Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 - 2014 Edition Written ReviewEvan Selleck - Contributing Editor
Samsung has done quite a bit for its Galaxy Note family of devices over the last few years. It's no longer just a tablet-focused lineup, nor is it just a smartphone-slash-tablet lineage, either. If you really like to use a stylus with your big-screen devices, then Samsung hopes you'll go with the Galaxy Note brand, and they hope to achieve that goal the only way they know how: throw a powerful package together, add plenty of features into the proprietary software, and hope the total package sticks with consumers.
This year saw the release of the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition), and with it plenty of boosts in all the right areas. From the new display, to the new physical design aesthetic, to the new processor and camera, this year's revised Galaxy Note 10.1 looks great on paper. But how does it fare in the real world?
Let's find out.
Design and Features
Samsung's 2014 revision of the Galaxy Note 10.1 is probably one of the best looking tablets the company has created in a very long time. While it may look similar to other devices on the market at face value, with just a quick glance, there's no denying that Samsung changed the tablet in all the right ways. The smaller bezels, the physical and capacitive buttons under the display, and even the new textured back panel all go a long way to make the device stand out.
The first thing you'll obviously see is the 10.1-inch Super LCD display, which boasts a resolution of 2560x1600 and a pixel per inch count of around 299. Below that display you'll find the physical Home button, which is flanked by the capacitive Back and Menu keys. Above the display, you'll get Samsung's customary logo, with the 2-megapixel front-facing camera on its left and a sensor next to that.
Following the edges, the right side features a microSD card slot near the bottom corner. Follow it up, and you'll find one of the two speaker grilles near the top curve. Above that, you'll find the S Pen and its holder. The top edge houses an IR blaster right at the middle, while the volume rocker and Power button reside near the left corner.
On the left side, near the top, you'll find the 3.5mm audio jack, with the second speaker grille right below that. And finally, the bottom is relatively sparse of features, save for the microUSB port near the center of the device.
The Power button and the volume rocker are both positioned at the top of the device, which would signify that Samsung wants you to use the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) in landscape mode more often than not, which works, because that's when it's most comfortable. The buttons themselves are easy to find with a finger, raised just enough from the device itself. They offer plenty of feedback and travel, and I never noticed a missed button press in my usage time.
The back of the device offers up the most change from one generation of Galaxy Note to the next. Instead of the slimy, fingerprint-seeking plastic back cover of yesteryear, the company has decided to go with a textured faux-leather back panel, which may sound ridiculous but actually works really well. It feels great in the hand, and gives the new tablet a distinct feeling. It doesn't feel like the device will slip out of your hands anymore, either. The fake leather stitching may take it a bit too far in its desired aesthetic approach, but the new back is certainly a welcomed change.
Near the top edge, placed near the center of the back plate, you'll find the 8MP camera with its LED flash right below it. About an inch below those two implants is another Samsung logo, just in case you forgot who built the new tablet. Below that and near the bottom edge you'll find the certification information, the Wi-Fi logo, and plenty of other small text you'll probably never even consider reading.
Overall, the new design of the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) indicates a company that has grown up with its design cues. The new tablet is surprisingly light in the hand, and using it in landscape mode is very comfortable. The whole thing may still be a plastic house, but the new back cover and the smaller bezels up front work together to minimize any disdain for plastic someone might have. Another design decision that helps the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) really stand out against the competition, as well as its earlier family members.
Usability and Performance
The Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) is a powerhouse. Samsung didn't spare any parts when it came to building their new tablet, and on paper it certainly looks enticing. For anyone who hasn't been a huge fan of Samsung's dependence on AMOLED displays, even the change to a Super LCD panel for the 10.1-inch panel will be a welcomed change.
It's under the hood that the real power takes center stage, though. Samsung has included a 1.9GHz Samsung Exynos 5420 quad-core processor, and thrown in 3GB of RAM for good measure. Our review model has 32GB of storage, but there is a 16GB model as well. Finally, the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) is running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean right out of the box.
