With all the attention in the Apple versus Samsung war of late centring on the latter’s staggering $1 billion patent suit loss it’s good to finally see some more action where it matters: the products.
Samsung’s latest run at creating an iPad killer is this spin-off from its 5.3in ‘phablet’ Galaxy Note and it’s a fairly competent 10.1in offering with some good unique features. Under the bonnet it’s arguably the most powerful Android tablet yet: it’s equipped with the same processor as Samsung’s Galaxy S III (the 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos 4412) plus 2GB of RAM — or twice that of any other 10in tablet — and either 16 or 32GB of internal storage. What this means in practice is that Android 4.0 flies along very smoothly and the Note 10.1 can handle memory-hungry tasks with aplomb like having lots of tabs open in the browser or editing images with the included Photoshop Touch app.
The PLS screen (using Samsung’s new Plane to Line Switching tech) gives a remarkably clean and even image but for better or worse it isn’t quite as vibrant (or should that be fluoro?) as AMOLED. It’s also still only 1280 x 800 pixels unlike the 1920 x 1200 offered in the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T. There’s also an internal microSD expansion slot for adding more storage but sadly no HDMI output built in (you’ll need to pony up for an additional dongle to add it).
What makes this device a ‘Note’ as opposed to a Galaxy Tab is the inclusion of a comfortably-sized stylus and a handful of pen-driven apps. There’s a sheath for stashing it in the base and using it is largely optional — you can still drive most apps with just your fingers although the pen can certainly be useful for productivity tasks. If you’re of an artistic bent for example it’s responsive enough for sketching with and you can take handwritten notes using specific apps. It’s also great if you need more precision — selecting small cells in spreadsheets is easier with a stylus than your finger. Samsung’s note-taking app S Note is also pretty fabulous at translating handwritten notes into typed text and it can even understand and translate complex mathematical formulas.
We tested the Note 10.1 across our usual gamut of productivity and entertainment tasks including writing this review gaming watching movies reading news and surfing the web and it handled most tasks with reasonable panache. Samsung still needs to work on some areas however. For example while the Note’s design is certainly friendly physically it doesn’t have the robust feel of Apple’s devices with the lack of any metal in the chassis being one very clear differentiator. It’s not that it feels weak per se — it’s quite rigid when flexed — but overall its plastic casing doesn’t feel as damage-resistant as an iPad. The keyboard isn’t as responsive as the iPad’s – it can occasionally miss keystrokes during intensive fast typing sessions.
Battery life with our test unit (a Wi-Fi model with 16GB of storage) was admirable. Were able to get around 9-10 hours of screen-on time between charges from the 7000mAh battery across a week of testing. Expect slightly higher idle drain if you opt for the cell radio-equipped (3G/HSPA+) model which should hopefully be out by the time you read this.
Samsung does have a reasonably winning tablet with the Note 10.1 with some genuinely useful and unique features that make it better than average for productivity tasks. It’s not quite an iPad killer; in particular that $589 RRP is still a touch higher than we’d like especially considering the equivalent iPad is $50 cheaper. If you’re dead set against the iPad this is undeniably Samsung’s best Android tablet yet.
Pros : Fast internals unique and useful features good screen microSD slot.
Cons : No HDMI out without adapter screen not Full HD plastic chassis.
Verdict : 8 out of 10. Highly recommended.
Available from Samsung Price $589 (16GB Wi-Fi).