Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) tablet

Samsung's 10.1in tablet returns with a much improved design and better performance

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Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition)

Pros

  • Improved design
  • S Pen
  • Screen quality
  • Battery life

Cons

  • Some TouchWIZ issues
  • Camera could be better
  • Buttons
  • Battery can’t be removed

Bottom Line

Samsung’s revision of its Galaxy Note 10.1 has transformed it from an average slate to a well-rounded media, creativity, and day-to-day tablet. Its build and screen quality are the most notable upgrades, with the S Pen also delivering the goods. At the same time, though, the device’s physical and touch buttons, and the camera, all need work.

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The 2014 revision of the Galaxy Note 10.1 (model SM-P605 in Australia) rights many of the wrongs of its predecessor, but still has a few issues. While the original version of the tablet introduced the S Pen and a series of accompanying software features to Samsung’s slate arsenal, we found it lacked in design and build, performance, and screen quality. The new version looks and feels a lot better, delivering a more enjoyable experience with newer hardware and a significantly better screen, but could use some design tweaks, a lighter UI, and a major camera overhaul.

Design and build quality

While aesthetics are a matter of preference, we maintain that the original Galaxy Note 10.1 was a boring slate; it had a cheap, dated look which made it look like a flimsy piece of white plastic. Its appearance simply couldn’t compete beside the likes of a shiny fourth generation Apple iPad.

Samsung’s design overhaul introduces an attractive piece of hardware that weighs 543g. The 10.1in screen is enclosed in a glossy bezel, with a grooved silver finish running along the edges of the unit. The non-removable back cover of the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) has a textured finish which imitates leatherette, fake stitching included. Visually, it gives the tablet a professional look and minimises the visibility of fingerprints and scratches. Practically, the grooves and bumps make the device much easier to grip, particularly with one hand. The 8mm thickness also helps.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) is reasonably sturdy, but it’s still a device which you won’t want to drop; we can’t imagine it surviving any sort of fall onto a hard surface. We did notice some creaking when holding the unit and applying pressure to the central area of the rear, as well as the top-right edge along which the S Pen sits.

The major pitfall behind the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) is both its physical and touch buttons; they get in the way a lot. The power, volume up and down, and home buttons (which sit on the top left-hand side of the frame) are far too easy to press accidentally, triggering unintentional activations. And although the ‘menu’ and ‘back’ touch buttons have become somewhat of a Samsung trademark, they are prone to accidental presses when rotating the device and during gameplay. We would have liked to see either physical buttons in place of these (like was seen on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active smartphone) or a palm-recognition system.

At the top-left side, you can see the power and volume buttons. The top also has the infrared sensor, and the left has the headphone port.
At the top-left side, you can see the power and volume buttons. The top also has the infrared sensor, and the left has the headphone port.

Pixel double up

The new Galaxy Note 10.1’s screen ticks most of the right boxes. It’s a 10.1in display with a resolution of 2560x1600 pixels, giving it 299 pixels per inch (PPI), and essentially doubling up from its predecessor’s 1280x800-pixel resolution. It produces bright, vibrant and accurate colours, and has excellent viewing angles. Text is super-crisp and ideal for long-term reading. Blacks are deep, which is great for media-heavy usage.

As with most tablets, though, the highly-reflective surface really struggles in managing both direct natural and artificial light. The tablet’s maximum brightness excels in dim to moderately-lit environments, but you will see your reflection floating around a lot of the time if your environment is any more illuminated. We found this particularly frustrating during our train commutes where the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) suffered at the hands of not only light coming in through the windows, but the train’s interior lights. Fingerprints are also prominent; we were often reaching for a cloth to wipe the screen before watching a movie. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: matte would go a long way to providing a better user experience.

More grunt, same TouchWiz

The 4G-enabled Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) operates on a quad-core, 2.3GHz processor and 3GB of RAM, running Google’s Android 4.3 Jelly Bean operating system (P605XXUBMJ4, to be precise). As expected, this is overlaid with Samsung’s own large and clunky TouchWIZ user interface.

During our testing period, the hardware kept TouchWIZ moving well. It generally provided a smooth and highly responsive experience. Web browsing, social networking and email was quick and snappy. Opening and switching between apps was often instant, but some apps did trigger a brief delay (sometimes longer when done more often).

The Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) has no trouble running more graphically-intense games, including the likes of FIFA 14 and Real Racing 3, although the device did become noticeably warm after 15 minutes of play time. We did note extensive lag when downloading several apps simultaneously, and TouchWIZ itself crashed three times during early stages of use.

