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Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 review: A premium slate in all but performance

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The Good The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 is lightweight and comfortable to use, with a stylishly thin design that provides sufficient grip support. Performance is fast for simple tasks and it includes a ton of software perks.

The Bad $499 is an expensive starting price for any tablet. When multi-tasking, performance significantly lags with random freezes and unexplainable app crashes.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 delivers everything casual tablet users will need, but it's all tied down to an inflated price tag that makes comparable options more attractive to budget-conscious shoppers.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

One of Samsung's best 10-inch slates yet, the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1, delivers a packed feature set and a trim design, but its variable performance, particularly when multitasking, makes it more like a rookie than a pro.

It's razor-sharp resolution and richly saturated colors are stunning from first glance, and the melt-in-your-hands design almost justifies its lofty starting price. However, its performance under pressure falls short of its professional title and premium pricing.

Samsung is known to price tablets as if they're imported from another galaxy and the 10-inch Tab Pro is yet another victim of the company's unfortunate practice. The comfortable design, top-of-the-line screen, and special software perks are the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1's most impressive features, but the Google Nexus 10 and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 offer a better value for similar specs.

Design

For a 10-incher, the tablet is surprisingly and impressively lightweight and compact. It's one of the thinnest 10-inch tablets to-date, but it's girthy enough for a solid feel. The thick top and bottom bezels and reflection caused by the silver trim's rounded edges gives the slate the illusion of being thicker than it is, but the slate feels more compact than it looks.

Tested spec Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 Google Nexus 10 Apple iPad (fourth generation) Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
Weight in pounds 1 1.33 1.44 0.82
Width in inches (landscape) 9.6 10.4 7.3 9.1
Height in inches 6.7 6.9 9.5 6.2
Depth in inches 0.29 0.35 0.37 0.31
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.5 0.9 0.8 0.7

Without sacrificing many cool-points, the tablet's design is very tactilely comfortable. It sports the faux-leather back and fake stitching that's seen on other Samsung Galaxy devices, and it provides a sufficiently grippy surface. The left and right bezels barely provide enough space to rest your thumbs, but I like their thinness.

For a large tablet, it's effortless and easy to hold in either one or both hands. The rounded corners are barely noticeable in your palms and, during elongated periods of use, my wrists only started to feel fatigued after about an hour, which -- for me -- is a long time to go without noticing I'm holding a screen to my face. I found typing on it to be awkward, if gripping with both hands -- like texting with a smartphone-- but those with larger hands should find it easier.

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The capacitive buttons on the bottom bezel don't get in the way when holding the tablet. James Martin/CNET

The location of the home and capacitive buttons on the bottom bezel of the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 work better than on its 8.4-inch counterpart . They don't interfere while holding the tablet in either landscape or portrait orientation and they respond quickly to touch.

The microSD card slot on the left edge -- expandable up to 64GB -- sleekly camouflages into the tablet's silver trim, like the power button and volume rocker on the top edge of the tablet. They both stick-out enough to be easily found, but are flush enough to the tablet's edge to maintain its good looks.

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The IR blaster allows you to use the tablet as a remote control. James Martin/CNET

The IR blaster is located in the center of the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1's top edge and the headphone jack is around the corner on the left edge, which conveniently keeps any cords out of your way. The dual stereo speakers are located on the top left and right edges, ensuring they won't be blocked when listening to audio -- if held in its native landscape orientation.

Features

The Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 ships with Samsung's Android-based Touch Wiz interface and a spiffy new Magazine UX, which feature a separate home screen that sports a tile-based look, similar to Windows 8. It offers quick access to email and favorite content aggregators -- like a specially tailored Flipboard home screen.

Instead of having one or two big, pretty widgets at the top of the screen with normal app icons under them, here Samsung covers the whole screen with them. You can choose from a predetermined set of widgets or Flipboard channels to add to these pages, and can have up to five Magazine UX pages in all. Unfortunately, there's no way to completely be rid of Magazine UX if you're not sweet on Flipboard or screen-covering widgets, as the interface requires at least one Magazine UX page to exist.

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The Magazine UX may be overwhelming to new users, but Samsung makes it easy to set-up. James Martin/CNET

Samsung's TouchWiz interface has only gotten better with each iteration and this latest version is the best yet, surpassing stock Android 4.4 KitKat in the options it offers. All the shortcuts and customization options return, with quite a few added to the mix. The number of settings available is staggering, but Samsung keeps them all well-organized, while including useful tutorials for some of its more unusual features.

