Review Roundup: Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly included information on the Galaxy Tab 10.1. This version has been corrected.

August 17, 2012

Samsung released the Galaxy Note 10.1 to stores on Thursday, looking to take on the iPad with a few tricks up its metaphorical sleeve.

The new Note tablet has a few features that set it apart, most notably a stylus and the ability to run a select number of apps in a side-by-side mode. Reviews have been mixed so far on the tablet, with several reviewers praising its functionality but saying that the overall experience still leaves them wanting. Here’s a look at the basics and what some reviewers have said.

Basic specs: The screen measures in at 10.1 inches, hence the name, and has a resolution of 1280-by-800. It also has 2GB of RAM, 16 GB or 32GB of onboard storage and a microSD card slot. It has a 5 MP rear-facing and 1.9MP front-facing camera and a 1.4GHX quad-core processor. It runs Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich with a planned upgrade to Jelly Bean. It starts at $499 , and the 32-gigabyte WiFi model is $599.

Hardware: The tablet is light and thin, especially given its screen size. The device weighs about 1.3 pounds and has a thickness of .35 inches. That’s lighter than the iPad’s .37-inch thickness and its weight of 1.4 pounds.

Part of the difference comes in materials. Samsung tends to use more plastic in its devices to cut weight, but that decision can have unintended consequences. The most common complaint about the tablet is that it feels cheap and somewhat flimsy.

In his review, New York Times reviewer David Pogue said that he could feel the back “flex against its circuit board within” and that the plastic stylus pen is so “cheap-feeling, it could have fallen out of a cereal box.”

Several reviewers dinged the tablet for its construction, such as this line from PCWorld reviewer Melissa Perenson’s otherwise positive review: “The Galaxy Note 10.1 has a distinctive but not especially high-end look.”

Software: The tablet ships with Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0.4) operating system, with promises that it will see a Jelly Bean (4.1) upgrade by the end of the year. Samsung has put its own overlay on the system, adding more customization to the mini apps tray that CNET reviewer Eric Franklin said is the “only reason” for the Samsung version of Android to exist.

The pen-to-text feature on the tablet is a main selling point for the device, though reviewers have found it gve off mixed performance. “It’s generally very solid if you’ve got clear, distinct, easy to parse handwriting for the Note to recognize,” said TechCrunch reviewer Chris Velazco. “But your mileage is going to vary if your penmanship skews toward the sloppy end of things.”

Engadget reviewer Joseph Volpe said that the addition of a mathematical function to the S-Note application is the “most noticeable and welcome improvement” to the app.

The tablet also offers some multi-screen use, which means you can use some apps simultaneously and, say, check your mail while you catch up on your favorite TV show.

“Multiscreen only works with the browser, the video player, the photo gallery, email, S Note and Polaris Office, but it’s a start,” notes Mashable’s Peter Pachal.

Screen: While it’s no retina display, reviewers say that the tablet has, overall, a quality screen that’s typical of Samsung products. Volpe did say that he found the display a bit washed out and he expects that creative types — who may be drawn in by the pen — probably won’t be impressed with the resolution.

Battery Life: Most reviewers found battery life was about eight hours — respectable but not notable. TechCrunch did find that the tablet lasted for around three days of “on-again off-again use” before the battery ran out. The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg said he found the tablet’s “battery life to be much lower than the iPad’s.”

Competitiveness: So how does it compete against the iPad? Generally speaking, reviewers said that the tablet is great — if you’ve already ruled out Apple’s tablet. And the Nexus 7.

In short, if you want a larger tablet but don’t want the iPad, it should be your top contender. If you want the best tablet, you should weigh it against Apple’s iPad and Google’s smaller but much cheaper Nexus 7 to figure out what works best for you.

Related stories:

Apple ‘iPad mini’ to look more like iPod Touch, report says

The Apple-Samsung case: Five juicy tidbits

Microsoft tablet partners announced amid rumors of $199 Surface

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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