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Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review (16GB)

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The good: The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 sports a proven, sensible design, a bevy of useful features, and fast performance. The S Pen Stylus is a unique addition.
The bad: Only a limited number of apps make full use of the S Pen and some of the ones that do can be buggy and confusing. Some S Pen features aren't enabled by default and others don't work properly.
The bottom line: The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is the best Samsung tablet yet. If you can get over its somewhat high price, it's a sound Android tablet investment.

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.

Multiscreen (see below) is one of the Note 10.1's biggest new software features.

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.

If you've ever held the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 in your hands, then you'll have a good idea of what to expect from the Galaxy Note 10.1. Aesthetically, the tablets are nearly identical, with only a few physical differences to speak of: the Note 10.1 comes in a white model and a black model (as opposed to only gray), sports a wider bezel, is a bit thinner, and weighs slightly more than the Tab 2 10.1. Speakers grace the right and left bezel and the top bezel sports a 1.9-megapixel camera that sits right next to an ambient light sensor. Directly opposite, on the back, is a 5-megapixel LED flash-supported camera (up from 3 megapixels on previous Galaxy Tabs). The top edge holds a power button, a volume rocker, a microSD slot (supporting cards of up to 64GB), an IR blaster, and a headphone jack. On the bottom edge are the dock connector and a microphone pinhole. The tablet is fairly light and comfortable to hold and while it does feel like smooth plastic, it doesn't feel unpleasantly plasticky or cheap.

Lastly, there's a 4-inch-long, ill-placed holding space in the tablet's bottom-right corner for the S Pen Stylus. The problems with this placement are, one, the S Pen can easily fall out if you're holding the tablet up while removing it, and two, when the tablet sits in a docking station, the holding space is too close to the desktop for the S Pen to be removed unless you undock it first. Not a huge design faux pas, but just a strange choice not to place the holding space on the top.

This is actually the bottom of the tablet, where the ill-placed stylus slot resides.

The S Pen has gotten a redesign since its appearance on the original Galaxy Note. The new stylus is longer and thicker, and has its sides squared off to keep it from unexpectedly rolling away. Also, the pen button is now grooved to make it a bit easier to find with your fingertips; however, I found myself consistently pressing the button by mistake.

The point of the S Pen is to give you an alternative to using your fingers, and while this feels fine for navigating menus and swiping through pages, when it comes time to type, I prefer using both hands, as it's faster and more comfortable than the search-and-peck routine the S Pen forces you into. Also, the stock S Pen is a little too light and thin for my tastes. I much preferred using the original S Pen encased in the S Pen Holder Kit with its extra weight and mass making it feel much more like a actual, quality, ink pen.

The original Note S pen (bottom) and the new S Pen for the Note 10.1.

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.

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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