The original Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 had a storied path to release. Originally unveiled at Mobile World Congress 2012 and later redesigned, it arrived last fall to mixed reviews. Since then, Samsung has focused on mid-range tablets in the Android space, with the one major exception being the Google-backed Nexus 10.
So as the Korean manufacturer unveils a new Galaxy Note 10.1, what’s changed? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. And the 2014 Galaxy Note, as it’s being called, is a better device for it.
Unveiled today alongside the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition brings Samsung’s leading smartphone technology to an Android tablet. It’s packing a ridiculously-detailed 2560x1600-resolution Super Clear LCD display and high-end CPUS — Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 for the LTE version, Samsung’s homegrown Exynos 5 Octa for others. As is the case with the Note 3, this is backed up by a whopping 3GB of RAM.
The tablet’s external hardware has also been re-vamped. Like the Galaxy Note 3 it’s sporting a “faux leather” plastic texture on its back panel, encircled with a faux-stitched trim. It might look a little weird on a larger device, but the feel in the hand is significantly classier. It still feels like plastic, just not grimy, slimy plastic.
Centrally situated is the Note 10.1’s 8-megapixel camera, and along the tablet’s edge is a silo for the S Pen — the stylus which sets Samsung’s Note series apart from other tablets. Slightly larger than its smartphone equivalent, the Note 10.1’s S Pen functions in the exact same way, with a button located where your index finger sits.
The front of the tablet is dominated by that large, super-high-quality screen, and beneath the display (at least in landscape mode) you’ll find Samsung’s three-button setup — a clicky home key, flanked by capacitive menu and back buttons. There are obvious advantages to doing your buttons this way — for one, you lose less of that gorgeous screen to on-screen buttons. But it also makes the Note 10.1 less easy to use in portrait mode.
On the software side, the Note 10.1 is a very close match to its smaller sibling, the Galaxy Note 3. The tablet runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and Samsung’s latest TouchWiz UI, including all the fancy new pen stuff from the Note 3, and Gear Manager for Galaxy Gear owners.
The short version is that Samsung’s added a bunch of new software capabilities to make the S Pen easier to use, and to encourage users to get the most out of it. Pull the S Pen out of its slot and you’ll be presented with an “Air Command” menu, letting you choose between common stylus-centric features and apps. There’s one for taking a screenshot and drawing on top of it. Another lets you take actionable memos — for example, phone numbers and email addresses will be recognized as such.
Also on the “Air Command” menu, Scrapbook lets you cut out clipping from apps including the browser and third-party apps like YouTube, and arrange them in an organized categorized virtual book. And all that stuff is searchable through the new S Finder app, which can intelligently interpret written language in notes, and filter based on time, tags or location data.
Similarly, multitasking can be accessed through the traditional multi-window setup — effectively splitting the display between two fullscreen apps — or through the new Pen Window feature which lets you draw a window with the S Pen and then drop an app into it. From there, the window can be maximized, minimized into a tiny icon, or closed entirely.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because things work just the same as they do on the Galaxy Note 3 — as such, you’ll find more on these new S Pen features in our Galaxy Note 3 preview.
The S Pen remains the Note series’ main point of differentiation, especially in the Android tablet market dominated by mainly interchangeable slates. But even if you’re not going to use the S Pen all the time, the new Galaxy Note 10.1 looks to be a strong Android tablet offering in the large form factor space. It’s taken Samsung long enough, but finally it seems the manufacturer may have conjured up a winning combination of top-level hardware with a few stand-out software features. We’re eager to spend more time with the new Note 10.1 when it arrives later in Q3.