Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review

What Mobile
August 16, 2012

When Samsung launched the original Galaxy Note last year, the unique phone/tablet hybrid won us over with its great multimedia abilities. The huge 5.3-inch screen made it completely impractical as a phone, however, so Samsung has opted to ditch phone functionality for its successor and instead create a dedicated tablet.

With rivals such as the third-generation Apple iPad and Google’s Nexus 7 having already set the bar high at both the high- and low-ends of the market, however, Samsung has a lot to measure up to. And while the Galaxy Note 10.1 has a lot going for it, it can’t match the best tablets you can buy for the same price.

While the 10.1-inch device lacks the high-quality style of the iPad, it’s still a nice looking tablet. A choice of black or white colour schemes are available and both are suitably eye-catching. The white model is prone to highlighting dirt, scuffs and scratches, though, so adequate protection is needed to keep it looking its best.

Whichever colour you choose, the plastic chassis lacks the resilience or quality of the iPad, though, which is all the more noticeable considering it costs the same price. Although the glossy plastics are tough enough to protect against general wear and tear, they can’t come close to the iPad’s aluminium and glass chassis.

Measuring just 9mm thin it is slimmer than many rival tablets and even some smartphones, so it is very easy to slip into a bag to carry during the day. At 583g it is also suitably light and we found it very comfortable to carry and use at home or the move. Even when held in one hand, it never feels like a burden to work with.

Usability is excellent and the interface can be controlled by both a capacitive touchscreen and a stylus – a feature rarely seen now on modern tablets. The stylus harkens back to the first wave of tablets seen many years ago before the iPad was created and adds a level of functionality seen on few touch-controlled devices anymore.

Control is extremely precise when using the stylus. With its pin-sharp control it is easy to select options, navigate the Android UI and even write and draw on the 10.1-inch screen. This will be a great feature for anyone that needs a tablet for complex media creation, as well as traditional consumption of multimedia content.

Since the screen can also be used with your fingers, the touch-sensitivity deactivates when the stylus is near the screen. This means you can rest your hand on the display to draw or write, without accidentally activating any onscreen options. As soon as the stylus is about an inch away from the screen, touch-control reactivates.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Android tablet screen and stylus

Control inevitably isn’t quite as precise when you use your fingers, but it still offers good usability to match rival tablets on the market. Navigating the interface is easy and we didn’t notice any occasions where control was anything less than excellent. Even the huge default onscreen keyboard is accurate and easy to use

In terms of image quality, the 10.1-inch display is a mixed bag. The screen is both bright and vibrant, and it renders photos and videos with striking impact, but the average 800 x 1280 pixel resolution is disappointing for this price and can’t hope to match the new Apple iPad’s stunning Retina display for sheer clarity.

With that said, images are still shown with more than adequate sharpness. While the screen has a slight amount of haziness, you’re unlikely to notice it if you’ve never used a higher-resolution tablet display before. And with the stunning brightness and colours on offer, it’s still a very beautiful screen to view and work with.

When you want to capture your own photos and videos, or make online video calls, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is suitably well-equipped, with rear-facing 5-Megapixel and front-facing 1.9-Megapixel cameras. Photo quality is disappointingly average, however, and we found images often had a hazy quality to them, even when viewed on other devices.

Videos provided similarly average results. You can record 720p high-definition at 30 frames per second but we’ve seen better results on rival tablets. And while Samsung claims the Galaxy Note 10.1 offers 1080p Full HD playback, that’s not entirely true, as the 800 x 1280 pixel screen resolution obviously cannot display video at full 1080p resolution.

We were pleased to see that Samsung has equipped the device with the Android 4.0 operating system out of the box, though. An update to Android 4.1 is also on the way before the end of the year but its absence at launch is not a deal-breaker, as the existing OS provides great functionality for tablet beginners and experts alike.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 also really shows its mettle with multi-tasking. While running multiple apps running simultaneously is not a new feature for modern Android devices, here you can run two windows side-by-side onscreen, for true multi-screen multi-tasking – a feature we’d like to see implemented on many more touchscreen tablets.

Once you’ve opened an app, you can tap the Multi-Screen button at the top-right of the screen and choose a second app to open alongside it. Letting you work on an office file while browsing the internet, or take notes while you’re watching a presentation, it adds a great extra layer of usability for working faster and easier.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Android tablet chassis

The only downside to the feature is that it is presently supported by just six default apps – S Note, Internet, Video Player, Polaris Office, Gallery and Email. These cover all the most common apps you’re likely to want to multi-task with out of the box, but it’d be nice to see third-party app support offered as a future update.

Of course such complex multi-tasking requires a powerful specification to keep everything running smoothly and the Galaxy Note 10.1 doesn’t disappoint. Fitted with a 1.4GHz quad-core processor and an impressive 2GB of RAM, there is more than enough power under the hood to satisfy even the most demanding user.

In practice it didn’t quite deliver the performance we were expecting from such a powerful specification, but we certainly weren’t left wanting. Apps opened quickly, multi-tasking was impressively capable, video ran smoothly, even with multiple apps open in the background, and we noticed no system lag at any point.

Storage also impressed us. The device is available in a choice of 16, 32 and 64GB iterations, so you can easily pick the right model for your budget and storage requirements. And should you need more storage, a MicroSD card slot on the chassis’ edge lets you easily add up to 64GB of extra storage for your files.

For connecting to the internet you can also buy the Galaxy Note 10.1 in a choice of 3G or Wi-Fi-only models and we found wireless connectivity to be excellent. You get 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 fitted as standard across all devices, providing high-speed wireless connections right out of the box.

Had the Galaxy Note 10.1 been offered at a lower price, we wouldn’t have hesitated to instantly recommend it as a must-buy device. Since you can buy an iPad for the same price, though, some of the shine of this undoubtedly impressive tablet is lost, as it just can’t match up to Apple’s market-leading offering.

If you want a high-quality Android tablet fitted with most of the bells and whistles expert users will want, then look no further. And with its blend of touch and stylus control, it has few rivals for easy content creation. If you’re after the very best tablet you can buy at this price, though, Apple still has the market to itself.

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