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Galaxy Note 10.1 the best yet

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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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Product of the Day

Asus ZenBook Pro Duo reimagines dual screens

Asus’s ZenBook Pro Duo implements the dual-screen concept very differently: instead of side-by-side, the extra screen sits beneath the main screen. BRYAN TURNER tried out the laptop.

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Asus’s strong ZenBook line, aimed at creatives, has added a powerful laptop to the game: the dual-screen ZenBook Pro Duo. This machine shows some of the most thoughtful design on the market, including a new type of dual-screen layout that makes a lot of sense. 

When closed it looks like any other laptop and has a concentric circle design etched into aluminium. The laptop feels sturdy on the base as well as the screen, and looks like it could withstand a drop. It’s 24mm thick and weighs around 2.5kg, so it seems pretty thick until one looks at the internals of this machine. 

We had the Intel Core i7-9750H processor configuration but can come with an Intel Core i9-9980HK configuration. Both configurations come with Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060, with 6GB of GDDR6 VRAM. This makes this laptop more of a high-performance desktop with laptop features rather than a high-performance laptop. 

When opening up this computer, we were greeted with a large 15.6” 4K (3840×2160) OLED panel and another 14” (3840 x 1100) 4K UHD display below that, called the ScreenPad Plus. Both screens are touchscreens, 100% DCI-P3, and are brighter than most laptops. As a result, the keyboard and trackpad have been shifted below the second screen. The lowered keyboard takes some getting used to, but is totally worth it for the second display.

The ScreenPad Plus comes with a set of its own apps, including Spotify, handwriting mode, and a few other quick settings. It comes with a stylus called the Asus Pen, which allows for 1024 pressure levels and rejects one’s palm, making it very useful for apps like Adobe Illustrator. The top screen supports that pen too, but writing feels far more natural on the ScreenPad Plus.

An ErgoLift hinge raises the computer up at an angle, to make the lowered keyboard more comfortable to type on, as well as aid the cooling system. It’s at a small 4.5 degrees tilt with this hinge that makes a huge difference in typing comfort.

On the left side, a USB-A port, a regular size HDMI 2.0 port and a proprietary charging jack. On the right side, it features a USB-A 3.1 port, Thunderbolt 3, and a 3.5mm audio jack. Both sides feature air outlet ports. 

We tested Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1080p, with the RTX 2060, and set the game to its highest preset graphics settings. The game’s frame counter was used. It hovered between 70 and 75 frames per second (fps) with 10 minutes of gameplay, which is really good compared to most desktop computers. 

The processor is a 6-Core 9th Generation Intel Core i7 CPU (i7-9750H), which provides snappy performance. We noted a start-up time from shutdown to desktop around 7 seconds. This was made possible by a combination of the fast processor and solid-state drive in the computer. This also makes opening programmes lightning fast.

Now for the trackpad. The off-centre trackpad placement feels a bit weird, even though we know why it’s placed that way. We found ourselves using an external mouse and using it in a very handy NumPad mode. The trackpad is extremely precise otherwise. 

The laptop’s battery is 71 Wh, which may seem large, but it needs to power two big screens and heavy processors. As a result, it’s difficult to get more than 6 hours of productivity out of the machine. We played Rise of the Tomb Raider with both screens on for about 1 hour before we needed to charge it. 

It will be available for about R48,000 (depending on when one buys it) in the Intel Core i7, 512GB SSD, and 16GB RAM configuration, putting it up there with the high-performance laptops in terms of price.

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Featured

Hit the road with high-tech night light for bikes

Cyclists need effective lighting by night and day, writes JOEL DORFAN, in his test ride of the latest in high-tech from Fenix

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Since 2004, Fenix Light has been manufacturing quality lights ranging from flashlights and headlamps to lanterns and bike lights.

There are many folks who ride their bicycles at night for various reasons. Whether on-road or off-road, there is always the need to see the path ahead of you. During the day, it’s wise to have a really bright strobe light so others around you can see you coming. 

Enter the BC21R V2.0.

The original 880 lumen BC21R was released some years ago. Besides the main light, it also had two red lights at the side. However, there were several complaints about this older version. The main ones were:

  • Plastic construction – does not dissipate heat causing the light output to step down;
  • Rubber mount – stretches and perishes over time;
  • No helmet mount.

With the launch of the new light, now called the BC21R V2.0, the folks at Fenix have kept all of the good features and added a bunch more, as well as remedying all of the complaints from the original. In a nutshell, it offers:

  • 1000 lumen output
  • Removable 18650 LiIion battery
  • Built in USB Type-C charging port
  • Dual Distance Beam System
  • Battery level indication and low-voltage warning
  • All-metal heat fin; IP66 rated protection
  • Quick-release bike mount compatible with Fenix bicycle light helmet mount

The increase from 880 to 1000 lumens means that there is now better coverage of the road ahead. The dual distance beam system means that the areas both near and far are illuminated. They do this by graduating the top half of the front lens that refracts some of the light down towards the front wheel, allowing the rest of the light to illuminate the roadway.

When you do not need all 1000 lumens, sequential taps of the on/off switch will cycle through the different output settings of low, medium, high and turbo. In any of these modes, a double tap of the switch will put the light into strobe (alternating high and low output) mode. On a fully charged battery, runtime on Turbo is published as being 2 hours, and on low at 50 hours. 

Many lights today are sealed units. Once the battery stops taking a charge, the light would have to be discarded. The removable battery means that, once it reaches end of life ,it’s a simple matter of inserting a new 18650 battery. Also, should you be on a really long ride and find that the battery starts going flat, you could stop along the way and swap out the battery for either another fully charged one or two CR123 batteries. 

At any time, you can tap the on/off button, which will light up an indicator to tell you the current state of charge of the battery. This same indicator will flash red when it’s time to recharge the battery.

To prevent damage to the LED light source, temperatures are monitored and, if the light gets too hot, the output is reduced. This is not ideal when you are out on a ride on a hot evening. By changing the head from plastic to metal with cooling fins, however, the light will now remain cooler, allowing for full output for longer periods.

Instead of a stretchy plastic mount like on the older model, Fenix has now gone with a proper clamp type mount. This is secured to the handle bars using a thumb screw; and then there is a quick release that allows the light to be attached or removed from the clamp with ease. Two different-sized rubber inserts for the clamp ensure a good fit on different diameter handle bars.

A bonus of this type of quick release mechanism is that the light is now compatible with the Fenix helmet mount should one wish to mount it there. Also, should you wish to use the BC21R V2.0 as a handheld flashlight or to stop it being stolen, no tools are required to remove it from either the bike or helmet mount.

So how does the BC21R V2.0 perform in real life?

It puts out a very concentrated spot-like type beam optimised for distance. The lens setup ensures that most of the light is below the horizon where it needs to be, which also makes sure that it does not blind oncoming motorists. 

The light will start getting warm to the touch when stationary or when hand held. However, when cycling, the cool air passing over the finned head does keep the light cooler.

Being a single 18650 battery light, a ride of longer than about 90 minutes will see the light starting to reduce output. It’s the tradeoff of size vs run time. Therefore make sure that, if you’re going to need the full 1000 lumen output for an extended period, to carry a spare battery with you.

The older model cost $75, and the good news is that Fenix appears to have maintained this price even with all of the extra features of the V2.0 model. This places the BC21R V2.0 in the mid- to high-range of  single battery lights. Given the features and multi-use applications it’s pretty good value for money.

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