Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Review
Looking for an iPad beater? Greg Hook continues his search...
IntroductionWith the iPad still dominating the tablet market in 2012 to the tune of 43%, is there any manufacturer out there with the power and ability to cut into that huge market share? Well, maybe, is probably the answer! We have now reviewed several contenders here at AVForums from the excellent Asus Transformer TF300T to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) and to our most recent tablet review, offering superb value and impressive specifications - the Toshiba AT300 10.1" tablet. All of these attempt to steer people away from the iPad by offering additions such as much improved connectivity out of the box and the highly configurable Android OS but despite this, Apple retain their vice-like grip on the tablet market.
One manufacturer that is probably in the best position is Samsung, they may well have what it takes to tackle Apple, assuming the pair can settle their non-stop legal battles anyway. Samsung have more than doubled their market share in the last year from 7% to 15% and whilst their Galaxy Tab 2 10.1" tablet that we reviewed previously, offered a good specification for the price, it was by no means an iPad beater or even a contender. In fairness, it was never meant to be but the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 clearly is designed to take the iPad head-on. Released back in August 2012 it offers, amongst many other features, a 10.1" WXGA 1280 x 800 display, a powerful ARM A9 1.4Ghz quad core CPU, 2GB of RAM and the intriguing S-pen feature. So does this tablet have what it takes to help Samsung prise even more of that market share away from Apple? Read on and find out...
Design and Build QualityWe were sent the white version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1" tablet for review, which is also available in black. It's a fairly good looking device although we do think the black works better with the overall design that Samsung are going for. To the front we have the screen surrounded by a white frame which is then surrounded by a silver bezel which houses a pair of stereo speakers. As with the Toshiba AT300 we reviewed, the frame and bezel are thick enough to allow you a place to rest your thumbs without encroaching on the screen. The rear is all white except for a silver bar at the top which contains the camera and LED flash. To the bottom we have the power connector and the S Pen location with all the buttons and connections located on the top of the device.
The 1280 x 800 display keeps the 16:10 aspect ratio that we much prefer over the iPad's 14:9 compromise. However, the build quality is not really what we were expecting for a tablet that is on par with the iPad in the cost department. The buttons and connections are all fine, but there is far too much flexing from the rear panel for our liking and this is an issue we have found in several of the tablets we have reviewed. We are not quite sure why it's just the iPad that seems to get this right. On the weight department it's not as light as the Toshiba AT300 at 595g, just weighing in at 602g. This is heavier than Samsung's quoted weight of 580g but still remains a good deal lighter than the iPad at 652g.
Features and SpecificationThe Galaxy Note 10.1 comes with an ARM Cortex A9 Quad Core CPU running at 1.4Ghz, along with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. A 3G version of the tablet is also available together with increased internal storage of 32 and 64GB. Whilst not the excellent Nvidia Tegra 3 processor as seen in the Toshiba AT300 and Asus Transformer TF300T tablets, we did expect the ARM A9 processor to perform just as well and it did. All the applications we tested ran as fast as we would have hoped and no jerkiness or stuttering was seen nor did we suffer any other performance related issues. Overall the specification of this tablet is very impressive and we certainly have no cause for complaint here.
During our testing, going from the home screen to fully loading the AVForums homepage took just 8 seconds which is the same as the iPad3 and the Toshiba AT300. Pointing to the faster 1.4 Ghz CPU, loading Angry Birds took just 7 seconds, beating the Toshiba AT300's 7.5 seconds and significantly faster than the iPad3 at 11.5 seconds. Although this tablet doesn't have the Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, we still tested it with the same games to give it a good work out. Titles that are optimised for the Tegra 3 processor such as Heroes Call and Air Attack HD still ran flawlessly with no frame rate issues and felt very smooth indeed. The other Nvidia title we usually test, Dark Meadow, appears to be only available to Tegra 3 tablets.
Further testing with non Tegra 3 optimised games such as Soulcraft and the huge Six Guns gave a very similar positive experience with no issues to speak of. This is all starting to build up a picture of a very well performing tablet. The 1.4Ghz CPU worked perfectly with everything we threw at it and particularly focusing on the gaming performance of this tablet, it was very impressive and the Galaxy Note will not disappoint you at all.
The tablet comes with a 5MP rear camera, which includes a power LED flash and auto focus, together with 720P HD video recording. It also has a 4x digital zoom, although as with most digital zooms it isn't worth even bothering with. The front camera is a standard 1.9MP affair which in low light conditions produced very grainy shots and even in optimal conditions the shots taken were not brilliant, so we would use this purely for video conferencing or the occasional self portrait. The usual camera options are here such as panoramic mode along with an option to 'cartoonify' your photo and instant share options too.
