

As I continue to shake my head over the use of plastic by Samsung, it's time to recover and talk about the display. The Galaxy Note 10.1 uses a 10.1-inch PLS TFT LCD panel with a resolution of 1280 x 800, complete with two embedded touch layers: one for fingers, and one for the S-Pen (which is why the stylus doesn't work on other tablets).

Samsung's PLS technology is the equivalent of IPS LCD tech used in other displays, meaning it delivers a better color gamut, better viewing angles and less glare compared to standard TN panels. Upon loading images you'll immediately notice how vibrant the colors are for an LCD panel, and the viewing angles are very good; in fact it made me a little bit jealous because my Iconia Tab has just a TN panel in it.

The 10.1-inch display can also go reasonably bright, which aids in outdoor reading under direct sunlight. I also noticed the tablet does a good job of diffusing direct light sources so reflection is minimal, although the white bezel often reflected a large portion of light anyway.

While viewing content on the PLS display is pleasant, I was disappointed that the pixel density is so low: just 149 ppi. You're probably getting sick of hearing about pixel density and the benefits of a "Retina" display but if you've actually used a third-gen iPad you'll know what I'm talking about when I say that the crispness and clarity is outstanding.

High-end Android tablets are also starting to use higher-resolution displays, with the Transformer Pad Infinity and Acer Iconia Tab A700 utilizing 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200 displays with a pixel-per-inch density of 224 (for reference the third-gen iPad's display is 264 ppi). This makes the 1280 x 800 display on the Galaxy Note 10.1 seem somewhat like a product of last generation.

It seems to compensate for this that Samsung has applied software enhancements that artificially improve the sharpness, almost as if they have opened Photoshop and over-applied the sharpness filter. I can't say for sure that this is what's occurring, or whether it's just how the panel works, but I did notice it around half way through my testing.

That said I'm still happy to conclude that the display used on the Galaxy Note 10.1 is good, especially in terms of vibrant color reproduction, but the density of the display is a letdown.

Software

As with pretty much everything Samsung creates in the Android realm, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is loaded with their TouchWiz custom UI atop Android 4.0. TouchWiz is a reasonably heavy skin, meaning that Samsung has gone to some effort to change pretty much everything about stock Android to an extent. This is vastly different to the approach Asus takes with their tablets, which is to just slightly enhance the already great Android tablet software.

Overall Style

The main problems I had with the Galaxy S III's iteration of TouchWiz have carried over to the newer Galaxy Note 10.1. Samsung has gone about skinning for the sake of skinning, creating a weird mishmash of stock Android 4.0 elements and skinned TouchWiz components. Android 4.0 was all about creating design unity across the system and included apps, but this effort has been erased in TouchWiz.

Vanilla (stock) Android 4.0 uses mostly black and white with colored highlights, delivering a modern and professional tone while still adding interest to UI elements and making it easy to use. TouchWiz on the other hand is vibrant and colorful, often making the interface not only look last generation, but also childish, cartoon-like and cluttered. Often interface elements are lost in visual flare, making it harder to perform standard tasks.

There is a persistent problem throughout TouchWiz where the interface designers have clearly been in disagreement as to whether hard edges or rounded corners should be used, and whether gradients or flat colors should be implemented. Just around the homescreens you'll notice some elements, such as the taskbar, use flat colors and hard edges - then look to the widgets to find rounded corners and gradients.

Tabs sometimes appear flat and somewhat consistent with stock ICS, and then at other times you'll find random gradients and oddities that are reminiscent of previous Android versions. Then, of course, there's the problem where some included Google apps such as Gmail, Maps and YouTube all utilize the ICS Holo UI, but other apps utilize TouchWiz style; a wildly inconsistent experience for the user.

