Whether or not you’ll like Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition tablet depends on what you want to do with it. For advanced functions — which usually involve using its trademark stylus, the S Pen — the tablet takes the technological version of the scenic route. It’s chock full of functional landmarks, both major and minor, with tucked-away abilities off the beaten path, which require time to navigate and discover.All of Samsung‘s wonders are scattered across this tablet’s Android countryside, many accessible only via circuitous routes.
For instance, instead of making it easy to write on the screen, or clipping an area of a screen to share or save, or opening up a secondary app in a picture-in-picture window, or several other cool and useful functions, Samsung has saddled its otherwise sensational 10.1-inch tablet with needlessly serpentine stylus accessibility.
Worse, some of these cool and useful stylus-centric functions aren’t nearly as intuitive as they could have been, short-circuiting their ultimate usefulness.
Ergonomic Eye Candy
The Samsung — oh, I’m not gonna type “Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition” every time, so let’s just call it GNote14 — GNote14 (officially SM-P600) comes in four editions: black or white in 16GB ($549.99) and 32GB ($599.99) capacities. The price includes two years of Dropbox(how much capacity this includes is unclear), a three-month Hulu subscription, a year of the quite handy Boingo in-flight Wi-Fi, and Google Play credits: $25 for apps and $50 for movies and TV shows.
What’s most initially striking about GNote14 is what’s going on behind it: the faux-leather rear. It’s not soft, but the material is more than feel-good and pretty — it provides a firmer grip than Samsung’s usual cheap plastic, especially when your palms get a bit sweaty.
The black version befits the male executive demographic, but I’m not sure who the white edition is aimed at
The black version befits the male executive demographic, but I’m not sure who the white edition is aimed at — certainly not at anyone who has ever owned (and had to clean) white leather clothing. I was conscious of the relative cleanliness of each surface I considered setting my white review sample down upon.
But the firm, leathery grip is necessary. GNote14 is light enough, just 1.19 pounds compared to the iPad’s 1.44-pound heft. But a tablet this large is going to be cumbersome and unwieldy to hold in one hand, regardless of weight. This awkwardness is amplified when you have to hold the GNote14 in one hand, and especially in landscape mode, while wielding and applying Samsung’s S Pen stylus in your stronger hand.
GNote14 is ringed with what appears to be a silver metallic rim. Embedded in this rim up top on the left (holding the GNote14 in landscape mode) are the on/off toggle and the volume down/up controls (there are faint + and – icons on each). In the middle top is the infrared blaster for GNote14′s AV remote control capabilities, and on the bottom rim is the microUSB port. These two are similarly sized and shaped; on numerous occasions, I tried to shove the charging jack into the IR blaster.
On either side of the screen are GNote14′s stereo speakers, which pump out smooth tones with plenty of volume. The sound far superior to tablets sans stereo speakers (such as iPad). On the right side is a microSD card slot.
Impressive Screen, Specs
Spec-wise, the GNote14 is arguably the most advanced of any tablet extant. GNote14′s impressive 10.1-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 pixel resolution screen is deceptively higher than iPad’s 2,048 x 1,560 display. But the GNote14 is wider, accounting for the extra pixels. And that expansive widescreen display area can be a bit of dust collector.
Everything that appears on GNote14′s TFT LCD (not AMOLED) display, including even the tiniest of text, is bright and crisp — highly readable. Colors on photos and video are bright and natural, though lacking the pop-off-the-screen black levels rendered by AMOLED. Video runs smoothly, without noticeable refresh rate blur.
Behind the screen is Samsung’s snappy and high-powered Exynos 1.9GHz quad-core processor, plus a second 1.3GHz quad-core processor. The purpose of this second processor is unclear, but the Android 4.3 “Jelly Bean”-powered GNote14 is super speedy in all but one function, which we’ll get to in a moment.
You also get 3GB of RAM, dual-band Wi-Fi including “gigabit” 802.11ac (there’s no cellular version) and Bluetooth 4.0 (aka Smart).
