The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a bigger brother to last year’s hit 5.3-inch phone/tablet, the Galaxy Note. At 10.1-inches, the screen is closer in size to that of the iPad, and its specs are too. It’s powered by a quad-core 1.5GHz processor and two whole gigabytes of memory. It’s a Galaxy Note though, so let’s not forget the crown jewels: you’ll find a S Pen stylus tucked into the tablet itself. Pop it out, you can start writing on the screen, just like a notepad.
On the back, you’ll find a five megapixel camera, and there are various size storage options: pick from 16/32/64GB, and whether you want 3G or Wi-Fi only. Unlike Apple’s iPad however, there’s a micro SD slot so you can bring your own storage as well - up to 64GB of it.
It’s hard to fault the innards of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. It’s a turbo charged beast that just won’t fall over, no matter what you throw at it. You’ll be pleased to know this doesn’t seem to have affected the battery life however: it runs for several days on a charge, with lots of heavy use surfing the web, doodling and watching videos.
Samsung’s excellent AllShare software once again makes it easy to share videos and other media to other devices around the home, and you’ll also find some useful apps preloaded, including the surprisingly sophisticated Adobe Photoshop Touch. They work well with the included digital stylus, which has some useful settings - by default, it pops out a tray of useful apps to use it with, but you can turn this off or have the action launch one of these specific app instead. It’s a pity that you can’t take a screenshot and start writing on it just by touching the screen, but there we are.
Samsung has also tried to make the Galaxy Note 10.1 the choice for people with Stuff To Do by introducing a new split-screen mode. You can run several core apps side by side, so you can email and browse the web at the same time, or write a document in Polaris Office while watching a video. It’s a novel feature that you won’t find on any other tablets - until Windows 8 slates arrive, anyway - and multi-taskers will love it.
Tubby plastic slates are standard at the budget end of the spectrum, but if you’re forking over £400 (and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 starts at £400) you expect nothing less than sheer beauty. The new iPad delivers that, with its waif like frame and ludicrously sharp Retina Display. On the Android side of things, Asus’ Transformer Prime shows how it’s done with a slick metal frame that’s every bit as desirable.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is sadly none of these things. It’s thick - it has to fit a stylus on the side after all - and just a bit ugly. Its 1280x800 screen is pleasant enough, with vibrant colours, but looks as grainy as a bowl of healthy cereal next to Apple’s latest effort.
Sadly, the same lacklustre vibe can be found in the software the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 runs too. Android 4.0 itself is a delight, but Samsung has not so much modified it as made it a mutant. Irritating sound effects abound, and Samsung’s confusing takes on useful Google applications like Calendar are a step backward, not a leap forward.
Even the split screen app juggler has its limitation: it only works with a few Samsung apps and that’s it. We’d love to watch a video using XBMC and surf the web at the same time using Google Chrome, but instead you’ll have to use Samsung’s video player and the older, wobblier built-in browser.
Now, these flaws are all ones you can live with, sure, but why bother putting up with them when other tablets gives a better experience straight out of the box?
The bottom line
The first Samsung Galaxy Note was a barnstorming success, carving out an entirely new category in smartphones for itself. Sadly, stylus and name aside, very little of its DNA can be found in the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.
The hardware just doesn’t stand out, a sin for such a high asking price. Samsung’s software meanwhile doesn’t make Android more usable, just “different”. A built-in pen doesn’t change that fact.
If you must have a tablet of this price and size, make it the new iPad, or the Asus Transformer Prime. Otherwise, the cracking Google Nexus 7 by Asus for £159 represents much better value.