This inconsistency is my biggest beef and I will continue to mark down Android products and criticize their software heavily until companies start integrating their skin properly into the existing - and unchangeable - ICS elements. I've seen some companies do it reasonably well (Asus with the Transformers and Motorola with their ICS devices) so there is absolutely no reason why Samsung can't do the same. They'll also be less likely to get sued by Apple for copying their designs.

New Features

The good news about TouchWiz is that it brings a lot of new features to the table, some of which are useful and others not so much. First up, Samsung has included a number of their own widgets that are basically larger copies of those that can be found on their smartphones; their functions range from music playing and bookmarking widgets to dual-clocks, call forwarding and Yahoo! Finance.

Interestingly Samsung has added an extra button to the usual back/home/apps found in the left-hand corner of the bottom bar: screenshot. It's a curious button because it does function very well, however it doesn't allow for screenshot editing or annotation like the screenshot function the S-Pen has. You're more likely to be annotating your screenshots than just capturing them at random, so it's a strange button that seems to lack a key feature.

The notification pane has also seen a revamp, adding in a scrollable set of quick controls for things such as Wi-Fi, Driving Mode, Power Saving mode and more. A handy slider for brightness and a button for settings are also there, just like with stock ICS on tablets.

One of the bigger features included is a button in the middle of the bottom bar that opens up a dock of quick applications. When you tap on these apps it opens up a window of sorts: a smaller version of the full app, almost like the smartphone equivalent, that floats above whatever app you're running below it. You can drag the window around the screen and even quickly switch between the app in the background and this window in the foreground.

These apps are remarkably useful in certain tasks, such as you may be taking notes in S Note and you need to quickly perform a calculation, so you can pull up a windowed calculator do some quick sums. You might need to find the address of a coworker when writing an email, so you can pull up a contacts window and do a quick search. And of course, S-Note is one of the inclusions for quick note-taking.

The problem that I have, though, is that there is absolutely no room for adding to the limited amount of windowable apps. You are given ten out of the box, and they are all functional and useful windows of Samsung's bundled apps, but there is no support for third-party apps meaning you're stuck with just ten. What if I want to quickly post a status to Twitter? Or check the latest news in Google Reader? I have to do it through the full app, rather than through the easier windows feature.

I would have liked to see Samsung add in some form of windowing for third-party apps but perhaps it was too hard to bother.

The second of the bigger freshly concocted features is "multiscreening" apps, meaning you can show more than one app on the screen side-by-side. You can display apps such as the Browser and S-Note beside each other, or the Email app and Polaris Office, but again the feature is limited to a smattering of Samsung's included apps. In fact, it's even more limited than the windows feature as only six apps support multiscreening. Again, no browser and Twitter side-by-side.

That said the feature is most useful in the S-Note app, as you can pull up photos, emails and the web as you compile notes; a very handy capability that saves endless switching between apps. I'm still very disappointed that there is no third-party app support, again limiting the greatness of the included features.

The keyboard deserves a mention as well, which I found to be considerably harder to type on than the stock Android ICS keyboard (which has annoyingly been removed from the tablet). The design is functional, but the auto-correction is very aggressive to the point where it makes stupid corrections that require more work to fix. You can disable auto-correction, but then it doesn't fix the basics so you have another issue at hand - time to install a third party keyboard.

Samsung have also included a task manager that you can access from the app switching menu. The device has 2 GB of RAM and a mighty powerful quad-core processor, so there is absolutely no need, ever, at any time, to kill apps from the device. The task manager should be brutally murdered in a fiery inferno, banishing to hell unnecessary and counter-productive "tools" that promote the false idea that apps actually need to be killed in modern Android.

Apart from that, a number of features have made the jump from the Galaxy S III as well, including Smart Stay (turns off the display when you're not looking at it), motion controls, the battery saver and shortcuts on the lockscreen. All of these add to the strong, although at times disappointing, TouchWiz feature set.

S-Pen

The S-Pen is clearly the ultimate feature and selling point of the Galaxy Note 10.1, as it's a fully integrated stylus that works across the entire operating system. It nestles within the tablet when not in use, and as I mentioned earlier it's quite comfortable to use.

