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Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Quad Core Tablet Review
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Date: Aug 30, 2012
Section:Mobile
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introdcution and Specifications
Samsung recently launched the follow up to their Galaxy Tab line of Android-based tablets, the Galaxy Note 10.1. Although the original Galaxy Note's form factor didn’t quite conform to either traditional smartphones or tablets, and some even dubbed it a “phablet”, it has been a huge success for Samsung and has sold millions of units worldwide. With the new Galaxy Note 10.1, not only does Samsung leverage the branding of one of its more popular products, but it’s bringing over some similar technology as well. Along with a few new design queues and software tweaks, the Galaxy Note 10.1 also features Samsung’s S-Pen stylus, which was one of the differentiating features of the original Galaxy Note, along with its funky form factor.


The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 in "Deep Grey".

In many ways the Galaxy Note 10.1 is similar to the 10.1” Galaxy Tab and Galaxy Tab 2 that came before it, but a few subtle modifications to the design and support for Samsung’s S-Pen technology help set it apart. Unfortunately, some of the things that enhance the user experience with the Galaxy Note 10.1 have also forced design decisions that detract from the device. Despite a few shortcomings which we’ll cover on the pages ahead, however, Samsung has made some clear and distinct progress with the Galaxy Note 10.1 and have created a tablet with some features that truly stand out in a market flooded with “me too” products.


The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 in action

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (WiFi)
Specifications & Features
Processor
  • 1.4GHz Exynos Quad-Core Processor
Display
  • 10.1" WXGA(1280x800) LCD
OS
  • Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Camera
  • Main(Rear): 5 Megapixel Auto Focus Camera with LED Flash
  • Sub(Front): 1.9 Megapixel Camera
Video
  • Codec: MPEG4, H.263, H.264, VC-1, DivX, WMV7, WMV8, VP8
  • Format: 3GP(MP4), WMV(ASF), AVI, FLV, MKV, WebM
  • Playback/ Recording: 1080p Full HD@30fps, 720p HD@30fps
Audio
  • Codec: MP3, Vorbis, WMA, AAC, ACC+, eAAC+, AMR(NB,WB),
  • MIDI, WAV, AC-3, Flac
  • Music Player with SoundAlive
  • 3.5mm Ear Jack
Enterprise Solutions
  • Exchange ActiveSync
  • On-Device Encryption
  • Cisco VPN(Virtual Private Network)
  • uniper Junos Pulse VPN
Sensors
  • Accelerometer, Digital compass, Light, Gyroscope
Connectivity
  • Bluetooth technology v 4.0 (Apt-X Codec support)
  • AllShare Play / AllShare Cast
  • Kies / Samsung Kies air
  • USB 2.0 Host, Samsung
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 & 5 GHz), Wi-Fi Direct
  • Wi-Fi Channel Bonding
Memory
  • 16/32/64GB User memory + 2GB (RAM)
  • microSD (up to 64GB)
Battery
  • Standard battery, Li-ion 7,000mAh
Value-added Features
  • S Pen Experience(6.5mm S Pen, S Note, S Planner etc.)
  • Multi Screen
  • Adobe Photoshop Touch
  • Pop up play
  • Smart Stay
  • Samsung TouchWiz
  • Video Wall
  • Samsung Apps
  • Samsung Hub
  • Readers Hub*/ Music Hub/ Game Hub/ Video Hub*Samsung S Suggest (App recommendation service)
  • Samsung ChatON mobile communication service
  • Google Mobile Services
  • Google Play, Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps,
  • Syncing with Google Calendar, Google Search, Google +Polaris office
  • A-GPS(3G version)
  • S-GPS(WiFi version)
  • Glonass
Form Factor
  • Dimension : 262 x 180 x 8.9 mm
  • Weight : 600g (3G), 597g (WiFi)


The list of specifications above outline some of the Samsung’s intelligent design and engineering decisions, but also show some of the Galaxy Note 10.1’s potential shortcomings.


