Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
When it comes to smartphones, Samsung makes some of the best. Its latest, the Galaxy S III is easily the best Android phone you can buy today.So why is it that the company that makes such great mobile phones can’t crank out a winning tablet? (Even Samsung has admitted its tablets aren’t selling very well.)
Well, here we go again. Samsung has a new tablet in its lineup, the Galaxy Note 10.1. It’s another 10-inch device that’s nearly identical in appearance to the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 that launched a few months ago. But the Note 10.1 is considered Samsung’s flagship tablet this year thanks to its zippy processor, special stylus, and ability to run two apps in a split screen at the same time.
But is that good enough? Does a pen and split screen apps make a tablet a better choice than the iPad or Nexus 7?
In short, I’m not sold on the Note 10.1. It sounds great on paper with its impressive specs (more power than the iPad!) and bundled software (free Photoshop!), but in the real-world experience is anything but.
Click here to check out photos of the Galaxy Note 10.1 >
Yes, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is thinner and lighter than the iPad, but that’s only because it’s covered in cheap plastic. The entire unit bends and creaks under your grip, so it doesn’t feel like the high-quality tablet Samsung claims it is.
There’s a slot in the lower right corner that lets you store the stylus, and the tablet automatically wakes from sleep mode when you do so. (If the tablet is already on, you get a popup menu of stylus-friendly apps that come bundled with the Note.)
The Note 10.1 seems to take a lot of design cues from the Galaxy S III – it even comes in similar colours, white and grayish blue – yet it still doesn’t feel like a quality product the way its smartphone counterpart does.
Samsung also decided to tack on front-facing speakers to the galaxy note, which adds unnecessary width to the bezel. I would’ve preferred the speakers on the back or the bottom of the device to keep things looking slick.
Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
For the most part, the Note 10.1 has the same software as the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, so I’m not going to waste too much time going over those features. Instead, I’ll focus on what sets the Note 10.1 apart: Its stylus and multitasking capabilities.
But first, a few basics. The Note 10.1 runs a slightly outdated version of Android called Ice Cream Sandwich, but Samsung says an upgrade to the current version, Jelly Bean, will be ready by the end of the year. And like all Android tablets, you won’t find a lot of apps optimised for a larger screen. Instead, you just get blown up versions of the smartphone apps, which can be awkward and difficult to use.
I’m also not crazy about the Note 10.1’s screen, which is disappointing since Samsung usually makes the best displays for mobile devices. (Again, look at the gorgeous display on the Galaxy S III.) The Note’s resolution is nowhere near as good as the iPad’s. And it’s very noticeable. Video looks dull. App icons look pixelated. It’s simply not the performance I expected from a Samsung device. Bummer.
Let’s move on to the stylus, which Samsung calls the S Pen. Samsung will be the first to tell you that this isn’t your typical stylus like those third-party ones you see for other tablets. In this case, the Note’s screen communicates with the S Pen when it’s a few millimeters away. It can also recognise more than 1,000 different pressure points, which developers can take advantage of when making apps for the Note.
It’s a really neat concept, save for one glaring flaw: It doesn’t feel natural. There’s a very noticeable lag from the time you move the stylus across the screen and your marking appears. It’s only a fraction of a second, but it’s bad enough to really bug you. It’s a lot like trying to sign your name on one of those credit card pads at the supermarket. The Note’s software does try to help you out with a cool feature that will convert your handwriting to text, but I still find it easier to just tap away at the on-screen keyboard.
I am a fan of the Note’s split screen multitasking feature, and it’s something I hope other tablet makers consider adding too. When you have two apps open, you can copy and paste content between them. It’s also very handy to simply monitor your email while web browsing. Unfortunately, only a handful of apps like email, web browsing, and Polaris Office work in split screen mode, so you’re still pretty limited.
Should You Buy It?
I’ll give Samsung credit where credit is due here. It priced the Note 10.1 pretty well. You can get the 16 GB model for $499 (same as the cheapest third generation iPad) and the 32 GB for $549 ($50 cheaper than the comparable iPad). Both models are Wi-Fi only.
But pricing aside, I’m just not a fan of the Galaxy Note 10.1. We’re entering the era of touch and voice-based computing, but Samsung’s Note series seems to want to bring us back to the late 90s with stylus inputs. That just feels wrong to me. I was hoping for more.