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Galaxy Note 10.1 the best yet

Weeks after Samsung wowed the world with its Galaxy S3 smartphone, it launched the Note 10.1 a marriage of the first Note and the Galaxy Tab 10.1. SEAN BACHER found that the new Note impressed in every way except price.

The original Samsung Galaxy Note, launched last year, was not received very well by the media. It was designed to be both a phone and a tablet, with many dubbing it a ‚”phablet‚”. Besides the name sounding strange, the device was just too big to function as a phone and was too small to work as a tablet. It also cost far too much almost double the equivalent iPad. Yet, it has proved hugely popular among those who use it, and was one of Samsung’s surprise successes as it tried to differentiate its products.

Then, in mid-2012, Samsung launched the Galaxy S3 smartphone, which wowed everyone who tired it. It was the perfect mix of cutting edge technology, sleek design and ease of use. It had just about all other smartphone manufacturers scratching their heads on how to come up with something better.

Now, Samsung has taken another aim at the tablet market, this time with the Galaxy Note 10.1. We put it through the Gadget Ten Question Tablet test to see if it can do the same for tablets that the Galaxy S3 did for smartphones.

1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)

Much like the Galaxy S3 smartphone, the Note 10.1 is slim and sleek. The 10‚” capacitive touch screen is neatly nestled inside a grey bezel measuring just over a centimeter, which is then protected by a moulded aluminium chassis. Embedded in the chassis is a set of speakers that comes out of the side of the screen like a pair of ears. A the bottom right of the screen lurks the S-Pen. Although there are slots for a micro-SIM and micro-SD card, all the protective flaps fit back into place neatly and with a firm click, ensuring they wont pop out when the tablet is being carried around.

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 looks smart and is solidly built. It almost feels and Samsung won’t like the term ‚”iPadish‚”.

Score: 8/10

2. Keep control (How effective are the control buttons hardware, software, on-off)

A Power button and Volume rocker at the top are slightly raised, making them easy to feel without looking.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 does not have a mini-USB or mini-HDMI port ,but does include a pin connector very similar to that of the iPad, which lets you connect it to your computer and charge it at the same time.

On the software side, the Note 10.1 comes preinstalled with Android 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich, which means the standard Home, Back, Menu and Screenshot buttons are located at the screen’s bottom left when the tablet is switched on.

When the Home button is held down, it launches an easy-to-use task manager, where a single click on the screen image will launch an app or a click on the X close it. It includes a feature that lets you quickly change the format of the keyboard. For instance, when you pinch the keyboard by moving two fingers together over it, it brings up three different keyboard layouts. The first is a standard QWERTY keyboard that monopolises most of the screen, both in landscape and portrait modes: the second is floating type, which is a condensed keyboard that looks like it is floating on top of the screen: and the third is a split QWERTY layout where half the keyboard is on the left-hand side of the screen, the other on the right.

One of the unique features of the Note 10.1 is the S Pen stylus. On the original Note, the S Pen was rather unresponsive and was something of a gimmick. After all, it was Steve Jobs who said: ‚”We already have ten styluses with us, why do we need another one,‚” when debating whether the iPad should have a stylus or not. But the S Pen works much better in the Note 10.1. It is more accurate and works especially well with Crayon Physics and Photoshop Touch, both of which are paid-for apps from the Google Play Store, but come pre-installed on the Note 10.1.

The easy-to-use task manager, the more accurate S Pen and the range of drawing apps preinstalled on the Note 10.1 push it a notch above the rest.

Score: 9/10

3. The sound of one-hand tapping (Can you comfortably hold it in one hand and operate it in the other? i.e. a weight test)

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 weighs just on 600 grams, making it quite easy to carry around in one hand while tapping or drawing with the other hand. The oversized bezels on each side, which would normally be a waste of screen space, work well here as they give you a place to grasp the tablet firmly without touching the active part of the screen.

