- Excellent pen-based features
- Large screen that's easy to work with
- Good battery life
- Robust build
- Not a complete notebook replacement
- Slow to charge battery
- Relatively heavy
Tablets are increasingly popular in the workplace, and there's a huge prize waiting for the manufacturer that comes up with a device that can entirely replace your workaday notebook. That prize isn't won by Samsung with its Android-based Galaxy NotePRO 12.2, but with its business-focussed tweaks and pen input this tablet delivers a compelling glimpse of a future that could be built around tablet-based working.
The Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 is one large tablet, sporting a 12.2-inch screen (the clue is in the name). When you add in the screen bezel, this device has a footprint not dissimilar to that of an average ultrabook. But this is no notebook: it's thin and, although heavy for a tablet, considerably lighter than any any 12-inch laptop, measuring 204mm by 295.6mm by 7.95mm and weighing 750g.
Two points stand out from these measurements. One is that the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 is remarkably thin. Apple's 9.7-inch, a key comparator for the NotePRO 12.2, has a smaller footprint and is much lighter at 478g, but is only a shade thinner at 7.5mm.
The other notable point is that 750g is a lot of weight to hold — a tablet of this size would need to be cradled in the crook of an arm rather than held in one hand. The alternative use case, of course, is to use it on desk, in a dock of some sort — although none is supplied by Samsung.
Samsung has maintained its design convention of a physical home button and two softkeys. These are located beneath the screen, when held in landscape orientation. Unlike with smaller 7-inch or 8-inch tablets, you have absolutely no chance of getting to these with one-handed use.
The same goes for the power and volume buttons, which sit on the top edge: we can manage these on our Nexus 7 one-handed, but it's out of the question here. What all this boils down to is a tablet whose usage modes will be very different from the norm.
Like other Galaxy Notes, the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 has an S Pen stylus. Samsung does stylus-based input better than any competitor, and at this screen size the stylus is more usable than on any previous Note device. It's a good way to interact with a screen that is, after all, only slightly smaller than an A4 sheet of paper.
The on-screen keyboard is also streets ahead of anything we've previously used on a tablet. The extra width provided by the 12.2-inch screen in landscape mode allowed us to touch type with perfect accuracy and relatively high speed. The separate number row and traditional layout with Caps Lock, Shift, Tab and so on all in place is a real advantage. Things are a little more squeezed in portrait mode of course.
The 2,560-by-1,600-pixel display is superb. It doesn't quite match the iPad Air in either pixel density (247ppi versus 264ppi) or clarity, but is impressive nonetheless. Text rendering is stunningly bright, clear and sharp — it's much better for everyday document reading, editing and creation than many tablets we've used. The screen uses TFT LCD rather than AMOLED technology, and that's a wise choice: the flatter appearance of LCD suits this screen well. Viewing angles are excellent, too.
Samsung has been criticised for building even its high-end tablets with shiny plastic backs. The back of the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 is still made of plastic, but, like the, it has a faux leather look and a rubberised finish that's more grippy than glossy plastic. It picks up finger grease too readily for our liking and has risible fake stitching around the edges.
Overall, though, the build quality is very respectable. The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 feels tough enough for life on the move.
Samsung has given the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 some state-of-the-art specifications, notably a 1.9GHz Samsung Exynos 5 Octa processor supported by 3GB of RAM. That's eight cores working away to keep the device speeding along, and they deliver impressive performance. There's an LTE version of this tablet, which runs on a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC instead.
Wi-Fi support includes the latest dual-band (2.4/5GHz) 802.11ac, which is still something of a rarity on tablets. There's a Micro-USB connector that supports MHL, so you can send the screen's contents to any HDMI-compliant monitor. Samsung has opted for Micro-USB 3.0, which caters for fast data transfer but has a longer connector than usual. You can charge the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 via a standard Micro-USB cable too — charge times are slow through the Micro-USB 3.0 cable and very slow via standard Micro-USB.
A MicroSD card slot, protected by a covered flap, can be used to augment the 32GB of internal storage, of which 25.6GB is free. There are two cameras — 8 megapixels on the back, 2 megapixels on the front — plus an infrared port on the top edge.
The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 lends itself well to delivering presentations to groups thanks to its large screen. However, sound quality through the stereo speakers is disappointing, with way too much treble and not enough bass. There's nothing wrong with volume, which goes loud enough to satisfy a group in a typical-size meeting room.
The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 is among a relatively small group of devices to run Android 4.4 (KitKat). As is Samsung's way, Android has been seriously tweaked using the TouchWiz interface. There's something of a Windows 8 look to some parts of the UI. Samsung's stock motion- and gesture-based features such as covering the screen with your palm to mute sound are here. There are also Smartscreen features such as Smart Stay — keeping the screen on while you're looking at it regardless of the timeout settings.
Visual and user interface tweaks include a pair of home screens that can contain news feeds, diary information, app shortcuts and more. The concept is not unlike HTC's BlinkFeed and, irritatingly, just like BlinkFeed, you can't disable it. The closest you can get is to remove all components bar one.
The Home Screen has been redesigned slightly to make it more ergonomic to use. You can find the apps tray and Google Search via tappable icons at the bottom of the home screen. The pull-down notification panel has been tweaked. Our screenshot shows the toggle buttons that can be easily customised by tapping the pencil icon. Beneath these are displayed your standard messaging notifications.
Multitasking capability has been augmented: previous devices allow you to run two apps at once, but the NotePRO 12.2's bigger screen area allows Samsung to double that to four. You can vary the relative sizes of each screen quadrant, and a mini-menu can be called up that allows you to perform various actions on the views. Not all apps can be viewed in Multi Window mode, but the ability to view a website and make notes on it, or compose an email while looking at the document to which it relates, for example, can be very useful.
The S Pen stylus that's characteristic of the Note range lives in a slot on the chassis, and it remains the best implementation of stylus-based input on any tablet.
When you take the stylus out of its housing, the Air Command menu pops up providing access to key features. You can take screen grabs, write notes, draw an area on-screen and open one of several quick-access apps into it (the calculator is very useful), and fire up Action Memo for taking quick notes. If you're using the keyboard to type text, a text entry button lets you switch to the stylus for handwriting recognition or drawing. There are also some stylus-friendly apps on-board, and plenty more you can download. We found the handwriting recognition to be very accurate.
Of direct benefit to business users will be the KNOX security application and Samsung's eMeeting app, which allows you to connect with other people and whiteboard.
The large screen and powerful processor take their toll on the NotePRO's 9,500mAH battery, which Samsung rates as good for 13 hours of internet usage. We generally got a working day's-worth of mainstream usage, but if you add some video viewing on the commute or heavy gaming sessions, you'll clearly drain the battery quicker than when simply web browsing, doing email and working with documents. Beware of the slow charge times we mentioned earlier.
At the start of this review we said the Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 offers a glimpse of a future where tablet-based working is the norm. It's certainly the closest we've seen to a tablet that could see us through a working day without recourse to a notebook. But there's still a way to go.
For a start, there's clearly a lot less storage capacity here than you would find on a notebook. For some people this, and the absence of on-board Ethernet and a dedicated docking station, will be a deal-breaker. A full-sized USB port would be appreciated, making it easy to use sticks and even external hard drives if necessary. Samsung could also have provided a secondary Home button on one of the edges to allow for more flexible use. And the speakers definitely need attention.
The bottom line is that, compelling though the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 is, £649 (inc. VAT; £541 ex. VAT) will buy you a well-appointed notebook that offers more capability for the average mobile professional.