Galaxy Note 10.1 Is Feature-Rich and You Have to Get Used to It

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2012-08-15

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Tablet: First Impressions

Samsung officially introduced the Galaxy Note 10.1 at a New York event Aug. 14. A for-now WiFi-only tablet with a 10.1-inch display, it's meant to build on the success of Samsung's original 5.3-inch Note, which found a strong following within the enterprise, as well as with users with creative aspirations.

While a press release out of Seoul Aug. 6 spilled the beans on the device's specifications--Android Ice Cream Sandwich, with the promise of Jelly Bean later this year; a quad-core processor; and front and back cameras--it failed to get across the importance of the device to Samsung, which is now the world's leading phone maker, as well as smartphone maker, and Apple's only real competitor in the tablet market.

"This is one of the most innovative devices we've ever made and it will be fairly revolutionary," Shoneel Kolhatkar, Samsung Mobile's director of product planning, told journalists and analysts at a small meeting before the official launch, offering early hands-on time with the tablet.

"It is the most differentiated product we will have on the market," said Kolhatkar. 

So, expect a tremendous marketing campaign to accompany it.

Kolhatkar and his colleagues explained that Samsung's original Note introduced the world to the S Pen-a grown-up, more feature-rich version of the stylus-and that tablets have so far been more about "passive consumption, the 'lean back.'"

With the Galaxy Note 10.1, which features a "number of firsts and onlys," they expect all that to change.

First, there's that S Pen. While the stylus accompanying the new Lenovo Tablet 2 is tubular, the S Pen is a more of a long rectangle, so that it doesn't roll off tables. It has a button on its side that a user can press to do things like cut or paste text. And in exclusive Samsung apps loaded to the Galaxy 10.1, the S Pen can help to do things like cut and paste images, edit images, control games and take notes.

The S Pen also allows a user to write, color, draw or add a personal touch to content-a handwritten "Wish you were here" can be added to a vacation photo being sent to friends. Has the world been craving such capabilities? Who knows. Kolhatkar made the case that handwriting is more personal, more humanizing and that there's "a power in it."

The S Pen is also pressure-sensitive, unlike many high-end styluses on the market. Press harder, and, like an ordinary pen or marker, it makes a darker, thicker mark. While a user can choose on the screen the type of tip they'd like the Pen to make in certain apps-controlling the colors or whether it appears as a pencil, pen or marker-the Galaxy Note 10.1 ships with five additional pen tips for the S Pen, three of them rubber and two plastic, for different writing experiences.

The tablet's display complements the S Pen by enabling a user to write with the side of her palm resting on the display, instead of awkwardly hovering in the air; the Note understands that you're writing and considers only the touch-points of the pen. However, the device happily responds to finger touches.

Galaxy Note 10.1 Is Feature-Rich and You Have to Get Used to It

Another differentiator for the 10.1 is a handful of apps that complement the S Pen-until the tablet is told otherwise, it will bring up these apps immediately in a little drawer along the side of the display, when the pen is pulled out of its hole in the tablet's bottom-right corner. (Another difference between the Note 10.1 and the Lenovo Tablet 2: While the latter is punctuated with the classic ThinkPad red dot, a blasé Note 10.1 user could be forgiven for not noticing the pen's presence. It blends in maybe too well.)

There's S Note, S Planner, Crayon physics, Polaris Office and-and this one's pretty special-a simplified version of Photoshop made specifically for the device. An array of options lets users do things like erase a stranger out of the background of a family photo, add filters to images or, more silly, add a tattoo on someone.

Another standout feature of the 10.1 is called Multiscreen. While it only works with five apps for now, it lets a user view these side-by-side, making it possible to, say, take handwritten notes from a text on the other side of the display, or to let a video or movie play while checking email.

Finally, there's also a Learning Hub-though this will launch in some countries before others-that includes textbooks. With the S Pen, users can highlight portions of text, write in the margins, and do a number of other things they could-and couldn't-do in an actual book.

Students of science or math will appreciate a feature that turns handwritten formulas into tidier, typed text. In one app, this is also possible with regular notes, as long as one's handwriting is on the neater side, and diagrams can be tidied from handwriting into firmer lines and whatnot-an appreciated feature were one sketching a floor plan, say.

Did I mention that you can even use the Galaxy Note 10.1 as giant remote for your television?

Like Samsung's Galaxy S III, the new Note is feature-rich and takes a little getting used to. Giving it a quick try, the tablet would sometimes catch my handwriting and sometimes not. Sometimes it took a screen capture when I didn't mean for it to (an otherwise cool feature, there's an icon that lets a user snap a screen shot at almost any time), or the keyboard popped up when I inadvertently asked for it, likely by performing a shortcut I didn't realize that until then existed. (If you tap and then hold the pen on the display, I discovered later it takes a screen shot.) And, in the company of Kolhatkar and his colleagues, I used a note-taking feature that later, alone with the device, was far from intuitive to figure out.

Aside from the Note 10.1's handwriting-to-text capabilities, which I wasn't impressed with (though in its defense, my writing is atrocious), the other small frustrations I experienced are likely to disappear as one becomes better acquainted with the tablet.

For those who missed the early spoiler press release, the Note 10.1 measures 10.32 by 7.1 by 0.35 inches, weighs 21 grams, has a WXGA display with a resolution of 1280 by 800, dual front speakers, video pop-up and play (like the Galaxy S III), Dropbox and a microSD card slot for up to 64GB of added memory.

Unfortunately, unlike the Galaxy S III, near-field communication (NFC) is not on the Note 10.1. Given the size of the display, the radioactivity it gives off interferes with the NFC signal-an issue likely to be remedied in later models.

Battery life should run around 9 to 10 hours, depending on the applications being used, and a 16GB version will retail for $499 while a 32GB version is priced at $549.

As JK Shin, Samsung's head of mobile, said in the tablet's original release, "History has shown that taking notes, capturing ideas immediately, and sketching to realize them is the most personal and natural way to be more productive and creative. ... [The Note 10.1] gives users the power to produce, create and customize communications."

The Galaxy Note 10.1 goes on sale Aug. 16.

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