Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) Review

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 – 2014 Edition and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (read the review) share more than just a joint announcement in common. While both are iterative upgrades from their predecessors, the upgrades are huge across all facets of the devices, enjoying large leaps in build quality & style, hardware & specs, and software & features.

But is the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition worth your hard earned money? Read on to find out!

Galaxy Note 10.1 Hardware

The smartphone and tablet market has largely matured, so new devices in a series tend to see smaller upgrades and improvements, bringing their offerings on par with the competition. The Note 10.1 doesn’t look a whole lot different, but picking it up and powering on the screen will be a pleasant surprise to those who have used last year’s model.

The two most visually recognizable improvements are in build quality and screen resolution. The Note 10.1 2014 simply feels like a more sturdy, strong, premium device than in previous years. It’s a solid piece of kit with a screen boasting a 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution, doubling that of last year’s 1280 x 800 display. Better screen, better hardware, packed into a thinner design with smaller bezels.

Let’s take a look under the hood:

  • 1.9GHz Exynos 5420 quad-core processor
  • 3GB of RAM.
  • 16GB or 32GB options for internal storage
  • 8MP rear camera
  • 2MP front facing camera
  • MicroUSB 2.0
  • MicroSD slot
  • 8,220 mAh battery
  • Android 4.3 with TouchWiz and S Pen customizations
  • Dimensions: 243.1 X 171.4 X 7.9mm
  • Weight: 535g

Definitely a solid set of specs on par with the improvements to the Note 3. The quad-core processor with 3GB of RAM is a healthy amount of power and the 8,220 mAh battery should support plenty of usage for one cycle.

The Note 10.1 is constructed beautifully, but I wasn’t crazy about button placement.

Galaxy Note 10.1 Screen

The device now has a “Home” button, with menu and back buttons on either side, suggesting the device is best used in landscape mode. That places the power button on the top left, next to the volume rocker which rocks left/right. I’d much prefer these buttons on the side for a tablet, preferably as far north as possible to prevent accidental input while using the device.

The speaker grills are on the top left and right of the device, which I found myself accidentally covering at times, muffling the sound. I’m still a firm believer that speakers should be tastefully mounted on the front of the devices, successfully done on devices such as the HTC One, perhaps with non-essential 2nd and 3rd speakers on the left and right for stereo sound.

Those nitpicky complaints aside, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is a pleasure to hold. It feels firm and solid, with the new faux leather back offering a luxury feel that’s been missing from Samsung devices (even if it is still plastic).

Galaxy Note 10.1 Leather

Unlike the Note 3, the Note 10.1 doesn’t get the upgrade to MicroUSB 3.0 and sticks with the traditional MicroUSB 2.0 port. Some may put this in the downside column, but I’m content with the 2.0 port. Elsewhere on the exterior you’ll find an IR Transmitter on the top, 8MP camera with LED flash on the back, and the MicroSD slot on the right.

Of course we can’t forget the S Pen – integral to the Note 10.1 experience – perched on the upper right of the device.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 has all the makings of an impressive device – and it does impress – but I never would have guessed that the quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM would be to blame for the less than stellar performance of the Galaxy Note 10.1 Software.

Galaxy Note 10.1 Software

Samsung is the only big name player developing quality hardware with stylus support. With the Galaxy Note 10.1 they’ve taken their lead and doubled it, building a load of new S Pen features and improving on existing features that truly make the tablet and stylus experience a pleasure to use.

Multitasking with Multi-Window

With 10 inches of screen real-estate, you’ve got an awful lot to work with, why not take advantage of it? Multi Window lets you turn your tablet into a dual monitor experience, splitting your display into two panes and actively using both simultaneously. This feature is great on the Note 3 but amazing on the Note 10.1.

It isn’t new to the Note 10.1 but comes with improvements that make it even better. You can now slide the dividing line between each pane to change exactly how much screen real estate is reserved for each activity. Pressing the blue middle button also gives you some shortcuts and you’re able to “favorite” a combination of windows for quickly opening them in the future.

I had five favorite combinations to which I kept returning:

  1. Hangouts video call & Chrome
  2. Hangouts video call & Maps
  3. Chrome & Youtube
  4. Chrome & E-Mail
  5. Youtube & E-Mail

The feature is productivity heaven and supports a growing list of apps, which are automatically loaded into the multi-window side panel when they’re downloaded. As more apps become compatible this feature will grow in value.