With the Pro line of tablets, Samsung doubles down on free apps that should appeal to business users. For a more in-depth look, check out Eric Franklin's review of the 12-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro .

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The faux-leather back provides a comfortable, yet grippy, surface. James Martin/CNET

Hardware

The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 houses a Exynos 5 Octa SoC, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage (with a microSD card slot expandable up to 64GB). The tablet also offers Bluetooth 4.0 LE, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope.

Performance

The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 performs like a champ -- as long as many apps aren't open in the background. Every time the tablet acted more like an amateur than a professional, closing the running apps significantly improved performance. Keep in mind this caveat during the rest of this portion, because it's a relevant factor to the pros and cons of the tablet's performance.

The Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1's speedy processor shines when opening and running large apps without a hitch, but, performance consistently and significantly lags if many apps are open in the background. Though the tablet has the ability to multi-task -- the multi-window function is one of my favorites -- its capacity to perform at a level worthy of a professional title falters.

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The super-sharp screen is one of the tablet's best features. James Martin/CNET

During mass auto-updates, updates would freeze mid-download like frozen apps mid-download. Even though it has a zippy quad-core CPU and 2GB of RAM, it is easily overwhelmed when pushing its performance to maximum.

The speaker quality is surprisingly bad for such a high-end tablet. Audio sounds flat and tinny -- especially when loud -- and I found some sounds so offensively bad, I often opted for headphones. Also, the function of the volume rocker disappointingly doesn't switch according to how you're holding the tablet.

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The speakers are unobtrusively located, but sound weak. James Martin/CNET

To give the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 some audiophile-credit, it includes a feature that adapts sound for headphone use and -- though the improvement isn't grand -- those who often listen to music will find the adjustment to produce a more pleasurable experience.

There's no Micro-HDMI port on the slate -- an adapter is required, but it does offer an HDMI sound option of surround or stereo output, which I found to be a considerate addition for those looking to use the tablet with their home theater set-up.

Tested spec Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 Google Nexus 10 Apple iPad (fourth generation) Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
Maximum brightness 375 cd/m2 368 cd/m2 455 cd/m2 472 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.37cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2 0.40 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1013:1 836:1 939:1 1180:1

The Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1's 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution screen is a stone cold stunner that demands your attention and adds hypnotizing dimension to the slate's melt-in-your-hand experience. Like a modern pop-up book, the richly saturated colors and super-sharp resolution make for a visually immersive experience that's enhanced by the interactive nature of the touchscreen.

The graphics heavy and tile-based Magazine UX takes advantage of every pixel the Tab Pro 10.1 packs and whether you're looking at the app drawer or an HD video, the screen manages to impress with its sharpness.

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The screen's display is impressive no matter what you're watching. James Martin/CNET

Amazon, Apple, and Google have comparable large tablets with similar super-HD screens, however the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 rocks a richer range of colors that lean towards the over-saturated side. This worked to the advantage of the tablet when it came to watching HD video -- razor-sharp images looked more like looking out of a window.

As long as I kept background apps to a minimum, gaming performance was fast and smooth. Large games like N.O.V.A 3 opened quickly and levels loaded within a few seconds. While playing Riptide, the tablet reacted quickly, making tight turns and sharp movements in realtime.

The Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 packs an 8-megapixel rear camera with flash, and a 2-megapixel front-facing shooter. Both boast decent photo quality for a tablet, but typically suffer from graininess in low-lighting conditions and soft focus. Samsung's native camera app offers a bevy of camera features that should appease any artsy amateur tablet-photographers.

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The camera quality isn't impressive, but the camera features are. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Conclusion

The Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 is one of Samsung's best 10-inch tablets yet, and, though there's still room for improving its multi-tasking abilities, once you understand how to avoid the lagging and random crashing by limiting the amount of open apps, it's a great slate with solid specs and an impressive -- and sometimes overwhelming -- amount of software features and perks.

It rocks an innovative OS with a ton of features, a comfy in-house design, and speedy performance for basic needs, but it's all at your expense -- literally. If trying to save a few pennies, comparable options cost at least $100 less.

Shoppers looking to get the most bang for their buck should consider the Google Nexus 10 or Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 instead. These two slates also offer similar speedy performance, comfy yet thin designs, and super-sharp screens, but they cost significantly less.

If you're a big baller with no budget and looking for a premium slate for casual use, the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 tablet is a divine device with swift performance, a sleek design, and a stunningly sharp and saturated screen. Just keep in mind that under pressure, it's no pro.

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