Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (Quad-core Processor 1.4GHz; 10.1-inch display) by Vincent Chang | 6 August 2012 4:00pm SGT

When we first saw the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, it resembled the company's Galaxy Tab 10.1 slate, but with a stylus. It felt like a concept device where engineers were told to slap something together using existing parts and make it work--there wasn't even a slot to keep the stylus.

Samsung has since gone back to the drawing board, and the Galaxy Note 10.1, that will launch this month, looks nothing like that early version. Instead, it sports a similar design as the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. And you can store the stylus within the tablet.

The redesigned Note 10.1 resembles the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. There's no way you'll ever mistake it for an iPad this time round.



For the Galaxy Note 10.1, it's all about the stylus or the S-Pen as the company calls it. It's hidden within the device on the bottom right and the stylus was quite secure. While Samsung refused to confirm if the built-in digitizer is based on Wacom's technology, the company did reveal that it supports up to 256 levels of pressure sensitivity.

Samsung's custom S Note app, designed to take advantage of this input method, has been improved with a Formula Match feature that the company claims is better at recognizing and converting handwritten formulas. It also taps directly into Wolfram Alpha's database if you need more information about the formula. This makes it even more useful for students as a learning tool.

Users can configure a specific stylus-optimized app to launch automatically once the tablet detects that the S-Pen has been removed from its slot. The company has also supplemented its own apps by bundling Adobe's Photoshop Touch app.

Of course, the biggest difference from the 5.3-inch Note is simply the screen size--the larger canvas is so much more conducive for pen inputs, be it an idle doodle or taking notes at a meeting.

The other addition on the Note 10.1 is the "Multiscreen" feature, where certain apps can run side-by-side in a windowed mode. It works pretty well on a 10.1-inch tablet, which makes you wonder why it hasn't been done before. It certainly gives the device a multitasking dimension that isn't native to the Android platform. The downside is that the list of supported apps is rather short at the moment.

Besides, the Note 10.1 only has a couple of months before Windows RT slates with this native feature become available.

The tablet comes with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) installed, though Samsung's TouchWiz interface is layered on top as usual. For those who are used to Samsung's blend of colorful icons and proprietary apps, the Galaxy Note 10.1 will seem very familiar.

Everything that was great about Samsung's flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S III, has been ported over to the Note 10.1. This means that you'll get a fast quad-core 1.4GHz Exynos processor along with 2GB of RAM. You can even make phone calls and send short text messages on this slate. Apps opened quickly and the tablet was responsive during our short time with it.

Even some of the new software features on the S III are on the Note 10.1. Samsung Smart Stay is supported--this app uses the front-facing camera (the Note has a 1.9-megapixel version, along with a 5-megapixel rear shooter) to detect if the user is still looking at the screen and hence keeps the screen bright. Pop Up Play, which plays videos in a small window while allowing users to run other apps at the same time, is another. It even gets a slight tweak on the Note as you can now adjust the size of the video.

Short of upgrading the Note to Jelly Bean--Samsung couldn't provide a timeline for such an update--we don't see how the company could further improve the performance.

At 8.9mm thick and weighing around 600g for the 3G version (the Wi-Fi model is only 3 grams lighter), this tablet is slightly heavier than many competing Android slates. The 7,000mAh battery onboard probably contributed to this heft, though the Note 10.1 still weighs less than the Apple iPad.

With the iPad and other recent tablets sporting high-resolution displays, the 1,280 x 800-pixel resolution on the Note 10.1 isn't as competitive. Don't get us wrong, this screen resolution is still more than adequate for most users and the viewing angles seemed perfectly fine for a tablet.

Samsung has yet to divulge the retail prices for the device, though we were told that it won't come cheap. Given that previous attempts at stylus-toting slates have been quite pricey, the HTC Flyer was priced at around S$1,000, we believe that it won't just have a slight premium over the typical Android slate. An online retailer has even listed the Note 10.1 for preorders at a whopping US$750.

The original Galaxy Note sold millions despite its relatively large screen and higher price, but it was still a smartphone that is arguably more essential than a tablet. Given that no Android tablets of its size could be deemed a success, the Note may find it rather more difficult to replicate its smartphone predecessor. It's definitely not going to be an impulse buy like an inexpensive 7-inch Android tablet.

The Note's focus on improving productivity on the tablet form factor may appeal to some users who can't wait for Windows RT, though its stylus will likely be the biggest draw.

Samsung told us to expect both the Wi-Fi-only and the 3G versions sometime this month globally--it also plans to launch an LTE version later this year.

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