Review: Samsung Note 10.1 with Verizon LTE

To say that Samsung has helped propel Android to the masses would be an understatement, as the company has built an empire around its Galaxy and Note brands. Rightfully so, Samsung deserves credit for building these products to be able to stand on their own in a very crowded market.

Samsung’s Note lineup consists of large screened devices and the Note 10.1 with Verizon’s LTE chip inside fits nicely into Verizon’s and Samsung’s lineup of devices that spread the gamut to cover nearly ever need.

While the Note 10.1 has been on the market for a little bit, the addition of an LTE chip is new for the device on Verizon and comes it at a some-what reasonable $599 price point, sans contract. We should note that this is a huge change for Verizon as they typically bundled contracted plans with these devices to lower the price point, so $599 for a device off contract is not that outrageous compared to their history of pricing devices.

The Note 10.1 holds its own against other tablets on the market and has a relatively robust spec sheet that will keep you interested, but it’s certainly not pushing barriers by any means. Packed inside is 1.4GHz Exynos quad-core ARM processor and 2GB RAM, a 10.1-inch TFT WXGA Display (1280x800), 16GB of memory, 5.0MP Auto Focus Rear Facing camera with Flash, and a 1.9MP HD front-facing camera. The tablet weighs 1.3lbs, runs Android, comes with Samsung’s S Pen and, of course, supports Verizon’s LTE airwaves.

Up front there is a pair of stereo speakers and there is a microSD slot, IR blaster, 3.5mm headphone jack, volume rocker, power button, and of course a SIM slot for the LTE SIM running the parameter of the device.

For a tablet, the specs will allow the device to hold its own against others on the market and Samsung has generally done a good job about updating its devices to the latest versions of Android not long after the ship, so there is little to worry about here from ongoing vendor support.

The Note 10.1 does not deviate from Samsung’s use of plastic. Much like the Galaxy S III and the upcoming S IV, the device uses a plastic housing to protect the devices insides. The plastic feel certainly detracts from the quality of the device as its main competitors, the Surface RT and the iPad, both make use of metal to house the tablets.

The device also has a sort of double bezel look to help make it look like it has a thin profile. It does not detract from the device by any means, and it’s up to the consumer to decide if the prefer this look or want cleaner lines like the Surface and iPad.

The back of the device looks like many other Samsung tablets with a small offset near the top that contains the camera and flash.

Also on the backside is a garage that stores the S Pen. Unlike the Surface tablets, the Note series contains a garage for the S Pen (stylus), which is a welcomed feature as it makes it easy to keep track of the peripheral.

The plastic finish on the back has a brushed aluminum look but know that it is plastic simply masked to not look like aluminum.

Not that this is any surprise, but the plastic backing is not removable and the battery can’t be user replaced like you can on say the GS III or Galaxy Note devices. Not that we would expect this feature, but seeing as it is plastic, it would be an interesting option to include this feature in future tablets.

The device features a 1280x800 display and a few years ago, we would have deemed this acceptable but seeing that the iPad has a resolution of 2048x1536 in a similar-sized device, you really start to crave the extra pixels. But, at the same time, the Surface RT has a resolution of 1366x768, which makes the device at least meet the bare minimum requirement for acceptability on the resolution front.

While the color saturation and off angle viewing is what you would expect from a device made by Samsung, it’s hard to get over the resolution issue as everything on the screen feels quite large and makes poor use of the screen real estate.

This becomes more apparent when using the browser as the tabs at the top feel comically oversized for their intended purpose. While you could argue this makes it easy to touch and give a better overall finger-friendly experience, I’d rather have more pixels dedicated to showing the content on the browser and in addition, when you use the S Pen to browse the web, the oversized tabs become less needed for functional use.

The screen does respond well to touch input with our touches being accurately located on the screen and our gestures were identified without any major issues. The S Pen input worked quite well too with the display being able to detect the S Pen when it was about an inch above the screen.

The Note 10.1 comes with a bundle of software out of the box but we do wish that it would run a clean install of Android and then let the end user decide which software to load onto the device.

The device with Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface and comes with more than 20 pre-installed applications. In addition to the more popular apps that you would expect like Netflix, B&N Nook application, there are also a plethora of other applications as well, including S Note, S Suggest, smart remote, Samsung apps, PS touch and more hubs than you can shake a stick at (games hub, media, hub, music hub).

While not all the applications are made to take advantage of the S Pen functionality, S Notes is certainly one of the more useful applications on the tablet. The note taking application works seamlessly with the S Pen and the hand-writing recognition of the software allows it to easily recognize your notes.

