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Galaxy Note 10.1: It takes more than high-end specs to make a great tablet

Armando Rodriguez | Oct. 2, 2013
This tablet chugs more than a frat boy at Oktoberfest.

IMAGE: MICHAEL HOMNICK. The Note 10.1 (left) next to its biggest rival, iPad (right).

The iPad is the current pinnacle of tablets: It combines solid hardware with user-friendly software, and plays nice with the rest of the Apple ecosystem. Although Android and iOS are on more or less equal footing in phones, Android tablets lag far behind Apple's iPads in ease of use and amount of tablet-optimized software.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition) is a good example of what's wrong with Android tablets and serves as a reminder that high-end specs don't always equal high-end performance. Samsung's approach of cramming as many features as it possibly can into its devices—sometimes at the cost of removing core Android functions—may have finally come back to bite it in the butt.

I don't want a Samsung account
It's hard to even call the Note 10.1 an Android tablet: So much of what makes Android Android has been stripped away in favor of custom Samsung apps and extras. Everything would be hunky dory if these additions performed the same or better than their Google counterparts, but most of them just plain suck. Apart from the bugs and random crashes, a number of the preinstalled apps require a separate Samsung account, and the benefits don't really outweigh the time it takes to set one up.

You can still use most of the features of the Note 10.1 without creating a Samsung account, but then you just have a bunch of apps that are taking up space on your tablet for no reason. The same could be said for Samsung's software extras, many of which sound neat until you actually get around to using them.

S-Voice—Samsung's voice-driven digital assistant—is the Kristen Stewart to Siri's Jennifer Lawrence, and is about as useful as bringing a spoon to a knife fight. It has some trouble following commands and only really understands what you're saying if you speak slowly and enunciate all your words. You can still use Google Now on the Note 10.1, but you have access to it via the main home screen or by going to the Google Search app.

The one bit of preinstalled software that works without much hassle (and performs its job well) is the new S Note app. The app takes advantage of the Note 10.1's pressure sensitive stylus and lets you organize your notes and/or doodles into digital notebooks. There's an option to only recognize input from the stylus, making it easier to do handwritten notes. The drawing options are a bit limited, though, so you'll want to get a dedicated drawing app if you're serious about sketching.

 

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