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Review: The first Android tablet that could replace an iPad

Galen Gruman | Aug. 16, 2012
Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 offers significant ease-of-use improvements, plus pen computing the iPad can't match

I was also pleasantly surprised that the Note 10.1 was able to connect to my company's secure Wi-Fi network, whereas all previous Android devices have failed (but not the Pad). Alas, the Note still can't connect to our Cisco IPSec VPN. Here's hoping a software update by either Google -- which has long been aware of the problem -- or maybe Samsung will finally fix that and let me use the Note 10.1 on the VPN as I can my iPad.

The other Samsung enhancements are small. One is the ability to change the system font. (A word of caution: The other fonts are hard to read, so don't bother. Maybe when the font store goes live there'll be ones worth using.) Another is the ability to set up your ChatOn, Dropbox, and even Web server accounts where you establish your email and related accounts. All that's missing is the ability to print, a capability that only Motorola Mobility has brought to an Android tablet.

Of course, the Note 10.1 takes full advantage of the strengths of Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich." Except for the ads placed on the home screens (Samsung, please don't become a Dell!), the Android 4 experience is unmarred by the dubious UI changes common to Android devices.

Taken all together, the Galaxy Note 10.1 offers the polish, usability, and sophistication that have long been the province of the iPad. It also adds pen capabilities the iPad doesn't even attempt. The iPad still has some big advantages -- AirPrint, AirPlay, iCloud, and much better apps -- but the differences have narrowed noticeably thanks to the Note 10.1. Let me explain its strengths -- and weaknesses -- in more detail.

Welcome to pen computing

The big differentiator in the Galaxy Note 10.1 is its support for a pen -- or stylus, if you prefer. There's one tucked in the bezel, where it's out of the way and yet always available. The pen capabilities in the Note 10.1 tablet are similar to those in the Note phablet. But there are some differences.

The first difference was frustrating: It's less obvious how to call up handwriting recognition when in a text field on the Note 10.1 tablet than in the Note phablet. The secret is to tap and hold the speech-recognition key (the microphone icon) between the Sym key and the spacebar. That pops up a menu where you choose the handwriting-recognition icon, which then remains easiiy accessible in place of the microphone icon. Basically, you use this key to cycle through speech recognition, handwriting recognition, and keyboard entry as needed.

Within the handwriting "keyboard" you'll find handy icons for accessing symbols through a menu and for switching back to the text or speech keyboards. There's also a feature to recognize mathematical equations, which engineers, mathematicians, and scientists (and their students) will appreciate.


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