You heard it here first - the tray-blets are coming.
Samsung’s massive slab of Galaxy NotePRO has a 12.2in display - and while that might not sound like much more than its regular-sized Note 10.1 tablet, in real life it’s a big leap. This gargantuan Galaxy has nearly 50% more screen than the 10in Samsung tab and looks rather like someone’s lopped off your laptop keyboard and handed it back to you.
In short, it’s a tech tray (it easily carries papers, earphones and smartphones but we'd probably draw the line at tea and coffee) boldly taking tablets into new and exciting territory. Sure, Sony and Panasonic have flirted with the idea of 20in tablets, but they were really just for in-home use - the NotePRO 12.2 wants to kick back on coffee tables, tear up train journeys and lean nonchalantly at the back of meetings.
It’s an impressive Mk.1 thanks mostly to its ability to run not two (not three!) but four 6.1in(ish) windows at once. And it's got the lovely and lively Magazine UX interface, an unsurprisingly brilliant screen, the S Pen accessory and day-long battery life.
That said, the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 doesn’t fully solve the problem of business bods wishing they could fold up their work computer neatly and take it home with them. At £650, it’s an expensive extra, compared to an iPad or Nexus, it quickly gets heavy in use and is also, far and away, the tablet most likely to knock out the old lady next to you at the bus stop. But this unwieldy wonder could be the oversized slate you never realised you needed - if you know how to handle it...
Training a Giganto-Tab
Did we mention it’s big? Well, it is. Sure, the NotePRO’s slim at 7.95mm thick but it still has the same surface area of two conjoined iPad Minis so you’ll need to start allocating hang-out spots for it at work and for charging by the bed.
This Samsung slate is also too heavy to hold one-handed - at 750g it’s not quite up there with the Surface Pro 2 (900g), but with its kickstand and snap-on keyboards, the Microsoft tab just about manages on laps as well as desks. The NotePRO takes some getting used to but after a few slapstick-style rearranging sessions, you’ll get there - it’s just a question of elbows. And leaning it against the conference table.
Otherwise, this is standard Samsung fare with a faux-leather, real plastic back, which feels just as nicely textured as the Note 3’s, plus metal-look sides and a home button smack-bang in the centre when held in landscape. Flanked by two capacitive back and menu buttons, this makes it tricky to use in portrait. To solve this niggle, we’d say just don’t use it in portrait. Seriously, keep this thing in landscape unless you’ve tracked down a fancy cover-stand for your desk.
How Close Should My Face Be?
Ideally, not too close - the NotePRO’s 12.2in screen is best used at almost arm’s length. It’s 2560x1600 resolution is impressive but at 247ppi and with that pesky PenTile arrangement, it’s not as sharp as the Note 10.1 - text on icons, webpages and ebooks doesn’t look all that crisp when you’re nose-to-pixels with the NotePRO.
For a pure movie tablet, the iPad Air serves up superior video with finer detail and deeper blacks, but the NotePRO 12.2 itself has excellent contrast for webpages and word processing, with good viewing angles to boot. That’s nice considering this is a tablet big enough for two. It’s just as eye-searingly bright as other Samsung tablets and colours can be pumped up or muted as you as you see fit, thanks to the screen mode settings.
It’s a clever screen, too, with Smart Stay tech on board to track your eyes and keep the screen on while you pore over docs - one niggle, an LG-style tap to wake feature would be magic on this device, as it can be a bit of a chore shimmying hands up or down to power or home buttons.
And while we lightly scoff at 247ppi, there are enough pixels for four apps or videos to run in separate, resizeable windows. Building on the Note series’ Multi Window expertise brilliantly, this is the tablet’s killer feature.
Operating system - Android 4.4 KitKat
Processor - 1.9GHz octo-core Exynos
RAM - 3GB
Screen - 12.2in Super Clear LCD with 2560 x 1600 resolution (247ppi)
Cameras - 8MP rear (AF, LED flash), 2MP front
Storage - 32/64GB (expandable by up to 64GB)
Connectivity - Dual band Wi-Fi, 3G/4G (optional), USB 3.0, Bluetooth 4.0
Battery - 9500mAh
Dimensions/weight - 296 x 204 x 8mm/750g (753g for 3G/4G version)
Four is the Magic Number
Buy a big tablet and you don’t simply want the small tablet experience blown up. Samsung trips up a few times (the Notifications feature isn’t altered and should be two pulldowns as with stock Android) but mostly it gets things spot-on.
Swipe from the right and you’ll see Multi Window-compatible apps that you can drag and drop onto your screen to run two, three or four at once with a pop-up floating keyboard staying mostly out of the way. They’re largely Samsung and Google apps - with Drive sorely lacking - and you can’t seem to mute individual windows, but the feature really has been expanded and tightened. It’s the fastest experience of Multi Window yet and we love creating ‘Paired Windows’, a feature that automatically launches selected apps simultaneously - Chrome and Gmail, for example. Simply, it makes getting work done on the NotePRO much more like the fluid, chaotic, ten-tabs-open-at-once experience of using a laptop or desktop PC. We’d very much like Samsung to bump up the Note and TabPRO 10.1’s Multi Window skills to four but we can’t see the lesser tabs getting that treatment.
It’s not all work, though - the other big news is the extended Magazine UX. There are regular homescreens with grids of apps and widgets - this is Android 4.4 after all - but two default screens (and more) can be populated with big tiles of email, Twitter, calendar (S Planner), TV (WatchON) and news updates.