As always, Samsung has packed its TouchWIZ experience with a series of exclusive apps and features, all of which are familiar. This includes Samsung Apps, Samsung Kies (Air), Samsung WatchOn (which can control your TV via the tablet's infrared sensor), Samsung Link, Group Play, and more. SketchBook for Galaxy is also included, as is integrated Flipboard, TripAdvisor, Dropbox, and Twitter functionality. Features such as multi-screen return, too. As we have noted in the past, a lot of these prove gimmicky and remained unused by us (testing purposes aside). It’s almost as though Samsung is trying to be everything to everyone at the expense of the overall speed of the tablet.

While the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) is restricted to 16GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot can be found on the right edge of the device.

Enter the S Pen

While it is easy to neglect, the S Pen makes the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) a well-rounded entertainment, work, creativity, and day-to-day lifestyle tool. It is a highly-responsive digital stylus which makes handwriting and drawing quite convenient. Once it is removed from its slot (with the tablet unlocked), TouchWIZ will automatically launch a quick menu which sits above whichever app is active.

The right side has the SIM slot, a microSD card slot, and the holder for the S Pen.
The right side has the SIM slot, a microSD card slot, and the holder for the S Pen.

If for some reason it doesn’t, it can always be activated by pressing the S Pen’s single button while the on-screen cursor is active. The on-screen cursor works when the tip of the pen is a maximum of 2.5cm away from the screen, and is represented by a small ring. It must be noted that while the on-screen cursor is present, palm-recognition technology limits all input to the S Pen so your palms and fingers won’t get in the way. Turning the quick menu off is done by storing the S Pen, pressing the button again, or tapping on the screen.

The S Pen slides out easily.
The S Pen slides out easily.

The quick menu offers easy access to five useful options which we ended up using far more frequently than we thought we would. These are Action Memo, Scrapbooker, Screen Write, S Finder, and Pen Window. Unlike traditional apps, these open as on-screen mini-apps. For example, launching Action Memo brings up a windowed version of the app, which sits in front of whichever other app you are using. It is useful for note-taking during Skype calls, or jotting down details when Web browsing. The memos can be saved and closed, allowing you to get back to your activities.

You can use it for general navigation or taking notes and drawing.
You can use it for general navigation or taking notes and drawing.

The Scrapbooker app allows you to use the S Pen to draw around an area on the screen to save it to the Scrapbook app. Think of it as a more interactive version of Microsoft Windows’ Snipping Tool on a PC. What makes Scrapbooker particularly useful is that you can add memos and tags to the captured image. One thing we did notice, though, is that the only way to get out of the function is to make a selection and then either save or delete it; there is no ‘cancel’ option unless you do this.

The Screen Write feature automatically captures a full-sized screenshot of whatever you are viewing, be it the desktop or an app, and creates an image of it for you to write or draw on. This is paired with a set of pen settings, including utensil selection (pen, pencil, brush, and more) and colour, which can be saved as presets for future use.

The Pen Window feature also deserves a mention. When selected, it allows you to draw a box somewhere on the screen, and then prompts you to select from a list of predetermined apps (including the likes of Calculator, Alarm, and YouTube) to be opened in a pop-up window. Like with Action Memo, it means you do not have to switch apps, and enhances multitasking beyond TouchWIZ’s split-screen option.

Good battery life, poor camera

In our battery rundown test, where we maximised screen brightness, turned Wi-Fi on, disabled Power Saver mode, closed all other apps and played a 720p video on loop (through Samsung’s bundled in-ear headphones) at 50 per cent volume, the tablet’s 8220mAh (milliamp-hour) lithium-ion battery lasted a smidgen more than 7hr. We stopped our test when the battery reached 5 per cent, at which point the tablet automatically turned off VLC Player (which we were using to play the video), and dimmed the screen to minimum brightness without the option to increase it again until a charger was plugged in.

The battery life is quite impressive, and likely to survive much longer for not-so-heavy users. On a day-to-day usage basis, which consisted of some social networking over 3G, a few hours of media, and some gaming, we found ourselves charging no more than once every two to three days. Again, it’s unfortunate that the back cover cannot be removed; a spare battery would be excellent during longer travels (though you could always use a USB charger).

The Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) has an 8MP rear-facing camera which is average at best. Photos contain a sub-par level of detail and suffer from excessive image noise in virtually all lighting conditions, especially when zoomed in; even naturally bright-lit landscapes proved grainy. The tablet’s front-facing VGA camera, on the other hand, did a good job during video calls.

The built-in camera isn't great, but you probably shouldn't use this tablet as your main device for capturing photos anyway.
The built-in camera isn't great, but you probably shouldn't use this tablet as your main device for capturing photos anyway.

This is a 100 per cent crop of the above photo. You can see definition isn't great.
This is a 100 per cent crop of the above photo. You can see definition isn't great.

Indoor photos can be hampered by noise.
Indoor photos can be hampered by noise.

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