For a tablet, the camera specifications are what we would expect, they aren't amazing but the rear camera will take decent enough photos that will accept close up scrutiny, with the LED flash helping immensely here in low light conditions and the front camera being above the low 0.3MP VGA specification we have seen on some tablets. One annoying issue was with the camera app itself, after taking a photo, several times all the on screen options disappeared so we had no way of getting back to the main screen without turning it off and on. Presumably this is a bug that Samsung will hopefully fix in a future update.
Now onto the Wi-Fi and it is refreshing to review a device that finally offers access to both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. Most tablets that we have reviewed lately, apart from the iPad, have only offered 2.4Ghz. Access to the 5Ghz band is very beneficial if you are in an area with many Wi-Fi signals as it is less likely to be congested and is usually faster than the traditional 2.4Ghz band, although it is worth noting the range on the 5Ghz band is much shorter and doesn't like as many walls between you and the router compared to the 2.4Ghz band. The tablet offers 802.11 a/b/g/n with channel bonding.
Unfortunately we didn't have a 5Ghz router to test that band with currently, but on the 2.4Ghz band a side-by-side comparison with the iPad using the Speedtest app gave strange results, with the iPad3 averaging around 19Mbps but the Galaxy fluctuating from just 7Mbps up to 20Mbps. We can only assume this is an issue with the app itself as downloading the 1GB Six Guns game was as quick as we were expecting taking barely 6 minutes. As to the Wi-Fi signal quality, it was consistent with other Wi-Fi devices we have tested in this review location, losing signal in the same areas as our other devices normally do. Our review sample is Wi-Fi only, but a 3G version is also available, if you are lucky enough to live anywhere near a 3G signal (which we don't!).
Additional features worthy of mentioning are an innovative split screen multitasking feature that allows you to use two different applications side-by-side simultaneously. It should be pointed out first of all that this doesn't work with every app. It works much like a mini windows desktop whereby once you have opened two apps that are compatible with the split screen feature and pressed the window button, you get presented with two floating windows that can be moved and resized to fit the screen or just a small portion of it. Google Chrome unfortunately doesn't do this, but the inbuilt browser does, so for example you can be browsing the web whilst watching a video on YouTube. This tablet also comes with a feature called Smart Stay, this claims to automatically recognise when you are looking at the tablet so that it will not dim or shut off the screen. That sounds great but it didn't seem to work very well with the screen staying on even when it was not being looked at.
S PenThis really should come under the features heading, but it's such an integral part of this tablet we felt it needed a heading of it's very own. The S Pen is what sets this tablet apart from the competition, certainly giving it a lead against the iPad. It's a 6.5mm device that is embedded directly into the tablet and when you remove it a shortcut list for the specially optimised pre-installed applications is shown. It is a pressure sensitive device and offers up to 1024 levels of pressure, so the harder your press, the thicker the lines that will be drawn for example. The optimised pre-installed apps include 'Popup Note' that you can write with the pen, a game called 'Crayon Physics' and best of all 'PS Touch', which appears to be a very well specified and fully functioning tablet version of Adobe Photoshop. This is a great app and makes it very easy to edit photos with probably better accuracy that you can on a PC with a mouse. After having a good play with it for a while it was incredibly easy to edit photos and in our opinion the S Pen is a major positive with the Galaxy Note.
Thankfully, the apps that work with the S Pen are not just limited to the pre-installed ones. Via the S Suggest page on the tablet, you are given quick access to several more S Pen optimised apps. From simple drawing apps such as Drawing Pad (£1.26) which would be great for the kids, to other art style apps and a few games. One that does stand out if you are a sports coach of any kind is Galaxy Note Coach's Playbook (£1.26). This allows you to create your own plays using the S Pen to get greater accuracy, perhaps more focused to the USA, it does offer sports including rugby, soccer, tennis and more. These apps we have mentioned should give a brief idea of just what the Samsung Galaxy Note with the S Pen is capable of. It certainly appears to redefine what you can do with a tablet.
ConnectivityThere was a slight disappointment when it came to connections with this tablet. Unlike the Toshiba AT300 that came equipped with both a micro HDMI port and a mini USB port, the Galaxy Note sadly offers none of this out of the box. All the tablet offers is a MicroSD card slot (up to 32GB) and the headphone jack. You can of course buy the optionally available HDMI connection kit (£30.00) and the USB connection kit (£22.00) that connects to the 30 pin port at the bottom of the tablet but for the price of the Galaxy Note and what the competition offers (excluding the iPad obviously!), we would have expected much better here.
