The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 are two of the hottest and newest 10" Android tablets. Both feature a pleasing 10.1" displays, a quad core CPU, Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich and expandable microSD storage. Each starts at $499 and is WiFi-only. They have Bluetooth, a GPS and both front and rear cameras.
Pen vs. Keyboard
Is the pen mightier than the keyboard? The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1's most potent feature is its S Pen and Wacom active digitizer that offer much greater precision than you'd get from a capacitive stylus. The S pen has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, which is very important to artists and it makes note taking more ink-like and natural. Students and workers who regularly take notes by hand will likely be enthralled. Artists who've used Wacom tablets (the kind that sits on your desk beside your mouse and keyboard) and Windows 7 tablets with Wacom and N-Trig digitizers will likely be smitten.
But the rest of you who rely on the keyboard and are perhaps young enough to have spent most of your life typing rather than scribing will find the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 captivating. With the $149 optional keyboard dock, you can turn the Transformer into a laptop form factor machine with a keyboard, trackpad, USB port and full size SD card slot. It also has a secondary battery that adds 4 hours to runtimes. Sweet.
There's no winner here. Rather if the pen makes your heart go pitter-pat or the keyboard and notebook form is what you've dreamed of in a mobile OS device, you know which is for you. Note that you can use Bluetooth keyboards and USB keyboards (with Samsung's optional $20 USB adapter) with the Galaxy Note 10.1, you just won't get the extended battery and USB port of the Asus keyboard dock.
OK, here's the gorilla in the room, and I don't mean Gorilla Glass since both have that durable glass (the Asus has Gorilla Glass 2 that's even thinner). Some reviewers have focused on the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700's HD display as the Samsung (and nearly every other tablet) killer. The New iPad's Retina display has heightened awareness of very high resolution displays, and yes: the Asus has a sharper display. Text is more perfectly formed and photos and videos pop a bit. Both tablets show you the same amount of stuff on screen since Android scales the resolution. It's not like Windows where a higher resolution results in tiny but sharp text and smaller images. But no doubt the Asus TF700, like the New iPad and to a slightly lesser extent the Acer Iconia Tab A700, have sharper screens. It's a subtle but real improvement. That said, the standard 1280 x 800 PLS display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is very colorful, vibrant and sharp. You're not slumming... you're simply not looking at the absolute best.
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer Pad TF700 has a Super IPS + display with unusually high brightness, excellent clarity (my, those fonts look super sharp) and wide viewing angles. The Samsung has wide viewing angles too, but it lacks the super-bright feature that's handy for outdoor use and it has a cooler color bias. Both have excellent black levels and vivid colors. Why didn't Samsung go with an HD 1920 x 1200 display like Asus? Likely to keep cost down and because the Wacom digitizer was developed for standard rather than 1080p high density displays.
Winner: Asus Transformer Pad TF700
Performance and Horsepower
It's a wash here: the Asus has a 1.6GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 quad core CPU with GeForce graphics. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 has a quad core 1.4GHz Exynos CPU with Maili 400 graphics. Both are smarter than you and I. They walk circles around the most demanding apps and 3D games. There is no app or task that these can't handle. If the tablet bogs down, it's due to poorly coded software rather than the hardware. The Exynos scores a little bit higher on synthetic benchmarks than the Tegra 3 despite the Tegra 3's slightly higher clock speed. The Samsung has 2 gigs of RAM vs. 1 gig for the Asus. The Samsung comes with 16 gigs of flash storage for $499, vs. 32 gigs on the TF700.
Experientially, the Galaxy Note 10.1 feels a little faster when multi-tasking. It's hard to slow it down with multiple heavy apps running. It's a beast. It's a bit more stable too with fewer stuttering moments and no "wait or force close" messages when apps take too long to respond. Samsung works for polish, while Asus is focused on cutting edge performance and getting OS updates out first, even if there are few bugs to work out in a future (and generally fast) firmware update.