The pen is extremely smooth to use, responding instantly to writing on the screen and there's no sign of lag even when making quick lines across the display. The best part of the S-Pen is that you can rest your palm on the display while writing and it won't interact with the touchscreen to stuff up your writing. The button is also much easier to use compared to the original Note, which activates gestures such as screenshotting and quick notes.

S-Note is the main app that accompanies the stylus functionality of the Galaxy Note 10.1, and since I used it on the Note smartphone it has been greatly improved. Core functionality such as drawing and text entries still remain, as does the quick note ability when double-tapping the stylus with the button held down; also you can bring up the quick note area through the windows function detailed above.

Now included is a wonderful formula match feature, whereby you write a formula on the note using the stylus and it automatically converts it into an easier-to-read mathematical formula on the screen. You also have the option to search this formula on the web using the multiscreen functionality, which can be extremely handy during maths/science note-taking.

Also included is shape match, which can convert crudely drawn circles, squares and other shapes into perfectly rendered shapes. Unfortunately it only works with shapes up to four sides, so it won't be making perfect pentagons or octagons for you.

Then there's the handwriting-to-text feature, which has been dramatically improved from the inaccurate mess in the original Note. I'm not the neatest of writers, but somehow the tablet nearly always recognized what I was writing unless I was writing at a ridiculous speed. This pleasantly surprised me because I know how horribly inaccurate functions like this have been in the past. The formula match feature also takes from the handwriting feature in being extremely accurate.

S-Note is definitely great at some tasks but it falls short in others. Elements that you add to notes - such as images, shapes, formulas and drawings - cannot be moved around the screen, so you'd better position it correctly the first time or you'll need to do it all again. Also, the switching between editing mode and viewing mode can be clunky, especially when you're working with typed notes.

The other app that makes great use of the stylus is Photoshop Touch, which is available on the Play Store for around $10 but included in full for free on the Galaxy Note 10.1. For a tablet image manipulation application it has a fantastic set of features, which is not surprising for Adobe software. It works superbly with the S-Pen for drawing pictures if you desire, which expands the functionality of an already great tablet app.

Other apps that make small use of the S-Pen is Polaris Office, included in full on the Galaxy Note 10.1, and the game Crayon Physics.

Now here come the downsides and disappointments related to the Galaxy Note 10.1's S-Pen feature: while it's great in S-Note and a select few other applications, other applications that make use of the stylus are few and far between. As there are only a very limited amount of people with stylus-wielding devices there is little demand to create apps that use the stylus, so at the end of the day anyone who buys the Galaxy Note 10.1 is limited to the few included apps.

Then there's the tray of applications that appears when you pull out the stylus. For some reason Samsung has anticipated that there are no S-Pen supporting third-party apps and prevented you from changing the apps in here. PS Touch and S-Pen are included, but Crayon Physics is as well, which is a stupid addition for business users who don't want to play a childish drawing-based game. I should be able to change these apps, but I can't.

The quick note feature is also not as handy as you might think, because unlike the Galaxy Note smartphone, chances are you're not going to have your massive 10-inch tablet in your pocket to pull out at a moments' notice to do some note-taking. Instead you're going to sit down and do some dedicated note-taking, which by all means is superb on the Note tablet, but it just doesn't seem to have the same instant-note value the smartphone has.

Stand-out Apps

Apart from the apps I singled out in the S-Pen section, there are a couple of other notable apps that don't rely on the stylus. S-Planner, for example, makes use of the full screen real estate of a tablet and doesn't seem as cramped as its smartphone counterpart. In the app you can link events to photos and notes, as well as easily create tasks that are all collated within the one app.

On the worse side of the scale, Samsung has persisted in including the Samsung Apps and Game Hub app stores, which like the task manager should be killed off as soon as possible (perhaps not as brutally though). There is no reason to dive outside the Google Play Store, which includes every app in Samsung's markets plus around 600,000 more.

