Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 £399.99
17th Aug 2012 | 15:37
A closer look at the now quad-core tablet from Korea
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is here: the latest high-profile tablet from the Korean tech giant, and one that sits across many intersections of what's fast becoming a complex Samsung family tree. While the Galaxy tag is a given for any Samsung mobile device nowadays, the Note range is also now seemingly becoming a separate line of its own.
As with the original Samsung Galaxy Note - a smartphone that helped popularise the awful term 'phablet' because of its large display - the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 comes rocking an S-Pen: Samsung's stylish name for its stylus.
We had a quick go on the super-sized Note, which you can see in our video:
So, in the confusing Galaxy of Samsung devices - where Y means Young, M means Magical, Pro means there's a physical keyboard and Plus means an upgrade - the Note moniker is pretty straightforward. It means you can, if you want, make use of a stylus.
However, the term Note is not reserved for large-screened smartphones - the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a tablet, after all.
But with Samsung already having just launched a 10.1-inch tablet into the market - the similarly named and similar-looking Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 - you'd be forgiven for scratching your head at this point (whether you use a stylus to do this is your choice).
So the Note tag is now a label associated with premium mobile devices and Tab, despite its use on the original (and expensive) Samsung 7-inch and 10-inch tablets, now appears to indicate a more affordable entity.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1's spec sheet blows the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1's out of the water, you see, with a quad-core 1.4GHz processor (as opposed to a 1GHz dual-core one) and double the RAM.
On the flip side, it will also do your bank balance more damage. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 costs £399 in the UK or $499.99 in the US for the Wi-Fi only version, £500 (around $790 - cellular tablet price not announced in the US yet) if you want 3G coverage as well - both offering 16GB of storage. A 32GB version is available in the US for $549.99 (around £350).
That's a price tag that, while cheaper than the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, makes the new Note a bit more expensive than the quad-core duo that have come out of Taiwan recently - the Asus Transformer Pad 300 and the Acer Iconia Tab A510.
And while we've resisted to use the 'i' word up until now, it's also impossible not to mention that this is a price point that puts the Galaxy Note 10.1 directly up against Apple's latest iPad (16GB version).
The Android vs iOS argument is not one we're going to venture into here, but it's pretty difficult to ignore the fact that you can have the world's most popular tablet - complete with its incredible Retina display - for the same price as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.
However, should you dare to be different, read on...
We mentioned the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1's striking similarities to the recently unveiled Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 in our introduction, and there's no doubt that on first glance they appear almost identical.
The truth is that the Note's dimensions are a little bit different, at 262 x 180 x 8.9mm, and it's a tiny bit heavier, at 597g. Despite the slightly different tale of the tape, though, there's no escaping the fact that we're dealing with a white plastic tablet, complete with silver trim and front-facing twin speaker grills.
And while the Pearl White finish is somewhat aesthetically pleasing (a Pearl Grey offering is also available), there's no disguising the slightly disappointing design. We're not saying the build quality is anywhere below par, but we'd have much preferred an aluminium chassis, or at least a textured plastic or rubber.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S3, the white finish looks nice from afar but up close it's a tad too flexible for our liking, and it you'll find it's covered with fingerprints and smudges after only a short play - a crime the silver mock-metal trim is also guilty of.
Talking of that silver trim and, front-facing, it is penetrated on the top side edges by the dual stereo speaker setup. This is a feature that, once again, was also part of the Tab 2 10.1's design, but it's one that we're fond of, since it produces a much more natural audio experience.
The port and button action is all found across the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1's top edge. From left to right you'll find the power button, the volume rocker, a microSD (flap-covered port), an infrared receiver and a 3.5mm headphone jack. There's a distinct lack of an HDMI port, so you'll need a USB adaptor for wired HD TV action.
On the bottom are the little slot where the S-Pen slots into - which we'll come back to later - and the Micro USB port that is used for disk mounting and charging.
The silver trim curves into the front edge nicely, although there is a noticeable lip where the silver reaches the white bezel. There's also a distinct black trim around the LCD display, and we can't help but think that Samsung could have done a better job of seamlessly integrating the panel into the design.
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And yes, you read that correctly - it's an LCD display. A TFT one, in fact, with an awfully underwhelming 1280 x 800 display. Yes, we know that's still an HD display, but in a tablet arena now being dominated by Full HD 1080p displays (not to mention the iPad's 2048 x 1536 display), and Samsung being a display panel specialist, we can't help but feel a little short-changed. The original 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note boasted a Super AMOLED display, after all.
Grumbles aside, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 still has a vibrant display with great viewing angles, and more than does the job of making HD footage stand out. It just lacks that wow factor that we've come to expect from Samsung.
