Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition Review: The Most Flexible Android Tablet Experience

Reviews Paul Briden 13:49, 21 May 2014

Can Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 take on the iPad Air?

Rating: 
4
Typical Price: 
£450.00
Pros: 
Attractive and easy-to-use design, Decent power, Great display, Innovative multitasking functions, Accurate and responsive stylus, Stacks of storage space plus microSD
Cons: 
Skeumorphic design may be off-putting to some, Exynos processor model a bit behind on performance
Verdict: 
Successfully translates all that was good about the Note 3 into the larger tablet design. A really great tablet with fantastic stylus and multitasking capabilities, however, Exynos chip lacks punch.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note brand generates a lot of buzz these days, with consumers being much less sceptical about the stylus-equipped devices than when the original Galaxy Note phablet first emerged back in September 2011. However, certainly the most popular devices in the range have so far been the phablets: the Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy Note 3.

The larger tablets, which extrapolate the same concept to a bigger form factor, have generated some interest, but have seen nowhere near the surge in popularity as the phone devices. In part, that can probably be attributed to the continuing popularity of the iPad in the tablet space, and in the case of Android devices which have eaten away at Apple’s dominant position, it’s generally been more affordable options such as the Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire range which have stolen the show.

What am I building up to with all of this? Well quite simply that I think the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 is a much more refined iteration of the Note tablet concept than its immediate predecessor and therefore more worthy of attention, even in the face of competition from Apple’s renewed iPad Air.

Design and build

One of the main reasons for that is because it follows a similar line to the iPad Air. As with Apple’s revamp, the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 is thinner, lighter and better balanced. Its overall proportions are smaller and much more manageable than the first-gen 10.1-inch Galaxy Note, yet the display size has remained the same. Likewise, the bezel around the display has also narrowed for an even sleeker appearance, but just like its American rival, Samsung has been careful not to shear off too much of the surround so as to make it difficult to grip.

And difficult to grip it ‘ain’t, because as well as the sensible shrinkage the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 also closely adheres to its contemporary phablet stable-mate’s design, with the Galaxy Note 3’s grippy faux leather textured, soft-touch plastic back panel. It also has the same ridged texture to the silver surround, which adds further to the grip.

These grippy qualities and the overall smaller design means that the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 is virtually as easy to operate as the Galaxy Note 8.0, if not more so, and you should have no problems holding the slate in one hand while wielding the S-Pen in the other, like a true notebook.

Like other recent members of Samsung’s Galaxy family, the Galaxy Note 2014 10.1 is an attractively designed device with nice smooth lines, flattering proportions and a good balance between the bodywork and silver accents.

The subject of the skeumorphic faux leather notebook style design may be a divisive one, however.

I am not particularly fond of it, but for me it is preferable to the old glossy plastic we used to see on every Samsung model. I can appreciate some may love it and others may loathe it. As mobile devices go though, it certainly makes things comfy to hold.

All that remains to say is that the Galaxy Note 10.2 2014 Edition exhibits Samsung’s usual high-end build quality – it’s robustly made with no creaking anywhere on the bodywork.

Display

As well as once again performing the magic trick of shrinking a device while leaving its screen at a large size, Samsung has also improved the quality of the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014’s display.

It appears, for all intents and purposes, that Samsung has lifted the same displays it used inside Google’s Nexus 10 for the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014. The Note 10.1 2014 has excellent brightness, colour saturation and contrast, as well as good viewing angles and reasonable usability in sunlight. It packs the same incredibly clear 2560x1600 pixel resolution at 300 pixels-per-inch (ppi) as the Nexus 10.

Needless to say, visuals are superb and it’s an ideal slate for watching feature films or TV shows, playing games and web browsing, as well as being well suited to all the creative stuff the S-Pen and its suite of apps allows.

Processor and performance

Now this is a tricky one. As with some previous Samsung devices, there are in fact multiple variants based on different processors. Previously this wasn’t too much of an issue because certain processor models of, for example, the Galaxy S4, were region specific. With the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, however, that’s not the case and you can get both processor variants in the UK with different connectivity options bundled-in.

