Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review: Samsung's powerful Galaxy Note 10.1 Android tablet with handy stylus

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent

Average User Rating

4.5 stars 15 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Fast performance from quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM; Bright, bold screen; the S Pen stylus is a helpful addition on a tablet.

The Bad Feels somewhat cheap; No Android Jelly Bean; few apps make full use of the S Pen and some are buggy; Some S Pen features aren't enabled by default.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is Samsung's best 10-inch tablet yet. It's propelled by a powerful quad-core chip and the S Pen stylus marks it out from the competition (so long as you have a use for it). While the underwhelming screen resolution and lack of Android Jelly Bean software are disappointing, if you're willing to shell out, it's still a sound Android tablet.

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Samsung's sprawling 5.3-inch Galaxy Note strained the definitions of what a smart phone is -- not to mention our thumb joints -- when it landed in November 2011. Despite a gorgeous screen, the handset didn't blow us away.

To try to make it the big hitter Samsung clearly believes it is, it's been super-duper-sized and kitted out with a burly quad-core processor and a whopping 2GB of RAM. The Note has overcome its split smart-phone-or-tablet identity crisis and bulked up to scrap it out with the 10-inch tablet heavyweights.

Costing £400 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, does this 10-inch beast have what it takes to beat down the stunning 7-inch Google Nexus 7 , which sells for half that price?

Design

The original Galaxy Note was primarily designed to be a smart phone which, given its 5.3-inch size, we all thought was a joke. It certainly blurred the line between a phone and tablet to the point of ludicrousness.

The Note 10.1 might share the same name, but there's no confusion over in which camp this new chap stands -- at 10.1-inches, it's unmistakably a tablet, so you're going to look particularly foolish clutching it to the side of your face. The only reason to do that would be if you're using your facial hair to remove a stubborn grease mark from the screen.

The Note 10.1 borrows nearly all of its looks from Samsung's own Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. Both slates are the same size and both have slightly extra space to the left and right of the screen (when held horizontally). It isn't the most luxurious of designs and I don't think it will be troubling the iPad's edge-to-edge glass front in the style stakes. Still, the bezel's hardly an eyesore and at least there's space to house front-facing speakers.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 back
The plastic back picks up grazes and grime easily.

Around the back is a large expanse of white plastic that's been given a pearlescent sheen to stop it from being too boring. Sadly, this panel feels rather cheap and easily picks up dirt and scuffs, quickly turning your shiny new slate into a grubby paving slab. It doesn't offer much flex, so it feels like it could take the odd bump inside a bag, but I wouldn't advise carrying it too far without a decent amount of padding.

The chief difference between this Note and the Tab 2 10.1 is that the Note also comes with a stylus for writing or doodling on the screen. It fits securely in the bottom right of the tablet, which is a slightly awkward place to put it as it's easy to drop when you're removing it. You can't get it out if the tablet is sat in a docking station either.

The S Pen stylus is a unique feature among the tablet hordes.

The Note 10.1 measures 8.9mm thick, which is par for the course for most 10-inch slates, as is its 600g weight -- the iPad comes in at a slightly heavier 635g. If you already own a tablet like an iPad or Samsung's earlier Galaxy Tab, then you won't struggle to carry it around and it should fit snugly in any sleeves or bags you already own.

Around the edges you'll find a power button, a volume rocker, a microSD card slot (for expanding the internal 16GB of storage), a 3.5mm headphone jack and a dock connector. Annoyingly, there's no micro-USB slot, so if you ever want to transfer files to and from your tablet, you're going to need to make sure you have the dedicated cable with you. Woe betide you if you lose that cable -- it gives the Note power as well as data so it would be rendered useless.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 thickness
At 8.9mm thick, it's as slinky as you'd expect of a top-end tab.

S Pen stylus

What separates the Note from the raft of other full-size tablets is the addition of a stylus. The ability to scribble like a toddler after a triple espresso will no doubt draw the eye of creative artsy types who want a digital canvas for their sketches, notes and designs. It'll also come in handy if you own a toddler (with or without espresso, your choice), as they can use the S Pen -- or their finger if it's clean -- to doodle to their heart's content. Your days of worrying over felt-tipped pens making their way onto your wallpaper could be over.

