Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble. It’s the battle of the big tablets: in one corner, Apple’s flagship slate, the iPad Air; in the other, Samsung’s maxi-sized, high-powered Galaxy NotePRO 12.2.
Which is the king of the king-sized tabs? Now that we’ve had the chance to review both models, we’re in a position to tell you. Seconds out: it’s go time.
READ MORE: Apple iPad Air review
Design: real metal vs fake leather
Design-wise, Samsung has stuck with textured, leather-effect hard plastic for the NotePRO 12.2’s backside, plus metal-look sides. We quite like the way the tablet feels in the hand (there’s no flex in it, despite its size) and despite the faux-leather expanse on its reverse it manages to not look totally naff – but nobody with any sense of taste could say it matches the preeminent elegance of the iPad Air’s metal-and-glass build, not to mention its solidity and overall feeling of quality. Samsung has a hell of a way to go to catch up with Apple in terms of creating devices that are truly beautiful.
The NotePRO 12.2 is designed to be used in landscape the majority of the time – Samsung’s decision to locate the physical home button (which is flanked by capacitive back and menu controls) on one of the long edges makes it tricky to hit when using the tablet in portrait orientation. The iPad Air’s smaller size and lower weight means it can be used comfortably in either orientation.
Obviously the NotePRO’s size was always going to make it heavier and more unwieldy than the iPad Air, but even if they were equal in those respects, Apple’s superior styling and eye for design would get the nod.
Winner: Apple iPad Air
The iPad Air boasts a 9.7in screen with a 2048 x 1536 resolution, which gives it a pixel density of 264ppi. The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 has a 2560 x 1600 resolution and 247ppi, so there’s next to no difference in the sharpness of the screens in real world use (although given that you’re probably going to be holding the NotePRO a bit further away from your eyes than you would the iPad, Samsung’s device may appear marginally sharper to those with hawk-like peepers).
In terms of image quality, the two devices seem tuned for different tasks. The iPad Air’s deep blacks and facility with detail make it better suited for video playback and games, while the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2’s excellent contrast gives it the edge for web browsing and word processing. The NotePRO can also run four apps or videos at once thanks to its Multi Window mode, with all looking sufficiently clear and crisp.
Winner: we’ll call this one a draw
Power and performance
The version of the NotePRO we tested came with a 1.9GHz quad-core Exynos chip and 3GB of RAM (the cellular version comes with a Snapdragon 800, however). That’s plenty of power on tap: more than enough to run four apps simultaneously via Multi Window and handle the latest games (although the tablet’s sheer size makes it unsuited for gaming).
The iPad Air’s specs might not beat the NotePRO’s on paper (dual-core 1.4GHz A7 processor, under 1GB of RAM), but it’s similarly slick when it comes to day-to-day use. In fact, going by Geekbench 3 the iPad Air is a fair bit quicker – although we don’t advise you put too much stock in benchmarks. The iPad also feature a 64-bit processor (something that may be significant in the future, if not greatly so now). On raw specs, the NotePRO has it.
In terms of battery life, the two tablets performed almost exactly the same in our HD rundown test: the NotePRO lasts a heck of a long time considering its huge screen.
Connectivity-wise, the NotePRO packs dual-band Wi-Fi, USB 3.0, Bluetooth 4.0 and optional 3G/4G. The Air offers much the same, minus USB 3.0 which it supplants with its Lightning port.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2
OS and apps
A hard one to compare, this, because they’re so different. The NotePRO has Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and Samsung’s Magazine UX over the top, while the iPad has iOS 7.
Each OS and UI has its advantages. Apple has iTunes and the App Store, giving iPad users access to the best-stocked digital shops around (Google Play isn’t at all bad, but iTunes has it beat) and a heap of apps tuned specifically for Retina display screens; Android is rather poorly served when it comes to apps suitable for large tablets. The NotePRO has the advantage of its S Pen stylus, which allows you to jot down notes, make sketches and circle details to remember for later. It’s a great tool for productivity and on-the-go working, and Magazine UX includes a number of handy widgets and apps tailored for the device.
Which one is best? It’s really going to depend on your preference for the OS and whether or not having apps designed specifically for large screens is a deal breaker. Both iOS 7 and Android 4.3 are slick and easy-to-use. We’re going to call this one evens.
These are quite different tablets and generally suited to different tasks, although of course there are several areas where their skills overlap. If you’re looking for a lightweight, video-centric tablet with fantastic app support and an excellent supply of games, it’s got to be the iPad Air (which, with the price starting at £400, is also a heck of a lot cheaper than the £650 NotePRO).
The NotePRO is far more focussed on business than leisure: if viewing a document in one window while videoconferencing in another is something you need, the iPad can’t help – but the NotePRO can. 12.2 inches is a huge screen size, but (thanks in no small part to the S Pen stylus) Samsung has managed to present a case for buying a really, really big tablet.
The iPad Air will suit the vast majority of users better than the NotePRO, and it’s a much more handsome product, but for some, Samsung’s tray-sized device will prove an invaluable companion.
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