The processor onboard is a 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos one, backed up by 2GB of RAM. While rivals go down the Nvidia Tegra 3 route for their quad-core engine rooms, Samsung is able to keep things in-house.
The huge RAM option is a nice first for an Android tablet as well - comfortably blowing the 1GB Transformer Pad Infinity, as well as the iPad, out of the water in this respect.
As mentioned, the onboard storage is 16GB, and this is expandable by up to 64GB more by using the microSD slot. Samsung mentions 32GB and 64GB options on its website, but there's no word of these versions landing in the UK yet.
We had no issue transferring stuff from our microSD card to the internal storage, or running digital media directly from it. Our review model was the Wi-Fi-only version, although for £100 (around $155) more, 3G connectivity (HSPA+ 21Mbps 850/900/1900/2100, EDGE/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900) is available.
Weighing a shade under 600g, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is light enough to hold, even for long periods of time, and the curved, shiny design makes it pleasing in the hand. There are no physical buttons up top - long gone are the days of an Android home button (despite Samsung still putting one on its flagship smartphone).
The battery is a 7,000mAh Li-on one - we'll let you know later on how we got on with it.
Interface and performance
There's no Android 4.1 Jelly Bean action on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, we're afraid - just a heavily modified version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The alteration comes courtesy of Samsung's TouchWiz UI, which will either delight or depress you, depending on your viewpoint.
Personally, we like Samsung's Android overlay, and we were mightily impressed with the raft of new tablet features afforded to the Galaxy Note 10.1. Obviously, the S-Pen control option is at the forefront of the tablet's existence, but we'll come back to that, since there are a couple of nifty features we'd like to deal with first.
The first of these is the snazzy split-screen setup, which enables you to run two apps side by side when the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is in landscape mode, or one on top of the other in portrait mode.
Not only does this enable you to get on with two things at once (with speedy multitasking taken care of by the healthy 2GB of RAM), there are also a couple of funky actions onboard to make your life easier. You can drag and drop media from one app to the other in a fancy Mac-like copy and paste action, and you can switch the app positions around at any time.
Currently, only certain apps are afforded an invite to the split-screen party (S-Pen, the web browser, video player, photo gallery and Samsung's email client) but we're hoping the likes of Twitter and Gmail are added to the guest-list soon.
Another multitasking treat on the tablet is the pop-out video player - similar to the one we saw on the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone. This enables you to play back video in a pop-out, windowless, player so you can view footage while getting on with other stuff. You can also resize and move the viewing window, so it's easy to position it appropriately for whatever other apps you're using.
In terms of the S-Pen, it works just like your finger - albeit a skinnier, slightly more accurate one. It's powered by stylus specialist Wacom, and Samsung states that it offers 1,024 degrees of pressure sensitivity. It's not just for note-taking or drawing, either - combine a long press with a tap of its side button, for example, and you'll take a screenshot. Just removing the S-Pen from its slot brings up a sidebar of S-Pen friendly apps.
Using S Note, for example, there's a handwriting recognition tool, and other S-Pen delights such as shape match and formula match, which both work well.
Thanks to the quad-core CPU, app loading is quick and response times are great - we noticed hardly any lag when switching between programs. Menus appear quickly and there's no issue with unrecognised touches or swipes.
The keyboard is a customised Samsung one with a Swype-like option onboard as well. The spacing of the keys is great, and there's a nice "pinch to change" option that enables you to switch between a standard QWERTY layout, a floating keypad or a split keyboard. The auto-correct engine could be a tad annoying at times, but this isn't a problem that's exclusive to Android, and it can be switched off.
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In terms of home screens, there a five on offer - each of which can be loaded with app icons, shortcuts, widgets and wallpapers as you see fit. You simply need to press and hold and you're presented with a gallery of customisation options. The lock screen features the same "human touch" water effect that we saw on the Samsung Galaxy S3 - complete with an array of shortcuts to jump straight into apps.
The boot-up time is pretty quick, at around 25 seconds - on a par with similarly specified Android tablets - and is punctuated with neon blue Samsung logos and the occasional odd sound.
Battery life and benchmarks
Battery life on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is OK - we managed around five hours of intensive punishment (streaming and looping an HD video on full brightness). This equates to around six to seven hour of regular use.
The battery onboard is a 7,000mAh Li-ion one. One minor quibble is that the battery takes an age to charge. Overnight seemed to be the only way to hit the magic 100 per cent.
When it came to benchmark scores, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 scored well above the Nvidia Tegra 3 mid-range posse of the Toshiba AT300, the Asus Transformer Pad 300 and the Acer Iconia Tab A510 proving that the Exynos processor, combined with that 2GB of RAM, is packing quite a heavy punch.