Winner: tie, though we give the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 an edge for multi-tasking speed and stability.
Build Materials and Quality
The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 is the winner here for its swirled aluminum back and captivatingly slim design. Though both tablets weight 1.3 pounds and measure 0.35" thin, the Transformer TF700 looks and feels thinner thanks to a very tapered design. The Galaxy Note 10.1 is just what you'd expect from Samsung: plastics that are unabashedly plastic. The Samsung is nonetheless attractive, at least in white, but it doesn't scream high class goods.
And now the other shoe drops: the Asus' tapered design is somewhat its undoing. Though Asus has made the sides beefier compared to the Transformer Prime TF201, the side taper still results in vulnerable dock and headphone ports. It's a bit harder to hold since the edges taper to a wafer thin edge. But it looks sexy. That said, we're a little concerned about potential headphone jack shorts and the longevity of the dock connector. And it doesn't feel as sturdy overall as the Galaxy Note 10.1, though few tablets other than the super-chunky Toshiba Thrive and Motorola XYBoard 10.1 really feel rugged.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a bit more comfortable to hold since its edges aren't as sharp and thin, and all ports are well supported. Both tablets have good wireless reception, and Asus has more than compensated for the Transformer Prime's poor GPS and WiFi reception.
While the Transformer TF700 wins on build materials, Samsung takes the lead for quality control and assembly. Some users have reported the usual Asus display light bleed (ours has a bit) and problems with the edges of the display creaking or separating from the frame. While it's still early to judge the Galaxy Note 10.1, ours had no light bleed (admittedly more of a problem for IPS displays) and it's put together perfectly. Samsung's track record for QA is stronger than Asus'. In fact, our 32 day old Transformer TF700's display quit on us during this smackdown, with two black lines (white and blue when viewing a black background) appeared across the display. Rebooting the tablet didn't fix the problem, nor did a factory restore. After the problems with the Transformer Prime, I'm not feeling warm and fuzzy as I send it the TF700 in for an RMA repair.
Winner: Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 for build materials, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 for quality control and a more robust design.
Despite a huge 7,000 mAh Lithium Ion battery on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, it can't outlast the long-lived Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700. In our tests for both standard productivity use and video playback, the Asus lasted 45 minutes longer on a charge (actual use time, not standby time). The fifth low power companion core in the Tegra 3 really does help conserve battery.
Winner: Asus Transformer Pad TF700
Those of you who prefer a clean Android experience will no doubt prefer the Asus Transformer Pad TF700 (and many other ICS tablets on the market). Samsung uses their TouchWiz UI on top of Android, with custom icons and font options. If you love your Samsung Galaxy S III, you'll enjoy the Samsung. If TouchWiz makes you grind your teeth, you'll prefer the Asus Transformer TF700.
When we look beyond UI customizations, Asus delivers a strong software bundle of truly useful apps rather than bloatware. You get Splashtop Remote, for remote access to Windows 7 and Mac OS X machines. There's an excellent backup program that can backup individual APK files and Asus' cloud storage service. Both tablets have Polaris Office for working with MS Office compatible files (the Galaxy Note 10.1 allows for pen annotation in Polaris Office too). The Asus has Super Note, a very powerful rich note-taking application.
Samsung goes even further with a strong selection of in-house apps like S Planner for a more visually rich view of your calendar, a video player that's more pleasing and full featured than the standard Gallery app (Gallery is pre-installed on both tablets) and a nice Samsung music player. The video player can play video is a window anywhere, picture-in-picture style just like the Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone. Samsung has a side-by-side feature for 6 apps so you can take S Notes or use Polaris Office while looking at a web page or a video. There's an app dock at the bottom that runs apps as floating windows so you can multi-task more efficiently. Color us impressed. And then there's S Note: an app that works with the S Pen for ink notes, handwriting recognition and formula recognition. It can also embed images, screen shots with markup and audio notes.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
Here's our detailed Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 vs. Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 Comparison Smackdown video: