|Introduction and Specifications|
|Just over a year ago, Samsung broadened its Note portfolio to not only include phones, but tablets as well. The company saw a need to introduce a slate that catered to working professionals, power users, and those who need more content creation capabilities -- hence, the Galaxy Note 10.1 with the S Pen was born. In the ever-challenging world of product naming and differentiation, Samsung decided on quite the mouthful for the Note 10.1's successor. The Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition is perhaps awkwardly named, but it's shipping in a market where work-capable tablets are certainly generating a lot of buzz.
Microsoft's own Surface 2 line just shipped, and the company is hoping to right the wrongs of the original. Samsung wants to slot into that category, competitively offering up a powerful, versatile slate that's relatively affordable given its capabilities. The new Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition also has a few unique features: compatibility with Samsung's Galaxy Gear smart watch, a super high resolution 2560X1600 display, and a leather-like rear cover that adds style in a product category that's growing increasingly ho-hum. Let's take a look at what makes this tablet tick.
Snapdragon 800 SoC at the heart of the device. Android 4.3 is on-board and Samsung has tossed a heavy coat of its own TouchWiz interface on there in order to best take advantage of the included stylus; pardon us, S Pen. To date, no tablet maker has completely nailed the concept of a work-capable slate. Is the Note 10.1 2014 Edition the one to do it? We'll discuss precisely that in the pages ahead.
|Design and Build Quality|
|It feels like an eternity since Apple and Samsung were battling it out in court, with the former suggesting that the latter had copied its design patents. The two giants have seemingly put all of that angst behind them, and though likely unrelated, in the more recent months, Samsung's design philosophy has changed slightly. The Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition looks absolutely nothing like an iPad, and in fact, it looks almost nothing like any other Samsung produce save for the Note 3 smartphone. The Note 3 and Note 10.1 2014 Edition were launched in lockstep, and indeed, these were the first two to work in conjunction with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch. (Samsung has since offered a software update that enables prior Galaxy devices to play nice with its new watch as well.)
The Note 10.1 2014 Edition weighs 600 grams, which is just 7 grams shy of the iPad 2. In other words, it's not light. The iPad Air weighs 469 grams, just for the sake of comparison. On the upside, this slate is most definitely sturdy.
Going around the edges, you'll find a micro-USB 2.0 port along the bottom; a perforated speaker grille and a 3.5mm headphone jack along the left side; a power button and a volume rocker on the top; and an S Pen stylus, speaker grille, and microSD expansion slot along the right side. The edge is also home to a chrome accent ring, which is ribbed to provide a bit of texture. It certainly adds some contrast to the mix, but it does feel a bit chintzy to be honest.
On the front face, there's an astoundingly gorgeous 2560x1600 Super Clear LCD. Compared to the lowly WXGA display in the original Galaxy Note 10.1, there's simply no question that Samsung has upped the game in the display department. The panel is remarkable in every way. Viewing angles are shockingly wide; colors pop; responsiveness is best-in-class; and it's simply a delight to look at regardless of whether you're reading or soaking in a film.
The typical Home button is also along the bottom, flanked by a Menu soft key and Back soft key on the left and right, respectively. The rear of the device is home to an all-new design aesthetic. It's a leather-looking back, which is actually produced from plastic. That said, it genuinely feels soft to the touch, and while it's obviously not genuine leather, the texture is quite nice. The stitching progresses all the way around the edges, and it honestly adds a lot of class to the product. This is a design choice that could have easily been mocked as gimmicky, but the execution is perfect. Up top, there's an 8MP camera with flash, and at the extreme top-left corner is the S Pen's slot.
We'd also like to point out that the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition's speakers are truly impressive. They're loud, clear, and they project really well for a tablet. Being a 10-inch slate, this guy is too large for one-handed operation, but if you're willing to learn, it is possible to position the tablet in one hand while using the S Pen to write or doodle with your other hand. Once you get the hang of it, it's actually quite enjoyable.