The S Pen is incredible well executed here and the software that is designed for it, highlights the true value of having a stylus with a tablet. While some companies (Apple) think that have a pen for input is not needed, we vehemently disagree and love the S Pen with the Note 10.1. The handwriting functionality is well done on the Note 10.1 and accurately captures our inputs and text conversation based on our text was good enough that the suggested words are spot on. 

Samsung has also done a great job with allowing for multitasking support. The included options allow you to split windows evenly on both sides of the screen and quickly switch between open applications and also close all open apps with the tap of one button.  It slightly reminds us of the snapped apps that we see in Windows 8 but that's not a bad thing either. While not as fluid as Microsoft's implementation, the dual view does work well and when you pair it with the S Pen, it makes for a great combination for productivity. 

The Note, with its 1.4GHz Exynos quad-core processor and 2GB RAM does hum along quite nicely. While we did not experience any significant amount of lag while using the device, there are some odd transitions with the software that do make the device feel a bit sluggish, but we believe that it is the transition that makes the device feel slow and not the specs of the device.

From the chart above, you can see that the Note 10.1 easily bests Samsung's last tablet, the Tab 10.1. From an end user standpoint, few will have any issues with the performance of the tablet. Unless heavily taxed with several games, email accounts syncing and a video trying to stream all at the same time, the Note 10.1 will fill most needs without any issue. We do believe that we are getting very close to the point that performance specs are becoming less important and software optimization is key to a devices stability and performance rather than raw horsepower. 

The tablet features a 7,000 mAh battery packed behind the screen that allowed us to get about eight hours of usage out of the device using a mix of videos (YouTube), email, web browsing, and twitter over WiFi.

During our stressing of the device, we could kill the battery in about six hours running a full-screen video on a loop. When we loaded a video that was not streaming, we managed to nab another 30 minutes out of the device with the video looping.

Overall, the battery will meet your expectations but it is by no means a class leader when it comes to battery life. While eight hours will serve most well, you will still likely want to take your charger along with you on a significant road trips.

Cameras in a tablet are common but the one thing they all have in common is that you look ridiculous when you try to take a picture of anything with the rear camera. While the front camera serves a more valuable purpose, the rear camera begins to feel a bit of wasted resources; this goes for all tablets and is not specific to this device.

The 5MP rear camera is a burden to use with its poor focus and long shutter lag. We ended having to take several photos twice to be able to capture a blur free image and like we said previously, cameras in a tablet are not desirable and you look like a goof using one. Considering that nearly any mid-range phone or above will have a better sensor and faster shutter speed, look elsewhere for your imaging needs.

The front-facing camera is par for the course with images coming in a bit cool but acceptable for the video chat.

The two images above were taken using the rear camera on the tablet. In anything other than bright light, it is quite hard to take a photo without blur. The top image is heavily washed out with the dark gray stylus looking much lighter in the photo compared to the other photos in this review that show the stylus being closer to black.

The note comes with a plethora of options when it comes to media including built in speakers, headphone jack and the IR port for controlling your TV.

The speakers on the device are exactly what you would expect from a tablet or laptop. The sound was acceptable for the occasional video or game but for watching a move you will still want a decent pair of cans for your head.

The sound is a bit light and airy with the lows being absent but this is because of the lack of a proper cavity for the speakers to reside; the speakers are useful and a welcomed addition to the tablet.

The IR blaster is a nifty little feature that we could get used to seeing in other devices. As the name implies, it allows you to control your TV or other IR-friendly devices from your tablet. Considering that we use our tablets quite a bit on the couch, we made great use of this and it was simple to setup.

The Note 10.1 is a tablet that is so close to being fantastic that it hurts to see it executed so poorly. The Note 10.1 hums along, has some nifty features like the S Pen and the IR blaster, but the device is saddled in this awkward and cheap-feeling plastic shell and a low-resolution screen.

By putting Verizon’s LTE chip inside, Samsung has once again beefed up the already satisfactory specs but failed to address the other short comings of the tablet. For that matter, Verizon’s airwaves dished out impressive download and upload speeds of 19 Mbps down and 11 Mbps up

So here we are with Samsung trying to once again knock Apple off of its iPad perch. The S Pen, for those who have not tried it, is a fantastic addition to the tablet experience and Samsung executed this detail incredible well. In fact, once you get used to having the S Pen and all the features that come with it, you instantly desire it on other tablets.

If you are considering the Note 10.1, know that it is not a bad device, but it’s not a great device either. It certainly has a few features to love but the plastic exterior and the low-resolution display are what you interact with the most and unfortunately, these are the two areas where Samsung cut the corners.



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