The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is finally here, 6 months after its announcement at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. And who'd guess that a stalwart Samsung product could be so polarizing? Some reviewers like it while others dismiss it. Spoiler: we like it. It's no secret that I'm the "pen lady", the person who understands and appreciates the use of an active digitizer and pen (be it Wacom or N-Trig) for drawing and note taking. I love to draw and paint; it's in my blood: my mother is a painter. But for those of you who aren't so artistically inclined and love to take good old fashioned meeting notes by hand rather than on-screen keyboard and like to annotate PDFs and Office documents, the Galaxy Note 10.1 has a decided appeal.
Only a handful of tablets come with active digitizers and digital pens that offer pressure sensitivity and more precise input than capacitive styli for Android and the iPad. The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet and the HTC Flyer and Jetstream on Android along with Windows 7 tablets that cost twice as much and have weaker touch optimization come to mind. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 brings the pen to a relatively affordable $499 tablet that Samsung hopes will be as successful as the Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone that's sold 10 million units to date.
The tablet has a lot going for it beyond the S pen: a very fast quad core 1.4GHz Exynos CPU, 2 gigs of RAM and 16 or 32 gigs of storage. It has dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and a GPS with Glonass along with a front 1.9MP camera and rear 5MP camera with LED flash. It's slim at 0.35" and light at 1.3 pounds. Like other recent Samsung tablets, the Note 10.1 has an IR blaster and the Peel AV remove and TV programming guide so you can control your home AV gear.
The tablet runs Android OS 4.0.4 with Samsung's TouchWiz UI and enhancements and it has several custom apps including the attractive S Planner calendar, a capable music player and a side-by-side app option for key apps like the web browser, video player, Polaris Office (an MS Office compatible suite) and Samsung's S Note application so you can work in these apps simultaneously as you would with a desktop OS like Windows 7 or Mac OS X.
The PLS display is bright and has plenty of color saturation, as you'd expect from Samsung. Is it a wild leap forward from the very good Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1? Not so much, but at 1280 x 800 resolution with rich colors and plenty of contrast, it doesn't send us running back to our 1920 x 1200 Asus Transformer Pad infinity TF700. If you look closely, you'll notice the fonts on the Samsung aren't as finely wrought compared to the Asus, and images lack that exquisite level of 1080+ detail, but it's still very nice. Given the work Samsung had to do in order to make a tablet with a Wacom digitizer under Android and the fact that Wacom and N-Trig digitizers haven't yet been paired with super-high ppi displays, we're not surprised at the tablet's standard resolution. And that standard resolution helps keep the price affordable. If you find the S pen useful, it will likely be worth the tradeoff.
Here's our Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 video review. Our full review will follow in a few days.