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Android tablets Reviews
15,645 Reviews

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review

Around £500 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Samsung

Our Rating: We rate this 4 out of 5

With pen input and a highly customized version of Android 4.0, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 distinguishes itself in a crowded market. Here's our Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review. Updated: 14th September 2012

Here's a second opinion of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 by our colleague Melissa J Perenson from PC World:

With the release of Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 Wi-Fi tablet the venerable stylus takes center stage setting this innovative slate apart from the tablet masses. On Wednesday Samsung officially announces this Wi-Fi only 10.1-inch Android tablet with prices that start at starting at $500 up to $550 in the US. UK pricing is not yet confirmed, but online retailers are listing the Galaxy Note 10.1 for £435. See also: Tablet Advisor.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 goes on sale today. For the past few days I've been testing the Galaxy Note 10.1 Wi-Fi. While the tablet has some rough edges and one glaring omission amongst its specs—it lacks a high pixel density display—Samsung has put together a solid performer that has wide-reaching appeal. See also: Group test: what's the best tablet PC?

The standout feature of Samsung's latest offering is the S Pen which opens up a whole new dimension of functionality and creativity thanks to Samsung's preloaded software and Android tweaks. Since the tablet was first introduced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona the Galaxy Note's specs have changed. Six months ago, Samsung said the Note 10.1 would pack a dual-core CPU and 1GB of memory, as well as have internal storage of up to 64GB. For its final release, though, Samsung bumps the Note 10.1 to a quad-core Samsung Exynos processor with 2GB of system memory—making it the first shipping tablet I've tested with that much RAM. Gone is the 64GB internal storage option; Note 10.1 comes in 16GB ($499) and 32GB ($549) varieties, expandable via MicroSD card by up to 64GB.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Design

The Note 10.1 has a distinctive but not especially high-end look. It ships with either a white or dark gray plastic back, and matching bezel with silver plastics accents around the edges. The tablet is neither the thinnest nor the lightest tablet, but it compares respectably to others in its size class. It measures 256.7 x 175.3 x 8.9 mm; and weighs 583g—slightly more than the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity but noticeably less than the iPad weighs.

The Note 10.1 is largely designed with the intent of holding it horizontally in two hands, with the front-facing 1.9-megapixel camera centered above the display, and stereo speakers mounted on either side. When I held the tablet in both of my hands, I tended to keep my hands towards the bottom edges, which meant my fingers didn't obstruct the speakers. However, when I held the tablet vertically, the audio sounded a bit skewed.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Pen Takes Centre Stage

Along the top edge (when held in horizontal mode) is the power button and volume rocker, the sturdy flap covering the MicroSD card slot, infrared port for use with an HDTV, and headphone jack.

One nifty addition: A slot that houses the included S Pen. Samsung will have several after-market pen options available as well, but the included pen is larger than its Galaxy Note phone cousin. I'd personally prefer the thicker barrel of the optional S Pen Holder Kit, but I found the one that comes with the tablet serviceable for casual use. Having the pen's resting place neatly tucked into the tablet makes the pen infinitely more useful than a separate stylus could ever hope to be.

While the pen is not something I found myself reaching for all the time, I did find it convenient and used it more often than I expected. I liked having the option to vary my input between my fingers and the stylus, and I quickly appreciated how the S Pen could change how I'd approach note-taking, making annotations, and sketching out diagrams or formulas. While students, artists, designers, scientists, and other specialists will clearly benefit from the pen, its use transcends far beyond that and will appeal to casual tablet users of all stripes.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: The S Pen in Action

Samsung's S Pen is based on a Wacom's pressure-sensitive technology. The pen felt highly responsive, with little lag and integrated palm-rejection—a useful inclusion for better productivity that capacitive-touch styluses can't provide. Samsung has improved the Note's pressure sensitivity significantly compared with the original Note phone: The Note 10.1 is at 1024 levels of sensitivity, compared with just 256. The pen's detection distance is better, too: 14mm on the Note 10.1, to the Note's 8mm.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Software

With the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, Samsung offers its most tailored OS and locked-and-loaded app selection yet. Samsung ships the Note 10.1 with Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich on-board. Jelly Bean will come, according to Samsung, by the end of the year.

Like other Samsung devices, this tablet is not for Android purists. Most of the overlays and modifications make for a more friendly experience - though occasionally I find the multiple paths to doing the same thing more confusing than helpful. For example, I tired of the pop-up utility launcher that runs along the bottom of the screen, simply because it was easy to accidentally launch.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: TouchWiz and Few Sour Notes

Samsung does its most far-reaching TouchWiz (Samsung's custom touch user interface) overhaul of the Android OS seen on one of its tablets yet. Among the tweaks: It replaces such basics as the Settings menu and the layout of the Notify launcher. The Notify launcher adds new options to existing menus. The trade off is you get more control over many options, but in other cases Samsung clutters the interface. Changed also is the stock Android keyboard which is now a Samsung keyboard with off-white buttons with black letters, and a dedicated number row.

