Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 LTE Review - Redefining Android Productivity
To recap our previous preview article, the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2's main claim to fame is its 12.2-inch, 2,560 x 1,600-pixel display. With roughly the same specs as the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 (which Samsung isn't bringing to Singapore), it sets itself apart by sporting additional digital pen support (Samsung calls this stylus S Pen). Versus the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, the design and hardware similarities (e.g., big, faux leather rear shell, Snapdragon 800 processor) are uncanny as well. As such, most people's first reaction to the 12.2-inch Note Pro is that it's just a larger version of the 10.1-inch Note 2014. In more ways than one, it really is. But that's only half the story. The other half is a software story, and in the Note Pro, we see several pieces of software that we don't see in its smaller sibling, like Hancom Office, which lets you view and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; e-Meeting for tighter collaboration in local meetings; Cisco WebEx, for remote video conferencing; and of course, the good old Multi Window function that now opens up as many as four windows on the screen at the same time. And let's not forget the Flipboard-inspired Content Home UI, which arguably is tailor-made for the 12-inch screen, and would look less impressive on any other smaller screen.
Of course, all the impressive software and features count for nothing if they run slow on the tablet. Apart from some micro lags that we still observed here and there (more apparent when we tried to push its multi-tasking limits), the Note Pro generally ran smoothly. Obviously, the Note Pro will run even better on either the Snapdragon 801 or 805 processor, and we can only guess that chip unavailability is the reason why it didn't happen.
The above said, a review won't be complete without some benchmark numbers. So read on to find out how the Note Pro stacks up against some of the best 10-inch tablets (running Android, iOS, Windows - you name it) out there, and our verdict right at the end.
The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 comes in three versions: an LTE version (SM-P905), a 3G version (SM-P901), and a Wi-Fi-only version (SM-P900). Of course, the key difference between the first two is the 3G version doesn’t support LTE. Also, like the non-cellular-data, Wi-Fi-only version, the 3G version uses Samsung’s own Exynos 5 Octa processor manufactured using a 28nm High K Metal Gate (HKMG) process, and which comprises of a quad-core ARM Cortex-A15 clocked at 1.9GHz and a quad-core Cortex-A7 clocked at 1.3GHz, as well as an ARM Mali-T628 MP6 GPU.
The Note Pro reviewed here is the LTE version, which is a bit different than the other two variants. Besides being able to run on a 4G network for super-fast cellular data, the SM-P905 uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974) SoC, which has a quad-core 2.3GHz Krait 400 CPU and an Adreno 330 GPU. Otherwise, the other specs remain identical: the 12.2-inch, 2,560 x 1,600-pixel Super Clear LCD touchscreen, 3GB RAM, the non-removable 9,500mAh lithium-ion battery, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac support, as well as GPS and GLOSNASS, among others.
Quadrant evaluates a device’s CPU, memory, I/O, and 3D graphics performances.
The Galaxy Note Pro stands up well in this benchmark against the smaller Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition), which is hardly surprising if you consider that both use the Snapdragon 800/Krait 400 CPUs. Short of sounding like a broken record, Tegra 4 (used in the ASUS and Toshiba tablets) can only see the Snapdragon 800’s tail lights. The Xperia Tablet Z (thrown in to show just how far we’ve come in a year) is further behind because it uses an old Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064 processor; the newer Z2 should see much better performance as it uses the new Snapdragon 801.
Originally developed as a PC benchmarking tool, 3DMark is now expanded to support multiple platforms, including iOS. Its Ice Storm benchmark is based off the OpenGL ES 2.0 API and is designed for smartphones, mobile devices and ARM architecture compute devices. It includes two graphics tests designed to stress the GPU performance of your device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance.
3DMark now consists of three test sections: Ice Storm, Ice Storm Extreme and Ice Storm Unlimited. Most recent flagship devices easily maxed out the score on Ice Storm and (sometimes) Ice Storm Extreme; as such, we will focus on Ice Storm Unlimited.
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited uses off-screen rendering resolution at 1080p, higher quality textures and post-processing effects to create a more demanding load for the latest smartphones and tablets. It also disables vertical sync, display resolution scaling and other operating system factors that can affect the result, thus making it ideal for chip-to-chip comparisons of different chipsets.
If gaming is your thing, it’s wise to spring for the LTE version of the Galaxy Note Pro. Its Adreno 330 GPU is (based on historical evidence) typically about 10% faster than the 6-cluster ARM Mali-T628 that’s in the Exynos 5420 used in the 3G/Wi-Fi variants. Despite the larger screen (though same resolution), the Note Pro’s 3DMark result isn’t too dissimilar to its smaller sibling. Interestingly, the Note Pro maxed out the Ice Storm Extreme test, but the Note 10.1 2014 didn’t. It’s possible the bigger Note Pro has more thermal headroom. Either way, GPU performance difference across today's flagship devices (be it running Android, iOS, or Windows RT, with chipsets from Qualcomm, Apple, or NVIDIA) isn't night and day like it was not so long ago, though that may change again soon.
