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 Quality
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 Specification
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.
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.
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 Apps
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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