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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.

Another annoyance is Samsung's new power settings. Yes, you get them, but I'm not convinced there's ever a real reason to reduce the screen frame rate and lower the brightness at the same time. Furthermore, the Smart Stay feature is under the Display options and not power saving, even though this feature uses the front camera to make sure you are still using the tablet and it should keep the brightness up.

Finally, and most egregious, is how Samsung auto-dims the display when the battery hits 5 percent left. Samsung takes this farther than other tablet makers by not allowing you to adjust the brightness back up if you so choose; and the brightness level it goes to is so low that the dark image you do get is practically useless, making the extra 30 minutes or so of battery life you'll get in this state questionable at best.

And Now the High Notes

Many of the software enhancements I liked are features that emphasize multitasking on the tablet.

Some of my favorite additions were first introduced on the Samsung Galaxy Siii phone. My favorites were the resizable pop-up video player (which launches a video into a separate overlay window that can be placed anywhere on the screen) and the dual-screen option that Samsung's enabled for side-by-side views. Currently, the dual-screen mode is available for just six apps: Samsung's own native S Note app, Web browser, and video player; a Note-enhanced version of Polaris Office; and Google's Gallery and email apps. Hopefully Samsung can grow this number.

This dual-screen ability, dubbed "Multiscreen" by Samsung, is unique, and offers the closest approximation to Windows and having multiple windows open at the same time I've seen on an Android tablet. Samsung's implementation is a kludgeyou must first select the content you want to copy using the S Pen, then take a screenshot of it, and then cut the content from its original source and drag it over to the app on the other screen. For example if you are taking a picture from the Samsung mobile web browser and pasting it into a Polaris Office document. This feature may require at least twice the number of steps to do what you'd do in Windows, but I still appreciated the effort to make Android feel more grown-up and viable for productivity use.

Performance

As noted earlier, the Note 10.1 has a 1.4GHz Exynos quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM. That extra system memory helps with multitasking, according to Samsung. However, it may also help boost application performance. In particular, I noticed that the Google Gallery performed better than on previous Ice Cream Sandwich Samsung efforts; the Gallery was zippier and more responsive, and had little lag when rendering high-resolution images. But whether this improvement can be credited to Samsung's version of Android 4.0, to the Samsung Exynos processor, or to the extra memory is unclear.

 

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