The high-gloss plastic chassis flexes only a tiny bit in the hand, and its build feels reasonably sturdy. Android Ice Cream Sandwich with Samsung's TouchWiz interface is familiar and easy to navigate
It's intuitive to set up social and email accounts, while the S Pen stylus is neat little device for drawing as well as instantly pulling up S Note, the handwriting-friendly digital notebook. S Note itself, the biggest USP of the Note 10.1, allows an incredible range of illustration features which are also easy to run through
This is an incredibly powerful all-rounder, with a quad-core chip and 2GB of RAM allowing computer-level multitasking and excellent HD movies and games. The preloaded Adobe PS Touch offers near-professional photo-editing, helped along by the S Pen, while the highly responsive touch-screen is sensitive to pressure so you can create different shades and fine lines
Programs ran with buttery smooth ease and speed, while both the five-megapixel and 1.9-megapixel cameras produced sharp, bright snaps. Multitasking - including having two programs open side by side - was decent, though we occasionaly experienced lags when switching or loading programs
With Wi-Fi and media on, we got a good nine hours of continuous use
The Galaxy Note 10.1 is a slate with specs that can’t be beat, a stylus-packing tablet that’s built for everything from detailed illustration to helping you with your calculus. It’s a powerful machine for gaming, movies and yes, some pro-level graphic and video work. Samsung wants a piece of Apple’s pie and it’s doing it by appealing to the archetypal creative professional of Apple’s fanbase.
But in a tablet world that has just been stormed by a £159 quad-core seven-incher from Google, can the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 compete with a tablet that’s almost its complete opposite?
Well, it looks rather like the Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1), just a tad longer and slimmer at 262x180x8.9mm. The 10.1-inch LCD display is crystal-clear, sporting a sparkling 1280x800-pixel resolution for sharp, bright colours.
The plastic chassis is trademark Samsung gloss, with the obvious seams that make it feel a touch lower rent than it really is. There’s a small amount of flex to the tablet, but it’s certainly one of Samsung’s better builds, with the brilliant display we’ve come to expect.
Its aspect ratio is longer rather than squarer – as the 9.7-inch iPad’s – so it’s really designed to be used two handed. Smaller hands will find an awkward balance in one-handed use, though you could always hold it like a small newspaper in portrait.
Also unlike the iPad, the Galaxy Note 10.1 packs two very respectable cameras – a 1.9-megapixel front facing one and a five-megapixel rear camera in case you’re one of those tourists who takes photos with a tablet. Both take clear, good-looking images:
Small speaker vents are plonked on either side of the landscape screen.
Under the hood, a quad-core 1.4GHz Exynos processor and 2GB of RAM – double what any mobile device has right now – allow it keep several high-intensity programs open at once, and run them with buttery smooth ease as well.
We tested the 16GB Wi-Fi model, which also comes with a microSD slot for up to 32GB more memory. This model starts at £399, with 32GB and 64GB versions, and an option to add 3G for an extra £100. This already puts it in direct competition with the iPad – and perhaps more to the point, way over the head of the smaller, quad-core-packing Nexus 7 by Asus, running on the latest Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS and retailing for a mere £159.
In contrast, the Galaxy Note 10.1 runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, though it’s probably upgradeable in the next few months. We love Ice Cream Sandwich in tablet form – the Gmail interface is clean and minimal, its two-column design possibly even more efficient than its desktop form. Samsung has worked in a five-row keyboard that anyone who types missives rather than quickfire messages will find to their liking. All the symbols you need at first pass are available, and if you lay the tablet flat – or better still prop it up – you can build up a pretty good speed typing almost like you would on a regular keyboard.
Running Ice Cream Sandwich proper, it’s all controlled via some master touch-icons in the toolbar – Back, Home, and Multitasking, to switch between all open programs. You can populate the five home screens with any combination of most-used icons and widgets for immediate info on the weather, headlines and more.
There are numerous efficiency shortcuts to save you a click here and there too, like the four lock screen shortcut icons that can be swiped to head directly into an app.
More impressive is the ‘real multitasking’ toolbar at the base of every screen. First seen in the original Galaxy Tab 10.1, this allows you to open a second window on top of whatever window you’re already in. It works with the specific six that are loaded in the toolbar – alarm, calculator, email, music, S Note, S Planner and task manager – so you could, for example, be watching a movie and quickly read a small email window. Unfortunately, it does have to be the standard email app, not the Gmail app where you’d presumably have loaded your most-used Gmail account.
There are the usual Samsung cornucopia of patented mini features like Smart stay, where the tablet doesn’t go off if you’re looking at it – though this feature is of limited use, since it doesn’t work when you’re not directly in front of it.
Like its punier predecessor, the Galaxy Note 10.1 comes with a capacitive stylus and a ton of apps built to let you write and draw on the display with the stylus. S Note is an all-encompassing notebook where you can theoretically jot down ideas and even create elaborate illustrations with a beautiful range of pen and brush types.