The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 with S-Pen

On the plus side, Samsung has powered this device with a proprietary SoC that offers excellent performance. The Samsung Exynos 4 Quad at the heart of the Galaxy Note 10.1 proved to be a beast of a SoC in terms of performance. The Exynos 4 Quad was referred to internally as the Exynos 4412. The chip features quad, ARM Cortex-A9 cores, clocked at up to 1.4GHz, with an ARM Mali-400 MP4 GPU and a 32-bit dual-channel memory controller. It’s the same chip used in the international version of the Galaxy S III, but in the Galaxy Note 10.1, the chip (and the rest of the Note 10.1’s components) are linked to a relatively large 7000mAh battery. The combination of the high-performing Exynos 4 Quad and a high-capacity battery culminate in a device that not only put up some of the best performance numbers we’ve seen from an Android-based tablet, but excellent battery life as well.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 also features 16/32/64GB of internal storage and 2GB of RAM. The storage configurations are standard for the current crop of tablets, but 2GB of RAM is a definite plus in a sea of 1GB or 512MB equipped devices. In addition, the Note 10.1 sports an easily accessible microSD card slot for users looking to expand their storage options or easily transfer files to the device. An accelerometer, digital compass, flash, gyroscope and 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi (2.4 & 5 GHz) are also standard equipment.

The Galaxy Note 10.1’s screen, however, while ample in size, is somewhat disappointing. The 10.1” 1280x800 display in the Galaxy Note 10.1 is essentially identical to the display used in the original Galaxy Tab, which debuted over a year ago. We were hoping for some progress in this area, with Asus and Apple both offering similarly priced tablets outfitted with much higher resolution displays.  Let's dig in to a few more particulars.

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Galaxy Note 10.1 Build and Design

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is an evolution of the original Galaxy Tab 10.1’s design. To hold the two devices side by side reveals many similarities and a few obvious differences as well. The two devices feel very similar in the hand, however, save for a couple of minor gripes with the Galaxy Note 10.1 that aren’t present on the previous-gen Galaxy Tab.






Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 from the front, top, and back

The Galaxy Note 10.1’s dimensions are 10.32” (h) x 7.08 (w) x .35 (d) and the device weights 1.32lbs. If you look back at the specifications of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, it is just a hair smaller at 10.1" (h) x 6.81" (w) x 0.34" (d) and a touch lighter at 1.31lbs. For all practical purposes though, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is essentially the same size as its predecessors. The slight differences in size and weight are not perceptible when holding the device.

If we take a tour around the Galaxy Note 10.1, there is something to see on every edge and surface, save for the short sides. Along the top of the device you’ll see the Note 10.1’s 3.5mm headphone jack, and IR emitter, microSD card slot, volume rocker and power button. On the bottom edge is a proprietary power/dock connector adjacent to a small hole for the Note 10.1’s microphone. On the back side, you’ll find the device’s 5MP camera with LED Flash situated at the top and a slot for the Note 10.1’s S-Pen stylus.

Flip the Galaxy Note 10.1 over, and the 1.9MP front-facing camera is visible and the screen is flanked by a pair of oversized (for a tablet) stereo speakers.

  

  
Front-facing speakers, dock connector, microSD slot, and S-Pen stylus

The front mounted speakers are excellent and should be standard on tablets where media consumption is king. Sound quality is very good in comparison to other tablets and the device offers excellent volume, but don’t expect any heavy bass. Unfortunately, moving the speakers to the front of the Galaxy Note 10.1 also results in one of the devices shortcomings. When you’re holding the Note 10.1 from the sides, your fingers will rest above the edges of the device’s metal bezel. And there is a small, but noticeable ridge present around the entire rim of the screen. Not only can that edge detract from the in-hand feel of the Galaxy Note 10.1, but moving the seam between the front glass and edges of the device to the front seems to negatively affect rigidity. The Galaxy Note 10.1 still feels good in the hand, but as you rotate it and grab it from different angles, it’s not uncommon to hear a slight creak or even feel the back flex a bit. The material quality is there; in fact the back, glass, and metal edges feel identical to the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which was highly praised. But the slight design differences result in some unpleasant side effects, unfortunately.

