How long should an electronic device last? You're probably thinking why does that matter but I've run into a major problem with my Mac Pro that's now 7 years old. It's a beautiful machine that has been powered up 24/7 for 95% of those years. I've maxed this computer out with 16GB of RAM, 6TB of hard drives and an SSD. I can't ever go back to using just one monitor and I've learned my lesson to back up everything. I think it's hardware failure and I have this theory that Steve Jobs' ghost has entered countdown code to doomsday… right on the eve of the new Mac Pro being released. I'm a huge Apple fan and am fully aware of the company's fallibility. I had my video review ready to post and I found my computer off the next morning unable to get past the screen with the Apple logo on it.
Here's where I'm going with this: for the premium I pay Apple, I expect their products to outperform and outlast the competition. I do not have this same expectation for Samsung. It's not a bad thing if that's what their business model is designed for (i.e. high volume, low margin).
One other point is more of a challenge: can you post a review (with photos and video clips) using only a tablet? I had high hopes for the Note 10.1 but it's not quite there yet. Apart from not being able to create an article on this forum, I think we're almost there. Howard? Any takers on that challenge?
Bottom line for those with a short attention span: the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition has outstanding specs on paper but doesn't execute appropriately. In other words, it doesn't get the horsepower to the road. The Apple iPad is still the clear leader in this field. I see the potential in the Note 10.1 but it might be the 2015 Edition that pulls it all together.
On the outside...
It's a challenge to see this tablet on its own merit and not compared to the iPad. Build quality is typical Samsung where it feels fragile and quickly snapped together. The backing isn't a piece of plastic. I doubt it's real leather but it wasn't what I expected. I like the material because it doesn't slip and slide around like the Galaxy Tab's backing. But realistically, most users will throw on a case so it's really the front that's visible.
The volume switch and MicroSD card slot are on the top which makes this ideally suited for "landscape" use rather than "portrait". At first I thought this is logical but quickly noticed that portrait orientation while reading or annotating a document is better overall. Landscape in your hands isn't comfortable so if you use it on a desktop then its no big deal. An important thing to note here is the location of the USB port for charging and syncing: it's on the bottom below the home button. I didn't have a case on this test unit but I'm not sure how it would work out if you needed to work on it while charging. It would have to lie flat on your desk or lap. This limitation doesn't make sense overall and I don't have an answer here but simply have to say it isn't a good solution. It's downright confusing.
Let's say you're watching a movie in landscape and the battery is low. To finish the movie, you'd plug it in but how would it stand, even if you had a nifty case that propped it up?
If you haven't figured it out, we are in the midst of a resolution battle in tablets. Apple's take is to make the display ultra sharp and crisp without getting physically bigger. The others have done the opposite and by brute force and volume, Samsung is pumping a wide selection of sizes out of the factory. Consider the name of the device: Note 10.1 -- is "10" better than "8" or "3"? For the non-Apple users I know, it's like car engines where there is no replacement for displacement. Bigger is better -- but I disagree. In the end, the type of display, resolution and pixel pitch make the most significant and noticeable difference. Apple's strategy wins the war in the end.
The display measures 10.1 inches diagonally with a resolution of 2560x1600. So what does WQXGA mean? I had to look it up but it stands for "Wide Quad Extended Graphics Array" and for the majority of us, it means there is more than enough pixels to show a 1080p movie. In addition, the aspect ratio is 16:10 - this means thinner black bars at the top and bottom when watching a movie. This Note 10.1 has 299 pixels per inch (ppi) which is more than adequate for what people do daily. Compared to the iPad Air at 264ppi, most would think Samsung has won this battle. But I always say that you cannot go on specs alone. The colour rendering on the iPad is more realistic and vibrant albeit still bright and accurate. I have found in general, Samsung's displays are cooler on the white balance scale which doesn't make rendering white or dark black true. The next time you're in a store, compare the white of the display to the white of the bezel and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Mind you, it appears I may have an early release unit because there was noticeable flickering on the top right side of the display. So, perhaps my observations aren't what will be in the official production run. But I have little sympathy for Samsung considering what they supply other companies including Apple. The key lesson here is that when you increase the size of the display, you have to match that growth with quality and accuracy. Otherwise, you're carrying around a big stick without any ability to wack a mole.