The pen's been redesigned since the original Note, with the bigger tablet size affording a longer, thicker stylus. The squared-off sides will prevent it from rolling down the side of your desk to be lost forever in a tangle of cables, fluff and 2p pieces. The button on it has also received some grooves, to make it easier to find -- although it's also easier to press by mistake.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 writing
Drawing lines with the S Pen is pretty accurate, due to the stylus tip, which is pointier than fatter-tipped ones made for use with touchscreens.

I was impressed with the accuracy of the lines I was able to draw on the screen, helped by the very narrow point of the stylus. Some styluses designed to work with capacitive touchscreens have quite fat, spongy tips, which reduce accuracy. But the S Pen is more akin to a Biro, making it very easy to quickly sketch or doodle aimlessly while on the phone to your parents.

Samsung reckons the stylus can recognise 1,024 levels of pressure, which is a significant improvement over the 256 levels the original Note's stylus could detect. Having said that though, I can't really say I noticed a benefit of having 1,024 levels. When sketching and shading in Photoshop Touch, I could perhaps visually identify 10 different shade strengths.

The screen is also apparently able to tell when your palm is pressed on the screen when you're busy sketching with the S Pen. I found this to be somewhat hit and miss, with my doodles going sometimes uninterrupted and awkward blotches appearing on my beautiful artwork on other occasions.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 sketch
Samsung says the stylus will recognise up to 1,024 levels of pressure, but that's not obviously apparent in use.

If you dive into the settings, you can configure a bunch of apps like S Note, Polaris Office or PS Touch to load up automatically when you take the stylus out. That could save you valuable seconds when you absolutely must sketch something as quickly as possible.

The S Pen improves precision in certain apps and can speed up note taking. But if you prefer typing out missives, it doesn't offer any real benefit. In day-to-day tablet use, jabbing away with your finger will prove better. Unless you have a pressing need for an electronic pen, such as if you're an architect or artist who regularly sketches, the S Pen is not enough reason in itself to buy the Note over other tablets.

Still, Samsung's bundled in some decent doodling software. An app called S Note lets you join images and videos together with your own scrawlings to make your memos that bit more artistic, although the clunky interface and obscure icons are not the easiest to figure out. It's not even clear how to open a blank sheet of paper and the pre-saved S Note document entitled 'S Note Tips' is a one-page document with the single instruction of 'Tap a template and begin'. Super helpful.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 template
Bizarrely, it's not obvious how to open a simple blank sheet to doodle on when you load up the S Note app.

The gem for the artsy types will no doubt be the aforementioned Adobe Photoshop Touch -- a pared-down version of Photoshop that includes layers and some effects. It's relatively easy to open existing images to draw over or simply open a blank document for sketching. There's a lot more functionality here than just the basic crop and rotate tools found on Photoshop Express on phones.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Photoshop
The pared-down Photoshop Touch is a great tool if you want to visually recreate a migraine.

Unfortunately, not every app uses the S Pen as you'd hope. S Note and Photoshop Touch make best use of the technology, but the Email app doesn't allow you to write emails with the pen, only to draw in the body of the email, which is a big oversight.

The purpose of the S Pen is to offer an alternative to digit prodding. While the stylus feels fine for navigating menus and swiping through pages, when it comes to typing, you'll almost certainly feel more comfortable using both hands with the on-screen keyboard. If you're going to be hacking through some long emails, you might be better off looking at the Asus Transformer Infinity, with its handy keyboard dock.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

The Note 10.1 arrives running Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest-but-one version of Android. ICS, or Android 4.0 if you prefer, brings a slew of features and interface tweaks to Google's mobile operating system. Oh, and the nifty ability to unlock your device using your face. It's recently been superseded by Android 4.1 Jelly Bean though.

While Samsung reckons the Note will get a Jelly Bean update by the end of the year, if you're after the very latest software out of the box, you won't be best impressed -- and Samsung doesn't have a shining track record when it comes to bringing updates to its devices .

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Where to Buy

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 WiFi - tablet - Android 4.0 - 16 GB - 10.1"

Part Number: GT-N8013ZWYXAR
Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity IEEE 802.11n
  • Type Android 4.0
  • RAM 2 GB
  • Weight 594 g
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