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Overview, Design and Features
Samsung attempted to integrate the S Pen functionality into the tablet form factor last year with the Galaxy Note 10.1. While the attempt was a step in the right direction, the appeal of the Galaxy Note 10.1 was marred by the below average battery life, occasional sluggish performance and expensive price tag.
One year later, Samsung returned with the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition which is unsurprisingly modeled after the Galaxy Note 3 from the hardware, right down to the software. Will Samsung's second attempt be better received? Read on to find out our opinion.
Design & Features
Similar to the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung took a new direction in the design of the Galaxy Note 10.1 by swapping the plastic back with a 'leather-like' material. It is the same material used for the removable back cover of the Galaxy Note 3 although on the tablet, the cover is non-removable. While the team at HardwareZone had differing views on the new backing (it still feels somewhat plastic), one thing we can all agree is that it's a great improvement over its predecessor.
As noted in our review of the white Galaxy Note 3, the leather-like material feels better than standard plastic and certainly looks good, but we had concerns over dirt and stains picking up on the rear over time. Perhaps it's a good idea to purchase the S$88 Book Cover or third-party casing to protect its rear.
Recent trends in the mobile industry suggest that manufacturers are shifting towards making their devices bigger yet lighter. One fine example is the Galaxy Note 3 where it comes with a larger display and more powerful hardware, but is more handy and lighter than the Galaxy Note II.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 is no different; it sports slightly thinner bezels and a chassis that is shorter, narrower, slimmer and lighter. Another recently announced tablet, the Apple iPad Air, also features these design improvements.
Samsung shifts the front-facing speakers from the previous Note 10.1 to the sides, which makes the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014) edition look cleaner and more elegant (refer to the previous photo above). What remains on the front is the familiar physical home button and capacitive navigation buttons (menu and back) that has become the signature look of Samsung's mobile devices.
In terms of ports, you'll be delighted to know that the once omnipresent proprietary charging port on Samsung tablets has been replaced with a conventional and industry standard micro-USB port. This makes it convenient for you to charge the device with any common micro-USB cable. We just find it odd that Samsung did not standardize the type of USB port used because the Galaxy Note 3 phablet uses the updated micro-USB 3.0 standard, yet the newer Note 10.1 2014 edition tablet still sports the standard micro-USB port. In fact, the tablet as a content consumption and entertainment device would benefit from the faster micro-USB 3.0 connectivity for speedier transfer of media files.The absence of the micro-USB 3.0 isn't a deal breaker, but we just find it weird that Samsung didn't take this opportunity to standardize the micro-USB standard in its newer devices.
After releasing a series of Android tablets touting average displays, Samsung finally stepped up its game on the Galaxy Note 10.1 with an ultra high resolution (2,560 x 1,600 pixels) display. This is on-par with the top Android tablets from ASUS, Google and Toshiba. All four tablets have a pixel density of 299ppi, which is higher than the 9.7-inch Apple iPads (264ppi).
As pixel density advantage is something really subjective for the average consumer, it is hard to differentiate the differences in actual usage scenarios - especially when the pixel density doesn't differ by much. After using the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 for a few days, we liked the display for its sharpness, good viewing angles and vibrant colors. To tweak the display output, Samsung offers an option for you to select between four display modes - adapt, dynamic, standard and movie.
Adapt display automatically optimizes the color range, saturation and sharpness of the display for the Gallery, Camera, Internet, Samsung Video and Google Play Books. This mode does not apply to third-party apps.
The S Pen bundled with the Galaxy Note 10.1 is the same one found on the Galaxy Note 3. Existing Galaxy Note 10.1 users who are upgrading to the latest variant have to take note that the location of the S Pen slot has shifted from the bottom right corner to the top right corner (when placed with the display facing you). Taking the S Pen out of the slot will activate the Air Command feature, which we've covered in the review of the Galaxy Note 3.
Besides the Air Command feature, the Galaxy Note 10.1 comes with a truckload of software features such as Enhanced Multi-Window, Smart Stay, Smart Pause, Smart Rotation, Smart Scroll, Pop-up Play and Air View. In essence, it feels as though the Galaxy Note 10.1 is the melting pot where different features of various Samsung's come together. To find out more about the individual feature, do check out the respective review articles:
- Smart Stay - Samsung Galaxy S III
- Smart Pause, Smart Scroll and Smart Rotation - Samsung Galaxy S4 (View Video)
- Pop-up Play - Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
- Air View - Samsung Galaxy Note II (View Video)
Multi-Window, a feature that first debuted as Multi-Screen on the original Galaxy Note 10.1, allows you to run two apps side by side. It is now improved to run separate instances of the same app, and supports more apps. Previously, it could support only 6 apps - Internet, Video Player, S Note, Polaris Office and Gallery.
So far, we were only able to open two app windows of the default web browser side by side on the Galaxy Note 101. Other stock and Samsung apps were unable to function in that manner.
Similar to how we manage multiple tabs on Chrome, the Multi-Window feature also allows you to toggle between different apps on either side of the screen. This function can be accessed by tapping on the blue icon in the center of the dividing line and selecting the top icon characterized by a set of files.
Overall, we liked the improvements Samsung made to the TouchWiz interface on the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 although it may take some time for most people to familiarize themselves with the different features. Samsung should work towards creating a tutorial app for its multitude of features. The Multi-Window feature deserves special mention as it maximizes the use of the large 10.1-inch display.
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