Multi-window is a feature I saw in the Note 8 that took some time to accept as something useful. On my home computer, I have a 27" monitor to my left and a 19" to my right -- I keep iTunes, Mail and any messaging applications persistent on the right display and do whatever work on my larger monitor. What I believe Samsung intended for Multi-window is simulate that multi-tasking workspace. Unfortunately, a 10.1" display doesn't match up to the 46" I have in front of me. You cannot escape from the benefits of raw real estate. As a result, the applications in multi-window render too cramped to be practical and the experience is more for show than for effectiveness.
Where there is promise with Samsung is the ability to use two tablets that are magically linked to simulate an extended display. So, I see potential in this feature but it still needs a lot of work and thought. It was not something that I found easy with the Note 8 and my opinion has not changed with the Note 10.1. Without a doubt, it makes me the "Cool kid on the block" when I have my email on the right and a movie on the left (or floating).
On this note, I tried a test with my GoPro Hero 3 where I took a 1080p video and stuck the MicroSD card into the Note 10.1 to see if I could watch a video I just took. It works without a problem. This is fantastic. My classic test of a James Bond film had no issues at all. Action scenes and audio (stereo speakers on each side - the way it's supposed to be!) were what I expected from this device. It didn't blow me away but was satisfying.
While I'm on the topic of video, let's talk about the camera. I'm disappointed that Samsung didn't do anything here. You have 8MP in the back and 2MP for the front facing camera. The software and apps have not been improved and I find the focusing to be frustrating and inaccurate. Colour balance isn't to my liking with it being flat and on the cooler side of white. I don't recommend using the Note 10.1 as a backup camera. Also keep in mind that if the Note 10.1 can't do still very well, video is even worse. I'd go so far as to hint to Samsung that you've got to think about optical image stabilization to blow the competition away.
On the inside...
This is where things get really interesting. If you remember my comment earlier about horsepower, this Note 10.1 is packing a lot of power. If you're an electronics salesperson, you would have no problem making decent commission on this tablet by reading off the technical specifications. All you need to do is bring the Note 10.1 over to the laptops and say, "You need at least two of these computers to meet the power this tablet has. Debit or credit?"
While watching James Bond drive his Aston with bullets and trucks and awesomeness, I could scrub and the Note 10.1 kept up without a hitch. There wasn't any lag that I noticed. I believe this is due to the two processors in this tablet: 1.9GHz Quad core and a 1.3GHz Quad core. That's right: a total of 8 cores. My now deceased Mac Pro only had a quad core. I am totally dating myself in thinking how quickly technology evolves to move desktop level specs into my hands. Furthermore, it packs 3GB of RAM. If you're tracking with the competition, there isn't any product out on the market that has this level of processing power. The iPad Air has a dual core and 1GB of RAM. Is the Note 10.1 perform 4 times faster? The answer is no.
Here again, you cannot go on specs alone. What I did experience with more simple tasks like zooming into photos is a noticeable lag and drag in performance. It just didn't react snappy or promptly. I was able to have YouTube going and a movie, while multi-window had my email and a browser going -- and it handled it great… until I tried to interact with one of the running applications. This is where things slow down but not to the point where the device was going to crash. It performs in a labored fashion on this amount of load and it is not what I expected. In fact, it's gets annoying.
I'm not a gamer so I didn't test any driving or shooting games but based on what I experienced, this isn't an upgrade worth looking into because I am convinced you won't be satisfied. How much of this interference is caused by an immature OS? I would bet money that Android 4.3 is the culprit. I have also noticed that there are more ways to launch apps -- and I haven't done enough research into this Touch Wiz Nature UX thing but I'm guessing it's intended to enhance the user experience.