Antutu - 12,727
SunSpider - 1,230.4
PeaceKeeper - 666
Browser and media
Samsung has stuck a wealth of apps onto the Galaxy Note 10.1 but has sadly omitted a key one from its latest tablet - Chrome. The browser of choice for most Android enthusiasts is sadly lacking out of the box; a trip to the Google Play emporium (once known as the Android Market) is required if you want Google's flagship web platform.
Instead, the default browser is the standard Android one. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, supporting as it does things such as text reflow, text resizing, inverted rendering, pinch to zoom, offline reading and Flash support (you will need to visit Google Play to grab the latest version first, however).
Whatever browser you choose (we like Dolphin HD and Opera, as well as the Android flavour of Chrome) zoomed pages look great on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and navigation across the web was a smooth affair with a minimal fuss caused by even the most demanding of pages.
The 2GB of RAM, along with the quad-core CPU, means that multi-tab browsing is also a cinch for the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. Page load times were quick, although we only ever used a strong, fast, Wi-Fi connection in testing.
Movies, music and books
As well as the Google Play store, Samsung has also pre-loaded its Music Hub, Video Hub, Learning Hub up for your viewing and listening pleasure. But while these make for nice looking widgets on your Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1's home screens, populated with album covers and movie posters, you're only likely to use them if you haven't already got your own digital media accounts in place.
Of course, your Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 will enable you to stream movies using Netflix, music using Spotify, and so on.
In terms of stored music, the pre-installed Music Player is a fairly standard affair, with all the usual bells and whistles that you'd expect (album artwork, playlists, shuffle mode) along with a couple of funky extras - namely a decent set of EQ options and 'Music Square', which is a playlist generator based on moods.
The standard video player handles an array of file types out of the box, including WMV, MP4 and MKV and, for formats not supported, Google Play has a multitude of free video players such as MoboPlayer, or MX Video Player, which can handle pretty much any video format you throw at them. And don't forget, videos can be popped out and watched while using other apps.
HD video, even 1080p resolution footage, is handled with ease and is stutter free. The sound from the stereo speakers is pretty good, but you'll want to use your headphones or some speakers for a proper movie or music session.
Getting your media onto the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is straightforward, since the tablet supports drag and drop functionality with your PC. You can, of course, load up a microSD card with media and pop that in as well.
Google would prefer, however, that you part with your money and load up on digital goodies from Google Play, which offers movie rentals from 99p (new releases cost around £3.49, or £4.49 for HD titles) and electronic books. The music arm of Google Play isn't yet functional in the UK, however.
There's no micro HDMI onboard, but you can beam up action to your big screen TV using Samsung's AllShare functionality. You will need a Samsung TV or Blu-ray player for this to work, though.
One thing that isn't so Samsung-specific is the Smart Remote app, which enables you to control your TV, Blu-ray player, stereo system or set top box using your Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. It's what the infrared receiver on the top is for. Simply find your brand, match it up and away you go. There's no support for UK Sky boxes at the moment, unfortunately, but we had it playing nicely with our Samsung TV and our Apple TV.
Apps and games
When you first switch on your Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 you'll see that it's pre-loaded with all of the native Google applications such as Google Play, Gmail, Google Maps, People, Google+ and Talk.
Samsung has also seen fit to pre-install a number of its own apps that it thinks does Google's job better. You'll find ChatOn, Email, S Note, S Planner, S Suggest and Samsung Apps. None of these offerings are outstandingly brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, although S Note will come in handy with your S-Pen.
Also pre-loaded are AllShare Play, Crayon Physics, Dropbox, Games Hub, Learning Hub, Music Hub, Polaris Office, Smart Remote and Video Hub. Which ones of these you enjoy or delete are entirely up to you - although it's well worth syncing up your Dropbox account, even if only for the 50GB of free cloud storage for two years.
In order to get the most out of your Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, you'll be making numerous visits to Google Play up with all the latest must-have apps and games. You can download and install APK files if you wish, but we'd recommend keeping within Google's app portfolio, or at least using reputable third-party app stores.
Samsung also highlights some of its favourite apps through the S Suggest portal, and the Game Hub is constantly updated with titles that the company thinks that you might like.
Getting your game on with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is great, not just because of the quick performance of the quad-core processor, but because the tablet is light and easy to hold.
This means both onscreen-controlled games and accelerometer-based titles are suitable, and we didn't experience any lag, even with more demanding titles.
Perhaps the killer app of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 setup is the inclusion of Adobe Photoshop Touch out of the box. By combining this premium app (which usually costs £6.99) with the S-Pen, you could be knocking up works of arts in the comfort of your living room in no time.
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Look, nobody in their right mind would base their tablet buying decision on the quality of the camera onboard; for a start you'll look like a bit of an idiot if you use a 10-inch slate as a camera when you're out and about and, ultimately, the quality of the image and videos captured - despite what the spec sheet says - is usually pretty atrocious.
Saying that, the quality of the 5-megapixel camera (complete with LED flash) on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is surprisingly good. It's no compact camera replacement, that's for sure, and it's nowhere near on the brilliant level of the top smartphones (such as its Galaxy S3 brethren) but it's a marked improvement on its tablet rivals.
The usual noise, grain and blur associated with tablet photography is kept to a minimum on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, and there are plenty of different shooting modes on the custom Samsung camera UI to get excited about. We particularly liked the Cartoon mode.
Focusing is auto or macro, you can mess around with the exposure, alter the white balance, change the ISO, set the scene mode and much more. In short, it's a Samsung smartphone quality setup on a tablet, even if the images aren't quite up to the same level.
It is nice that you can customise the icons that appear on the sidebar as well, making it easy for you to play around with the settings that you like to change the most with ease.
Despite it being a dank day, the image produced was surprisingly sharp.
By tweaking the settings, it is possible to get a decent shot - even with the elements against you.
Not a very well lit room here, and the result is a bit of over exposure and some blurriness.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1's flash helps, but it's not ideal.
The macro mode resulted in an incredibly sharp image for a close-up subject.
There are some funky shooting modes on offer on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, and also the option to directly share using Wi-Fi Direct.
Videos on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 are shot in 720p HD, and aren't as impressive as the still shots. They suffer from a haziness that all tablets seem susceptible too, and moving images are a problem in terms of autofocusing. You do, like the stills aspect, get an array of shooting modes to choose from, though.
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The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a top-tier entrant into to the ever-expanding Android tablet market that its makers will hope fares well against the likes of the Asus Transformer range, the Toshiba AT300 and Acer's Iconia Tabs.
However, it comes at a more premium price tag than some of its rivals, with only the flagship Asus Transformer Prime Infinity costing more in the big-screen tablet arena. And crucially, given Samsung's huge rivalry with Apple, it's a tablet that squares up directly against the new iPad in terms of cost.
It's USP - the S-Pen - may win some fandroids over, though, and there are plenty of standout software tweaks to get excited about.
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We're massive fans of a native experience, and we're of the opinion that if you're going to skin Google's mobile platform then you should do it comprehensively - don't just make small changes here and there for the sake of it. Alterations should enhance, or at least differentiate, the experience.
Luckily, Samsung seems to have this philosophy too, and the TouchWiz UI onboard the Galaxy Note 10.1 offers some fantastic software options, such as the split-screen app viewing, the picture-out video playback and, of course, the S-Pen control.
The quad-core Exynos processor, combined with 2GB of RAM, also means that the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 doesn't disappoint when it comes to speed and performance. Apps are quick to load, media playback is stutter-free and multitasking is done with ease.
The design is strikingly similar to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 - a far more budget-friendly tablet - which is a shame. It's a shame because, while the price tag is the same, the design of the Galaxy Note 10.1 is nowhere near on a par with the new iPad.
And while the quad-core grunt and healthy RAM offering outdoes its Cupertino-based rival, the display lacks the wow factor of Apple's incredible Retina screen.
Also, despite us praising the TouchWiz interface, there is a hint of overkill when it comes to Samsung's customisations. Google produces perfectly good (nay, brilliant) email and calendar apps, so it's a pity that Samsung continues to force feed us its own variations.
Let us get the obvious out of the way first - no, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is not an iPad killer. Despite being priced-up identically, Apple's 10-inch tablet easily comes out top.
But that's not necessarily a decisive blow for the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. Not everyone buys into Apple's walled ecosystem, after all - many people are looking for an Android adventure. And in this sense, the Note 10.1 doesn't disappoint.
Its S-Pen control setup is brilliantly intuitive, especially when combined with arty apps such as Photoshop Touch, and Samsung has made some great alterations to Google's mobile OS.
Split-screen app viewing works particularly well on a tablet, and the pop-out video window is great for casual viewing when you need to also check your emails or get stuff done on the web.
And while we've lamented the fact that the design is no better than the more affordable Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, it's still not a bad-looking tablet. And, let's be frank, it at least stands out from the vast array of black tablet clones that are already available.
Ultimately, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a step up for Samsung, and is the best tablet to land from the Korean giant since the original Galaxy Tab 10.1 landed in 2011. It's super-speedy thanks to the quad-core CPU, and multitasking is a breeze thanks to the generous memory onboard.
The price is perhaps a bit more than we would have liked, and it's perhaps not the game-changer that we were secretly hoping Samsung had up its sleeve, but it's still a great 10-inch tablet with a stylish-twist (or should that be stylus-twist?).