Samsung is one of those companies that will try just about anything. A good example of that this year is the Galaxy S4 Zoom and even the Galaxy Note back in 2011. Back in 2011, when Samsung took the stage at IFA to announce the Galaxy Note, and showed off it's 5.3-inch display, we all criticized them for creating such a "huge" device. But here we are in 2013, and the Galaxy Note line has turned into their flagship line of devices. It's not just the Galaxy Note 3 either. There's also the Galaxy Note 8 and 10.1. I checked out the original Galaxy Note 10.1 when it hit Verizon earlier this year. I was really impressed with it, especially because of the front-facing speakers like on the Nexus 10. Although I wasn't a fan of the glossy plastic on the back. I also reviewed the Galaxy Note 8.0 earlier this year, which is basically just the Galaxy Note 2 stretched to 8-inches. The internals were exactly the same and even the screen resolution was the same 1200xx800. I still liked it, because I like the smaller tablets, in the 7-8 inch range.
Fast forward to September 2013 at IFA. Prior to Samsung's Unpacked event in Berlin this year. I wasn't holding much of an expectation for the Galaxy Note 10.1. Why? Mostly because I had seen the specs and performance of the Galaxy Tab 3 line earlier this year and really wasn't impressed. But when Samsung announced the Galaxy Note 10.1 along with those specs, it immediately hit my radar as possibly my next tablet. Although it does run an Exynos 5 Octa (we'll talk about that more later on), it's still a beast. While we're talking specs, let's take a look at the spec sheet on this thing.
10.1-inch 2560x1600 TFT LCD DIsplay
Exynos 5 Octa (quad-core 1.9GHz and quad-core 1.3GHz) WiFi version, Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.3GHz LTE version
3GB of RAM
16GB/32GB/64GB internal storage options
Micro SD card slot supports up to 64GB of storage
8MP camera on the back
2MP on the front
As you can see the Galaxy Note 10.1 - 2014 Edition has some pretty beefy specs. The Galaxy Note 10.1 is also one of the two devices that works with the Galaxy Gear out of the box.
As far as the hardware goes, it's about what you'd expect from Samsung. Especially if you've used the Galaxy Note 3. On the left and right sides, near the top, are your speakers with the microSD card slot on the left side. There's also the power button, volume rocker and IR blaster up top, at the bottom is the microUSB port. Surprisingly, the Galaxy Note 10.1 doesn't support USB 3.0 like the Galaxy Note 3 does. So unfortunately, you can't use your Galaxy Note 3 charger on the Galaxy Note 10.1, but you can use the Galaxy Note 10.1 charger on the Galaxy Note 3.
Yes, the Galaxy Note 10.1 has physical buttons just like the Galaxy Note 3, and any other Samsung phone that's come out in the past two years. The first tablet of theirs I saw with a physical home button was the Galaxy Note 8.0. When I reviewed it earlier this year, I was pretty harsh on the physical buttons. I just didn't think they belonged there. I still don't. But since I've been using less Nexus devices and more Samsung, and HTC devices in the past couple of months, I've gotten used to them. So yes there is a physical home button and capacitive menu and back buttons on either side. My only gripe this time, is why is Samsung the only manufacturer to put the menu button on the other side?
It is running the Exynos 5 Octa, which we kinda need to talk about. Back at CES, Samsung announced their first octa-core processor, the Exynos 5 Octa. Although it's not a true Octa-core, since it's just two quad-core processors. You've essentially got a quad-core 1.9GHz processor and a quad-core 1.3GHz processor inside. Now it can only use one of them at a time. So you can't just use 2 cores from each when you're doing certain things. It supposedly is able to switch between the two processors depending on how resource heavy the tasks you are doing are. But here's the thing. The Exynos 5 Octa lags like crazy. Want to know why I say that? Back when the Galaxy S4 was released, both the Snapdragon 600 and Exynos 5 Octa versions lagged. Although the Exynos 5 Octa (I9500) lagged much worse. Now I'm seeing that on the Galaxy Note 10.1 - 2014 Edition. Which you can see the lag in the animated gif here. Sometimes when i press the power button I wonder "is the battery dead?" because that's just how long it takes to turn on sometimes. From time to time, just flipping through the home screens, you can notice the lag as well. I also say this is the Exynos 5 Octa's fault because the Galaxy Note 3 has never lagged on me. The Galaxy Note 3 that we have here in the US is the Snapdragon 800 version. Which leads me to believe it's the Exynos 5 Octa's fault. Now I've heard a lot of people say "oh turn off S Voice, Air Command, etc." isn't turning off all the features kinda missing the point? That's like buying the Nexus 10, and uninstalling all the Google apps. My point is, it should be able to have all these features enabled and run smoothly. The Galaxy Note 3 can, so why can't the Galaxy Note 10.1?
