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Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review: The pen sets this Android tablet apart

Melissa J. Perenson | Aug. 16, 2012
With the release of Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 Wi-Fi tablet the venerable stylus takes center stage setting this innovative slate apart from the tablet masses. On Wednesday Samsung officially announces this Wi-Fi only 10.1-inch tablet with prices that start at starting at $500 up to $550. The table goes on sale Thursday. For the past few days I've been testing the Galaxy Note 10.1 Wi-Fi. While the tablet has some rough edges and one glaring omission amongst its specs—it lacks a high pixel density display—Samsung has put together a solid performer that has wide-reaching appeal.

While the pen is not something I found myself reaching for all the time, I did find it convenient and used it more often than I expected. I liked having the option to vary my input between my fingers and the stylus, and I quickly appreciated how the S Pen could change how I'd approach note-taking, making annotations, and sketching out diagrams or formulas. While students, artists, designers, scientists, and other specialists will clearly benefit from the pen, its use transcends far beyond that and will appeal to casual tablet users of all stripes.

The S Pen in Action

Samsung's S Pen is based on a Wacom's pressure-sensitive technology. The pen felt highly responsive, with little lag and integrated palm-rejectiona useful inclusion for better productivity that capacitive-touch styluses can't provide. Samsung has improved the Note's pressure sensitivity significantly compared with the original Note phone: The Note 10.1 is at 1024 levels of sensitivity, compared with just 256. The pen's detection distance is better, too: 14mm on the Note 10.1, to the Note's 8mm.

Software

With the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, Samsung offers its most tailored OS and locked-and-loaded app selection yet. Samsung ships the Note 10.1 with Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich on-board. Jelly Bean will come, according to Samsung, by the end of the year.

Like other Samsung devices, this tablet is not for Android purists. Most of the overlays and modifications make for a more friendly experience - though occasionally I find the multiple paths to doing the same thing more confusing than helpful. For example, I tired of the pop-up utility launcher that runs along the bottom of the screen, simply because it was easy to accidentally launch.

TouchWiz and Few Sour Notes

Samsung does its most far-reaching TouchWiz (Samsung's custom touch user interface) overhaul of the Android OS seen on one of its tablets yet. Among the tweaks: It replaces such basics as the Settings menu and the layout of the Notify launcher. The Notify launcher adds new options to existing menus. The trade off is you get more control over many options, but in other cases Samsung clutters the interface. Changed also is the stock Android keyboard which is now a Samsung keyboard with off-white buttons with black letters, and a dedicated number row.

Samsung has, bizarrely, hobbled the Note 10.1's productivity potential by not allowing you to attach any file to an outgoing Gmail message. The only attachment option there is for the Gallery, which means you can't take notes (or create a document in the Polaris Office app) and then send it via your Gmail account anywhere else. My gripe here is with adding attachments to email associated with outbound email associated with my Gmail account.

 

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