Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 preview: Starting over
Design and build quality
The Galaxy Note 10.1 still looks a lot like the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 but there are minor changes all over the design. As a result, the new version doesn't look as good as the original although, considering the ultra- minimalist design, the difference is very subtle. We do think though that the grip has been somewhat improved.
The metal frame houses the two speakers on the sides (in landscape position) and has gotten wider at the top and bottom. In addition, the speakers themselves are now on the inside end of the frame, not in the center.
The hardware design changes continue at the back as well, where the frame extends to fit the camera department in. The nest of the camera lens is now a bit rectangular, rather than a circle.
Built around a 10.1-inch PLS LCD screen with a resolution of 1280 x 800, the Galaxy Note 10.1 wouldn't wow anyone. Android slates such as the ASUS Transformer Prime Infinity and Huawei MediaPad 10 FHD are rocking full HD resolution, and the iPad 3 is in a league of its own.
Despite the average resolution, the image quality is decent. Viewing angles are very good and blacks look reasonably deep (naturally, we'll take the usual measurements once we get our hands on a retail unit).
Pixel density is nothing to be excited about (149ppi), but big tablets like the Note 10.1 are viewed at a bigger distance than phones, so it's not much of an issue. Still, if you've seen the new iPad, the difference in sharpness is quite noticeable.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 has no hardware controls at the front - it doesn't need any with Ice Cream Sandwich inside. All you get here is the front camera and some sensors.
There's no earpiece but the slate is capable of receiving and making phone calls in either loudspeaker mode or with a headset (wired or wireless).
The two front-facing speakers are either side of the screen. We found this location to much better suit gaming and movie watching than the sides or the back of the slate. And since the speakers are positioned in the upper half of the tablet,covering them with your palms when holding the slate is not likely to be an issue.
At the top (in landscape) we find the 3.5mm audio jack along with the SIM compartment and microSD slot, both protected by plastic lids. There's also the Power/Lock button next to the volume rocker.
The microphone is at the bottom, which is something to consider if you're going to make calls in loudspeaker mode (the mic at the bottom might get muffled if the tablet is docked). Unlike the previous version of the tablet, the new design features a slot for the S Pen. It's located at the bottom right, just like on the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 uses a proprietary 30-pin connector for charging and connectivity, which is centrally placed at the bottom of the tablet.
Single, multi-function ports like the 30-pin connector on the Note 10.1 mean you'll need a proprietary cable for computer connections, charging and TV-out, which is hardly ideal. You get a cable and charger supplied in the retail package, of course, but if you want to have spares to keep in your office, for example, you'll have a much harder time getting them.
At the back of the Galaxy Note 10.1 we find an updated 5MP camera with an LED flash next to it. The camera is quite capable of shooting the occasional photos and HD videos as long as you are willing to put up with the ridiculousness of taking photos with a 10-inch slate.
Just like before, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is powered by a 7000 mAh Li-Ion battery. There are no official battery life quotes yet, but we'll be doing our own tests when we obtain a retail-ready unit.
The plastic put in use is from the glossy variety rather than the matte one used in the MWC-born Galaxy Note 10.1. It feels very nice to the touch, but can be quite slippery and attracts a lot of fingerprints. The good thing is they are not as easy to spot on our white test unit. You cannot pop the back cover open to access the battery, but that's to be expected from a tablet.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 can be held with one hand and operated with the other, but at just under 600g you will soon need to find some kind of support. The thickness of 8.9mm feels better in the hand than 9.7mm of the Tab 2 10.1, though the portability of both devices is practically the same.
Build quality is quite good. Our test unit did produce the occasional creak while being handled more roughly, but the retail version might even have these sorted out.
The redesigned S Pen
The S Pen stylus is what gives the tablet its name. Having debuted on the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, and later in a new shape on the original Note 10.1, the S Pen has been redesigned yet again.
The biggest difference is it's now square in shape, with softly rounded corners, for a much more comfortable hold. It's shorter too and has gotten rid of the attaching clip found on the previous Note tablet's stylus. Not badly missed that one - the stylus compartment more than makes up. There's a button on the side of the S Pen, which can be used to perform certain actions.
The white tip is on a spring too, and you can press it against the screen of the Note 10.1 without worrying you'll damage it. That's good to know as chances are you'll be pressing it quite often - the digitizer can sense various degrees of pressure, which is an important feature when drawing. The Galaxy Note 10.1 also supports palm rejection - it can sense when your palm rests on the display when writing or drawing and ignores it.
Another cool feature of the S Pen is that it doesn't need to be touching the screen for the tablet to know where you are pointing it. This is especially useful in apps like the preinstalled Adobe Photoshop Touch, which displays a cursor to help you make selections and aim. It's like the hover touch technology of the Xperia sola, except that it's much more accurate and responsive here.