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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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Product Reviews

Bose Portable: quality at a price

The Bose SoundDock Portable looks great and performs well, but SEAN BACHER finds the price doesn’t justify the better sound quality.

Since its inception in 1964, American-based audio specialist, Bose, has built a name synonymous with quality. Along with that, it has built a reputation of being more expensive than many of its competitors, but not deterring many from making the expensive investment. The mini sound speakers are quite often used in boardrooms, bars and restaurants around the world and offer crystal-clear sound that rivals most speakers twice their size.

Testament to the Bose sound quality is that it is used as the standard audio system in luxury cars like Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and according to Wikipedia, Bose products can be found in many military and NASA applications.

It is therefore not surprising to find Bose accessories compatible with smartphones. One example is the Bose SoundDock Portable. A portable docking station for iPhones and iPods that works off rechargeable batteries.

We put the Bose SoundDock Portable through the Gadget Five Question User.

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

Although the Bose SoundDock Portable, comes with instructions, they are not needed and in most cases, it will be ready to operate the minute it is removed from the box and an iPhone or iPod is plugged into it.

If the batteries on either the phone or docking station are flat though, the charger needs to be plugged into it before it can be used. You don’t need to wait for the batteries to charge fully before using it.

Bose has taken the minimalist approach with the SoundDock as on the right are two touch-sensitive Volume buttons and that’s it. No Power or other controls. The included remote is also very easy to use. It uses standard Play, Pause, Volume and Skip buttons, all well labelled.

The front of the docking station is made up of a silver grill, below which is the retractable iPhone dock. Although the casing around the connector is designed to accommodate an iPhone’s protective skin, it was not big enough to for the bumper I had on my phone, which meant I had to take the phone out of the case every time I wanted to plug it in.

On the plus side though, unlike many other portable docking stations, the Bose will charge a docked phone even if it is just running off battery power.

The Bose SoundDock Portable’s ease of use along with its elegant design cannot be faulted. But its dock connector counts against it.

Score: 18/20

2. General performance

The two front facing speakers offer crisp sounds and when the volume is cranked up all the way the SoundDock does not distort at all and is deafeningly loud.

At the rear is 3.5mm jack, allowing you to connect non-Apple phones, MP3 players and other audio equipment.

According to Bose, the 1 900mAh rechargeable battery pack will offer up to three hours of music at a maximum volume a different approach to rating battery life as most other vendors rate operating times at ‚”typical listening volumes‚”. I have been using the SoundDock on and off and not at full tilt for the past week without having to plug the mains adapter in yet.

This is however a good thing. Although the Bose SoundDock Portable is elegant and well made, Bose didn’t pay to much attention to the adaptor. It is a bit bigger than two cellphone chargers placed next to each other. It monopolises all the other electrical outlets, when plugged into the wall, meaning you need a dedicated plug for when you want to charge the battery.

The Bose SoundDock Portable provides a beautiful sound, its battery life is great, but the giant-sized charger is a complete let down.

Score: 12/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

Unlike many docking stations that are designed for bedside listening, the Bose SoundDock Portable is powerful enough to offer good sound in an average sized dining room or lounge.

Weighing in at just under three kilograms, it is not the lightest of them all, but the rear, recessed-handle makes carrying it fairly easy. (A carry bag is available as an optional extra.) Overall, it is a nice addition for a picnic or where an electrical outlet is not available.

18/20

4. Innovation

Sound docks have been around for years, and although the SoundDock offers superior sound, it offers nothing in the way of innovation. In fact, the lack of Bluetooth or any wireless connectivity for that matter is limiting.

13/20

5. Value for money

Much like the die-hard Apple Mac fans that will spend more on a product that performs much the same as cheaper alternatives, you get the same in the audio/visual world.

This becomes especially clear when reading the various reviews posted on the Internet. Reviewers either dislike the Bose SoundDock Portable due to it price, while others like it, saying the sound quality justifies the price.

But at R5 000 for a docking station I would have to agree with the former reviewers. R5 000 is ridiculously overpriced, even though it offers superior sound.

10/20

Conclusion

There is no faulting the Bose SoundDock Portable in terms of elegance and sound, but its clunky charger and high price are complete turnoffs.

Total score: 71%

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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Product Reviews

Nokia Lumia 720: Well rounded: great battery

The new Nokia Lumia 720 has been punted as a mid-level phone. This means Nokia would have had to cut back on features and specifications to keep the phone’s price down. SEAN BACHER checks what’s missing.

For a few years, Nokia was almost forgotten in the smartphone market. This changed with the release of the N9, running its in-house developed MeeGo operating system. Sadly for its many fans, MeeGo was then summarily dropped. Instead, Nokia unveiled a range of high-end Lumia phones running the Windows 7.5 operating system and, finally, a second generation Lumia range running the Windows 8 platform. At the same time, the company targeted the entry-level market with its Asha feature phones, running the Symbian Series 40 operating system.

Between the top end Lumias and the Ashas, it has been quietly filling out its offering, The latest, the Lumia 720, is intended to be a mid-level phone with high-end features.

We put it through the Gadget Ten Question Task Test to see how it copes as a mid-level phone, and to find out what’s missing.

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

The Lumia 720 follows a similar design to its siblings in that it uses a unibody design, meaning there is no removable back plate or battery. Three virtual buttons are located below the screen and it has a Volume rocker, Power and Camera button on the right.