Interestingly Samsung has included an app called "Peel Remote" which is the only included app to make use of the device's infrared port. If you live in the United States and Canada it appears to give a personalized TV guide as well as the capability to control your TV like a remote. If you live "internationally" (as the app puts it), you only get the ability to control your TV.

With a number of products around my household, such as my Toshiba TV and my office's Logitech sound system, Peel Remote managed to control them after simply selecting the type of device and the brand. However, I found it extremely strange that it requires an internet connection to set up the app when there is no apparent feature that requires it.

Performance

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is quite a tablet powerhouse. It includes a Samsung Exynos 4 Quad chipset, made up of a 1.4 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor plus the ARM Mali-400 MP4 GPU; there's 2 GB of RAM included in the device, alongside up to 64 GB of storage expandable with a microSD card slot; and there's also 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and quad-band HSPA+ if you purchase the 3G model.

Generally speaking the performance of the Galaxy Note 10.1 is quite good. Browsing webpages is especially fast, scrolling and zooming even the most intensive websites with ease, and when using multiple tabs there is really no issue thanks to a large amount of RAM. Using some apps was also very fast, and switching between and opening new apps was as speedy as you would expect from a quad-core chipset.

Strangely though there were some instances where I questioned whether the chipset was being used to its full potential. Occasionally when swiping through homescreens there would be a short period of lag when one homescreen was filled with widgets, or when opening and closing the app drawer when a live wallpaper was active. Small things like this detract from an experience which otherwise should be great.

I also found some inconsistencies in 3D performance: for example in Google Earth, browsing around 3D terrain and the new 3D generated cities was very smooth where it usually isn't on dual-core devices, however loading up the non-textured 3D buildings in Google Maps was a bit slow in comparison. I'm not entirely sure what is happening here that would cause this as from memory the Galaxy S III was fast in pretty much all instances.

Anyway, one area you shouldn't find any problems with is gaming, as the Mali-400 MP4 is more than up to the task of playing current games. A personal favorite of mine to test out graphics chips, Grand Theft Auto III, plays at what appears to be 60 frames per second on maximum settings, which is what I expected as the same occurs with the Galaxy S III. Even though this tablet is designed for note-taking, it's great for a bit of occasional gaming.

Below are the results of the usual benchmarks I put Android devices through.

The Exynos 4 Quad has a clear advantage in all the benchmarks I used, beating the next best competitor - the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity (review coming soon) and its Tegra 3 chipset - comfortably. Despite the benchmarks showing the Galaxy Note 10.1's dominance, I didn't find it to perform clearly better than a Tegra 3 tablet in everyday usage; in fact at times the Tegra 3 device felt smoother. However, I will give it to Samsung that the graphics performance is clearly king.

The internal storage in the Galaxy Note 10.1 - in the case of the model I got it was 16 GB - is fast so copying files to and fro takes almost no time. The amount of storage you get in the device is also not a huge deal as there is a microSD card slot that supports cards up to 64 GB in size; if you get the 64 GB model you can then theoretically have 128 GB of storage inside the tablet.

All the connectivity options - single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS and HSPA+ - worked fine in my device. I was often able to get a GPS lock indoors, which was nice, and 3G things like messaging and calling seemed to work fine, although I'm not sure why you would text/call on your tablet rather than smartphone.

Camera

Cameras on tablets are not exactly key features as it's unlikely you'll whip out a tablet for a quick shot of your mates, but nevertheless they continue to be included. The Galaxy Note 10.1 features a rear 5-megapixel shooter with LED flash, capable of, surprisingly, just 720p video. It's accompanied by a 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera also capable of 720p video.

