Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: First impressions

We've managed to get our hands on a review unit of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. Can it make a good first impression?

Can the Galaxy Note 10.1's S-Pen give it an advantage?

Can the Galaxy Note 10.1's S-Pen give it an advantage?

Samsung's S-Pen equipped Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet has just hit the market in the US. The company hasn't said a word on a potential Australian release, but thanks to online store MobiCity, we've managed to get our hands on a review unit! Does the S-Pen make it worthwhile? Let's check it out.

No new ground broken

In terms of design, it's fair to say Samsung hasn't broken any new ground with the Galaxy Note 10.1. The company has stuck with an almost identical build to its Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 tablet. The Note 10.1 has the same silver bezel on either size, the same speaker placement and virtually identical button placement. The main difference in design is the back of the tablet. Here, the Galaxy Note 10.1 has a silver backing that drops down to highlight the camera and single LED flash. The Tab 2 10.1 doesn't get the same treatment and its camera lacks an LED flash altogether.

The build quality of the Galaxy Note 10.1 is a little disappointing.

We've only had the Galaxy Note 10.1 for a few hours but the build quality is a little disappointing. It doesn't feel cheap and nasty and we like the light weight, which actually makes it more comfortable to hold than the iPad. However, the plastic backing feels a little flimsy and when force is applied to the rear of the tablet the casing physically depresses. This makes the device feel a little hollow which is a disappointment considering its price tag.

The plastic backing of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 feels a little flimsy.
The plastic backing of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 feels a little flimsy.

We also spotted a minor defect in the glossy finish on our review unit, looking somewhat like a dust particle got caught on the back before the final finishing coat was applied. This isn't a huge deal breaker but as a reputable, top brand, Samsung should pay more attention to detail when it comes to the finished product.

All about the S-Pen

Let's face it, the crowning feature of the Galaxy Note 10.1 is the S-Pen, Samsung's fancy name for stylus. It's stored in a compartment on the bottom right of the Galaxy Note 10.1 and is easy to slide out. We prefer this new S-Pen to the one Samsung used on the Galaxy Note smartphone as its thicker and therefore more comfortable to hold.

Our first impressions of the S-Pen are pretty positive.

We've only had a limited amount of time with the Galaxy Note 10.1 so far, but our first impressions of the S-Pen are pretty positive. It's responsive and there's not too much lag when you're drawing or writing on the screen. It's not just an ordinary stylus, either. Built-in pressure sensitivity means a firm press increases the width of any on-screen drawing or writing. An on-screen cursor can be set to appear whenever the pen hovers close to the screen, without actually touching it. Samsung has also built-in palm rejection support into the tablet, so when you're using the pen you can rest your palm on the screen without accidentally bumping anything. In our limited use so far it works quite well, though if you're right handed you can still accidentally bump the notifications panel in the bottom corner. If you're left handed, I suspect the same will happen with Android's back, home and multitasking on-screen keys on the other side, too.

The S-Pen is stored in the bottom right corner of the Galaxy Note 10.1.
The S-Pen is stored in the bottom right corner of the Galaxy Note 10.1.

Samsung has clearly thought about the user when it comes to the S-Pen. The Galaxy Note 10.1 comes with a range of software specifically designed to work with the S-Pen including Samsung's own S-Note app and the pre-loaded Adobe Photoshop Touch, Polaris Office and Crayon Physics apps, which have all been developed specifically to work with the S-Pen. We also love the quick launch menu that appears when you remove the S-Pen from the tablet. You can't edit the apps that appear, which is annoying, but it shows that Samsung is clearly thinking about using the device from a consumer perspective.

Plenty of features, but screen no world beater

The Galaxy Note 10.1 isn't all about the S-Pen though. Through its TouchWIZ software Samsung has managed to include some interesting new features. One of the most talked about is multiscreen, a function that allows you to open two apps side-by-side, simultaneously. The concept is an excellent one in theory, but so far we've found it a little slow swapping between two running apps, so it's not exactly instant. The feature is also limited to six apps for now — S-Note, the default browser, video player, Polaris Office, the gallery and Samsung's e-mail app. The fact it can't work with Google's Chrome browser or Gmail, for example, is a real downside.

Is a screen more important than a stylus?
Is a screen more important than a stylus?

One feature where we think Samsung may have missed the mark is the Galaxy Note 10.1's display. The 10.1in PLS TFT screen has a rather standard resolution of 1280x800 and a pixels per inch rating of 149ppi, significantly less than the new iPad. It's certainly not a bad screen by any means, offering impressive brightness, excellent viewing angles and a natural colour tone that doesn't oversaturate. However, it can't display the same super crisp text as higher resolution screens, like the iPad.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 can't display the same super crisp text as higher resolution screens.

It's not just the iPad either. The newly launched ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity and the upcoming Acer Iconia Tab A700 are two Android tablets that have much higher resolution screens than the Note. In my opinion, this immediately makes them more appealing. Samsung will point to the fact that the S-Pen offers a distinct advantage, but isn't a screen more important than a stylus?

We'll be publishing a full review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 next week. In the meantime, if you have any pressing questions about the Note that you'd like answered, please leave us a comment below!

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

PC World
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