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Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review

Samsung brings its pen based input capability to a full sized tablet with the Galaxy Note 10.1. But is it a Samsung Nexus 10 beater?

Samsung’s Galaxy Note proved such a surprise hit that the company has not only produced a follow up handset but also a spin-off in the form of a full-sized tablet. As a Note it does include a pen for scribbling on the screen, but other than that it is not really a companion device to its smaller ‘phablet’ brother. While that is unique the Note 10.1 has plenty of competition, not least from Samsung itself with the similarly-specced (and much cheaper) Galaxy Tab 2. Has the company gone crazy by splitting its own market in this way, or is it ensuring that it has devices for every need?

Well, that rather depends on whether the Galaxy Note meets a need. We aren’t sure about that. For all the goodness of the pen based input it is still limited, and we aren’t sure we’d actually use it a great deal after the initial excitement. Others may disagree.

The stylus sits in a housing on the chassis and you can use it all the time. Tapping icons with its nib has the same effect as patting them with a fingertip, and you can sweep with the stylus too, for example on the unlock screen.

Not all apps support the stylus, though. A sidebar showing those that do appears when you extract the pen. The list is small: S Note, S Planner, Crayon Physics, PS Touch and Polaris Office. These variously let you make notes, manage your diary, play a physics based game, draw and edit images and create Office files. There’s handwriting recognition in the notes app. You’ll find other pen supporting apps for download.

It’s all very similar to the Note 2, except that it runs a slightly older version of the software, including Ice Cream Sandwich rather than Jelly Bean.

There are a couple of other goodies on board. You can split-screen some apps, viewing two at the same time. But the selection is small. Web browser, video player, Polaris Office, gallery, email and S Note are the full set. You can also take advantage of the same pop-out video player that we saw on the Samsung Galaxy S III. In this larger screen it is a much more interesting proposition.

Physically the Galaxy Note 10.1 and Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 are very similar to look at. They share the same front mounted speaker grilles and silver outer frame. Samsung hasn’t worked really hard to make the Galaxy Note 10.1 look very different. Build quality is reasonable though there is a little flex in the backplate and its plastic might be prone to scratching.

The screen delivers 1,280 x 800 pixels while others (eg the Transformer Pad Infinity from Asus) present 1,920 x 1,200, while the much smaller screened Note 2 has 1280 x 720, and is much crisper for it. But it is bright and clear enough for everyday working.

The core specifications are strong with Android 4.0 driven by a 1.4GHz quad core processor and a very generous 2GB of RAM in support. That’s double the amount of RAM we’ve seen even in top end devices, and it must be part of the reason the Galaxy Note 10.1 seems to fly. There is 16GB of storage, and a microSD card for adding more. It’s irritating that there’s no HDMI – you need to use an optional extra adaptor for the proprietary mains connector to get HDMI. And that connector also doubles as the USB link. That’ll disappoint people who have standardised to USB, though at least Samsung does provide the cable.

On the other hand Samsung includes an infra red port and an app, Peel Smart Remote, which lets you control IR devices such as your TV. It’s an old fashioned idea being given a new lease of life.

Just as interesting as its own features is how the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 compares to the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. We’ve noted the design similarities. With the 16GB non 3G version currently online for around £389 while the non 3G Galaxy Tab II is around £289. The Note 10.1 is Samsung’s best tablet yet, and a better product than the Tab 2, but with a not inconsiderable price difference it’s up to you to compare specs and consider whether you really need the pen on your tablet.