Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 review - A surprise


Updated: May 17, 2013

Holy shit! What you, Dedoimedo, you sellout, you hypocrite! Wait, calm down. All is well. There's a reason why I decided to buy a tablet. One, I can afford it. Two, I really wanted to see what makes the retards get so excited. Three, I had an actual business need for this, but more about that later. Anyhow, this is my very first experience with a tablet. Honestly. I've never used one before. So it should be definitely most interesting. I've dabbled in Android a bit now and then, and overall, I was not really impressed. The x86 version for netbooks was ok but not magnificent, however, on the other hand, my smartphone experience was, overall, quite frustrating.

Let's how a pretentious old git like me managed to cope with this new modern technology. Better yet, why a pretentious old git like me would ever want to buy a device that is operated by touch only. Finally, this is a proper, thorough review of the Samsung tablet, probably of a higher quality, relevance and greater depth than anything else out there, because after all, it's Dedoimedo writing this stellar review. Avanti.

Teaser

Baby steps

I've purchased my unit online, the 32GB Deep Gray version, and received a nice 10% discount, so it cost me USD499. Add to that the mandatory local tax and whatnot, and the price climbs to the usual, nominal USD549. Not too expensive, but not a walk in the park either.

The device arrived, nicely packaged and nyloned. I took it out and started taking photos with my Canon IXUS 1000 HS camera, before powering it on. Like with my Pandora loan unit, I decided to deliberately refrain from any great reading and manuals, in order to be able to ascertain how friendly and intuitive the device and its interface really are.

Self portrait

Specifications

I am sure you can work the Internet well enough, but for those of you who have a fetish for numbers, here's a brief list of what thing is supposed to do. It comes with a 1.4GHz Exynos quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, 10.1" 1280x800px display and with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich installed by default. Then, you get a whole bunch of codecs for video and audio, and you're promised full HD playback.

My model came with 32GB internal storage, but it will accept another micro-SD card up to 64GB capacity, so in theory, you have around 100GB worth of workable internal storage. The device also supports 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB 2.0, and weights a total of slightly less than 600 grams.

On the software side, you have several business-like applications, like on-device encryption and VPN, but you also have a whole lot of Samsung and Google applications. However, what I liked most is that you get a stylus device called S Pen, and don't tell me this is not a bad choice of words, because everyone automatically thinks ASSpen, or if you will, aspen.

S Pen is designed to let you write in your freehand style, and the internal software should be able to convert your manuscript to text. So you have handwriting recognition, and this is the one feature that really made me consider this tablet. I was looking for some capability that would allow me to write my stories and books without having to lug a laptop with me everywhere.

Take beach for example. You cannot really use a laptop there, because it might overhead, get clogged with salt or sand too quickly, the battery might drain too fast, and propping a laptop on your knees is not convenient. However, a sealed tablet with a much longer battery life sounds like an option, especially if you can use it like a standard paper notebook to write your ideas. S Pen alone was enough to convince to give this a try.

First boot

So I powered the device. The system presented me with a quick, fairly friendly and non-intrusive wizard that allowed me to configure my wireless connectivity, my Google account, and some privacy settings. It all happened fast and without any snags or fusses.

Home screen

Look & feel

I have to admit that Android looks much better on a 10.1" screen that it does on a silly smartphone brick. The form factor plays a critical role in making the device appeal to someone like me. With a netbook-size worth of equity for use, it was airy and open enough.

The default screen is a bit cheesy, but it did not invoke the gag reflex with me. The focus on media, music and games is clear enough, and it's obvious it's not designed for someone like me. Then, you have quick access to several applications, like S Note, or rather a whole series of S apps, designed to be used with your stylus. You also have icons for Maps, Internet (Chrome) and the Play Store.

Screen 1

Screen 2

Screen 3

Settings & security

Before I began playing with the device in earnest, I decided to explore the settings menu and turn on/off various settings. As usual, the whole security and privacy thingie is overplayed. You can turn off localization services, suggestions, tracking, and all that without any problems. You can disassociate your personal searches and data you input with other online services. You can tweak your device to maintain minimal Internet connectivity. And you can even sign out of your Google Account in Chrome.