As for the display on the Galaxy Note 10.1, it’s somewhat standard fare. The brightness and viewing angles are excellent as we’ve come to expect from Samsung. Touch responsiveness is very good as well and color saturation seems more realistic than and not quite as over-saturated as some previous-gen devices, with bright whites and dark blacks. The screen offers very good image quality, but we do wish it had a higher resolution. We’ve been spoiled by Asus’ and Apple’s high res screens and wish Samsung had opted for a screen with more than 1280x800 pixels.
 

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Software, UI Tweaks and Camera Performance

The Galaxy Note 10.1 ships with Android ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich) v4.0.4, although we’re told a Jelly Bean update is already in the works. Android is augmented by Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, which tweaks a number of the operating system’s elements and adds a few capabilities not offered in competing devices.

  

  
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: Default home panels and installed apps

Out of the box, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is configured with five home panels, but that number can be increased up to seven or decreased to one with a simple pinch and a few taps. By default the main home screen is loaded up with widgets and shortcuts, which are visible in the screen-caps above. Generally speaking, we like what Samsung has done with TouchWiz and feel that its proprietary features add to the experience and outweigh some of the benefits offered by a “pure” Android experience.

There are a few additional applications loaded on the Galaxy Note 10.1 that we should point out as well. In addition to all of the Google goodness Android users expect from the mobile OS, Samsung incorporates their S-Pen Experience apps (S-Pen, S-Note, S-Planner etc.), “Multi Screen” support, Polaris Office, Adobe Photoshop Touch, Samsung Hub with a Readers Hub, Music Hub, Game Hub, and Video Hub, along with Samsung S Suggest, which is an app recommendation service.

It’s the S-Pen enhanced apps and “Multi screen” support on the Galaxy Note 10.1 that really set the device apart in the current market. The Galaxy Note 10.1’s screen is perfectly happy with finger / gesture input, but the S-Pen adds a much-appreciated level of precision. Writing notes and/or editing images is simply better when you’ve got the additional precision offered by the S-Pen.

  

  
Samsung stock widgets and Multi Screen in action

Multi Screen support is also a plus, but it’s not perfect. Samsung’s Multi Screen technology gives users the ability to open two apps, side my side for easier multi-tasking. We should note, however, that Multi Screen only works with the browser, Polaris Office, S Note, Gallery, Email app (not GMAIL), and Video player. You cannot open any two apps side by side, only the apps supported by Multi Screen. We should also point out that while two apps are available on screen, when one is active and in focus, the other—while still visible—acts as if it is in the background and inactive. When you tap from app to app, there is a noticeable lag.

In addition to Multi Screen, Samsung also allows for a handful of apps to be launched in their own windows (Alarm, Calculator, Email, Music Player, S-Note, S-Planner, and Task Manager), so in theory a user can have 10 apps on screen at once. The Note 10.1’s video player also has a floating pop-out mode, should you want a video constantly visible as well. In practice, only three apps maximum are useful, but even still, this is something Samsung offers while others do not. While not perfect, at least Samsung is innovating on the software side and trying to make tablets more conducive to productivity, not just consumption.

Camera Performance
Not Bad--For a Tablet

  

  
Sample shots from the Galaxy Note 10.1's rear facing, 5MP camera

The cameras on the Galaxy Note 10.1, while adequate for a tablet are nothing to write home about. In bright lighting, especially in outdoor environments, the Note 10.1’s 5MP camera can produce some nice images, but it is not a replacement for a good point-and-shoot. In lower light situations, noise is visible in the images and the camera has some issues auto-focusing. Colors seem a touch under-saturated to us and contrast could be a bit higher as well. We also found that the slow lens made capturing objects in motion with clear focus nearly impossible, but that’s also the case with every other tablet on the market as well.
 


Sample video captured with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Video capture was also standard fare. The Galaxy Note 10.1 is capable of playback and recording of 1080p Full HD video at 30fps (720p HD@30fps too), but the recordings are not of the best quality. For quick, in-the-moment, video recording in a pinch, the Note 10.1 will do, but it is not a replacement for a good video camera. Then again, no tablet is.
 

