The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 officially goes on sale August 16 in the U.S. (that's today), and with it comes the return of the stylus in the S Pen. The Note 10.1 is not a iPad killer; it's an iPad alternative and it's being targeted at people interested in creating content — most notably design-heavy content — that Apple once aggressively catered to.
There's a lot like and a lot to dislike about the Note 10.1. Read on for our hands-on with Samsung's latest tablet.
What We Liked
Like an oversized Galaxy Note smartphone, the Note 10.1 does the stylus mostly right. Using Wacom technology, the S Pen definitely feels a lot more accurate than it did on the Note smartphone. Because it's pressure sensitive, it's the perfect companion for the compulsive doodler.
For Samsung to make the stylus such a focus, it needed to include a killer app. Installed on each Galaxy Note 10.1 is Adobe Photoshop Touch. From my brief time messing around with its plethora of menus, effects and features (layers, effects, adjustments and more are all there), the app certainly feels like a good justification to own the Note 10.1.
But the S Pen's accuracy is only part of the Note 10.1's appeal. Even more exciting than the S Pen is the dual-app multitasking mode. In this mode, two apps can be opened side-by-side. For example: an Internet browser window and the S Note app. It's multitasking almost along the exact same lines as Windows 7's "snap" feature. On top of the dual-app mode is the ability to open "pop-up" apps on top of apps that are already open (see it in the gallery below). With these pop-up apps, you can access something quick like a calculator or your music app without navigating away from your open app.
While not as dense — and thus, not as crisp — as the iPad 3's Retina display, the Note's 10.1-inch 1280x800 display resolution does a fine job of playing HD video and games. If there is one thing that makes the Note 10.1's display look bad, it's that the software icons look like they've been upscaled from a smartphone's; oftentimes you can see the remains of poor anti-aliasing and pixelation.
What We Didn't Like
From a hardware standpoint, the Note 10.1 has a bit of a chintzy feel to it. There is serious bend to the chassis and its plastic construction leaves much to be desired when held side-by-side with an iPad or Asus Transformer Prime. The rear's glossy surface easily picks up dirt, and the silver paint job along the sides scratches easily in the bag. (In fact, I tossed my review unit in my Timbuk2 messenger for all but an hour and it got some nicks on the corners.)
Aside from cosmetic quips, Samsung's skinned Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich also feels slightly laggy. You notice the drop in smoothness when you browse websites that require lots of scrolling, or when you need to hop quickly between homescreens or when you have lots of open apps running. It's unacceptable to see lag in a tablet in 2012. Samsung has plenty of experience working with different versions of Android, and typically makes it look good. What gives?
One of the Note 10.1's main features is a handwriting conversion mode that magically transforms ugly penmanship and doodles into typed text and shapes. In my tests, my squares, circles and triangles made the jump successfully, but my handwriting didn't. In fact, you really can't expect to convert an entire handwritten article into written text with the feature. It's something I tried to do for this story, but ultimately had to give up on.
Good For Workaholics, Pointless For Everyone Else
Samsung has four pillars for the Note 10.1: creativity, productivity, learning and performance. True, the Note 10.1 has an impressive 1.4GHz quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, as well as 16GB and 32GB of storage depending on the model, but it's not really all that different from its Galaxy Tab 2 10.0, aside from the stylus.
While I can see why some people such as students and graphic designers might appreciate the stylus and multitasking, I don't think the Note 10.1 is "life changing" or the device that will "redefine tablet culture" as the "new way" of going forward.
Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of room for tablets built mainly for fingers, and tablets built for fingers and styli to co-exist. The Note 10.1 just lacks polish. Maybe next year's model will change my mind.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 will be available at retails in the U.S. tomorrow for $500 (16GB Wi-Fi) and $550 (32GB Wi-Fi) in white and deep grey. Samsung says the Note 10.1 will get Android 4.1 Jellybean by the end of the year.
All photos taken by Raymond Wong for DVICE.