Settings, S Pen

Updates - from Ice Cream to Jelly Bean

Galaxy Note also offered me several updates. In fact, in invoked an update & reboot sequence, a total of three. For a moment, I was worried that my tablet had just entered an endless loop of restarts, but soon it stopped, and the operating system version climbed from 4.0 to 4.1.2. It correspond to kernel 3.0.31. Linux, thingie, and all.

Updates during boot

OS information

There were also some application updates, and they also worked fine.

Application updates

Encryption

I really like the idea you can encrypt both your internal storage and SD cards. I decided to try this option. You need your battery level to be at least 80%, and you must be connected to a power source. The procedure took about 1.5 hours to complete, and you have to input your password when booting. This is quite neat, really. You use the same password to unlock the screen.

Encryption

Connectivity

You know how connectivity is critical to me. Well, no worries in this regard. I did have to install an application that would allow me Samba sharing, but once it was there, I could easily connect to my Windows machines and grab the pr0n, I mean educational videos, stored there. The same goes for music. No restrictions, all worked.

Likewise, remote sharing was quite easy. I used a nice program called Airdroid, but we will discuss this one separately. Overall, the bandwidth was just fine, approximately that of typical Samba sharing. The one snag was that the application rotated the screen to vertical orientation, even though I had the screen auto-rotation disabled. But then, it's a small pain overall.

Airdroid

Multimedia

This was an interesting test. I downloaded the Big Bucks Bunny full HD clip in the .avi format, to see what gives. At first, the download was very slow, and I was forced to search online a little on why this happens. Some people recommended turning the Wi-Fi on/off, and indeed, this fixed the download speed problem.

Full HD playing

The video played well and fast. Ironically, Samsung's own helicopter demo video, which is designed to impress the people with its 3D effect stuttered once or twice, especially at the moment I took a screenshot of it playing.

Helicopter video

Music worked just fine, but I hit an annoying bug. If I switched back to the home screen, the music would stop playing. The only way to get it to play in the background was to minimize the player to less than the full screen, and then use another program alongside. Any context switch to the home screen would automatically pause the playback, probably to conserve the battery. Not quite the multitasking that I was promised. But it's expected, since the whole idea of tablets caters to single-minded people, or rather, people who can process a single thought at a time.

MP3 playback

Music, side by side, multitasking

Virtual keyboard

It's big and friendly. Really. More than I expected. A far cry from the smartphone bullshit, where you need to needle-pick the letters. Even superior to my full-keyboard Nokia E6, because you can type almost as fast as you would on a real keyboard. The problem is if you make a typo. Since you don't have that motoric memory associated with physical devices, you will lose more time fixing errors. But it was great.

Keyboard

Handwriting recognition

This is a big one for me. Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised what the S Pen can do. One, it can act as an accurate pointing device, similar to Pandora, for people with sausage-thick fingers, allowing them good precision and control. And it's also a useful drawing and writing device.

Productivity tools

Pen settings

Hand writing

The hand recognition works well, but it's not flawless. You get tiny delays when it takes a moment to convert your stuff to text, and it does this fairly well, handling even a rather ugly writing like mine, and different types of identical letters; see my letter n example. Then, the converted words are created as text boxes, and this is somewhat annoying. Moreover, depending on how fast you type, you end with missing spaces. Do note the screenshot below does not correspond to the writing above. Two different examples.

Recognition

Voice recognition

This one worked well. Instead of hammering on your keyboard, you can record your own voice. The software is accurate, but it does not handle all words well, especially curses and slang. It is smart enough to filter out words spoken by other people around you, so even if they shout, their speech is not recorded. Here are a few examples, including a British limerick, as well as the opening song from the movie O' Brother, Where art Thou?