Camera & Battery
GNote14 is equipped with an exceptional 8-megapixel camera on the rear, which snaps remarkably sharp photos in even dimly lit conditions. Here’s a sample:
You also get a flash to illuminate darker scenes, except it takes GNote14 four-to-five seconds — an eternity in picture taking — to focus, light and capture a scene.
GNote14 finally catches up to iPad’s 10-hour battery life. I real-world on-and-off usage I was able to go nearly two days without worrying about recharging.
While playing with the GNote14, I uncovered a host of useful tweaks I would love to learn more about and integrate into my everyday “tableting,” with dozens more features and functions yet to be discovered and explored. This space is too limited to delve into even a fraction of GNote14′s cornucopia of goodies, both app- and OS-based, that Samsung has rammed into the GNote14.
But Samsung’s showiest functions for business users are those categorized under Air Command — and here’s where GNote14 gets in its own way.
There are five Air Command functions:
- Pen Window, which, like Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth, lets you scrawl a square or rectangle door on the GNote14 screen into which then magically pops a menu of seven compatible apps that, when you tap one, appears in that drawn picture-in-picture window.
- S Finder, an extensive universal (device and web) search tool, which also lets you hand-write symbols as part of your search.
- Screen Write, which enables you to choose from a variety of stylus line thicknesses and colors to draw or write on any screen, then save and/or share that screen.
- Scrapbooker, which lets you circle and clip segments from any screen for saving and/or sharing.
- Action Memo, which lets you scrawl handwritten notes and can translate scrawled email addresses and Web URLs into actual usable email address and URLs.
You access all of these Air Commands by withdrawing the S Pen stylus from its scabbard, hovering the tip of the S Pen over the screen and pressing the button on the side of the S Pen.
This worked sometimes on the first try, usually after a couple of tries. In all events, this method of accessing Air Command controls is flashy — and completely unnecessary.
All Air Command functions could have been more easily and simply accessed by finger touch from a pull down or pop-up menu
All Air Command functions could have been more easily and simply accessed by finger touch from a pull down or pop-up menu. The whole gestalt of Air Command smacks of a “we did it because we could” philosophy, instead of rejecting the clever in favor of simplicity.
More potentially useful is the handy Multi-Window, which allows two compatible apps, accessible via a pullout tray on the left side of the window, to be open side-by-side. There are 16 compatible apps at the moment, and you can move the dividing line between the two left and right to resize the apps.
However, the tray access arrow isn’t always visible, and the side-by-side apps couldn’t interact with each other. For instance, unless I was doing it wrong, I couldn’t drag a photo from the Gallery on one side of the screen to an open email on the other side (I got a “Not supported” message when I tried a simple finger-drag). Perhaps there are instances of side-by-side Multi Window cooperation, but I couldn’t find any.
Many of GNote14′s innovations feel similarly short-sheeted and counter-intuitive.
Getting the Memo
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition is as impressive and long-winded to use as its name, and its expansiveness can be daunting — and I’ve only touched on a fraction of its expansive wonders.
Nearly all these features you’ll want to exploit require a second or two of “how do you do this again?” pondering — GNote14 is chockfull of dismissible “You can do this” pop-ups. And you ought not require the S Pen stylus to access anything — it ought to be supplementary, not required. In short, GNote14′s method to do something often overwhelms the rationale for doing it.
Devotees, especially young creative types in tune with tablet technology, will be willing to climb the learning curve and be rewarded for their effort. But for the mass of mobile consumers who just want to read, email, surf, play and view, GNote14 is akin to killing a fly with perhaps the most advanced anvil ever.
- Includes a plethora of advanced apps, functions and tweaks
- 4 million-plus pixel display
- 10-hour battery life
- Too reliant on stylus
- Overly complicated OS
- Awkward to handle with one hand
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition is so impressive a slab of technology it’s almost overwhelming, but accessing its most interesting features is too reliant on its S Pen stylus.
Images: Mashable, Christina Ascani