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Performance: CPU and Web Browsing

Test Methodology: In all of our test vehicles for the following benchmarks, we ran each tablet at its performance optimized settings where available, with the exception of the Transformer Pad Infinity and Transformer Prime which were tested at both Balanced and Performance power profile settings. Performance mode on the Pad Infinity offers the full performance of its NVIDIA Tegra 3 T33 SoC, whereas Balanced mode compromises performance a bit to conserve power, capping the CPU at 1.6GHz max frequency. Beyond that, each tablet was also connected to a wall power source to ensure full performance. Here's a quick spec rundown for each tablet tested.

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (WiFi) - 1.4GHz Samsung Exynos 4 Quad-Core
  • Asus Transformer Pad Infinity - NVIDIA Tegra 3 T33 - 1.6 - 1.7GHz Quad-Core
  • Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime - NVIDIA Tegra 3 1.3 - 1.4GHz Quad-Core
  • Asus Eee Pad Transformer - NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz Dual-Core
  • Apple iPad 2 - Apple A5 Dual-Core
  • Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet - NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz Dual-Core
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 - NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz Dual-Core
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus - 1.2GHz Samsung Exynos Dual Core

In the following tests, we take a look at how the Asus Pad Infinity compares to other tablets by running a few common benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace. The first two tests are general purpose computing type benchmarks.

CPU Performance testing
Android CPU testing

Despite its lower peak frequencies versus Tegra 3, the Exynos Quad in the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 put up the best score by far in the Linpack multi-threaded benchmark. The Galaxy Note 10.1 was a full 40% faster than its closest competition in this benchmark.

Web Browser/JavaScript Performance testing
Android Browser Testing

The Galaxy Note 10.1 also rocked the SunSpider javascript benchmark, besting its nearest competitor by over 400 points. The strong performance by the Note 10.1 here is the result of hardware and software optimizations that allow it to outrun any other Android-based device we've tested to date.

Rightware Browsermark tells a similar story. In the browser-based Rightmark tests, the  Galaxy Note 10.1 once again outpaces every other device by a wide margin.
 

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Performance: Graphics GLBenchmark

GLBenchmark is new to our 3D performance benchmark set. The test suite is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark with a number of performance metrics incorporated in it. We specifically use the Fill Texture Fetch suite to measure raw texture fill rate of a graphics core and the Egypt Off Screen test to measure 3D performance in frames per second. The Off Screen test renders workloads at 1280x720 for all devices, but off-screen, so Vsynch and screen refresh are not limiting performance.

Graphics testing
OpenGL 3D Rendering Performance

The two GL Benchmark graphics tests we ran also paint the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 in a favorable light. In the Egypt Off-Screen test, the Galaxy Note 10.1 pulled ahead of every other tablet we've tested. In the fillrate test, the Galaxy Note 10.1 also performed very well, besting all of the Tegra 3-based devices and trailing only the Apple iPad 2.
 

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Performance: Graphics and System Level

An3DBench XL is a benchmarking tool based on an Android port of the jPCT 3D engine.

Graphics Testing
3D Graphics Testing

The app runs 7 tests in total that look at graphics processor fill rate and complex rendering workloads and scenes. We've got numbers from three of the tests in the graph below. 

The Emporor's New Clothes tests is limited by V-Sync, hence the similar performance across all devices. The Flower Power test, however, proves to be one of the Galaxy Note 10.1's strengths, as it bests all other tablets by wide margin. In the Magic Island test though, the Note 10.1 trails the others.

AnTuTu Android Benchmark
Subsystem level performance measurements

The Android-based AnTuTu benchmark does a nice job of measuring individual subsystem level performance for our tablet competitors here, with models for CPU, GPU, RAM and IO (or storage subsystem) performance.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 leads the pack in three of the four tests here--GPU, RAM, and IO.  In the CPU test, the Galaxy Note 10.1's Exynos Quad SoC trails the Tegra 3 ever so slightly when the Tegra is running in Balanced performance mode, but with the Tegra 3 configured for high performance, it pulls well ahead.
 
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Battery Life Testing

In an attempt to quantitatively measure the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics, Flash media and text. The page automatically refreshes every three minutes. This is a simple baseline test that measures up time with web browsing.

Battery Life Tests
Untethered Up-Time Measurements

 
For this test, we set the Galaxy Note 10.1's display to 50% brightness, which is still plenty bright and easy on the eyes and connected to the web via 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. The stock browser was used.