Voice example 1

Voice example 2

Voice example 3

As you can see, not perfect, but it seems to be learning, I hope, and overall, it's decent and accurate enough. The only problem is, what if you want to edit the text long after you have written it, you might not remember what you had in mind, in the first place. We will discuss this most thoroughly in the future. Oh, only works when you're online, btw.

Battery life

With the brightness level set to about 55% and quite aggressive usage of its network, voice recognition and other features, Samsung Note 10.1 managed approx. four or five hours of usage at about half its battery level. This is better than what my Asus netbook can do, because it can handle about five hours with Wireless, about 7-8 hours without. On the other hand, the netbook is much older and its video capabilities are weaker.

Battery life

Other things

There were some nerdy details in this otherwise non-geek-oriented product. In some of the applications, the about and license options are extremely verbose. Nothing like a dose of verbose text including the word Java to sour your day.

Geeky stuff

Then, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 also comes with Netflix, but I am not privileged enough to have the IP address with the correct octets to qualify for watching it. Most of the default application set is rather meaningless, but you can install new software quickly and easily, and without any problems. For example. I grabbed Firefox, VLC, Skype, Airdroid, Speedtest, and ES File Explorer, the last one for Samba, within minutes.

Apps

One program that did look interesting was Adobe (R) PS (R) Touch. Why the trademark signs, you may ask. Well, if you watch the cloud presentation, it's all very clear. However, I must say I was disappointed. I am well aware what the full suite can do, and it can do a whole lot, but the version offered here is something for dumbsters.

Do note that one of the tutorial examples is how to add a tattoo to a woman's shoulder, who seem to be doing yoga, because that's all the swag and shit, and we all know it's about casual lifestyle, yoga, tattoos, drinking coffee and scrolling gently through email messages with one finger, and handling a life of abortions and social rejection afterward, right?

PS Touch example

My simple conclusion is that any semi-serious image editing should really not be done on a touch device, and including programs that do this just ruin the overall good impression. It's a lame attempt to anchor your foot into any which market and grab money as well as you can, but there's such a thing as efficiency, and it should not be abused.

Adobe (R) Photoshop (R) is a serious program for professionals. Nothing good will come out of a half a dozen buttons scattered about a touch screen with only 1280x800px worth of resolution, filthied by finger stains. Would you, as a photographer or a designer, making a living from images, even consider doing any editing this way? Showing your end result, yes, but actual work? C'mon.

Conclusion

Three days after, do I think my investment was worth it? Well, mostly yes. Let's take a look at the good things first. Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a very pleasant, inviting device with a well arranged interface and robust operating system. It's fast, sleek, intuitive, easy to configure, and does not impose any bullshit on your, when it comes to what and when you can watch, play or use. There's a lot of extra goodies too, like the encryption, S Pen, voice and handwriting recognition, and rich connectivity. I must say I was skeptic, and the end result really surprised me. I had not believed I would enjoy a tablet. But I did.

On the negative side, the application stack is somewhat bland. The S suite of programs can benefit from some more refinement, even though it's a tricky territory, guessing what people are writing or saying. My biggest gripe is the multitasking. It's not really there. You do have a bunch of programs running, but only when in focus, and I still need to figure out how to play music in the background, for instance.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 looks a very nice product, and it exceeds my old git style expectations. I do not have any compelling reason to regret the purchase, hate the device, or dislike its features. Sure, there's the oligophren peeking at me from behind the corner, cackling, and the menus are infused with the double-digit intelligence level, but if you want, you can avoid being molested by idiocracy. Compared to smartphones, well, you really can't compare the two. It's a whole different world. But I want to. While the smartphones are a sort of pseudo masturbation of inefficiency, retardation and hard, self-inflicted pain, tablets seem to be a passable, even desirable effort at offering a different form factor to willing users. My grade would be 9/10. As you can see, I did not betray you or disappoint you. Conventional desktop and laptop still rule by far, but this adjacent technology has its merits. And I will yet see if the S Pen and whatnot can serve me well in my writing adventures. Well, I guess that's all.

Cheers.

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