Air Command with S Pen

Pulling the S Pen out of its cradle or pressing the S Pen button when in close proximity to the screen will pull out a circular menu (called Air Command) with 5 options:

Galaxy Note 10.1 Air Command

  1. Action Memo: quick post-it-note style memos with added functionality.
  2. Scrap Booker: circle multimedia from any screen on the tablet to organize multimedia snippets into a categorized scrap book.
  3. Screen Writer: get a screenshot and doodle whatever you want on it for saving or sharing.
  4. S Finder: universal search to locate anything from your device, the web, personal accounts, and more.
  5. Pen Window: quickly pull up a hover-over-the screen app such as Calculator, Alarm, Youtube, Contacts, Web, Hangouts, etc… easily moved, expanded or minimized.

While I found Pen Window almost useless on the Note 3 it was promising on the Note 10.1 due to the added screen real estate. It’s essentially a freeform version of Multi-Window albeit with a more limited menu of apps. It would be great for quickly finding contact info, performing a calculation, watching a video, or performing a video hangout while multi-tasking, but Pen Window was one of the unfortunate victims of the Note 10.1′s performance issues.

Action Memo, Scrap Booker, and S Note are all useful tools but splitting them into 3 different apps with 3 different layouts serving 3 different purposes makes things a bit confusing. I’d prefer to see one “S Note” app with Action Memo and Scrap Booker features, elegantly designed into a much simpler interface.

Performance Problems

Here is where things get inexplicably iffy. Although the Note 10.1 is packed with a quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM, there is noticeable lag when using the device across a number of apps and instances, mostly while multi-tasking. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in “My Magazine”, a new 10.1 feature that is powered by Flipboard and accessed by swiping up from the home screens.

Ouch. That’s pretty awful. But while the Note 10.1 definitely has performance issues that we’d like to see corrected with a software update (if that’s even possible), it seems the My Magazine problem is attributed more to Flipboard than Samsung.

And the somewhat infamous “Gallery loading” problems? I didn’t experience them at all.

Still, it’s disheartening that the 10.1 will trickle out with less than stellar performance despite it’s towering spec sheet., landing among the top tablet offerings, but not above them. These mysterious performance issues, when coupled with a hefty price tag, make it difficult to recommend the Note 10.1 without hesitation.

Camera, Multimedia, Battery, Beyond…

Public Service Announcement: you should NOT be walking around with your tablet and using it like a DSLR when on your latest vacation. You’ve got a phone, with a much better camera, sitting in your pocket, and it will make you look a lot less ridiculous. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if tablet manufacturers did away with rear cameras completely.

But the camera is there so we tested it out… here are a couple samples:

20130930_163548

20130930_163630

20130930_163801

The camera performs okay and just okay. Pretty good when the lighting is good but only okay in low light and directly bright light, where images tend to be washed out. But you’re not buying the tablet for its photographic prowess, so consider the camera’s existence an added benefit.

From a multimedia standpoint the Note 10.1 is a gem. Web browsing, video playback, together with the multi-tasking features such as multi-window and Pen Window make the Note 10.1 a brilliant device for multimedia. The improved screen is noticeably more enjoyable and just an all around pleasure to use. The speakers are L-O-U-D, sound great, and could only be improved by relocating them to the front of the device.

The huge display, gobs of multi-tasking, and powerful processor should weigh heavily on the battery. They did, but I’d consider the Note 10.1 battery to be above average. While testing the tablet I pretty much pounded every feature – music, videos, apps, games, web browsing, downloading – you name it. The Note 10.1 could typically last an entire day even with hardcore use.

The S Pen Dilemma

This problem isn’t unique to the Note 10.1, affecting any 10-inch tablet with a stylus, but it was enough of a frustration that I believe it’s worth pointing out.

When you’re writing with the S Pen, you’ve got no choice but to hold the tablet with one hand. Despite it’s relative slender frame, the 10.1-inch tablet is too big and heavy to hold steadily for any prolonged amount of time, making use of the stylus unproductive and uncomfortable for any period of time over a couple minutes.

I’ve concluded that the Note 10.1 with S Pen is best used in one of several situations:

  • You’ve got a desk on which to lean the Note 10.1.
  • You’re sitting and can place the Note 10.1 firmly in your lap.
  • You’re using the Note 10.1 but not the stylus.
  • You’ve got gargantuam hands and can palm the Note 10.1 like Shaq can a basketball.

Just a heads up: keep this in mind if you’ve never owned a device with this form factor and have some assumptions on how it would fit into your daily routine.

Verdict

While other companies are  offering stylus support as a replacement for your finger, Samsung is creating deeper experiences that extend the user’s capabilities. That’s the strength of the Galaxy Note 10.1 and if you’re a must-have-stylus type of person, this is your device.