DisplayThe display is a 10.1" WXGA (1280x800) TFT LCD screen with a 16 million internal colour depth. The pixel density is just 149PPI, which puts it way behind the iPad at 264PPI. It appears to be the same screen as used in the much cheaper Galaxy Tab 10.1. Given this tablet was released after the iPad had the retina upgrade, it does seem like a trick has been missed here by Samsung. Although perhaps they were more invested in the Samsung/Google Nexus 10 with a screen that will even beat the iPad's retina display.
The usable screen size measures 217mm x 135mm but despite the low pixel density of the screen, the quality of text and web pages was impressive and as you can see from the above image, with the Galaxy Note on the right and an iPad3 on the left at full brightness, apart from a different font the quality isn't immediately obvious, although you will notice it when using the email app for example and viewing text heavy webpages, the lack of retina display kicks in there.
Home Screen, Interface and Pre-installed AppsAs with several of the last tablet reviews, they come out of the box with the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich but have all now had an over the air upgrade to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. This Samsung is no different here and within the last few days also had an upgrade to version 4.1.2. The home screen, as shown below, is the standard Android affair with a row of App icons along the bottom with various other apps spread across the screen. As it's Android, you can position these apps wherever you want on any page, even grouping them together in folders. Plus as you can see from the Weather and GameHub there are interactive widgets, something which the iPad is sorely lacking, offering various live information. The very bottom left of the screen shows the usual buttons for back, home screen, current open apps and tile view for all apps installed and on the right the standard information such as battery life, Wi-Fi strength and any notifications.
We do much prefer the streamlined system that the Android OS employs for updating apps. Once you have initially downloaded an app and agreed to automatic updates, you never need to do anything again. It will keep itself updated and just give you a notification message whenever it has done so. So much better than iOS where you have to manually install updates. With free apps the Android OS is again ahead whereby no password is needed and the app will just download and install straight away. We wouldn't be at all surprised if iOS 7 included these additions.
As with all the Android tablets we have reviewed, apart from the Google Play, Store they all come with their own version and Samsung's offering is Samsung Apps. Both this and the Google Play Store offer most of the same apps, although not all of them, with just a different front end and organisation. We have mentioned before that it is always worth checking both app stores prior to purchasing as you will most likely find different prices. For example Monopoly was £3.94 on the Google Play store, yet on offer for £3.00 in the Samsung store. In addition to this, if you are OK with adverts then you can find a lot of apps, particularly games, that will be free on Android compared to paid versions with iOS. We do still get annoyed that there is no system in place to identify and differentiate tablet and phone apps in the Stores. For example we downloaded the Simpsons Tapped Out game, which unfortunately was clearly just a phone app as it looked awful on the tablet's screen. Surely that is a simple fix?
The Galaxy Note 10.1 comes pre-installed with the usual apps such as a browser, camera, YouTube and Google Maps; there's also Gmail, multimedia players, Google+ and a book reader. Along with Samsung Apps store as mentioned above, there is also Polaris Office which offers an equivalent to Word, Excel and Powerpoint. As with all these kind of devices, it's all about the apps and there are many thousands to choose from via the Google Play and Samsung Stores.
Battery LifeThis tablet comes with a 7000 mAh Li-ion battery. Samsung claim this offers up to 1500 hours standy by time and as with the Galaxy Tab we reviewed Samsung appear to be very coy in stating quoted battery life times but it does appear that 8 hours is the ideal life you would get from general use. Similar to the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 it took around 4 1/2 hours to reach 100% from flat when charging. After an hour of solid gaming the battery life had dropped by just 18% which is one of the best results we have seen in our tablet reviews. This would suggest that you would get well over 4 hours constant gaming, maybe even 5 hours, which for a tablet is an excellent result and should also point to a long battery life for other activities. The test was carried out with the display set to medium brightness.
AudioThe pair of stereo speakers, which are located either side of the screen on the silver bezel, are actually not terrible! Excluding our iPad review we have struggled to find a tablet that has speakers you actually want to hear audio from. Thankfully, whilst Samsung may have used the same screen from the Galaxy Tab 2, they definitely haven't used the same hideous speakers that it came with. The speakers in the Galaxy Note are of a good enough quality that your ears won't start complaining if you want to watch a video or listen to some music and don't have your headphones to hand. They aren't fantastic and we would still give the iPad a slight edge in a side-by-side comparison, but given the shocking quality we have seen of late, it is refreshing to find a tablet with decent onboard speakers.
Media IntegrationThanks to the built-in IR emitter and in-conjunction with the Samsung Smart Remote/Peel pre-installed app, this tablet has a feature that you will find in very few others. Once the app is all setup you can use this tablet as a complete Home Cinema remote control for all of your equipment. For those with a one-for-all remote such as the Logitech Harmony series, this tablet can very easily replace that and offer so much more. Once configured it will show your favourite programs, suggest possible favourites and show all the programs currently on grouped into categories. For example, with all your devices switched off, clicking the comedy tab will show all the comedies on right now, select one of them and press 'watch now' and all your equipment will turn on and your Sky Box will go to that channel. You can control all the functions of the Sky box from the tablet including recording and setting reminders.
