The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 stands out from the crowd of tablets at Mobile World Congress. It’s the most compelling model at the show — largely because of how it does something different, and better, than other comers. Samsung is not the first company to try offering a pen for use with an Android tablet. But it is the first to truly make the experience of using the pen the focal point of the tablet, thanks to the included software for creating and consuming media. And that’s what makes the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 stand tall.
The Galaxy Note’s dimensions and weight are similar to the existing Galaxy Tab 10.1, but instead of simply navigating with your fingers, you have the option using a stylus (Samsung uses Wacom’s pressure-sensitive technology). Oddly, the Samsung S Pen is an extra-cost accessory that doesn’t come with the tablet, an odd choice given that there’s no reason for someone to buy the Galaxy Note to begin with over the Galaxy Tab 2, also announced here at Mobile World Congress, unless they use the pen.
The S Pen for Galaxy Tab 10.1 is slightly thicker and more comfortable to hold than the one for the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note phone, and it has improved on-screen accuracy. The pen was easier to hold than the included S Pen for the smaller Note; and it was responsive and felt smoother to use than when I used the phone’s pen, and it was more accurate, with no lag.
Samsung provides a slew of optimized apps for Galaxy Note 10.1. In addition to the included Samsung S Planner calendar and S Note apps — tailored for the larger screen — Samsung also preinstalls Adobe’s Photoshop Touch and Ideas, each of which cost $9.99 in the Android Market, and each of which have been optimized for use with the pen. Plus you get Zen Brush, Omni Sketch, and Hello Crayon for drawing. Apps like these steer tablets more clearly into content-creation, and I appreciated the ease with which I could do some tasks. The pen-and-touch capabilities on the Note are a good start, though — and Samsung does well to focus on how it integrates the software with the pen capability. Other makers have added pens, without the software component, and in those cases the pen becomes an afterthought, not an integral part of how you use the device.
I really liked how easily I could do two things at the same time in the split-screen mode. I could have the S Note app on one side, and a movie, book or Web browser on the other. Handwriting and sketching often trumps typing, and this feature is incredibly useful in the real-world for students, scientists, graphic artists — really, anyone who has ever had a need to sketch something out visually.
When I handled the Galaxy Note 10.1, I liked very much how it felt in terms of its balance. But I wasn’t a fan of the silky smooth plastic back; it was a fingerprint magnet and didn’t seem fitting for a premium product like the Note. The buttons felt well-designed, though, with flaps for the SIM card and microSD card that are easy to open and stay securely in place. The speakers are now front-firing, positioned for optimal use when holding the tablet horizontally. The display looked good for what it is, but its resolution (1280 by 800 pixels) feels almost deficient in light of the 1920 by 1200 world tablets introduced at CES and here at Mobile World Congress; that means that text looked slightly unsharp, but it wasn’t as bad as on some. Still, the omission of a higher-resolution display tempers my enthusiasm for the Note, but only slightly.
The rest of the specs are standard fare, with capacities of up to 64GB; 1GB of memory, dual-core 1.4-GHz CPU, 3-megapixel rear-facing and 2-megapixel front-facing cameras, a microSD Card slot, and Android 4.0. It will come in Wi-Fi-only and HSPA+ varietals, although no carriers have been announced yet for the U.S. market.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 will start shipping in the second quarter of the year.