The plastic chassis has a rubber feel to it, which makes it easier to hold and less prone to scratches and dings. On the right is a microSIM card slot and at the top an SD card slot, both allowing for easy access.

The phone fits comfortably in your hand and is quite easy to operate with one hand.

7/10

2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)

Nokia has significantly cut down the weight of the Lumia 720, which comes in at 128g: the 920 hits 185g. Size-wise, it measures 128x66x9mm, making it a confortable fit for most pockets and its curved edges make it easy to lift off flat surfaces.

The phone cannot be faulted in terms of size and weight.

8/10

3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)

Running the Windows Phone 8 operating system is a 1GHz Qualcomm dual-core CPU, which is complemented by a dedicated Adreno 305 GPU. The phone packs 512MB RAM and 8GB on-board storage. On paper, these specs are not too impressive, but in practice there is nothing wrong with them.

The Lumia shows no signs of slowing or freezing, even after numerous apps are opened. The active tiles update effortlessly and playing processor-intensive games like AE 3D Motor, which uses the phone’s accelerometers to guide a bike through traffic, does not jolt.

The 8GB of on-board storage is not that great, especially when movies and music start to fill the memory, but the Lumia 720 accepts SD cards, meaning that the storage can be beefed up to 64GB putting it on a par with high-end devices.

The phone performs very well, even with a lower-end set of specifications: the ability to install an SD card really is a plus.

9/10

4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)

The non-removable Li-ion 2 000mAh battery is said to provide up to 520 hours of standby time and over 13 hours of talk time. Both of these claims are tall orders for most smartphones that typically provide just over a day’s usage before they need to be charged.

But, the Lumia 720 lives up to Nokia’s reputation of having some of the longest-lasting batteries found in a phone. Although I did not count the number of hours the 720 went without being charged, it was able to hold its own for over three days. In that time it was bombarded with new apps, was constantly being used for WhatsApp messaging and was also continually used for making and receiving calls. The battery went over and above what is required in terms battery-life on a current smartphone.

10/10

5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)

The IPS (In Plane Switching) LCD capacitive touch screen measures 4,3‚” and boasts a maximum resolution of 480×800 pixel per inch. Although this is not the biggest, nor the clearest of screens, it was more than sufficient to view videos and images. In fact, the only time the sub-standard screen quality was noticeable was when the 720 was put next to its bigger brother, the 920.

Windows Explorer on the phone launched effortlessly and displayed all websites without any hassles: the pinch to zoom option came in very handy when inputting credentials to access a website.

The Lumia 720 uses a 6.1MP rear-facing camera, which features Carl Zeiss optics and thus makes images vibrant and clear. The front 1.2MP camera made a viable option for video calling and both record videos.

When making an entry or mid-level phone, manufacturers have to cut back on certain specifications to keep the price low. Even though the Lumia’s screen is not the greatest, it is more than adequate. But the oversized bezels around the screen count against the phone.

The bezels all around measured more than 5mm, which could have been converted into a larger screen.

7/10

6. Talk to me (quality of audio)

The Lumia 720 single loudspeaker is clear enough to hold conference calls, and is great for streaming music from TuneIn radio. No distortion was heard when the volume was cranked all the way up.

Overall, the audio quality is on a par with most other smartphones, but is not anything that will blow the user away.

7/10

7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)

Adding e-mail, Twitter and Facebook accounts is very easily done through the Account Settings function, but the phone streams all this content to a single hub, making it difficult to work out which message is from which account.

That said, individual apps are available from the Windows Phone Store that will present their relevant streams. Many of these apps can also be moved to the Home screen, and can be set to update on the fly, meaning that the latest content will be updated and automatically displayed.

8/10

8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)

The physical buttons located on the right of the phone are all within easy reach when using the phone with one hand, and do not sit flush with the chassis, so are easy to identify in the dark.

The three virtual buttons at the bottom of the screen allow users to return to the Home screen, go back when in an app and quickly search the phone for a contact or app. Pressing and holding the Home button launches a task manager, from where apps can be closed and sent to the background and new ones opened.

The control buttons are very similar to other Windows Phone 8 smartphones, so the Lumia scores average here, too.

7/10

9. The new new (innovations, unique features)

On the hardware side the Lumia 720 offers no unique or ‚”wow‚” features, but a few of the preinstalled apps deserve a mention.

The phone is Office 365 ready, meaning that a user merely has to input his or her Office login details and is immediately able to view, edit and download documents from SkyDrive.

The Nokia Drive app contains most country maps, and a user merely has to choose a country, and the map is downloaded to the phone. Turn-by-turn instructions can also be downloaded and different languages can be chosen. Ever heard a woman giving you South African driving instructions in Chinese?

Then there is Nokia City Lens. Launch the app, calibrate it and point the phone down a street. The phone employs augmented reality and puts shopping, dining and points of interest on the screen with descriptions and contact details.

Although these apps are not unique to the Nokia Lumia 720, they count in its favour, especially when considering it is a mid-range phone.

8/10

10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)

Coming at R5 500, the phone fits comfortably in the mid-range market. It also slots in well between the entry-level Lumia 520, which retails for R1 899, and the higher-end Lumia 820, which will cost R6 400.

8/10

Conclusion

Overall, the Lumia has a great set of features built into it. Its battery life is amazing and, even though the screen is of sub-quality, it is adequate.

Total score: 79%

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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