The 4G/3G-enabled model uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 quad-core chip clocked at 2.3GHz with an Adreno 330 graphics processor in tow (GPU).

Meanwhile the Wi-Fi only variant is based on Samsung’s own Exynos 5 Octa ‘eight-core’ (basically twin quad-core) chip, which uses ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture to operate both a 1.9GHz Cortex-A15 quad-core unit and a 1.3GHz Cortex-A7 quad-core chip alongside each other.

Both variants use 3GB of RAM. But, crucially, the model I had access to for this review was the Exynos 5 Wi-Fi only variant.

This runs well. Very well, in fact, and is virtually as good as rival Android devices running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 quad-core chip.

But I did notice the occasional snag in performance which I should note I did not find running on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Why is that important? Well it’s important because the Galaxy Note 3 uses exactly the same Snapdragon 800 setup as the Snapdragon-equipped Note 10.1 2014 Edition, meaning the performance should be more-or-less like-for-like, though I’ll admit I’m not able to prove this at present.

It’s tempting to suggest that this potential boost in performance between variants could be more important than the ability to use a 4G/3G signal, although that’s certainly a nice extra.

Performance isn’t bad, I don’t want to portray the idea that the Note 10.1 2014 Exynos model is constantly jerking and juddering. But performance blips are definitely there and it’s in contrast to the Qualcomm 800-packing Note 3, which I described as having “flawless” performance when I reviewed it, and that’s something I still stand by.

Gaming, for example, was on the whole quite smooth. Playing the DC fighting game "Injustice: Gods Among Us" worked fine for the most part, but with flashier effects I did notice the framerate dipping below that hallowed 30fps, sometimes even lower than 25fps which produced some visible chugginess if only for a moment. The back panel also has a tendency to get quite warm with prolonged use.

Onto the benchmarks.

Vellamo’s chip test placed the Note 10.1 2014 towards the top of its charts with a score of 1257, just below the Note 3, although interestingly this is higher than my own Note 3 Vellamo score from back when I reviewed it where it chalked up 1180 – I can only assume a subsequent software update has given the Note 3 a bit of a boost in Vellamo’s rankings since then.

AnTuTu similarly places the Note 3 ahead of its larger counterpart, the Note 10.1 2014 ranked with a score of 31149 – faster than the Galaxy S4, but slower than the Galaxy Note 3’s 32837 score.

Hardware, connectivity, storage and web

The Note 10.1 2014 is available with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of onboard storage (although we’ve yet to see the 64GB variant listed anywhere in the UK), each with microSD support for up to 64GB cards. It also packs microUSB connectivity for charging and data transfer, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct and Hotspot, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and an Infrared blaster.

As usual on Samsung devices, the connectivity hardware seems to be of very high quality- it doesn’t have any issues with dropping connections to Wi-Fi networks and speeds are great where a good connection can be found.

Web speeds don’t seem too bad in actual use, although I’ve certainly seen faster. Interestingly Vellamo’s HTML 5 test clocked the Note 10.1 2014 with a higher score at 2803 than the Snapdragon 800-based Note 3 on its own rankings. My own Vellamo score for the Note 3 was 2512, so not a huge difference.

Meanwhile, Sunspider in Chrome chalked a speed of 1001.4 milliseconds (ms), which I’d say sits fairly comfortably with the real world use I experienced and was a wee bit slower than the Note 3’s 931.1ms – no longer the fastest device on the market amidst a crop of 700ms or lower handsets from KYM’s recent reviews, but still plenty zippy nonetheless.

Software

I’m going to cheat a little bit here and refer you to the very same section from KYM’s Galaxy Note 3 review, for the simple reason the software setup on the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 is exactly the same.

Check it out here, then come back.

Finished? OK, now my conclusions from that review on the Note 3’s software still apply here. Samsung’s stylus-based TouchWiz setup offers a multitasking experience unlike anything else in the mobile space and closer to a traditional desktop than any other tablet I’ve ever seen.