First up we'll look at the video, which again is just 1280 x 720. I'm not entirely sure why this is the case when the camera sensor has enough pixels and the tablet has enough processing power, but you take what you get. It's not likely you'd actually want 1080p recording because the video quality is fairly washed out and lacking in dynamic range, and in some indoor shots there was noticeable grain.

Luckily though the audio quality was quite good, finding my crisp voice among the strong wind that persisted when I recorded the test video above.

Like the video recording, still shots through the Galaxy Note 10.1's camera are not particularly impressive. Only outdoors does the camera have any real hope of producing decent shots, and that is because you're going to get a lot of light from the sun. Colors in these situations can look alright and it does seem to reproduce the scenes reasonably well, but outdoors is not the only scenario you'll be shooting in.

In fact you'll most likely be shooting indoors considering that's where most business occurs, and this is a business oriented tablet after all. I often found that in normal indoor artificial lighting, the lens struggles to deliver enough light to the sensor and so images can often end up grainy and for some reason washed out. There was also a persistent problem with dynamic range, meaning indoor shots with nearby windows would often show extreme overexposure in these areas.

Finally, the rear flash does seem to be functional and it delivers a decent amount of light when needed, but like the rest of the camera on the Galaxy Note 10.1, it's not particularly amazing.

Media Playback

The Galaxy Note 10.1, I'm happy to say, is one of the tablets that features stereo audio with the speakers on the front of the device, which greatly increases the sound quality of the device. Sure, these speakers are not the highest quality, but when playing games and watching movies without headphones you have sound that comes from both sides of the device to provide more balanced audio.

The included speakers are also very loud, so for the times that you want to quickly show a video to a mate in a crowded room, they'll probably be able to hear it. This loudness also carries over to the sound coming from the 3.5mm headphone jack, which like the Galaxy S III, I found to be very loud pretty much after the half way mark. This also means that for videos that are somewhat quiet, there is good leeway to amplify the volume so you can actually hear it.

The sound quality coming from the audio jack is quite good, producing punchy bass and clear midtones without any need to alter the equalizer. Vocals are somewhat emphasized, which is not really a positive for listening to music, but it does help with video playback; plus it's not like your 10.1-inch tablet is going to become your go-to portable music player.

As this is a tablet, albeit leaning towards business-oriented, I have high hopes for the media playback capabilities of the device especially considering the same Exynos chipset provided great results with the Samsung Galaxy S III. Below are the results of my usual video playback test.

 

Medium Native Playback 3rd-Party Playback
Cordy Gameplay (.wmv)
640x360 WMV3 video @ 3046 kbps
WMA2 2ch audio @ 96 kbps
Perfect playback Perfect playback using hardware decoding
The Big Bang Theory (.avi)
624x352 XviD video at 1082 kbps
MP3 2ch audio at 128 kbps
Perfect playback Perfect playback using hardware decoding
Epic Rap Battles of History 7 (.mp4)
1280x720 H.264 video at 2531 kbps
AAC 2ch audio at 128 kbps
Perfect playback Perfect playback using hardware decoding
TRON Legacy (.mp4)
1280x720 H.264 video at 2461 kbps
AAC 6ch audio at 401 kbps
Perfect playback Perfect playback using hardware decoding
Black Swan (.mkv)
1920x800 H.264 video at 17025 kbps
DTS 6ch audio at 1536 kbps
Perfect video playback but no DTS decoding (so no audio) Due to licensing issues MX Player removed the DTS audio codec, so unfortunately the results are the same as with the default player
THX Amazing Life (.mt2s)
1920x1080 H.264 video at 9011 kbps
AC3 6ch audio at 640 kbps
Not recognized (this is usual for an MT2S file) Perfect playback using software decoding
MysteryGuitarMan (.mp4)
1920x1080 H.264 video at 2701 kbps
AAC 2ch audio at 128 kbps
Perfect playback Perfect playback using hardware decoding

 

As expected, the Galaxy Note 10.1 has the same media playback capabilities as the Galaxy S III, almost certainly due to the same chipset and same codecs being licensed. Luckily the GS3 was capable of playing back most codecs, so in turn the Galaxy Note 10.1 is a great device for watching movies on the go. The fact that the PLS LCD screen is quite good, although not 1080p, further increases the usefulness of the tablet as a media device.

