The Galaxy TabPro 10.1 is Samsung’s joint best full-sized Android tablet.
Joint best? Why, yes - there’s a little spec and feature trading between it and the Galaxy Note 10.1, but overall the two sit roughly equal at the top of Sammy’s tablet range.
That range is getting a little out of hand if you ask us - at the last count there were three TabPros, one Note, one NotePro and three Tab4s, but that could well have changed by the time you read this.
Fortunately, the TabPro 10.1 stands out from the crowd, as it's the clearest iPad Air rival of the lot. But if you’re going to take a shot at the king, you’d better not miss.
Design - As Light As Air
The big day-to-day difference between the TabPro 10.1 and its Note cousin is the former's lighter build. Its physical dimensions are the same, but the TabPro 10.1 is easier to hold over long periods than the 535g Note 10.1. At 469g for the Wi-Fi only model, it’s the exact weight of the iPad Air.
It’s skinnier than the Note, too, at just 7.3mm. Otherwise, the latest Samsung tab is close to a Note 10.1 clone. There’s not as much wasted space on the front as, say, the big-bezeled Xperia Tablet Z. And held in landscape, there are the same stereo speakers on either edge (fine for watching movies in bed but nothing special). It’s a tidy, compact design for a 10.1in tablet with a microSD card slot for extra storage.
That said, the TabPro 10.1’s faux-leather back, stitching details and metal-look sides aren’t a patch on an iPad Air. Push hard enough and the Samsung flexes, too - not what we’d expect from a tablet this expensive. It’s no dealbreaker for us but it’s not waterproof either - try the Sony if that’s more of a priority for you.
One more small niggle we've noticed: in our bags the TabPro's home button can catch to wake up the screen from sleep. If you're concerned about battery life, this can be a real pain and Samsung doesn't let users disable the hardware button unless Galaxy devices are rooted.
Screen - Super LCD and Sharp
There was never any doubt that the TabPro 10.1 would have a superb screen. The same bright, pixel-packed 2560x1600 Super LCD display that we saw on the Note 10.1 is just as crisp, vibrant and easy to read (even outdoors) here.
The Adapt Display setting means no more faffing between Samsung screen modes to get both web browsers and video looking spot on for colours and contrast. If you’re installing third party players and apps, though, you may still hop between standard, movie and dynamic.
Colours in vibrant apps and games pop, actors’ faces in Netflix shows look natural, and webpages are clean, with excellent contrast. And yet side-by-side with the iPad Air, it’s Apple’s premier tab that plays the smoother Full HD movies, with a touch more fine detail and even more accurate colours. Samsung wins on paper but it’s just pipped in use.
No S Pen - This Is A Galaxy Tab
Same dimensions, same screen - so far the TabPro 10.1 and Note 10.1 look like two fake leather peas in a plastic pod.
But this is a Galaxy Tab. So there’s no built-in S Pen. You might be perfectly content prodding Samsung screens with your fingers 24/7. Then again, whether used two or three times a week or almost constantly, the Note 10.1’s pressure sensitive stylus is a nice bonus.
If you’re deciding between the many models in Samsung’s tablet ranges, this is one of the main choices. For us, the S Pen wins. That’s thanks to clever software features such as circling web content to store in the Scrapbook app, converting handwritten notes to text and saving scrawled details to the right apps with Action Memo. The Galaxy TabPro goes without all that and keeps it simple. Well, simpler - you didn’t think this was a Samsung device without dozens of extras, did you? Don’t be silly.
Samsung Wins The Freebies War
There’s a lot going on here, it’s Android KitKat but not as we know it. With Google Play still letting 10in tablet manufacturers down with its fairly paltry selection of full-size creative and entertainment apps, Samsung’s taken matters into its own hands. How? By stuffing its tablets with extras, freebies and subscriptions.
On the TabPro 10.1 the biggest addition is the Magazine UX, which - just as on the Note - adds two screens of Flipboard tiles next to regular Android homescreens. Here you can swipe through tiles of news story images from the web, calendars, email previews and social updates in a gorgeous take on glanceable widgets.
There’s 50GB free Dropbox space for two years. Apps such as Microsoft-replacement Hancom Office. Freebies for the likes of SketchBook Pro, Easilydo Pro and Bloomberg BusinessWeek+. And features such as Remote PC - a neat way of accessing files from home but a little less special now Google’s launched Chrome Remote Desktop.
All in, TouchWiz doesn’t hoover up too much storage either, with 10 of the 16GB of storage on the smallest version still available for you to add apps and media. Still, if you’re an app addict, go 32GB. And for anyone not living in the Cloud, a microSD card is an essential added extra.
Performs Like A Pro - Sometimes
Samsung fans know what’s coming next. More features = more Android lag.
It’s not quite that cut and dry, but the TabPro 10.1 does suffer in a similar way to the Note. Out of the box it stutters and slows down around homescreens, notification pulldowns and Samsung apps.
Our beloved Magazine UX is one of the culprits but it’s a wider problem Samsung needs to address. With Exynos processors and 2GB of RAM (slightly less than the Note 10.1’s 3GB), this Galaxy should still make the KitKat experience fluid and fast. But while it’s by no means slow the little bits of lag have been getting on our nerves.
Downloads of apps and big media files are zippy and the TabPro 10.1 posts a respectable AnTuTu score of 30240. Still, we’re surprised to see that even playing intensive games such as Real Racing 3 isn’t as smooth as we’d like.
One area in which the TabPro 10.1 performs nicely is its rear 8MP BSI camera. Outdoors it picks up tons of detail and punchy colours, plus auto-focus is fairly fast, too. 1080p video is also as smooth as you’d need a back-up camera to be. Indoors things get soft, but there are plenty of useful modes, including HDR. And it’s a tablet camera - if you’re using it any more than very rarely you’re doing something wrong.
Matching the Note 10.1, this Samsung does at least have the stamina of a champ. It’s a real all-day tablet with a typical battery life of nine to ten hours, depending on how you use it.
That’s thanks to the beastly 8220mAh battery powering the tab - yet another similarity to the Note. Standby is good, dropping 1-2% an hour max, and even with the brightness cranked up for outdoor use the TabPro 10.1 runs and runs. Worried that a tablet this high res will conk out on the commute home? Don’t be.
Samsung Galaxy TabPro 10.1 Verdict
Lighter and thinner than its closest Galaxy sibling with the latest version of Android, the TabPro 10.1 might seem like the safe bet for Samsung fans. That screen. Those gorgeous Magazine tiles. The light weight. The business-friendly apps.
It’s a tough tablet to judge. If you’re not interested in a stylus, it’s a worthy candidate. You’ll buy it for the resolution, love it for the battery life and hate it for the performance niggles.
Ultimately, even without the S Pen, it’s more capable in some ways than the iPad Air. It’s just not as desirable, reliable or slick as Cupertino’s finest.