Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Review: Can a Tablet Fix What the Phone Got Wrong?

By Brent Rose on at

The Galaxy Note was, just a wee bit big to be considered a phone. Why not make it bigger and call it a straight-up tablet? Add on some Wacom stylus tech, bump up the specs—be our guest!


What Is It?

Samsung's new flagship: A 10.1-inch Android tablet with a stylus and Wacom technology.


Who's it For?

Graphic designers. People who want to use a more advanced stylus with their tablet.



Shiny plastic back, with cameras on front and back, a micro SD card slot, an IR blaster, and stylus that tucks inside.


Using It

The Note 10.1 has a tonne of functions—split-screen apps, mini-apps, and the S Pen. It runs Ice Cream Sandwich with Samsung's heavy, unintuitive TouchWiz skin.


The Best Part

Surprisingly, the speakers. Samsung has put the loud, clear speakers in the best location for a tablet—on the front and high up, ensuring the sound won't be muffled.


Tragic Flaw

The S Note app could have set this tablet apart, but it's garbage. The handwriting-to-text feature is unusable—you have to write really big to keep letters clear, so you get three or four words per line at best, or just a few scrambled words total at worst. It's supposed to have technology that will ignore your palm resting on it while you write, but it only works half the time, and you'll continually accidentally close out of the app, move the cursor unintentionally, or just stop writing. Switch it to landscape mode and there are gigantic spaces on both sides. It's an abject failure.


This Is Weird...

The new 1.4 GHz quad-core Exynos processor does a great job with heavy games, but (as you can see in the video above) it stutters and jumps when simply scrolling through the desktop or app drawer. Even its 2GB of RAM can't save it. Seems to be yet another example of the overwrought UI slowing down what should be a very smooth experience.


Test Notes

- The S Pen's design is way better than the S Pen on the Note phone. It's thicker, like a real pen, so it's easier to grip, but you'll still end up accidentally hitting the button occasionally, which could screw you up.

- The tablet ships with an optimised version of Adobe's PhotoShop Touch. It takes advantage of the S Pen's pressure sensitivity, which you can use to control brush size or opacity.

- Samsung licensed some technology from Wacom for the screen to give it 24 levels of pressure sensitivity. Unfortunately, it still misses a tonne of presses, leading to broken lines, typos, and dead video game characters.

- Killer battery life. With moderate use, you'll be going several days between charges, no problem.

- The user experience is a great cacophony. If the Galaxy S III tries too hard, the Note 10.1 is running ultra-marathons. Backwards. The interface is cluttered, confusing, and inconsistent.

- Once again, the IR blaster is such a killer feature. All tablets should have one. The Note 10.1 comes with the excellent Peel app, which provides listings and lets you control your TV, DVD players, DVR, receiver, everything. You can even set up macros to switch into "movie mode," or "gaming mode," or "music mode." It's super convenient.

- The ability to split the screen into two apps is genuinely extremely useful in some situations. It's not exactly an original idea *coughWindows7cough*, but it's welcome. (Note: this only works with seven pre-installed apps.)

- The 1280x800 screen is extremely bright. Definitely readable in daylight. Unfortunately, it looks rather low-res next to the current generation iPad, the Nexus 7, or even the Acer Iconia A700

- The built in keyboard is customisable, so it's easy to switch between a large qwerty, a split keyboard, or a floating keyboard. Unfortunately, the screen's problems sensing touch leads to tons of typos. Pity.

- The most popular accessory is likely to be the Book Cover. It's nice and thin, but it's a bit too slippery. The magnets that are designed to keep it up are just a bit too weak to keep it from collapsing while you type on it.

- The Note 10.1 is actually thinner and lighter than the current generation iPad, but because of the paneling, it seems thicker. An unfortunate optical illusion.


Should You Buy It?

No. The only possible exception would be a graphic designer who is absolutely convinced that they can tame the S Pen. Even then, go to the store and give it a good try first. Starting at £435 this is a very clear pass for everyone else. The Nexus 7 is only £159 and provides a vastly more enjoyable user experience—that's a no-brainer.

Samsung makes a lot of good stuff, and that's why something like this is so disappointing. Samsung's software designers are simply lightyears behind Matias Duarte. Make great hardware, let Android do its thing, and you'll have a big hit. A cluttered tablet that you can barely type on isn't going to do it.


Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Specs

• Network: Wi-Fi
• OS: Android 4.0
• CPU: 1.4-GHz quad-core Exynos processor
• Screen: 10.1-inch 1280x800 pixel LCD
• RAM: 2GB
• Storage: 16GB or 32GB + up to 64GB microSD
• Camera: 5MP rear / 1.9MP front
• Battery: 700 mAh Li-Po
• Price: £435
Giz Rank: 2.0 stars