Should you have a decent wireless network and the current generation of TVs, Blu-ray players and Receivers for example, you won't be hard done by. Samsung, LG and Sony for example all have free apps to control their TVs and in Sony's and Samsung's case, you can control their Blu-ray players too. Apps are also available for other devices such as Logitech's Squeezebox and AV amplifiers such as Onkyo, Denon and Marantz. A bonus here from the Android store is that you will find most of these are free when the same on the Apple store incurs a fee.
StorageOur review sample was the 16GB version but a 32GB version is also widely available. A 64GB version is also shown on Samsung's website, but we couldn't find this for sale anywhere. The usable space with our 16GB version was just 11.66GB, meaning over 4GB taken for the system use. Including all the pre-installed apps and other files the space available for the user is just 9.80GB. Not a huge amount by any means but enough for several games, photos, audio and video files. But don't despair as this is where certain Android tablets have a big lead on Apple. Via the SD card slot and using the correct card you can expand the storage by another 32GB. The Samsung technical specifications do say it will accept a 64GB SD card, but this appears to be an error on Samsung's part as 64GB cards do not work in this device. The typical purchase price difference between the 16GB and 32GB Galaxy Note is sometimes as much as £100 whereas a 32GB SDHC card can be found for as little as £13, so it's definitely worth bearing this in mind when deciding which version to go for.
- Excellent performance
- Superb S Pen stylus
- Split screen multitasking
- IR emitter
- Average build quality
- Average quality screen
- Poor out-of-the-box connectivity
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Review
In the ultra-competitive tablet world of today you can easily find a tablet that suits all budgets and wish lists. From the top end with the iPads, to basic generic tablets for under £100, there are now offerings from a huge range of manufacturers covering all prices, specifications and performance classes. To stand out amongst the crowd, a tablet has to offer something unique or do something that much better than the competition. Samsung have definitely done most of that with the Galaxy Note 10.1, which is currently priced at around the £380 mark for the 16GB version.
The Galaxy Note comes with a very fast 1.4Ghz Quad-Core processor and 2GB of RAM which means it is exceptionally quick and also comes with the latest Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean OS and 16GB of internal storage. Everything we threw at it ran with flawless ease, intensive games just flew along with no frame rate issues or freezing; the same was true of videos, web browsing, scrolling and pretty much anything else we tried. Even more intensive tasks like the split screen multitasking feature running a YouTube video one side and web browsing on the other didn't cause this tablet any problems. The Galaxy Note really is one of the fastest tablets we have reviewed to date.
What really sets this tablet apart from the competition is the fabulous S Pen feature. Built into it is a 6.5mm removable stylus that opens up a whole other world compared to a standard tablet. As soon as you remove the S Pen from the tablet, a short-cut tab appears listing several of the pre-installed S Pen optimised applications. One application that is particularly noteworthy is PS Touch, which is a fully featured tablet version of Adobe Photoshop and it really suits the S Pen perfectly. We tested this via the tutorial and what you get is a fully functional photo editing device with precision control thanks to the S Pen. There are other apps where the S Pen shines too including a handwriting note taker; making it the stand-out feature of the whole tablet.
The display is a 10.1" 1280 x 800 WXGA TFT screen with a pixel depth of 149PPI. This is one of the few negative points we could find when reviewing the Galaxy Note because whilst it is in the same price range as the iPad, the screen is not. Whilst it's a good screen, with vibrant colours and clear text, it is far from the retina display of the iPad and with a side-by-side comparison the difference is noticeable. In fact, given the many positives we found, if Samsung had brought this tablet out with a display equivalent to the iPad, it could very easily have beaten the iPad hands down, which is presumably what Samsung are hoping to do with their Google partnered Nexus 10. Other negatives were a slightly poor build quality thanks to noticeable flexing of the rear panel and no out of the box connectivity for HDMI and USB devices.
That's it on the negative side though as we also finally get a decent pair of speakers that don't make headphones an absolute necessity for once, plus a 5MP autofocus rear camera with an LED flash that can record 720P HD video together with a front facing 2MP camera. We also get an SD card slot for expanding the storage by up to an additional 32GB. If Samsung could have just improved on the poor connectivity, build quality and fitted the Galaxy Note 10.1 with a much better screen this tablet would easily have been awarded our Highly Recommended award, but even with those issues there is so much right with this tablet that we have no qualms in awarding it an AVForums Recommended badge.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £399.00
Value For Money8
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