Unless you're grabbing a Nexus-branded Android product or an unlocked developer edition device, you aren't going to find a Samsung-built phone running a Google OS that doesn't have TouchWiz onboard. While the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition ships with Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), it's heavily modified. In fact, it's probably the most heavily modified build of Jelly Bean that we've seen on a tablet to date, but in this particular scenario, it's justified.
We've traditionally been cheerleaders for Google's vanilla Android experience. But with the Note 10.1 2014 Edition, Samsung has had to modify the stock Android build in order to take advantage of the S Pen. For those unfamiliar, the S Pen is Samsung's intelligent stylus. It does a lot more than just write; it can be sensed while hovering above the LCD, and you can actually activate menus and swipe through galleries via gestures that are accomplished without ever touching the panel.
It honestly takes a bit of getting used to. There's definitely a gentle learning curve with the S Pen; if you aren't used to handling a tablet with a stylus, you'll have to do a bit of trial-and-error in order to figure out how to best exploit this slate's functionality. After a week of use, however, we found that the S Pen enhanced our productivity significantly, and it became our preferred input method, even over the conventional finger-tap.
An entire suite of Samsung-built programs are onboard to take advantage of the S Pen; everything from a note-taking app to an annotation app. You can use the pen to write out words that are converted to texts or e-mail messages, and you can draw on files that you receive and shoot them back with circles, notes, etc.
The most useful feature, however, has to be Multi-Window. This enables users to run two programs at the same time, with their windows side-by-side. You can slide one window over so that the other is allowed to take up more space, and vice-versa. The implementation is beautiful. You can have Chrome as well as S Note open; or perhaps your e-mail and Chrome. Not all apps support Multi-Window, but a lot of them do, and the list is growing. Being able to view and interact with two apps in two discrete windows one one screen is huge for work-minded individuals. This greatly enhanced our productivity, and we found ourselves longing for such a feature when switching back over to an iPad for comparison.
Beyond all that, there's the usual Google Play access, so all of your favorite Android apps are available here. Samsung's WatchON is also included, which enables your tablet to control your television. Unfortunately, as we found with the Note 8.0, this software still feels unpolished, and we ended up preferring our conventional TV remote.
One thing to note: there's a ton of extra software onboard and some of it, along with the devices high screen resolution, can tax the Snapdragon SoC in the Note 10.1 2014. We were actually surprised by how many stutters and hesitations we saw when flipping between apps, and simply going about our usual business. It's not constant, and as you'll see in the pages ahead, the benchmarks don't always tell the full story, since the Note 10.1 put up some really good numbers.