The standard QWERTY keyboard is well lit and the keys are easy to tap without worrying about hitting more than one at a time. The additional keyboard modes that the Note 10.1 offer are a great bonus. Although the floating keyboard is a bit small for my liking, it does serve a purpose especially when tapping with the S Pen. But, the split keyboard was what won me over. Although you are only typing with your thumbs, I was surprised at how quickly I tapped out e-mails and tweets.

The Samsung TouchWiz skin, the manufacturer’s attempt at customising the look and feel of the Android operating system, comes with a range of pre-loaded widgets or smart programs plastered across the five home screens, and includes a special zoom feature. While it offers a pinch zoom function, it goes one better. Hold two fingers on the picture you want to zoom into and tilt the tablet towards you, and you zoom in. Tilt it outwards and you zoom out. It feels completely natural doing this and it is also very accurate.

The light yet sturdy design of the Galaxy Note 10.1, along with its unique zoom features, means this tablet scores full marks here.

Score: 10/10

4. The Angry Birds test (How responsive is the device in interactive tasks?)

Gadget’s latest benchmarking game, Angry Birds Space, installed without a problem. The game launched quickly and the birds were whizzing through space as smoothly as Felix Baumgartner hit the speed of sound on his space jump.

The quad-core 1.4GHz processor, combined with a dedicated graphics processor and 2GB of RAM, means there is plenty of processing power to run even the most intensive applications.

Overall, the tablet performed well and there were no signs of it slowing down, even when dozens of apps were running in the background.

Score: 9/10

5. The tablet gender test (How well does it multi-task?)

As mentioned before, the multitasking app that pops up when you hold the Home button is easy to use and should always let you kill any frozen applications without rebooting the tablet. But, just as Samsung took the keyboard and zoom options to the next level, it has done the same with multitasking.

Previously, multitasking meant that you could have numerous applications running at the same time, but could only work on one of them at a time. The Galaxy Note 10.1 lets you work on two at the same time. Just select the two apps you want to run at the same time and the screen gets split in two, letting you work on both at the same time.

I ran Angry Birds Space and Lane Splitter (a game that makes full use of the accelerometers to guide a bike through traffic) and both ran without any jolts or hanging. The only problem I found was that I could not multitask quickly enough for the tablet as I could only concentrate on one game at a time.The Note 10.1 scores full marks here due to its impressive, never-seen-before use of true multitasking on a tablet.

Score: 10/10

6. One to rule them all (Can it replace a PC or laptop? Does it make your life easier?)

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 has the power to run any application from the Google Play Store and has a good screen and great sound capabilities. Its ability to connect to 3G and WiFi also count in its favour. But the lack of any HDMI or USB outputs will makes it a little limited when it comes to business. For example, you wont be able to connect it to a projector unless the latter sports Bluetooth or wireless connectivity.

Score: 6/10

7. Live long and prosper (How’s the battery life?)

The 7 000mAh battery is nothing to be sneezed at. It will easily power the tablet for more than a day when performing basic functions like checking e-mail and tweeting. It will also offer a decent few hours of video time.

Score: 8/10.

8. Sound and vision (Video and audio quality?)

The 10.1‚” high-definition screen is bright and is great for watching video. The speakers don’t disappoint either as they offer a decent stereo sound, even when cranked up full blast.

Score: 7/10

9. The new new (innovations and unique features)

Most tablets score low here as they have just added a better processor or more RAM than their predecessors. But the addition of split-screen multitasking, the more accurate S Pen, the inclusion of some great apps that don’t come with other tablets and nifty zoom feature all add up to a tablet that stands out above the rest.

Score: 9/10

10. The Price Test (Is it competitively priced?)

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 has not disappointed until now. But, the tablet is very pricey much like the Galaxy S3 smartphone.

Starting at a price of R8 500, it is way more expensive than the equivalent iPad, which could pose a problem for Samsung when trying to convert Apple fanatics.

Score: 5/10

In conclusion

Total score: 81%

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a well-built tablet that not only looks good, but preforms exceptionally well. The tablet is overflowing with features that make it the new benchmark for tablets. Just a pity about the price.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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