Of course, hardware only tells half of the story, so let's explore the software angle on the next page.
|Software and User Experience|
|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.
|Battery Life Testing and Camera Samples|
|Battery life is an important part of any tablet, and it's clear that Samsung gets that. The larger-than-usual 8,220mAh battery in this device is proof that the company is trying to make its latest slate last as long as possible between charges. In daily use, tapping into the Web, social networks, e-mail, calls, etc., we were easily able to use the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition for a full day. We squeezed around 18 hours of solid use while still having 25% of the battery remaining. It's safe to say that this slate will last you an entire work day off of the charger unless you're tethering for hours on end or using the display as a movie screen all day long.
In general, tablets aren't ideal for taking photos. They're too large to use with a single hand, and frankly, they get in the way of people behind you if you're trying to hoist one up to capture a moment. Moreover, they're pretty easy to let slip, and since there's no dedicated shutter button, you'll be awkwardly reaching around to the front of the display to mash the on-screen shutter button. It's clear here that, as with most slates, the camera on the Note 10.1 2014 Edition is mostly an afterthought. That said, we have to confess that we're fairly impressed with the results given the constraints. Most tablet photos are fairly cringe-worthy, but this unit managed to capture shots that had a decent amount of pop and clarity.
Below are a few examples of what the Note 10.1 2014 Edition is capable of. All of the samples here are unedited, and delivered straight out of the camera.
|Benchmarks: CPU & Web Browsing|
|Next, we'll take a look at how the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition compares to some other mobile devices by examining its performance in a few benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace.
|Benchmarks: Graphics & Gaming|
An3DBench XL is a benchmarking tool based on an Android port of the jPCT 3D engine. The app runs 7 tests in total that look at graphics processor fill rate and complex rendering workloads and scenes.
|Summary and Conclusion|
The Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition's performance was a mixed bag. Taking all of our benchmarks into consideration, it's clear that the potent Snapdragon SoC at the heart of the device has plenty of power, with some caveats. While the overall graphical prowess of the tablet is satisfactory for the most part, the Note 10.1 2014's high resolution (2560x1600) screen is pushing the limits of the Snapdragon 800 SoC's Adreno GPU. Even in non-gaming use, the Note 10.1 2014 Edition offers plenty of graphically-intense use-case scenarios where it just struggled to run fluidly. Things like streaming a YouTube video while replying to an e-mail in split-screen view, or firing up an S Note and annotating a PDF resulted in occasional lag. |
The exterior and design of the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition is superb. The leather-like rear backing adds a nice touch to an industry that's in dire need of design innovation. The 2560x1600 Super Clear LCD is perhaps the most gorgeous display in the tablet universe, and the 8MP rear camera is probably the most accomplished that you'll find on any slate today. Despite the fact that Samsung has added a heavy dose of TouchWiz atop Android 4.3, the feature additions are truly worthwhile, and the S Pen is more than a marketing ploy. Being able to use an intelligent stylus increases productivity in a major way, and if you're on the hunt for a business-minded slate, this one should be atop your list.
Though Samsung gets a lot right with the Note 10.1 2014 Edition, the occasional lag mars the user experience somewhat. Common operations resulted in frequent stutters, and the tablet would occasionally feel bogged down. That's particularly disheartening given just how high-end the device's specs are, but the hesitations crept up on a daily basis nonetheless. With a $500 street price for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, this is no cheap slate. In fact, it's lined up as a premium product in Samsung's portfolio. For us, that kind of MSRP should yield exceptionally smooth performance and a best-of-class user experience, but that's not what you consistently get here. Samsung's clearly on the right path to executing a business-centric slate, but we can't wholeheartedly recommend this particular one given its performance quirks. Perhaps some performance tuning and optimization will come in a future update. At least, that's what we're hoping for, because the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 is a gorgeous piece of hardware with a great screen.