Synthetic benchmarks aside, if you're into big-screen gaming, the Note Pro (or rather, Samsung) has you covered too. The tablet supports MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) 2.1, allowing you to connect it to a TV via an MHL adapter. Samsung also sells a S$158 NFC-enabled game controller that works great with popular tiles like Need for Speed Most Wanted, Asphalt8: Airborne, Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour, Virtua Tennis Challenge, Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode II, and more, which you can find through Samsung's Mobile Console app. Then there's this S$268 Bluetooth speaker that supports the aptX codec for high sound quality, and which also doubles up as a speakerphone with noise and echo cancellation.
The SunSpider result is in line with what we expect from an Android tablet with a Snapdragon 800 processor. The Tegra 4-based Surface 2 running Internet Explorer 11 posted very similar result as the iPad Air, something we don't really see in other Tegra 4 tablets. As always, treat benchmarks as a gauge, for vendors do sometimes optimize for certain benchmarks. To bring in another data point, the Note Pro scored 3,125 points in Browsermark 2.0, while the Surface 2 scored lower with 2,912.
The Galaxy Note Pro supports dual-band (2.4/5GHz) 802.11ac Wi-Fi with support for VHT (Very High Throughput) 80MHz, MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple-Output) transmission. It also has something called Network Booster, which boosts download speeds by bonding both the Wi-Fi and mobile network connections. The Network Booster toggle is found under the Connections tab within Settings. By default, it is turned off. Because you may incur additional cellular data charges, this function should be used judiciously. The Note Pro has sensibly imposed minimum file size options (from 30MB to 500MB) that you can set for triggering Network Booster. There are also visual cues when Network Booster kicks in, such as a two downwards-pointing arrows icon in the notification panel and data usage notifications.
Over an 802.11n Wi-Fi connection and StarHub's LTE network, we managed to pull down a 100MB file in 100 seconds flat. With the Samsung Note 10.1 2014 and over Wi-Fi only, the same file took 165 seconds, which was a good one minute longer. Of course, your mileage may vary; but the baseline is Network Booster works.
Like the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014, the Note Pro sports an 8-megapixel rear camera (with LED flash) and a 2-megapixel front camera. Both 1080p recording and playback are supported.
In a nutshell, the Note Pro is a decent snapper, with image quality (unsurprisingly) on a par with that of the Note 10.1 2014. For the less technically inclined, the Note Pro creates the illusion that it has a better camera, simply because it has a ginormous 12.2-inch display that works a treat for picture framing.
Our standard battery test for tablets includes the following parameters:
• Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
• Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
• Constant data streaming through email and Twitter
The Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 comes with the same 10.6W (5.3V, 2A) USB wall charger and USB cable with micro-USB 3.0 at one end as the Galaxy Note 3 smartphone. Despite the tablet having the new power management IC (PM8941) that's in the Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974), it still takes slightly over 6 hours to charge its massive 9500mAh, 3.8V (36Wh) non-removable battery from 0 to 100%. For the majority of the charging curve, it drew over 1.7A from the wall socket.
While the Note Pro has a larger screen compared to the Note 10.1 2014, it also has a larger chassis to accommodate a bigger battery (36Wh vs. 31Wh). In the video playback test, it lasted 591 minutes (just under 10 hours), which is a good two hours longer than the Note 10.1 2014. Of course, most people buying this tablet won't be using it just for watching videos. As a reference, Samsung lists Internet usage time over Wi-Fi, audio playtime time, and 3G talk time (yes, it can make phone calls, but use a Bluetooth earpiece, please) at 11, 188, and 51 hours respectively. Interestingly, the Note Pro consumed lower running power than the Note 10.1 2014 Edition, which further contributed to its long battery life.
In short, if you're worried that the massive 12.2-inch screen will have you scrambling for a power outlet by mid-day, you can put your mind at ease; the Note Pro is able to (in our case, at least) last a typical 8-hour work day quite easily.
From a portability perspective, our last graph tries to paint a picture based on the device's battery life, volume and weight. Ideally, it makes most sense to compare with similarly sized products, but since the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 is sort of in a niche segment, we've had to compare it with its smaller competitors. While it might look disadvantaged, it's far superior to the 10-inch Toshiba Excite Write and not too far behind the Microsoft Surface 2. That's not too bad considering the Galaxy Note Pro's much larger dimensions and weight. Even so, handling the larger tablet at any length of time isn't quite the same as a traditional sized tablet and requires more effort.