If you’re just looking for a great tablet, the price and performance issues make devices like the Nexus 10 more attractive alternatives. If you’re somewhere in between and can wait, keep an eye on a potential Note 10.1 software upgrade that fixes performance issues, otherwise opt for one of the newer tablets sure to be announced in the next couple months.

Positives:

  • Beautiful screen
  • Solid, well built hardware
  • Visually attractive
  • Multimedia and Multitasking powerhouse
  • Stylus featutes that far surpass any competitor

Negatives:

  • Performance issues that cause lag
  • Priced high relative to non-stylus competitors

Overall: 3.75 / 5

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  • Leif Edward Odegård

    “2560 x 1600 pixel resolution, doubling that of last year’s 1280 x 800 display” Math says quadrupling.

    • supremekizzle

      Please, never become an accountant.

      • Big_EZ

        Why? He is right.

        • Azmon Rougier

          the “pixel resolution” did not quadruple…the pixel COUNT did

    • robjackson81

      Quadruple the number of total pixels… I suppose you’re right. But somehow my brain’s simple mathematical logic is reluctant to change the article. Hmmmmmmmm. Math is hard.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • eoulim

      To be correct, he could have said horizontal or vertical pixel resolution doubled.

      But in general, I agree that “1280×800″ resolution was “quad-rupled”. You either refer to single dimension or area. For example, 4K HDTV is often refered to “QUAD HDTV”.

  • Unorthodox

    I’m buying. It’s such an upgrade from last 10.1, as new N7 to the last year’s model. Yet, if you don’t plan to use your tablet as a work productivity tool, I wouldn’t recommend this one due to the price tag. Myself, I find it a superior laptop replacement in my work. I haven’t touched my VAIO laptop for 10 months now, as I can do anything I need it for from the Note. Stylus makes touches very precise, so if I need a window to Windows I can use VNC as effectively as if it was a PC. Media consumption is pure pleasure on this tablet, with solid sound from speakers I stopped watching movies on a big screen altogether. And it’ll only get better with the new iteration of hardware. Oh, and getting away from stupid Apple’s connector is totally an upgrade form last year.
    My only concern is the physical home button. The old scheme with power and volume rocker is pretty much enough, and it made the tablet’s face nice and clean.
    Bottom line – I think it’s be a no-brainer for any current owner of Note 10.1.

    • Stocklone

      Yep. I LOVE using my Note 10.1 at work. It has been an absolute game changer for me. One year later I’m still taking all my notes and doing all my pre-code design work on my Note 10.1. My thoughts are if you aren’t using the stylus, look elsewhere. But if you are using the stylus, this is the tablet to get without a doubt.

  • Mr. Smith

    Lag is from Touchwiz I bet you

    • malcmilli

      can also blame the exynos

    • OmarCarter

      yea its that damn touchwiz

  • Philly Jim

    So there’s no need for me to upgrade from last year’s model , running Hyperdrive Rom, Zero Lag , unmatched performance, I was going to sell mine to purchase this one , but I’m good for at least another year or so , or maybe until we see what the new Nexus 10 brings us, keep your Root On…..lol

    • kobesofficial

      Just a question about Hyperdrive – can you still run the S-apps on it? (S-Note in particular, as I annotate things for school and whatnot)

  • Guest

    Nice new intro!

  • jmwils3

    um the Exynos 5420 is not quad-core, its octa-core… as evidenced by the samsung website http://www.samsung.com/global/business/semiconductor/minisite/Exynos/products5octa.html

    CPU: ARM Cortex™-A15 Quad 1.8GHz + Cortex™-A7 Quad 1.3GHz
    3D HW Mali™-T628 MP6
    Memory 2 LPDDR3e (14.9GB/s memory bandwidth)
    Display WQXGA (2560 x 1600) with MIC

    • zourite

      It’s considered as a quad core because the OS only sees 4 cores at any given time.

  • David Salsburg

    is it not perhaps the lag of Flipboard trying to go out and fetch the latest articles to display?

    • Anfronie

      That’s exactly my thought…All the thorough reviews I’ve seen stat the lag is really in the Samsung apps. Which is good for me because I don’t think I will use them that much anyways. Bad for Samsung because out of all the apps those should be smoothest.

    • Stocklone

      I’m quite certain that is it. However, it should be better optimized. For instance, on a well designed music player, it will draw a blank box where the album art will go once the CPU catches up with the scrolling and the name of the album in text. This way the scrolling experience is in no way impacted by complex data. If this was well designed it would grab simple text like the article titles from flipboard and just display that with blank boxes. Once the data has caught up with the user then add in the pictures and whatever else is needed. No lag and the user can swipe around all they want.