The changes that Samsung included under the hood, to the display, and even to the overall physical design of the tablet pretty much end once you turn on the device, though. Right from the lock screen, and once you start playing around with the software, you'll know quite definitively that this is a Samsung device (just in case all the logos didn't sway you).
TouchWiz is front-and-center, as you more than likely knew it would be, and it's still as in-your-face as it always has been. The Samsung-crafted widgets are big and obvious, and come with plenty of pictures and text to make them stand out. If you dig into the Settings area, you'll be greeted with sectionalized areas all of which have plenty of options for you to choose from to alter your device in a lot of different ways. You won't be able to turn off TouchWiz out of the box, though. (If you want to do that, there are plenty of ways.)
There are new features. It isn't all just the same old stuff shoved inside a new body. The standout feature is the changes that Samsung brought to the table in the S Pen, arguably one of the best reasons to buy a Galaxy Note product in general. With the new Air Command feature, you get quick access to things like Action Memo, which allows you to take a quick Note wherever you are in the system at any given moment. It's a great way to jot something down when you need to while you're using the tablet, and just save it for later. More than that, though, it also gives you the ability to highlight any notes you take down, and do things like save a number as a contact, email whatever you wrote down to whoever you want, or open it in the Browser.
As usual, it's the S Pen and its functionality that really make the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) stand out, just as it does on the other devices it's been included in. And, indeed, the inclusion of Air Command is a great feature bump. However, it's weighed down by the sluggish performance that hampers the device overall randomly.
Yes, it's random, but it's maddening all the same. The fact that there's so much power and RAM underneath the hood makes the hang-ups, stutters and overall drain on usefulness even worse. The Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) still can't seem to handle the taxing TouchWiz UI, and it's more than obvious when you swipe to a page that has even just one widget on board. Start adding widgets, or mixing widgets with app icons, and swiping between home screens is downright painful.
Even the new My Magazine feature, which brings news, your social media flow (like Twitter and Facebook), as well as your personal content like pictures all together in a nice Flipboard-style layout is hampered by the lag and stuttering that suffers the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition). Swiping up from the bottom of the display to activate My Magazine always takes a few seconds before it pops up on the display. This can be said for accessing multi-window apps, too. They seem to just take a bit longer to activate, or switch over to, or just use in general.
Worst of all is the lag between pressing the button on the S Pen and accessing the aforementioned Air Command. There are times when it works effortlessly and the Air Command window pops up almost instantaneously, but more often than not it takes a second or two.
In the strangest turn of events, though, I never noticed any lag when using the stock Samsung keyboard on the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition). While typing on it, it was quick and responsive, and I didn't notice any hang-ups at all. I still can't figure it out. I wish I could get the same performance out of the rest of the device as I did with the keyboard.
In the end, the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) is a device that looks great on paper, and it even carries that over to the device itself. The changes that Samsung made to the physical design of the tablet are welcomed changes, and it's a lightweight tablet that's easy and comfortable to hold even for long periods of time.
However, it's marred by lagging software, hang-ups and stuttering in just the simplest of actions. No, this isn't something that happens all the time, but it's more frustrating that it happens at all, especially after prolonged usage and more frequent occurrences. Perhaps down the road Samsung can update the new tablet to function better than it does now.
The one downside to the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) is its expensive price tag, and the fact that it doesn't secure you from a sub-par overall experience on the device. For the 332GB version, the tablet will cost you $599.99. (The 16GB option will run you $549.99) That's a high price tag for a device that just doesn't live up to it, thanks to software that just can't keep up.
What's Good: Lightweight, firm and sturdy physical design. S Pen is comfortable and boasts its own feature set. Big, beautiful display. Expandable memory. Plenty of high-end specs under the hood.
What's Bad: Software that lags, stutters, and feels hampered down. High price tag. S Pen features lag.