Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review: Second time lucky

GSMArena team, 17 August 2012.
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Design and build quality

In its second version (after the one shown at the MWC that was later scrapped), the Galaxy Note 10.1 still looks a lot like the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. There are some minor changes all over the design, which have led to slightly improved handling, but it's basically the same package.

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 edge of the frame, rather than the center.

The hardware design changes continue at the back, where the frame extends to fit the camera lens and the LED flash. The nest of the camera lens is now rectangular, rather than a circular.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 display

The 10.1-inch PLS LCD screen with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels gets the job done but fails to impress. Android slates such as the ASUS Transformer Prime TF700T and the Acer Iconia Tab A700 are rocking full HD resolution, and the iPad 3 is in a league of its own with its 3.1MP screen.

As a result pixel density on the Note 10.1 is nothing to be excited about (149ppi), but big tablets like the are viewed at a bigger distance than phones, so it's not as much of an issue as you might have thought. Still, if you've seen the new iPad, the difference in sharpness is quite noticeable.

Numbers aside, the image quality is decent. Viewing angles are very good and blacks look reasonably deep. We put the Galaxy Note 10.1 through our usual display test and here are the results:

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Apple iPad 2 0.18 167 925 0.55 429 775
Apple iPad 0.18 178 834 0.53 410 776
Apple iPad 3 0.21 167 809 0.6 477 779
LG Optimus Pad 0.19 170 889 0.57 458 811
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 0 200 0 328
Asus Google Nexus 7 0.25 244 954 0.36 327 908
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 0.27 223 832 0.49 406 821
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 0.31 257 826 0.55 502 915
HTC Flyer 0.18 169 921 0.41 409 1002
Huawei MediaPad 0.19 223 1149 0.35 396 1117
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus 0.17 196 1141 0.34 424 1236
Motorola XOOM 0.12 216 1853 0.21 436 2041

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.

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A close-up of the front-facing camera and 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. 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.

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The 10.1" PLS TFT display on the Galaxy Note 10.1 • Stereo speakers

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.

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The busy top side houses the SIM, microSD slots along with 3.5mm audio jack, volume rocker, power/lock key

The microphone is at the bottom, which is something to consider if you're going to make calls in loudspeaker mode (the mic might get muffled depending on where you place the tablet). 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.

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The bottom has the primary mic, the connectivity port and the stylus housing

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 looking ridiculous doing it with a 10-inch slate.

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The back of the Galaxy Note 10.1 • A close-up of the camera

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is powered by a 7000 mAh Li-Ion battery. By Samsung's estimates, it will give you 2490 hours of standby in 2G mode and 2080 hours in 3G. Talk time is 74 hours on 2G and 37 hours on 3G.

The plastic used is the glossy kind rather than the matte used in the MWC-born Galaxy Note 10.1. It feels very nice to the touch, but can be quite slippery and takes 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.

The build is decent, but there are some occasional creaks around the sides when you apply more pressure and that's a bit disappointing coming from a tablet in this class. It's not damaging to the user experience, but it takes away some of the high-end feel, which is quite important with this type of devices.

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The Galaxy Note 10.1 held in hands

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 that anyone will miss it - the stylus compartment is by far the better solution. There's a button on the side of the S Pen, which can be used to perform certain actions and enable gestures, but we'll get to that later on.

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.

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The new S Pen

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.

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