Battery Life

Samsung has a great habit of making devices with stellar battery lives. The original Galaxy Note was a beast in terms of smartphone battery life, easily lasting through two days of moderate usage. The Galaxy S III also excelled in this area, far outdoing its close rival in the HTC One X to provide great battery life.

Now enter the Galaxy Note 10.1, which as I expected, follows the trend of delivering great battery life. I've been using the device on-and-off now for just over a week, and as I write this paragraph the tablet sits here on 63% battery remaining after being on battery for the past 4 days 3 hours. Admittedly, during this period there was a day when the tablet didn't get used, but other than that I've been reading news on Google Reader, watching YouTube videos occasionally and replying to emails like I would with any tablet.

Other tablets I have used with similar patterns definitely haven't lasted as long as the Galaxy Note 10.1, which is simply outstanding for this tablet and its 7000 mAh battery. I know the Exynos chipsets are very power-friendly, but this just confirms the greatness of what Samsung has managed in the power department.

Naturally when gaming and during intense use the tablet is not going to last 100 hours, but after some intense use and data extrapolation I would estimate around 8-10 hours of use depending on the task. This could even be extended depending on what you set the tablet to do as it approaches low battery in the Power Saving menu.

To see how long the battery lasts while watching a video, in this case a 720p short film played repeatedly in airplane mode at 75% brightness until the tablet dies, check out the table below.

 

Device Movie Playback Life
Asus Transformer Pad 300 (+ keyboard dock) 15:39
Asus Transformer Pad 300 10:57
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 9:08
Acer Icona Tab A200 6:35

 

The Note 10.1 performs okay compared to other tablets I've tested, although battery life was almost certainly degraded in this test due to the display which is reasonably bright at 75%. Use it at a more moderate level and you'll get better results.

Conclusion

I'm unfortunately unconvinced that the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is as good a niche purchase as the original Note smartphone. While the phone was inconveniently huge, it did exactly what it was designed for and more, including a huge battery and stellar performance at the time.

The Note 10.1 tablet on the other hand, has some noticeable cracks and leaks, some which are flowing. The components inside the tablet are reasonable, headed by a well-performing Exynos 4 Quad chipset, a vibrant display and a decent battery; but the outside is marred by an atrocious build quality that is simply unacceptable at this price point.

The S-Pen functions extremely well in tandem with S-Note, but its uses outside that application are extremely limited, as are the software enhancements such as windows and multiscreening. Quick note taking is not as handy as it is with a smartphone, and the $100+ premium you pay for the stylus isn't quite justified when often typed notes are perfectly adequate.

Then of course there's the mediocre camera and dodgy TouchWiz that add further negatives to the overall package.

Unless you explicitly require the stylus for annotation or drawing there is little that draws you to buy the Galaxy Note 10.1, and even if you do like the idea of the stylus there are niggles that do no favors for Samsung's flagship business tablet. You might find you'll get more out of a tablet + keyboard dock combination such as the Transformer line from Asus (available at a similar price), or even an iPad if you prefer media consumption.

Buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
Visit the official Galaxy Note 10.1 website
Buy a different tablet or smartphone at Mobicity!
Tweet me a question about the Galaxy Note 10.1

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17 Comments

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You know, I just have to laugh about the build quality obsession.

First of all, the case is made of polycarbonate, not mere plastic. It does NOT look or feel cheap. It has a nice feel in your hands and the slight flex in the back is welcome. For those of use who don't enjoy the iPad's rigid metal cheese slicer feel, this is welcome.

Additionally, who in their right minds uses a $500 tablet without putting it in a case? So who cares what the tablet is made of - in a case one does not even touch it.