As far as the display goes. It's beautiful.
That's really all there is to say about the Galaxy Note 10.1's display. It's a beautiful 2560x1600 resolution display. If you've ever used the Nexus 10 or Chromebook Pixel, it's basically the same display, just different display technology. It's actually using a TFT LCD display, which is pretty nice, of course at that high resolution you'd expect it to have an amazing display. Viewing angles are excellent as well, unlike some phones and tablets from another OEM, that we won't name.
Now the display is part of the reason for the Galaxy Note 10.1's lag we talked about earlier. Because it's simply pushing so many pixels. You see it on many high-resolution devices. The Nexus 10 has a bit of lag, and so does the Retina Macbooks.
I wasn't really impressed with the battery life, but I also wasn't saddened by the battery life on the Galaxy Note 10.1. It's right on par with other 10-inch tablets out there. The screenshots above show it all.
We benchmarked the Galaxy Note 10.1 on AnTuTu and the results are above. But after the recent news about how some OEMs are cheating the benchmarks, I wouldn't rely on the benchmarks as the reason why I'd buy a device, but rather the user experience when using the device.
Here's the fun part. We know that Samsung puts a crap load of features and tweaks in their devices with their custom user interface known as Touchwiz. With the Galaxy Note 10.1, there's no shortage of features, as you'd expect. If you've used the Galaxy Note 3, then you'll recognize just about every feature from the Galaxy Note 10.1. It has most of the features and software as the Galaxy Note 3 except for a couple like S Health. Actually that might be the only feature missing. We're going to talk about many of these features but not all of them. We've already broken down many of them while we were reviewing the Note 3.
The S Pen is Samsung's stylus they've had as part of the Galaxy Note line since 2011. It has seen some changes this year, and I think it's a bit better to use now. It fits right into the back of the Galaxy Note 10.1, so you'll never lose it. Now the S Pen isn't just another stylus. It's specifically designed for the Galaxy Note lineup. WIth the S Pen there are all kinds of gestures that have been added and features. Along with some apps like S Note, Action Memo, Story Album and a few others. While some don't really like the S Pen, I personally love it!
This is probably my favorite feature on the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 10.1. You're going to see a lot of references and comparisons to the Note 3 here because the software is so much alike between the two.
When you pull out the S Pen, there is a little fan menu that pops up in the corner of your screen, which you can see above. It gives you five options. That's Pen Window, S Finder, Screen Write, Scrapbooker and Action Memo. Which we'll touch on each one briefly in a minute. Now if you already have your S Pen out, you can hover the S Pen any where over the display and press the button on the side of the S Pen to pull up Air Command, which is pretty neat.
With Pen Window, you can go ahead and draw a square or rectangle on the screen to open up another app that will just hover on the screen. You can open up about as many of these as you want. I've had at least 6 open with a few running in the background and I didn't notice much of a hit in performance. With S Finder, it makes it easy to find stuff you've saved. Maybe some notes, some memo's or even a drawing you did on the Galaxy Note 10.1. Then there's screen write, which will take a screen capture and then allow you to write on it before sharing. Pretty simple. Next up is Scrapbooker, which will allow you to grab a part of your screen and save it in your scrapbooks. Right now YouTube video's don't quite work right, but that should be fixed soon. Lastly there's Action Memo. With Action Memo you are able go ahead and take notes. But what's different here is that you can actually take actions. Say you write down someone's name, number and email address. You can actually have the Note 10.1 save that as a contact. The handwriting recognition on both the Note 3 and Note 10.1 are outstanding.
