Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 - Review

10.1in, 1280 x 800 PLS screen; Quad-core Exynos 1.4GHz processor; 2GB of RAM, 16-64GB storage; Wacom-base S Pen stylus with 1024 pressure levels ; IR blaster, 3G, MicroSD card slot ; Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
Manufacturer: Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 – Intro, Design, Feel and Build

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
We have updated this review for 2013 with a section on the new features brought to the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet by Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on page 6, and tested the official full-size S Pen on page 7 to see if it’s worth upgrading to.

£399 for 16GB Wi-Fi
£499 for 16GB Wi-Fi plus 3G

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 has had a rocky road. When we first saw it at the beginning of this year, it was a dual-core tablet with 1GB of RAM running a fairly standard version of Android with TouchWiz. What made it special was its Wacom-based, pressure-sensitive S Pen, a huge draw for creative types and those who still prefer to take hand-written notes. 

Since then, the rest of the tablet has received a facelift to become pretty special too. Its processor has been upgraded to the same quad-core affair that powers the mighty Samsung Galaxy S3, and RAM has been upped to a whopping 2GB, pulling the Galaxy Note 10.1 ahead of the Asus Transformer Infinity as the most powerful Android tablet available. 

Even the interface has seen some serious tinkering, with the standout being a split-screen multi-tasking ‘window’ arrangement that’s yet another first among Android tabs, and gives the Note 10.1 more of the productivity potential of a Windows slate than most of its rivals. Oh, and there’s a 3G version…

Is it a worthy big brother to the original Samsung Galaxy Note phablet and a serious challenger to the mighty iPad 3?

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Design
Unfortunately, the Galaxy Note 10.1 isn’t the prettiest of tablets. If its design is the result of the legal wrangling with Apple and to avoid iPad-copying accusations, we can only say that the fruity company doesn’t have a patent on minimalism, and tablets like the Asus Transformer Prime have proven it. 

Our Note isn’t helped by being white. First off white plastic generally tends to look just a tad more… plasticky than when it comes in black, and second, the black screen, white bezel and silver outer surround add too many disparate layers. So if you’re trying to decide which colour Galaxy Note 10.1 to go for, we’d recommend succumbing to the dark side.
Its speakers add yet another contrasting element, sporting chrome inset covers to either side rather than being subtly integrated – again, we suspect this is to set the Note apart from a certain iDevice. Of course, the mere fact that this tablet has proper stereo speakers puts it in a league of its own where audio is concerned, though we’ll get to that in a bit. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Feel and Build
Again, where feel is concerned, Samsung’s latest tablet just isn’t quite on the ball. Don’t get us wrong, the plastics feel solid and the slightly bulging silver surround helps to provide a decent grip. But the slick, glossy back isn’t particularly pleasant under the fingers and doesn’t give much traction. 

As a result, the Galaxy Note 10.1 just doesn’t lie as securely in the hand as other premium all-plastic tablets like the textured Transformer Pad 300, or of course the anodised aluminium back of the new iPad.
However, build quality is pretty good. The plastics used throughout are very solid except for the rear panel which flexes slightly if you press in on it, but nowhere else is there a hint of flex or creak in normal usage. Our only real concern here is that glossy plastics tend to scratch easily, but we found no evidence of this happening on our Note. 

At 595g, the Note 10.1 is also very light for a wider-than-most tablet with pen, beating out both the new iPad and lighter iPad 2.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Connectivity & Features
Design is not the only area where Samsung has taken an Apple-like approach in the past, as the connectivity on most of its Galaxy Tab range isn’t exactly stellar – and this approach has been maintained with the Galaxy Note 10.1.

As such, you won’t find a digital video output or USB port here. These can, of course, be added through adapters using the tablet’s proprietary docking connector, but since Samsung doesn’t include them in the box, these need to be purchased separately. Apple-tastic.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2
Where the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 does hold a major advantage over the iPad and some Android tablets like the Motorola Xoom 2, is that it has a microSD card slot to expand its storage. So you can add a 64GB card to the tablet’s native 16/32/64GB if you want enough space for you massive music collection.  

The microSD card slot is protected by a hinged flap, and is found next to the power button and volume rocker. Both of these are well positioned and responsive. On the slot’s right side, we have an IR transceiver and headphone jack. The Galaxy Note 10.1’s sides are left clear, while at the bottom you’ll find the Samsung docking connector in the middle and the S Pen slot to the right.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 3
Another advantage the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 has over most of the premium competition is that there’s actually a 3G version available to buy. This compares favourably to the likes of the Asus Transformer range, which still doesn’t offer a model with mobile broadband.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Smart Remote with IR
As mentioned, the Note 10.1 has an IR (infrared) emitter, which is a rare but very handy feature that allows you to use your tablet as a remote control for your television – and not just Samsung-branded ones, either. There are very few mainstream tabs on the market that offer this, so far comprising Samsung’s own Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and the Sony Tablet S

Paired with the pre-installed Smart Remote app, it makes for a great all-in-one solution that worked almost perfectly with the Panasonic TV we tried it with (we say almost because it wouldn’t turn it on, but every other function was flawless). A nice rival to the Logitech Harmony 1100, in other words. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Camera 2

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Cameras
As with most tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 has front and rear cameras. The front one is an HD, 1.9MP affair which gives decent quality that’s more than adequate for video chatting/conferencing, while the rear shooter sports 5MP and an LED flash. While this doesn’t produce the best pics we’ve seen from a tablet – that honour remains with the Asus Transformer Prime – it’s again good enough for general use. HD video, meanwhile, gets shot at up to 720p.

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