Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2012) review: Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

There's a general writing-to-text feature that works across most apps that include a typing component, but again, though it's a simple thing to enable, it's not turned on by default and instead I found it necessary to go to the reviewer of the original Note, Jessica Dolcourt, and have her show me how she enabled it on the phone. Even then, I still had to translate that procedure to a tablet interface. After a few minutes of near-apoplectic teeth grinding, some yelling, and maybe a few tears (yes, from me), we discovered the procedure: when the Samsung keyboard is onscreen, hold down on the gear icon and select the "T" symbol. Like I said, it's simple, but not obvious. It should be both.

The translation software itself isn't the most accurate, but that wouldn't be such a problem if the accompanying UI weren't as clunky. The writing space is at the bottom of the screen, with the software spacebar and Backspace buttons above that. Once again, it's a simple solution, but in actual practice can quickly become frustrating, especially after your third try spelling a word. On second thought? The translation software is just as much to blame here.

The Note 10.1 is the first tablet to include a feature called multiscreen. Multiscreen allows you to run two apps at once on the same screen; however, the apps you can can choose from are limited to a specific six (S Note, Polaris Office, Video Player, gallery, Email, and the Android 4.0 browser) -- unfortunately you can't swap in any app you'd like. The thought behind the feature is to give you the ability to create content by pulling assets from one app into another. At least that's the most useful purpose. You can also create a birthday card in S Note on the left side of the screen, while a movie plays in Video Player on the right, but thanks to the palm rejection feature not always working properly that becomes a bit of a problem.

With palm rejection, as long as the S Pen is in your hand, the screen will not recognize any other capacitive parts of your body, in particular your palm. So unlike other stylus pens, where your palm disables the pen, with the S Pen's technology, you can place your palm flat down on the screen and still write to your heart's content. Or at least, that's how it's supposed to work.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
Multiscreen (see below) is one of the Note 10.1's biggest new software features. Josh Miller/CNET

There are times when placing my palm with pen in hand on the screen has no adverse effect, but there are other times when it does. Sometimes it's your palm inadvertently contributing to your latest art project and other times (as when running S Note and Video Player in the manner described above), severe lag can occur as your palm interacts with the video while you're attempting to write.

Peel's Smart Remote app
The Note 10.1's IR blaster, in conjunction with Peel's included Smart Remote app, helps turn your tablet into a remote control for your TV. Peel can take the place of your cable or satellite channel guide and display a list of shows currently playing locally on your provider's channels. Go to the currently playing tab and click on a show, and your TV switches to the appropriate channel. Peel does a great job of holding your hand initially through a step-by-step setup wizard. The setup only requires that you know your TV manufacturer's name, your cable/satellite provider, and your ZIP code. Thankfully, Peel spares us from having to know any more-detailed information; however, be aware that Smart Remote does not work with regular monitors, only TVs or monitor/TV combos. Though it's well-implemented overall, I'm still waiting for Hulu and Netflix integration, and an actual search feature would be useful.

Hardware features
The most obvious and significant hardware feature on the Note 10.1 is easily the S Pen. The S Pen looks like a traditional stylus and pretty much feels like one too, but differentiates itself from lesser digital pens. The pen's tip sports a pressure-sensitive sensor that recognizes 1,024 levels of pressure. Samsung says the original Note only got as high as 256. So, depending on the app you're using (not all apps support this), the harder you press the pen on the screen, the thicker the resulting lines.

This may be appealing with those (unlike myself) with actual artistic talent who know how to use shading to approximate three-dimensional figures in a two-dimensional space. Again, if you're like me and you have no idea what I just wrote, the Stylus has limited appeal as simply a tool used to navigate. I mentioned a difficult learning curve before; that really isn't limited to any one app. There is depth here for those willing to take the time to delve deeply, but the sharp jagged rocks of the confusing UI will scare many off. Also, for the most part, my fingers still work better.

The Note 10.1 houses a 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos 4410 CPU and 2GB of RAM. Tablet mainstays like 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 4.0, and GPS are included as well as gyroscope, accelerometer, and a digital compass.

Performance
Whether I'm using the pen or my fingers, tapping through menus is as swift a process as I've seen on any Android tablet, with no noticeable hangs or stops. Switching between apps also matches the fastest Android tablets available. However, from an aesthetic standpoint, I was disappointed by how stuttery scrolling through pages and apps looked compared with the ultra smoothness most Tegra 3 tablets demonstrate.

I used Riptide GP as my real-world games benchmark. The game delivered frame rates roughly on par with what I've seen on 1.4GHz Tegra 3-based tablets like the Asus Transformer Prime, but doesn't include the Tegra 3-specific graphical effects. Also, the frame rate isn't as consistent or as high as on either the iPad 2 or third-generation iPad.

Web speeds on Wi-Fi were about typical using either Chrome or the default browser. App downloads over Wi-Fi at 5 feet away from the router were pulled down at a rate of about 1.8MBps, compared with the Google Nexus 7's 2.3MBps, with the scores averaged over three iterations.

The screen responds quickly to the S Pen and scrolls just as quickly as it would under a finger; however, the screen may be a bit too heavily calibrated toward accepting precise touches from the pen. Attempting to scrub through videos using just my finger didn't always work.

The screen's 1,280x800-pixel resolution is fine for most purposes, but I must admit to being spoiled by recent Android tablets like the Asus Transformer Infinity and Acer Iconia Tab A700 with their sharper 1,920x1,200-pixel resolutions -- a resolution I feel would have been beneficial on a tablet so focused on creating content.

The front camera won't wow you with its quality, but at 1.9 megapixels, it won't distract you either as long as you're not planning to do more than some videoconferencing on it. The 5-megapixel back camera isn't capable of the same level of clarity or color saturation I've seen on higher-quality cameras like the Transformer Infinity's or the iPad's.

Tested spec Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 Apple iPad (third generation)
Maximum brightness (Super IPS+) 411 cd/m2 380 cd/m2 422 cd/m2 (644 cd/m2) 455 cd/m2
Default brightness 175 cd/m2 213 cd/m2 112 cd/m2 160 cd/m2
Maximum black level (Super IPS+) 0.47 cd/m2 0.39 cd/m2 0.34 cd/m2 (0.53 cd/m2) 0.49 cd/m2
Default black level 0.22 cd/m2 0.22 cd/m2 0.10 cd/m2 0.17 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 874:1 974:1 933:1 941:1
Maximum contrast ratio (Super IPS) 795:1 968:1 1,241:1 (1,215:1):1 928:1

Here are our official CNET Labs tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours)
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 9.6

Conclusion
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 comes with 16GB of storage for $500 or 32GB for $550, and thanks to its fast performance, sensible design, and a bucketload of features, it's the best Samsung tablet yet.

However, as Jessica Dolcourt implied in her review of the original Galaxy Note phone, the S Pen's potential far outreaches its implementation and that price, no doubt driven by the inclusion of the stylus and its supporting technologies, should be about $50 lower. Especially given the limited usefulness of the S Pen for most people, the lack of the Jelly Bean OS at launch, and a lower-res screen than tablets are capable of.

If you're looking for a full-size tablet, the Asus Transformer Infinity is still the Android tablet to get because of its beautiful, high-res screen, fast performance, and useful features; however, artists looking to take their portfolios on the go or those willing to put in the time to learn a new type of interface will want to give the Note 10.1 serious consideration.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Type Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • RAM 2 GB
  • Weight 1.29 lbs
  • Storage 16 GB
About The Author

Eric Franklin is a section editor covering how to and tablets. He's also co-host of CNET's do-it-yourself and how-to show, The Fix and is a 20-year tech industry veteran.