Please note that when the Transformer Pad 300 is docked, its internal battery is augmented by a supplemental battery in the dock, which boosts total battery life significantly. While docked, the Transformer Pad 300 lasts the longest of all the tablets represented here. Versus all of the other tablets, however, sans dock, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 offers the best battery life by over a half-hour.

The 7000 mAh battery in the Galaxy Note 10.1 ensures plenty of uptime, but we'd also like to mention the device's excellent stand-by time. When the Galaxy Note 10.1 goes to sleep, its battery is barely utilized. Excluding our battery life test, we've only needed to charge the Galaxy Note 10.1 once in about a week's time. If you're only a light tablet user, expect the Galaxy Note 10.1 to last multiple days without needing a charge. Battery life is excellent with this device.
 

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Performance Analysis and Conclusion

Performance Analysis: The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is the highest-performing Android-based tablet we have tested to date. In all but two tests, the Galaxy Note 10.1 bested every other tablet we’ve tested, occasionally by wide margins. Web browsing and JavaScript performance in particular were very strong, although graphics performance was also very good and trailed Apple’s A5 and NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 in only two instances.

Battery performance was excellent on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 as well. Despite being powered by a quad-core SoC that clearly outperformed competing tablets, the Note 10.1 also offered the best battery life of any Android-based tablet we’ve ever tested. Getting a full day out of the Galaxy Note 10.1 with light to moderate use should be no problem and stand-by time is exceptional. The Galaxy Note 10.1 can sit for days with minimal effect on its battery.


The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 

Our experience with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 was mostly positive. Samsung has done some very good things with the Galaxy Note 10.1, which unfortunately had some unwanted side effects. On the plus side, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is an excellent performer, in terms of a speed and responsiveness and battery life. The device offers a smooth user experience, apps are quick to load, web browsing is very good, and battery life is well above average. The combination of a fast, quad-core SoC and 2GB of memory in the Galaxy Note 10.1 result in a high-performing device that competes or surpasses the best Android tablets currently available.

The front-mounted speakers on the Galaxy Note 10.1 also offer some of the best sound we’ve heard in a tablet. When consuming content on a tablet, you’ll most likely be holding the device in landscape mode, at arm’s length. In that configuration, the Galaxy Note 10.1 projects sounds directly at your ears, which results in a better audio experience versus tablets that project sound from the sides or back. The front-mounted speakers, however, also forced Samsung to wrap the metal bezel on the Galaxy Note 10.1 around the front of the device, which has a side effect of placing a raised seam under your fingers. It’s not a huge issue, but versus the perfectly flat and smooth surfaces of other tablets, holding onto a raised seam detracts from the experience slightly.

The screen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is also a point of consideration. The image quality is great, with good viewing angles, brightness, contrast, and color saturation, but the 1280x800 resolution is somewhat of a disappointment in light of the 1920x1200 and 2048x1536 resolutions offered by the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T and latest Apple iPad.

The 16GB Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 we’ve shown you here retails for $499, which puts it right in-line with many other high-end Android-tablets in its class. Although priced on par with competitive offerings, there are trade-offs with the Galaxy Note 10.1. If you’re shopping for a tablet in this price range, you’ll have to ask yourself what’s more important: display resolution or Samsung’s proprietary features. If the S-Pen, Multi Screen tech, excellent battery life and performance, and front facing speakers outweigh the drawbacks of its 1280x800 screen, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a great device and it's for you. If, however, Samsung’s S-Pen and other differentiating features aren’t particularly interesting to you, the same money can get you a similarly performing tablet with a much higher resolutions screen.

Ultimately though, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is another solid product from Samsung that’s worthy of consideration and it shows that the company is actively trying to advance the tablet form factor with innovative features designed to enhance productivity and user experience.  Samsung should be commended for their innovation, even if the end result may be less than perfect.

 
  • Fastest Andoid Tablet We've Tested To Date
  • Excellent Battery Life
  • S-Pen Support
  • Optmized Version of Photoshop Included
  • Great Speakers
  • Relatively Low-Res Screen In This Price Segment
  • Multi Screen Only Works With Certain Apps



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