It also remains the undisputed king of stylus functionality – nothing else comes close, particularly the pen sensitivity and handwriting recognition capabilities.

 

These features surely have some key advantages for certain users from a productivity and creativity perspective, both in work and at home. Whether you’re note taking, list-making, sketching, scrapbooking or brainstorming, you’ve got a good set of tools here.

The features also make excellent use of the expansive screen real estate whether you’re watching a feature film in full screen, or checking out YouTube vids while browsing and chatting in split-screen mode.

In other words, it translates very well to the larger tablet format and, arguably, makes it more worthwhile overall than any other Android tablet to date – it actually has a decent, useful party trick over the iPad.

Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition Now Has Stock KitKat 4.4.2

Samsung has begun rolling out a stock build if Android 4.4 KitKat for the Wi-Fi only edition of the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014.

The SM-P600 model tablet is being upgraded to firmware build P600XXUCND3, and as well as some minor bugfixes it adds the stock Android interface. The rollout is starting in Spain as an update over-the-air (OTA) and via the Samsung Kies software.

Other regions are expected to follow in the coming weeks, but if you really want it right now you can manually flash the update to your tablet using Odin software.

Know Your Mobile will have a guide posted shortly on how to do this, so stay tuned.

Battery

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition comes with an 8,220mAh battery pack built-in, more than twice the size of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3’s battery setup for a display that is a bit less than twice the size of that handset’s. I say this because displays are by far the biggest battery drain.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then with this doubling-up that battery performance is more-or-less comparable to the smaller Galaxy Note 3’s impressive lifespan.

In our Django Test - running the whole of Django Unchained (2.45 hours) with full brightness  and connected to Wi-Fi - the tablet went from 100% charge down to 53%. That’s not quite as good as the Galaxy Note 3’s 64% result, but it’s not far off and that massive 300ppi display probably does put a strain on things for that 11% difference.

In normal use you can expect the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 to last a couple of days, although intensive gaming or streaming will knock this down to likely needing a daily charge. Based on the Django Test I’d estimate you can get about six hours of continuous media playback on a single charge, though turning on the auto-brightness and switching off other non-vital power drains in the settings menu could extend this slightly.

The only real issue here is that being a large tablet the back panel is non-removable, which in turn means that unlike the Galaxy Note 3, the Note 10.1 2014’s battery is also non-removable and means you can’t perform hot-swaps or replace the battery when it starts to age.

Conclusion

For the most part the Galaxy Note 10.2 2014 is exactly what I expected it to be, and this is a good thing. The Galaxy Note 3’s impressive functionality translates very well to the larger tablet concept and adds some diverse use scenarios other 10-inch slates can’t match. Again, that’s multitasking and stylus input, to be clear.

It also does very well at your typical tablet tasks such as multimedia consumption, browsing and gaming – the display is fantastic for this. It packs plenty of storage both inside and out, and has good connectivity options, both typical features of Samsung premium models. Battery life is decent too.

And it is what I expected in terms of design improvements. The stylus functionality is improved, the chassis is thinner, nicely balanced and generally more stylish – thumbs up all round.

But there’s one key way in which the Note 10.1 2014 is not what I expected, at least the Exynos version used for this review. Yup, you guessed it, performance.

To repeat, the performance isn’t bad, per se, it’s just not as good as I’d expected having tried the Note 3, with which the Note 10.1 2014 shares so much both in terms of hardware and software.

But, I appreciate this is noticeable to me specifically because I have used that device – it may not be a big concern for anyone else.

However, if you’re a performance fanatic, or have a Note 3, and you do want the “flawless” performance seen on the Note 3 but on a bigger scale, then you really need to look for (and pay a bit more for, sadly) the 4G-enabled, Qualcomm Snapdragon 800-based Note 10.1 2014 variant.

Specifications

Length 243.1mm
Width 171.4mm
Thickness 7.9mm
Weight 540g
Screen Colours 16 million
Screen Size 10.1-inches
UK Launch October 2013
Phone Style Tablet
Typical Price £450

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