Conclusion: It All Depends on Your Needs
When we started on this review, our intention was to find out if a 12.2-inch tablet makes sense. At the end of the day, our conclusion is that the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 is a much more suitable tablet for the average consumer than the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, simply because it’s just as powerful, and the 10-inch screen is big enough for most people. Of course, it’s also smaller and lighter to carry about. In our opinion, the portability aspect is very important; we’ve seen too many cases where people use their 10-inch tablet lesser and lesser once they bought a 7-inch or 8-inch tablet.
But that’s not to say the Note Pro is a bad tablet. Far from it. If the Note 10.1 2014 is a great general-purpose tablet, then the Note Pro is a great specific-purpose tablet. Sure, Samsung’s pitch for the 12.2-inch tablet is that it’s the best tablet for both work and play; but when we look at the new features and software, there’s no doubt that its design is heavily geared towards the business productivity aspect.
First, the play/entertainment part. With a massive 12.2-inch display, no one would argue against the Note Pro being an impressive browsing, reading, movie-watching, and mobile gaming device. The tiled-based Content Home/Magazine UX is also refreshing, and for the most part, mashes both work and personal content beautifully. This pretty, less intimidating approach of presenting content is an undeniable trend these days, and should sit well with casual users. Power users on the other hand will be unhappy with the inability to add a weather widget and other app shortcuts (this was possible when Magazine UX was first unveiled, but it didn’t make it to the final retail units).
From an office productivity angle, the Note Pro is the most productive Android tablet we’ve tested thus far. We've to give Samsung credit for pushing the envelope of Android multi-tasking: Multi Window's ability to open four windows at the same time (and even multi instances of the same app), and the ability to drag content from one window to another are all very nice touches. That said, it's hampered by the handful of apps that support this function. Also, it's still far from the level of multi-tasking performance that we're now so used to on PCs. We certainly felt the sluggishness and saw animation stutters when pushing the tablet too hard, especially when Chrome was running with many tabs opened in one corner, a YouTube video playing in another, and then trying to save or open a large Excel file or move things around at the same time. From a storage IO standpoint, eMMC storage-based devices like the Note Pro still can't match a proper PC, especially one equipped with a full-fledged SSD. So, manage your expectations.
The key qualifier here is of course Android. If your work can be accomplished with Android apps, then you’ll love the Note Pro. Are you an artist who relies on Autodesk’s SketchBook Pro for sketching and painting? Then you’ll enjoy using the S-Pen on the large 12.2-inch digital canvas. If you’re hesitant because you’re a typical salary man who eats, lives, and breathes Microsoft Office, then Hancom Office, with its Office-like interface and tools, should allay most of this fear. For most people, we reckon Remote PC, e-Meeting, and Cisco WebEx are icings on the cake, and how valuable they are really depends on whether or not you need them in your line of work. But we can already foresee companies buying truckloads of Note Pros to issue to their employees, especially for those who’re always out and about. Samsung Knox is also something that should appeal to most corporate IT departments.
But what if you must have Photoshop, and accept no substitutes? Then sorry, the Note Pro isn’t for you. Which brings us to the next question of whether it makes sense to shell out S$1,200 for it instead of a Windows 8.1 device, like the Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2? While the Windows 8.1 RT-based Surface 2 tablet doesn’t support a digital pen, has a smaller screen, and the selection of apps in the Windows Store pales in comparison to the Google Play store, it has similar performance as the Note Pro, and comes with Microsoft Office 2013 RT, the real deal. More importantly, the Surface 2 starts at S$618. And who knows, if the Surface Pro 2 (that starts at US$899) comes to Singapore, it may not be that much more expensive that the Note Pro; and it’s by all measures a way more powerful PC running the full version of Windows 8.1, which means it has no problems running your favorite desktop apps and games like Photoshop and Titanfall. Even the original Surface Pro is a great value option as it's plenty powerful and it's only about S$900 (or less during show offers).
To conclude, ask yourself these questions: One, does 'work' mean Microsoft Office (or any other desktop software) to you, or that it requires the use of specialized or legacy peripherals? If the answer is yes, nothing beats a proper Windows laptop, which is also getting increasingly thinner and portable by the day. Two, if you're lured by the fun factor of the Android ecosystem, are you certain you will be comfortable with the workflow that the Note Pro provides when it comes to getting work done, along with the various connectivity and multi-tasking tradeoffs? This second question is much more difficult to answer; our recommendation for those interested with the Note Pro is to hit the stores and really try it out for yourselves.