S Pen Digital Pen: the Darling of Note Takers and Artists
This wouldn't be a Galaxy Note if there wasn't an S Pen, so the new Note has the S Pen that uses Wacom technology. The pen is interchangeable with other Galaxy Note pens, and the tablet works with Wacom's Tablet PC pens too. The pen is a precise digital pen, not to be confused with a capacitive stylus that's fat and inaccurate. It supports over 1,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, which makes for more natural writing and is a must for sketching and painting. Samsung includes their nicely evolved S Note application for note taking with handwriting and formula recognition, and you can doodle too. We suggest third party programs like Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro and Infinite Painter for artists if you wish to sketch and paint seriously. The Galaxy Note 10.1 has no competition among current Android and iOS tablets: if you want the digital pen, it's the Note. Lenovo and HTC dabbled in digital pens using competing N-Trig technology, but those models are long discontinued. Windows 8 tablets are your only alternative if you want a Wacom or N-Trig digital pen.
Performance and Horsepower
As ever, CPUs and graphics get faster with every new product release, and though we didn't find our original Note 10.1 slow, we have an even faster 1.9GHz Exynos Octa 5420 quad core CPU with MALI T-628 graphics. Despite the Octa name, the CPU doesn't run 8 cores at once. Rather it has a quad core 1.9GHz ARM A15 set and a quad core 1.3GHz A7 arrangement: the faster cores run for demanding tasks and the slower quad core A7s run for less demanding tasks. The idea is not unlike the Tegra 3 and Tegra 4 companion low power core architecture. Note that the LTE 4G version will run on the quad core Snapdragon 800 platform, which is comparable in terms of performance, if not slightly faster.
We received a software update upon first boot and it addressed bugs and performance issues. Apparently, it did the trick because the tablet has been responsive with little of the traditional TouchWiz-induced lag we've seen in some prior Samsung Galaxy products. It certainly helps that the Note 10.1 2014 Edition has 3 gigs of RAM, just like the Galaxy Note 3. Today's higher end Android phones and tablets have 2 gigs of RAM and 1 gig was the norm less than a year ago, so the Note has ample RAM to run all of Samsung's software plus your apps.
The tablet is available with 16 or 32 gigs of storage and there's an SDXC microSD card slot should you need to expand storage. Though Android 4.x removed the ability to install apps to SD cards, Samsung hacked the OS to bring that feature back. Most apps aren't that big, but cutting edge 3D games like NOVA 3 and Bard's Tale are 2 to 3 gigs, and that's when you might be tempted to put apps on a card. The tablet also supports USB host so you can use USB keyboards, mice, game controllers and USB flash drives and portable hard drives (NTFS isn't supported unless you root and add support for that file system). You'll need a micro USB to USB OTG host adapter to make use of this feature.
||GFXBench 2.7 Egypt Offscreen
||3D Mark Ice Storm test
|2014 Galaxy Note 10.1
||35.9 fps (unlimited)
|Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 (Exynos)
|Sony Xperia Tablet Z
|Google Nexus 10
||37.1 fps (standard)
|Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0
|Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 first gen
||101 fps (GLBench 2.1, easier test)
|Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (phone)
GeekBench 3: 938 single core /2536 multi-core
The rear 8MP camera with LED flash and HDR is certainly better than average for a tablet. That said, it's equivalent to a last generation higher end smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S III, so it's not going to compete well with the Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, LG G2 or iPhone 5s. Still, it takes pleasing shots and decent 1080p video, but highlights in bright outdoor shots are blown out and dim shots show noise and loss of detail. Overall, it does a reasonably good job for those who don't mind waving a 10" tablet around when taking photos and video. As with other recent Samsung Galaxy products, you can shoot from front and rear cameras simultaneously.
The front 2MP camera is above average, and the same is true of the better Android phones on the market. Video chats are relatively well illuminated and not terribly blocky.
Samsung increased battery capacity from the 7,000 mAh first gen Note 10.1 to 8,220mAh but the higher resolution and faster CPU take their toll, so battery life isn't improved. We averaged 7.5 to 8.5 hours of actual use time in a mix of web browsing, streaming HD video for 2 hours via YouTube and Netflix, checking and responding to emails, social networking and working on Word documents using the included Polaris Office 5 suite. The battery takes forever to charge, just like the Samsung-made Nexus 10 tablet, so be prepared to charge it overnight when the battery is nearly depleted.
Among Android tablets, the Google Nexus 10 with matching resolution and a lesser but still capable Exynos CPU is a clear competitor. It's a bit less expensive and you get a pure Google experience for those who hate manufacturer UI customization or Samsung's TouchWiz. However, you lose the S Pen, microSD card slot and it takes a little extra work to get USB host working for mass storage on the Nexus 10.
The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is a strong competitor and it's even a tad thinner. It too has USB host, a microSD card slot and an IR blaster with AV Remote. The display resolution is lower at 1920 x 1200, but it's still full HD and very, very sharp. This one comes down to whether you need the S Pen, brand preference and how you feel about Sony's more minimal UI vs. TouchWiz.
The iPad with Retina Display is the obvious competitor from Apple, with a super high resolution display and Apple's fast CPU and graphics inside. We'll have to wait a few weeks longer to see what Apple has in store for the iPad 5, but the differences still come down to your preferred OS and ecosystem and whether you want the digital pen. Surprisingly, the latest generation iPad is $50 cheaper for the 16 gig model and priced the same for the 32 gig model.
And then there are Windows tablets, generally 10.1" to 11.6" models running Windows 8 32 bit on Intel Atom CPUs that compete in this price and size range. They too have long battery life and silent (fanless) designs. Atom is fast enough to run Windows decently, though you'll notice some lag. In return you get full Windows experience with access to MS Office, Adobe Photoshop and other staples of the Windows PC world. Really, Windows tablets are the most direct competitors since several are available with digital pens, including the lovely ThinkPad Tablet 2. The question is do you want full Windows and the upkeep that requires, or do you want a nimble, low maintenance mobile OS that can't run your Windows programs? For serious artists, Windows tablets are a better choice simply because the art program ecosystem is much more evolved and advanced compared to Android. For casual artists who stick mostly to pencil sketching and note takers, Android will work just fine.
The 2014 Edition Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a top tablet pick if you're in the market for a mobile OS tablet rather than a Windows tablet. In fact, it's the cream of the Android crop too, but you'll pay the price since it's one of the most expensive. In return you get a stunning 2560 x 1600 display with lovely colors and clarity, the S Pen for precise writing and drawing, Samsung's excellent Multi Window split window multitasking, good S Pen support from third party notes and drawing apps, a fast CPU, expandable storage and USB host. Heck, even the rear camera takes decent shots and video and has a few added goodies like an LED flash and HDR.
Price: $549 for 16 gig model, $599 for 32 gig model (both WiFi only, no LTE 4G pricing available yet)
Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Comparison Smackdown
Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 First Generation Review
Google Nexus 10 Review
Sony Xperia Tablet Z
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Review
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 Review
iPad Air Review
Nokia Lumia 2520 Review
Directly above: the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 on top of the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2.