  • Lennatron

    After owning an ipad and an Android tablet I couldn’t recommend either over a Windows 8 tablet. The productivity apps on both Android and iOS are so lacking its unbelievable. The other day I was using the Google Drive app on my ipad and wanted to Strikethrough text but there was no button for it let alone inserting a table or graph. (I had to pull out the laptop just to strikethrough text!) Even using apps that do give some more features it will take at least twice as long to do something such as a create a chart or insert a picture as it would on a Windows 8 device with Microsoft Office. Without good productivity software or real built-in wireless printing the new Note 10.1 and the iPad are $500 toys.

    • malcmilli

      that all depends on your industry my friend. One man’s toy is another man’s tool. Productivity n my field has much more to do with drawing with the stylus than it does with plugging numbers into a spreadsheet.

      • Lennatron

        I appreciate your reply. Windows tablets have drawing/sketching apps as well the productivity and functionality. Depending on which device yiu choose you can even get a wacom pressure sensitive pen.

      • MadSquabbles

        i do love both my android and windows tablets. samsung makes wonderful windows tablets that utilize the spen also. thus offering full versions of sketchbook, power tools sai, photoshop, etc available for use. and if you get the older version of photoshop, it’ll run fine on a atom based 500t. add that to the 10+ hours of battery life and 2hr 0-100% charge and you’ve got one heck of a tablet. i’ve also got a 700t, but that only lasts about 5.5hrs.

  • mcl630

    2014??? Is Samsung on a different calendar than the rest of us?

  • OmarCarter

    not a great review. I purchased it and im excited

  • Hot Dog Cat

    Samsung please…

    optimize TouchWiz already or start using any other UI that runs well

    didn’t you learn anything from HTC’s Sense 5?

  • Dave Stenhouse

    Lag is easy to quantify if you have a good performance monitor program. I suggest you use it when commenting on performance issues. Automated updates chewing up network bandwidth while demanding storage writes will impact other hardware intensive applications, for example, as will all background processes in a true multitasking environment. You can put numbers on these if you like. Android, like Windows, requires more tuning when performance suffers. iOS, however, is like Windows95′s co-operative style multitasking, which allows background apps to suspend their state and not continue to use CPU or anything else. How about some good analysis on this….

  • eoulim

    I’m puzzled a bit by “The S Pen dilema”. In what other situations do we want to use “note”?

    If you do not have desk or flast surfaces, you need to hold the note, paper one included , right?

  • CJ456

    I actually like this tablet a lot, but obviously Samsung rushed on the software side. It ships with Android 4.3 out of the box, which while in paper it sounds great it actually pushesSamsung´s software engineers too much. It came out like a month and a half ago and they already have all of these features, and coding software specially on this scale is no easy task. When they release the update that wil allos all 8 cores of that Exynos processor work at the same time and make this a true octa core device (and software optimizations as well for performance´s sake).

  • Dave Haynie

    This is on my short list. My Asus Infinity died a horrible death (fell off a counter and onto the tile floor in my kitchen, screen trashed — metal casework seems like a good idea, but offers absolutely no protection, the aluminum used is just too thin and soft), and I was pretty unhappy with that anyway. It was just too slow.

    Temporarily replaced it with a Note 8.0, and I love it. Samsung seems to have done a decent enough job with Touchwiz today, it has a few slick bits, and nothing so evil to have me installing a stock home shell. And most importantly, the slickness isn’t a performance issue. I was pretty sure I’d love the Wacom … I was using the stupid “fingertip” stylus on the Transformer for drawing, notes, etc. but it was lacking. The Note 8.0 stylus is excellent, though of course, most software isn’t using the pressure information much, if at all. Maybe eventually.

    But I really do want a larger tablet. One big advantage of the Transformer is the IPS+ mode… it can be pretty acceptable in outdoor situations short of a July afternoon on the beach. That’s important for eBooks, and the fact that my tablet also holds all my guitar music. The Note 8.0 can be cranked up to beat the Transformer in normal mode, but in IPS+ mode, it’s the brightest tablet around. This is something I’ll have to check out on the 10.1… just how bright it actually gets.

    I’m also occasionally using video out. Less these days, between a Sony TV that has DIAL protocol built-in, plus a few Chromecast dongles. But sometimes an HDMI hookup is handy. The Note 8.0 doesn’t have a separate HDMI output, but it does have MHL on the USB port. I pretty much expect the Note 10.1 to have that, too, but I have not seen this documented anywhere.