This is as close to a full-on Flipboard tablet as you’ll get, and the image-based social and news app is quite the updates Goliath, with everything from subscribing to topics such as Sochi and Bitcoin to ‘News in Photos’ or ‘News Radio’ via Soundcloud podcasts. The content is skewed towards America, but it’s a lively way to jump into using the NotePRO of a morning with a big, bold, swipeable digest of work appointments, headlines and tweets.
PRO = Designed for Business
Seemingly competing with the wave of Windows 8 Pro tablets we’ve seen over the past 12 months, the NotePRO does everything in its powers to woo business users. Short of running Microsoft Office, that is.
So there’s no Office, but the pre-installed Hancom app, which lets you open and edit Office docs and runs almost identically to Microsoft's suite is a good alternative, plus there’s Google Drive to suit non-power spreadsheeters. Another big plus is that the My Files app lets you view what’s on the device, highlight favourites and drag and drop folders just as you would on a PC or Mac. With WebEx for conferencing, a BusinessWeek sub and the excellent S Planner calendar app (which makes good use of the roomy screen), it’s a tidy set-up. And you can install a Remote PC agent on PCs and Macs, while Samsung’s Knox security is in place to keep everything secure.
For an on-the-go work device, we’d still rather take a capable Windows all-rounder such as the smaller Asus Transformer T100, which is half the price, runs Office and can run Adobe’s Creative Suite and any other software a traditional PC can. But depending on what you need out of a work tablet, the Samsung has worked itself a nice niche with the NotePRO’s business face.
Note tablets need S Pens
The PRO might signify work time but this is still a Note tablet and that means an S Pen tucked away in the right-hand corner. We won’t go into too much detail except to say it works just as well as on the Note 10.1 and Note 3 and has the same roster of features. Some even make more sense on a bigger screen - Pen Window for example, which allows you to mark out the size of a pop-up window with the stylus. Running Maps over a browser with a pop-up keyboard hovering below it feels vaguely futuristic and with S Pen in hand will make your boss think you look terribly, terribly busy.
We’ve half a mind to set the NotePRO up on an easel, as the pressure-sensitive S Pen also works well for doodling downtime thanks to S Note and apps such as SketchBook Express - but it’s too big and heavy unless it’s flat on a desk or propped up.
Multi Window really shows off the NotePRO’s power, which in the version we're testing comes from a 1.9GHz quad-core Exynos chip backed up by 3GB of RAM (you get a Snapdragon 800 in the 3G/4G versions). With dual band Wi-Fi, downloads are just as fast, browsing is smooth and although it’s a tricky size for gaming and we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for that reason, it does at least handle intensive titles just fine.
Benchmark-heads will note that while the NotePro posts excellent scores in Geekbench 3 (2802) and AnTuTu (34300), it is beaten by the Galaxy Note 3 in both cases. That's nothing to worry about, though - the only actual lag we encountered is the standard Samsung stutter around the UI. Homescreen rotations can be a smidge slow, widgets can blink and stutter. It’s a little disappointing on a device this price but nothing that spoils the NotePRO’s features.
Lugging Around A Big Battery
The NotePRO is relatively heavy, as we moaned earlier, but that's at least partly because of its beastly 9500mAh battery. At just over nine hours thirty minutes of video streaming in our HD rundown test (Wi-Fi on, half brightness), it lasts just as long as an iPad Air and hours longer than most laptops.
It also hangs on to its last 5% admirably (something we love in phones and tablets), plus it springs into life very quickly from dead when plugged in.
If we always got our own way, we’d say Samsung could fit the NotePRO with a smaller battery to try and shave some of that 750g weight down - an ample eight to nine hours would get most of us back from work still charged, and with a lighter tab we’d be much more likely to take it out in the first place.
Not So Conspicu-Cam
If a smartphone, phablet or even Nexus 7 is a covert taco cam, this is a jumbo burrito cam. We don’t really recommend taking pics with the NotePRO because it draws tons of attention to itself, its tricky to hold steady and chances are you’ll always have a smartphone in your pocket anyway.
If you insist, the NotePRO matches the output of 8MP cameras seen on the Galaxy S3, and that means clear, detailed and punchy images. It shoots 1080p video, too, and the 2MP front facer makes for bright and colourful Skype calls - once you track down that elusive stand to save your arms, that is.
Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 Verdict
Kitchen tablet, maybe. Coffee table tablet, sure. Conference room tablet, definitely. A take-anywhere, whisper ‘goodnight’ to tablet? Not really.
Or at least - not yet. What's it good for? Multi-tasking, viewing documents, conferencing and catching up with the news. What's it not so good for? Long stretches of typing, gaming and using in impromptu situations. The NotePRO 12.2 might not be perfect and it certainly isn't cheap, but in one or two iterations, this could be the go-to business tablet Samsung is aiming for. When it's lighter with a zippier interface and more apps compatible with its nifty features, it will be worth that steep price.
It also needs some appealing accessories, though - workstation dock, kitchen-friendly stand, attachable keyboard - not just the one size fits all Samsung cover. Because the NotePRO can be tricky to squeeze into your normal routine, Samsung needs to help make the case for its really big tablet.
The NotePRO 12.2 is a typically Samsung gamble and it largely pays off. Now, we've just got to find somewhere to put it...
READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014) review
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