Note templates such as recipe and travel, with handy photo spots to save relevant images
just give us a stylus and we'll get colourful
Handwriting recognition plus a search engine equals no more maths homework
There’s also a handwriting recognition feature built in, which manifests as ‘formula match’ – the Note 10.1 solves your maths questions for you by recognising text then sending it to the Wolfram Alpha search engine. It’s impressive but of limited use to most.
Then there’s S Planner, which is a standard calendar app that can sync to Google and Microsoft Exchange calendars, but has the added feature of allowing you to write times and places in S Note which then automatically save as events in S Planner. Like the digital notebook idea itself, this is a bit like forward engineering things we used do with pen and paper, despite the fact that there are far better ways to accomplish the same thing digitally.
S Note is most impressive as a second screen for artists or design professionals, because the responsiveness of the capacitive display is excellent – Samsung doubled the number of ‘response layers’ in the touch-screen for this bigger Note, using the same technology as Wacom artist’s tablets, and the level of fine detail you can accomplish is quite incredible. The screen registers different weights, so you can shade, create fine lines and do cool flicks and flourishes with the stylus. While it may not replace a desktop program, having this ability on an easily toted slate is great, both for work on the go and as a display for clients.
It’s in its semi-pro art and photo editing features that the Galaxy Note 10.1 steps away from the Android tablet pack – and stacks itself up tip to tip with the new iPad. Where Apple has its own photo and movie editing apps, iPhoto and iMovie, to be purchased separately, Samsung has preloaded the Note 10.1 with Adobe PhotoShop Touch , a sized down version of the desktop program that is otherwise £7 on Google Play.
Unlike iPhoto which is easily grasped by a first-timer to photo tools, PS Touch is not one for the novices, as it packs most of the full Photoshop lineup features that can be fairly daunting when you approach them all at once. That said, you can do more with PS Touch if you know how to do it and the stylus is extremely useful here to make finer crops or adjustments.
It’s unavoidable at this point to do a side by side comparison with the iPad and its Retina display – and the way the two displays handle colours is very different. The iPad’s IPS panel displays more accurate colours that are truer to the captured scene, while the Note seems to render colours so they’re a bit lighter.
The iPad (top) displays warmer colours that are truer to what's outside our office window
In this photo we downloaded, the Galaxy Note 10.1 displays brighter colours but renders the light parts of the scene as pale blue, where the iPad reaches real white
For your viewing pleasure, the difference (particularly without two devices side by side) isn’t of note, but it’s worth considering if you need a tablet you could also use for design work. As for sharpness, the 333dpi Retina display wins by a shade – it’s higher-res than the printed page - though the Note 10.1 reaches much higher levels of brightness.
Colour intensity aside, the Note 10.1’s LCD screen tech offers up scintillating clarity. It supports full 1080p HD so Blu-ray films can be displayed in all their glory. The glass display is very reflective however, so if you’re sharing the screen with a friend it’s likely a part of the screen will just be a blob of light to them.
The on-board speakers are decent – though you won’t want to be running anything with a lot of bass through them, they’re more than adequate for movie audio.
As with any Android phone, transferring movies can be easily done without downloading any more software (goodbye iTunes), and to make it clear they know who they’re duelling with, Samsung has even launched an Easy Photo Sync app that moves photos, video and contacts directly from your existing iTunes library.
The AllShare app connects the Note 10.1 over DLNA to HDTVs or Windows 7 PCs so you can share content – either watch Note 10.1 movies on the TV, or vice versa.
Another preloaded app, Smart Remote, instantly connects to almost any TV, using the infrared receiver at the top of the tablet. We were able to link to our home TV and control it fully – power on off, volume, as well as channel switching and content skipping. You can purchase more video, games and movies from Google Play, while Samsung also has its own Hubs for such content, as well as Samsung Apps, though this is a fairly anaemic, unnecessary augmentation to the 100,000-strong collection at Google Play. Games Hub is quite impressive though, its interface resembling Google Play’s squared minimalism, and there are tons of beautifully built, graphics-intensive games for you to put the quad-core chip and double-gig RAM through its paces.
Best of all, the battery life goes well into the night, despite the hyper-bright display and constant Wi-Fi and media use. We estimate a good nine hours on a single charge with moderate use.
This is easily one of Samsung’s best devices, with a high-octane spec list that sends it tearing to the top of the ranks. It’s fast, smooth and packed with features that go from almost professional photo tools to tiny gimmicks that still show off the incredible technology that powers it. Sure, it doesn’t match the new iPad’s über-streamlined user experience, but features like the eye-tracking camera and handwriting recognition for maths formulas are quirky and highly useful executions of blistering horsepower, making an incredible all-rounder of a tablet.