One final note about processing horsepower is all the extra bells and whistles Samsung throws into their Galaxy "galaxy". To me, it feels really like a rush job where Samsung just tried to shove as much in as possible without thinking about the bigger picture. For example, Smart Pause is supposed to pause your movie when you look away but it isn't reliable and is more annoying than anything. Gestures with your hand don't work consistently either. The function is nice to list on a spec sheet to make it look long but seriously isn't worth taking up storage space. I have not seen any improvement with these tricks.
An important thing to consider with horsepower is battery life. There is a 8,220 mAh battery installed that's not removeable that's supposed to last about 10hrs. For the type of moderate user I am, I was able to achieve that without any issues. When I tried to stress the device with multiple videos and downloading and browsing and full brightness and volume, the Note 10.1 warmed up considerably and I projected it would last 2-3hrs at the most. When you have 8 cores and 3GB of RAM without any internal fan to cool things down, don't expect electrons to spontaneously regenerate. But once again, I come back to being able to use the USB plug to keep things going while playing some graphics intensive game: I don't think it's practical or comfortable.
Out of everything this tablet has to offer, the only feature that helps it stand out is the S-Pen. And I like it. I have tried to use a stylus with my iPad and it's a frustrating experience. I know the iPad was designed to use your finger but why can't it do both? The Note 10.1 provides a superior user experience with a stylus and nothing on the market comes close. Samsung has evolved the software by dedicating a few apps to take advantage of what the pen can do and I'm glad that it can act as a replacement for your finger. (that's sounds weird) It will take you a while to learn the short cuts to this apps by using the pen button but to be honest, using the readily available menu is just fine:
The apps that have taken the S-Pen to a new level are: Scrapbook (which I like), Action Memo (for yellow sticky type notes), Screen Write, Pen Window, and S Finder (somewhat useless). I'm still a big fan of S-Note because it would make me look like a superstar back in my days in the University lecture hall. I remember being able to jump right into using this app on the Note 8 and it's largely remained the same in this Note 10.1. The larger display area is a bonus for this particular app and I have a lot of praise to Samsung for keeping this free and built in. It's quite powerful and has a lot of applications in the conventional classroom and boardroom.
The other app that I'll highlight here is Scrapbook. There is a lot of potential with this app in that having the ability to crop out and copy whatever is on the display is more handy than you think. In my day job, I sometimes provide instructions to other users by using the Ctrl-PrtSc command. Scrapbook would make this whole process quicker and more effective. Beyond this is on the artistic side of things. Again, the classroom can benefit from this technology in extending this collaboratively. Imagine how more rich and insightful essays/research papers can be. The repository for the scrapbooked content can be improved but it's a great start for Samsung.
The only criticism I have about the S-Pen is the weight: it feels light and fragile. I know this is to conserve weight but I can't help but think about losing it or sitting on it by mistake. I think it could be constructed with different materials to make it more substantial and balanced to use. You don’t have to worry about scratching the display and I felt comfortable with my toddler experimenting with it.
It's been a difficult time without a functioning desktop computer. I've had a week with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition and I cannot recommend this as good value for your money. At $599 for 32GB, I think it's priced ambiguously because this should be a volume product. It's more clear to me now that Samsung needs to focus their product strategy from broad target markets to detailed segments. In other words, it's like throwing confetti at a wedding hoping to hit the bullseye. This tablet does not threaten Apple or even the Chromebook user. An example that would sharpen up the adoption of the Note 10.1 is students: price it at $299 and it'll be all over campus… and when they graduate, the Note will be with them in office cubicles everywhere.
The best feature is the S-Pen. I can't wait to try out the next generation of apps to capitalize on this type of user interaction. Apple does not have anything comparable and quite frankly, I couldn't find anything in the iTunes App Store that was free and had comparable capabilities. Way to go Samsung!
The worst feature is honestly the performance. I'm repeating myself but it's true: you cannot go on specs alone. The Note 10.1 does not deliver and is like those stupid eyelashes on car headlights.
On its own merits, I'm giving the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition 2 out of 5 Howies (but 5 Howies for the longest name in the industry).