Samsung has, bizarrely, hobbled the Note 10.1's productivity potential by not allowing you to attach any file to an outgoing Gmail message. The only attachment option there is for the Gallery, which means you can't take notes (or create a document in the Polaris Office app) and then send it via your Gmail account anywhere else. My gripe here is with adding attachments to email associated with outbound email associated with my Gmail account.

Another annoyance is Samsung's new power settings. Yes, you get them, but I'm not convinced there's ever a real reason to reduce the screen frame rate and lower the brightness at the same time. Furthermore, the Smart Stay feature is under the Display options and not power saving, even though this feature uses the front camera to make sure you are still using the tablet and it should keep the brightness up.

Finally, and most egregious, is how Samsung auto-dims the display when the battery hits 5 percent left. Samsung takes this farther than other tablet makers by not allowing you to adjust the brightness back up if you so choose; and the brightness level it goes to is so low that the dark image you do get is practically useless, making the extra 30 minutes or so of battery life you'll get in this state questionable at best.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: And Now the High Notes

Many of the software enhancements I liked are features that emphasize multitasking on the tablet.

Some of my favorite additions were first introduced on the Samsung Galaxy Siii phone. My favorites were the resizable pop-up video player (which launches a video into a separate overlay window that can be placed anywhere on the screen) and the dual-screen option that Samsung's enabled for side-by-side views. Currently, the dual-screen mode is available for just six apps: Samsung's own native S Note app, Web browser, and video player; a Note-enhanced version of Polaris Office; and Google's Gallery and email apps. Hopefully Samsung can grow this number.

This dual-screen ability, dubbed "Multiscreen" by Samsung, is unique, and offers the closest approximation to Windows and having multiple windows open at the same time I've seen on an Android tablet. Samsung's implementation is a kludge—you must first select the content you want to copy using the S Pen, then take a screenshot of it, and then cut the content from its original source and drag it over to the app on the other screen. For example if you are taking a picture from the Samsung mobile web browser and pasting it into a Polaris Office document. This feature may require at least twice the number of steps to do what you'd do in Windows, but I still appreciated the effort to make Android feel more grown-up and viable for productivity use.

NEXT PAGE: how the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 performs >>

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Expert Verdict »
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 WiFi 16GB Scores 8.9 out of 10 based on 291 reviews
CPU speed: 1.4GHz Dual Core
Platform: Android 4.0 ICS (Ice-Cream Sandwich)
256.7 x 175.3 x 8.9 mm
583g
HSPA+ 21Mbps 850/900/1900/2100 (3G Version Only)
EDGE/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900 (3G Version Only)
Memory
64GB User memory + 1GB (RAM) / microSD (up to 32GB)
10.1” WXGA (1280x800) PLS TFT
Accelerometer, Digital compass, Light Sensor, Gyroscope, Connectivity: A-GPS (3G version)
S-GPS (WiFi version)
GLONASS
Bluetooth technology v 3.0 (Apt-X Codec support)
USB 2.0 Host: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 & 5 GHz), Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi Channel Bonding
3.5mm Ear Jack
3 Megapixel Auto Focus Camera with LED Flash (REAR)
2 Megapixel (FRONT)
Video: MPEG4, H.263, H.264, VC-1, DivX, WMV7, WMV8, WMV9, VP8, 3GP(MP4), WMV(ASF), AVI, FLV, MKV, WebM
Playback/ Recording: 1080p Full HD@30fps, 720p HD@30fps
Audio: MP3, OGG, WMA, AAC, ACC+, eAAC+, AMR(NB,WB), MIDI, WAV, AC-3, Flac
Battery: Li-ion 7,000mAh
  • Build Quality: We give this item 8 of 10 for build quality
  • Features: We give this item 9 of 10 for features
  • Value for Money: We give this item 8 of 10 for value for money
  • Performance: We give this item 9 of 10 for performance
  • Overall: We give this item 8 of 10 overall

Granted, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 lacks the one competitive spec that other top-tier tablets—specifically the Acer Iconia Tab A700, Apple iPad, and Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700—have at the same or lesser price. Samsung's rendering enhancements help lessen the sting of this omission somewhat, but the difference is clear, particularly with text-heavy content. But, when you factor in the handy stowaway S Pen and Samsung's pen-optimized software, and suddenly the Note 10.1 gets an edge all its own. Throw in the Galaxy Note 10.1 Wi-Fi tablet's solid performance, and the Note 10.1 is squarely back in the mix.

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