The monochrome, sunlight-readable displays remain largely synonymous with e-readers, but they're moving into other devices large and small.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
We found Samsung's 2011an odd device: it was unwieldy for everyday use as a phone thanks to its 5.3in. screen, and its clever S Pen input showed promise but didn't quite deliver enough.
The 10.1in. Galaxy Note 10.1 also supports stylus input, and sits in direct competition with Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 devices — although it's more expensive. The Wi-Fi only Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 currently sells for £264 (ex. VAT) SIM-free, while the Wi-Fi and 3G version costs £349 (ex. VAT). The equivalent Galaxy Note 10.1 models cost £335 and £420 (ex. VAT) respectively.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 is very similar in appearance to the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. The distinctive pair of speaker grilles on the front are a trademark, and their location is welcome since it means you can't accidently cover them with your hands.
Our review sample's white screen bezel (there's also a grey version) has silver (dark grey on the other version) edging that extends into the back to frame the 5-megapixel rear camera. The majority of the backplate is white (or grey), very shiny and probably prone to scratching — although it doesn't attract fingerprints. It flexes a little when pressed, but not enough to cause real concern.
The general look and feel doesn't match the quality of the third-generation iPad or Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, for example, although it's superior to that of low-end tablets. Considering the price of the Galaxy Note 10.1, we expect better.
The 10.1in. screen delivers good viewing angles and is bright enough, but the resolution, at 1,280 by 800 pixels or 149 pixels per inch (ppi), is disappointing. Asus manages 1,920 by 1,200 (224ppi) on its Transformer Pad Infinity, while Apple delivers 2,048 by 1,536 pixels in a 9.7in. screen (264ppi) on the third-generation iPad. Samsung's flagship smartphone, the, delivers a similar resolution — 1,280 by 720 pixels — in a much smaller 4.8in. screen, giving more than double pixel the density at 306ppi (but not as high as the iPhone 5's 326ppi — 640 by 1,136 pixels in a 4in. screen).
The Galaxy Note 10.1 weighs 597g for the Wi-Fi only version and 600g for the Wi-Fi+3G option; it's a shade heavier than the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and significantly lighter than the latest iPad, which weighs 652g (Wi-Fi) or 662g (Wi-Fi+3G).
The Galaxy Note 10.1 runs on a 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos 4410 processor supported by 2GB of RAM — this is the first time we've seen more than 1GB of RAM in any tablet or smartphone. Dual-band (802.11a/b/g/n) Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 are integrated as standard, and you can have 3G mobile broadband as an option. There is 16GB of internal storage, of which 11.66GB was free on our review sample. A microSD slot lets you add more storage capacity.
Samsung uses a proprietary port for battery charging and PC connection, which is irritating. There's no Micro-USB port, so you really don't want to mislay that Samsung cable.
The charger/PC connector is on the bottom edge of the Galaxy Note 10.1, with all the remaining ports and slots on the top. There's a covered microSD card slot, a power button, a volume rocker, a headset jack and a SIM card slot. The lack of an HDMI port for video out is disappointing — you'll have to buy a separate £25 (ex. VAT) adapter for the 30-pin connector to enable this.
Harking back to the days when infrared was common on mobile phones and laptops, there's a small infrared 'eye' on the top edge of the device — Samsung includes Peel Smart Remote, which turns the Galaxy Note 10.1 into a remote control for your TV.
The S Pen stylus lives in a housing on the chassis. Irritatingly, it only fits one way into its housing — the law of averages suggests you won't guess right every time.
The screen is entirely pen-friendly, and sweeping around and tapping to run apps is quite intuitive. Obviously pen support within apps is required to get the maximum benefit from this feature.
As you pull the S Pen out of its housing, a sidebar opens up offering access to the pen-supporting apps. This is a great little feature, but the list of pen-friendly apps is small: S Note, S Planner, Crayon Physics, PS Touch and Polaris Office.
Polaris Office has been tweaked to allow handwritten or drawn notes to be made within documents. S Note is a pen-based notes app that also supports the keyboard, and can perform handwriting recognition. S Planner is a diary app that will pick up your Google calendar, Crayon Physics a pen-based game, while PS Touch is Adobe's PhotoShop Touch for image editing or drawing from scratch.
These applications are fine as far as they go, and you can download more via Samsung's preloaded S Suggest, which offers up a range of apps suited to the device and includes a separate selection of those with S Pen support.
The Galaxy Note 10.1's screen is pressure sensitive, effectively increasing the size of strokes as you press harder. The S Pen itself is fairly solidly made, and feels quite comfortable in the hand. It has a side button that adds some features: hold it down while tapping the screen once takes a screenshot; hold it down and double-tap the screen to launch the S Note app.
Samsung has included a number of interface tweaks. The keyboard, for example, comes in three versions, which you switch between by pinching inwards to call up a trio of thumbnails.
The standard QWERTY keyboard offers a separate number row and a useful button that intuitively changes between '.com' and 'www.'. The floating keyboard is smaller, while the split keyboard is ideal for use when holding the device and tapping with your thumbs in landscape mode.
Another feature Samsung is proud of is the ability to work in split-screen mode, with two applications open at once. This works well, but is only available to the web browser, video player, Polaris Office, Gallery, email and S Note app. The apps sit side by side in landscape orientation, or top and bottom in portrait mode.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 also comes with a video player that will play in 'pop up' mode. You can overlay it onto any other screen and even resize it. We're not convinced of its utility, but it's nice to see Samsung innovating in this way and video playback was smooth when we tried it.
There's a fair bit of software in addition to the standard Android 4.0 bundle. We've already mentioned several. Others include AllShare (Samsung's DLNA app), ChatON, Dropbox and a file manager. There are also Samsung's Music, Video and Games hubs, plus a Learning hub. These provide access to specific content and apps.
Performance & battery life
Samsung's quad-core Exynos processor and 2GB of RAM help the Galaxy Note 10.1 handle side-by-side apps and pop-out video comfortably enough. However, applications loaded a little slowly and there was a certain sluggishness in response to finger presses — we didn't experience the lightning-fast response we were expecting given the spec. Even so, we don't see this as a deal-breaker.
Battery life was good. The 7,000mAh Lithium Ion cell didn't perform outrageously better or worse than the average and you ought to get between eight and nine hours from it depending on how hard you push. During our testing period we never felt it was powering down faster than we'd expect.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 expands the original 5.3in. Galaxy Note to a standard tablet size, presumably in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. When it works well, the S Pen functionality is impressive and reliable.
However, we'd like to see more emphasis on handwriting recognition — for example, the ability to write emails onto the screen and a handwriting module in the keyboard. The quad-core processor can surely handle this, and we'll be looking for it in the next-generation Note device.
Note: prices quoted below are from Expansys.com, include taxes, and refer to the 16GB Wi-Fi+3G model reviewed here:
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel