This would-be iPad killer brings multi-tasking skills, creative apps and quad core power to the party. Oh, and did we mention the might of the S Pen?
A touch skinnier and lighter than the iPad 3, the Note 10.1’s looks will win over any long-time Samsung fans looking for a powerful Android tab. Yes, you’re paying £400 for a tablet with a plastic back that does tend to creak and flex but on the plus side, there’s a microSD slot, two front facing speakers and an IR blaster to turn the Note into a remote.
As the Note 10.1 is aimed at creative types, the WXGA 1280x800 display is a bit of a disappointment. In use, it’s up there with the brightest and has good viewing angles for watching HD movies. But an eye-popping Super AMOLED screen wouldn’t have gone amiss here, nor would a few (hundred) extra pixels to make us choose this over the 2048x1536 iPad 3 for working with images.
Multiscreen, pop up play, smart stay
The Note 10.1 is as close as you’ll get to a Galaxy S3 (aka the best smartphone in the world) in tablet form. Pop Up Play gives you a video window while you browse the web, email or get some work done (risky) and Multiscreen will display two apps (from S Note, Video Player, Email, Gallery and Internet) side by side in both portrait and landscape modes. You can even use mini apps like the music player and email on top of the two main screens which we loved.
Another nifty addition is Smart Stay which uses the front facing camera to make sure the Note 10.1 doesn’t go to sleep while you’re looking at it – clever.
Quad core power
With a 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos chip and 2GB of RAM under the hood, the Note 10.1 melts Ice Cream Sandwich down (no sign of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean) and runs super smooth. When switching between the video player and web pages using Multiscreen (with a pop up play window on top for good measure) you might have to be patient but performance is still impressive.
The 1.9MP/720p front facing camera won’t impress in a Skype video chat but the 5MP snapper on the rear is good enough for on-the-go shots once it’s focused – although the results are a little washed out.
The 6.5mm S Pen hides out at the bottom right hand corner of the Note 10.1 and the curved end elegantly blends in to the tablet’s form factor. Pull it out and you get a sidebar of options like S Planner and S Note that you can use with it.
The S Pen itself is light and easy to exert pressure with (thanks to Wacom’s expertise here) but a little on the spindly side. And with PS Touch and other apps, the Samsung stylus does encounter some lag but not enough to stop us enjoying it.
Samsung’s S Choice selection helpfully pushes S Pen-friendly apps to Note 10.1 users. So alongside pre-installed suggestions like Crayon physics (a simplified Amazing Alex with drawn lines), there’s also painting app Infinite Painter and the pattern making OmniSketch.
With Wacom’s digitizer technology, the S Pen claims to give would-be artists greater precision than cheap tablet pens. There were a few hitches when drawing in the Infinite Painter Android app so we switched to the non-S Pen optimised SBMX. Blending colours and working our illustration muscles was impressive but wouldn’t replace anything more professional.
Games wise there’s the simple enough MazeRacer which sees you using the precise S Pen to draw routes against the clock, as well as secure signature apps that could put an end to using your cranky scanner. Nothing groundbreaking then but we hope more optimised apps show up soon.
The S Pen isn’t your regular party animal stylus though, it can work hard too. With Polaris Office, you can turn it into a highlighter or use it to annotate documents, spreadsheets or presentations. Be careful though – we’d keep the notes for your own use to avoid your boss asking what a four year old’s been doing with your report.
It’s a good thing that Samsung spent time making built-in apps for the S Pen itself. Fire up S Note and you get the choice of shape, formula or handwriting recognition. The gestures take a little getting used to and typing will inevitably be quicker but scrawling your no doubt world-saving thoughts and seeing them instantly transform into text is still satisfying. This is the future.
We were seriously impressed by PS Touch too – the S Pen is genuinely useful when dragging the corners of images to resize or rotate them, sliding saturation and brightness levels and creating selections and layers in PS Touch – Adobe Photoshop Lite for tablets. It won’t satisfy professionals but will be enough for the rest of us to wave goodbye to keyboard shortcuts, especially since the app comes pre-installed on the Note 10.1.
Versus Apple iPad 3
The question on every one’s lips – can the Note 10.1 slay the iPad? The answer, in a word, is no – the answer in two words is not yet. The iPad 3’s few extra grams and millimetres shouldn’t give your bag too much bother and its glorious 9.7in Retina Display will win you over within minutes.
UK release date and price
At £400 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version and £500 for both Wi-Fi and 3G, you’re looking at close to iPad 3 prices for the Galaxy Note 10.1. And following its celeb-filled launch in August, it’s in the shops now.
If you love the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note smartphones but hanker after a bigger screen, this is it. But though there’s lots to love, we found ourselves already wishing for the Note 2 10.1 (or another such unwieldy Samsung moniker) – if this tablet were a little faster with at least a 1080p display, it would be a serious contender for the top Android tablet title.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 offers features you won’t find on iOS. But a third party stylus won’t cost the earth if you really need a pen substitute and for creativity, developers continue to push the most innovative and interactive apps in the direction of the iPhone and iPad.
The Note has carved out a creative niche amidst tough competition from the very affordable Nexus 7 and the workaholic-friendly Transformer Infinity. But the iPad is still the tablet to beat.