The reviewer here needs to learn how to review a tablet as a user rather than as a critic. Go to Amazon or BestBuy and look at the reviews of users who actually own this product - 4.5 to 5 stars straight across. Why? Because IT JUST WORKS. The iPad is a toy, the Note 10.1 is a tool.

The upcoming JB release includes many of the Note 2.0 features. For instance there are many many more mini apps and you can arrange up to 4 on the desktop at any one time. Some of the major apps such as S-Note have also been enhanced and refined.

Giving this outstanding tablet a 6.0 tells me more about the author's lack of ability as a reviewer to connect with real users than it does about the Note 10.1. At this price point, nothing comes close.

P.S., The purpose for the 1280 x 800 resolution is lag free wacom pen use. The current crop of tablet cpu's simply do not possess the horsepower to accept pen input and also run smoothly. Even without the pen, the HD tablets such as the Infinity have severe lag problems when browsing.

Bill Mitchell said,
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"Outstanding" tablet... sorry I had to laugh there. Have you actually used it more than just in a store as a demo unit? I would be deeply disappointed had I shelled out $500+ for this tablet, just to get a glorified stylus that works in two or three applications. As a consumer I would be expecting a more rounded business experience but the Galaxy Note 10.1 is literally a Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 with stylus support slapped on and ONE useful application added.

Further, other tablets DO come close "at this price point". Get yourself an ASUS Transformer Pad 300 + keyboard dock, buy a capacitive stylus for the few times you'll actually want to use it, and enjoy a much better tablet experience. As for the Transformer Pad Infinity having "severe lag problems" it again shows you haven't actually used it properly - it performs just like the Galaxy Note in most situations.

Please, do some thorough research before you come and criticize my reviews.

Sorry, but nothing Android or Apple interests me past $350...and I am not alone. Great review though, wish more were like this.

My main concern with most of these high-end Android tablets are the proprietary dock connectors. I know why they do it, but I just wish they all used something a bit more common so it's easier to find accessories and spare cables. So many people come to me with Acer, Samsung or Asus tablets after spare/replacement charging cables and I have to turn them all the way.

The insides are nice but the outside for me is so ugly. I do not like where the speakers are. Should be on the side or bottom of the device. BLAHH

JessJess said,
Big thanks to Samsung for bringing back the stylus to mobile computing. 1993 thanks you.

yes because 2000's brought in the wonderful write notes with your fingers which is about as easy to use as a thick crayon on an a5 notepad.

Ive had an iPad since release and the one area it continuously is let down on is note taking, i don't want to type my notes as i am quite a visual person and use a lot of diagramming with the notes. Using pens from Wacom and millions of other vendors, on the ipad it's still like using a large crayon

but it keeps getting better. I for one glad this came out. Not because I want to buy it but because it is a change, something different in a sea of tablets. IN a few more tries notetaking will be easier with software.

REM2000 said,

yes because 2000's brought in the wonderful write notes with your fingers which is about as easy to use as a thick crayon on an a5 notepad.

Ive had an iPad since release and the one area it continuously is let down on is note taking, i don't want to type my notes as i am quite a visual person and use a lot of diagramming with the notes. Using pens from Wacom and millions of other vendors, on the ipad it's still like using a large crayon

Great review, very elaborate, sure will help some lost soul in google's hell. I'm not interested though. MS Surface 4 me... Surface, or nothing.

Dinggus said,
So is this the newer version of their tablet series or a newer version of the Galaxy Note series?

It's closest to a spin-off of the Galaxy Tab 2 series and a tablet version of the Galaxy Note

"However, I found it extremely strange that it requires an internet connection to set up the app when there is no apparent feature that requires it."

This feature sounds a lot like the Logitech Harmony brand. The internet connection is probably so the app can look up control codes for whatever device name and brand you feed it. It makes more sense than storing all the codes internally.