Air View is really nothing new. It's been a part of the Note series since last year. Basically you can use the S Pen and hover over different items to see what they do. For example, if you're in the gallery and want to see what's in an album without actually opening it, you could hover your S Pen over the album and it'll show you what's inside, like in the image shown above. This works in other apps as well, but mostly on the Galaxy Note 3.
Direct Pen Input
The handwriting recognition on the Galaxy Note 10.1 and Note 3 this year are outstanding. It can usually guess what I'm writing correctly, unless I'm recording it for a YouTube video. With Direct Pen Input you can directly write what you want. I noticed that this works in more apps on the Note 10.1 than on the Note 3. For example, if you jump into the Twitter app, you can hand write a tweet, which I think is pretty cool. I haven't tried many of the apps from the Play Store, but it seems like this works in most apps that you can download. Like Chrome, Twitter, Facebook, etc.On the Note 3, it seems to only work in the Samsung stock browser, which is a bit puzzling to me.
Yep, S Voice is present in the Galaxy Note 10.1 as well, and it's just as good (or bad, depending on your thoughts of it) as it is on the Galaxy Note 3. I've never really been a fan of S Voice and actually prefer Google Now to S Voice, but it is cool that it's there. It does have the voice control features for the Alarm, camera and music. With the clock app you can stop or snooze the alarm by using the voice commands Stop and Snooze. For the camera you can take pictures with commands like Capture, Shoot, Smile, and Cheese. Finally, for music, these commands only work with the stock music player app - unfortunately - but you can say Next, Previous, Play, Pause, Volume Up and Volume Down.
The camera here isn't really what the review is about, so we won't spend too much time on it. But for a tablet, it does take adequate shots, both the rear and front cameras. There are plenty of examples down below for you.
Other Odds & Ends:
Bloatware: There's plenty. But luckily there's no carrier bloatware on here, since this is the WiFi model.
Storage: This is the 32GB model and out of the box you get about 25GB and change free. Which isn't too bad given there's still the micro SD card slot that houses another 64GB if needed.
Smart Screen: All your Smart Screen features are there including Smart Stay, Smart Rotation, Smart Pause and Smart Scroll. They also work just as you'd expect.
Dropbox: Make sure you claim your 50GB of Dropbox storage that comes with the Galaxy Note 10.1!
Display: Man this display is awesome. There's just not enough words to describe how amazing it looks.
Battery Life:As stated in the battery life section above, I was not overly impressed with the battery life on here. But not disappointed either. The most screen-on time I was able to get was about 7.5 hours. Which included video, gaming and web browsing. Which I think is quite good, even for a tablet.
S Pen: In the past, I haven't been a huge fan of the S Pen but in the 2013/2014 versions of the Note line, I really am. I love all the new features for the S Pen on the Galaxy Note 3 and 10.1, and it's definitely a good thing.
Exynos 5 Octa: I mentioned this in the hardware section, but I'm pretty sure the Exynos 5 Octa is the big reason for the lag on this tablet. I really wish Samsung had opted for a Snapdragon 800 in all the versions of the Galaxy Note 10.1
Pricing: It's going for about $500 right now on Amazon. While that's probably not too bad, it's right there with the iPad, I would have liked to see this undercut the iPad a bit.
In this review, I've stated both some positive and negatives about this tablet. Now that happens with most tablets. But now we are to the part of "would you recommend the Galaxy Note 10.1?". In short, yes I would. But let me explain. I do recommend the Galaxy Note 10.1, it's a great tablet. However, I would not recommend the WiFi version, because of the Exynos 5 Octa issues (at least until Samsung works those out). I would recommend you buy the unlocked LTE version which has the Snapdragon 800 processor inside. And there's only one reason, the lag. But I've talked enough about the lag already (I'm also not the only reviewer that's complained about it, so I know it's not just my unit).
If you're looking for a new 10-inch tablet, and don't mind Touchwiz, this is definitely the one to buy, at least until the Nexus 10 is announced.