Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) Review

8.2

Daniel Bader

November 21, 2013 8:49pm

The Galaxy Note 10.1 successor, aptly titled “2014 Edition,” is the best Android tablet you can buy, as long as money isn’t a concern.

It’s fast and fluid, with a stunning IPS display and modern processor, excellent built-in apps (and support for a few third-party exclusives), and a lightweight, sturdy design. This is the tablet we’ve been waiting years for Samsung to create, and it comes at a time when the Android tablet ecosystem is coming into its own.

But with a $599 CDN price, does Samsung ask too much from its customer base? And even if it does deliver the closest true multitasking experience Android can affect, is it a better choice for power users than the more versatile Surface 2, or a similarly-priced iPad Air? Let’s take a look.

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Specs

  • Android 4.3 w/ TouchWIZ
  • 10.1-inch 2560×1600 pixel display
  • 1.9Ghz octa-core Exynos SoC
  • 3GB RAM / 32GB internal storage
  • 8MP rear camera w/ flash, 2MP front-facing camera
  • WiFi (a/b/g/n/ac). GPS+GLONASS, Bluetooth 4.0
  • 8,220mAh battery
  • 243.1×171.4×7.9mm
  • 540 grams

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What Works

There is a lot to like, both in terms of looks and feel, in the Note 10.1 2014 Edition (heretofore referred to as the Note 10.1 for brevity’s sake). While it does appear to be an enlarged Note 3, the faux leather backing and ostentatious stitching work better on a device of this size, affecting a more aspirational tone.

At 540 grams, it’s extremely light, but also sturdy, with few areas of compromise. There is little room between the screen and the bezels, which keeps the large tablet compact and relatively portable. This also works to minimize the “long-and-thin” widescreen effect that pervades the 16:10 Android tablet ecosystem, though at times holding it in portrait mode felt like an unfortunate hack. From the landscape-oriented navigation buttons below the screen to the placement of the microUSB and power buttons, Samsung intended for you to consider the canvas as stationary.

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The screen is beyond sharp, and though it doesn’t stand out like the Nexus 10 did a year ago, it’s still one of the cleanest examples of an IPS display we’ve seen in recent memory. Colour saturation is superlative, and the 300ppi pixel density makes reading and surfing a treat. Similarly, the accurate colour gamut allows those using the S Pen – significantly improved over previous Note slates – to more accurately portray their masterpieces. Viewing angles, brightness and black levels are also excellent, though contrast doesn’t seem to be as good as the equivalent iPad Air.

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Buyers of the Note 10.1 will likely take advantage of the included S Pen, which has been tailored for the tablet’s Android 4.3-based TouchWIZ software. Users will be prompted to take advantage of the myriad pen-optimized apps via Air Command, which debuted on the Note 3.  And while we found navigating, annotating and sketching a joy on the 5.7-inch Note, it’s a truly wonderful experience on the larger tablet.

I began relying on S Note, Samsung’s included note-taking app, to replace my retinue of various paper notebooks, comfortable with the notion that they would be uploaded and searchable from Evernote. Similarly, Samsung’s newest implementation of Multi Window, the ostensible Android multitasking layer that pairs two apps side by side, has been improved to allow users to share information; drag a photo from the Gallery into Hangouts, for example, to share it.

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Multi Window proved to be only slightly less versatile than Windows 8.1’s screen pinning mode, and continues to improve with each iteration. I constantly used it to browse the web and monitor Twitter at the same time, and users can save specific combos to launch again in the future.

Performance tended to be good throughout the OS, with only the occasional stutter when playing games or loading apps. Outfitted with 3GB of RAM and 32GB internal storage, the Note 10.1 is approaching the power and versatility of various Bay Trail-powered Windows tablets; paired with a good case and a Bluetooth keyboard, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in the place of some Windows RT hybrids, which lack Android’s extensive app and game libraries.

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What Needs Work

Though the Note 10.1 does a lot of things well, its price is the main pain point; it is cheaper than the equivalent iPad Air (which is $619 for the 32GB version), other OEMs, from Asus to Toshiba to Acer, offer better values without all the extra amenities.

Specifically, without the added S Pen, the Note 10.1 is merely a very good, very fast Android tablet, and there are plenty of those around. Only Samsung feels they can charge what Apple charges for its high-end tablets, but the Korean giant doesn’t realize that there are iPads and then there is everything else. The Android tablet experience, as good as it is here, doesn’t come close to presenting the platform’s best traits; the app selection is weak, and the 16:10 aspect ratio makes one-handed use awkward at best and untenable at worst.

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Granted, the app selection on Android tablets is improving, and Google is doing plenty to hold developers to account for their laziness — we are three years on from the introduction of Android tablet assets – but, ultimately, OEMs like Samsung are paying the price. Samsung has attempted to take matters into its own hands, too, by partnering with services like Flipboard and Twitter to offer custom interfaces, but it’s still not enough.

On the flip side, Samsung should not be encouraged from treating Android as its personal content canvas; everywhere you turn, it seems like the company takes another opportunity to push Samsung Apps, its alternative (and scarcely-populated) to Google Play.

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A Few Notes

  • I found battery life to be excellent, exceeding Samsung’s own estimates of around 9-10 hours. At low brightness, I achieved 15 hours on a single charge.
  • I really dislike Samsung’s continued use of hardware home and navigation buttons on their tablets. I understand their purpose on phones, but tablets are meant to be used in any and all orientations.
  • For some reason, I yearn for an LTE model of this device; I could definitely see myself using it as a laptop replacement given the right circumstances.

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 Conclusions 

Samsung has crafted what appears to be the best 10-inch Android tablet experience on the market right now. The S Pen features that were useful on the Note 3 are essential here, and the Note 10.1 should be considered by anyone who needs pressure-sensitive pen input.

At $599, it’s cheaper than the equivalent iPad Air, but still far too expensive for the average Android tablet buyer.  Discounted by $100 or $150, I’d say it’s a no-brainer, but at the moment, with this price, I’d only consider it if budget is no concern.

8.2

Final Score

7.5

Design

8.5

Software

9.5

Display

9

Performance

7

Build Quality

6.5

Camera

8.5

Connectivity

9.5

Battery Life

  • silver_arrow

    The thing that bugs me is Samsung doesn’t seem to treat this like a tablet. The physical buttons, the phone notification bar/quicksettings, no multi user support.

    Everything but the buttons can be fixed in an OTA but other then those, and the price, this is a pretty great tablet. I have a Note 10.1 and hopefully it gets an update with some of these features.

    • Unorthodox

      My thought exactly. These buttons are really big deterrent for me. I’m a happy user of original Note 10.1 too, which doesn’t have these unnecessary buttons. Still, if I manage to snatch a deal at $450 this holiday, I’ll definitely be upgrading.

    • Anavil Patel

      It does have multi user support I have it
      They released an update for it a week after it came out

  • K_p0w3r

    Does anyone else wonder why samsung thinks canadians only want white 32 gig models . where does this reasoning come from

    • frostythesnowman

      Some funny idea that because we have stupidly long winters we must like white

  • kirilmatt

    I have and like the original note 10.1. Sure, the screen isn’t great, but I love the S-Pen. It can really replace pen and paper for doing workings for school and writing and stuff. Personally, I still feel like I could live without it. I would much prefer a windows tablet. I love my windows tablet from 2010 even though it has terrible battery life and performance simply because you can actually do work on it. I can put games on my smartphone if I want. I just dont want to shell out for a windows tablet with a digitizer (or even not).

  • Gze

    you also need to discuss their management, i mean why the hell this tablet is always out of stock.. . Its not because its selling as hot pancakes but this things was released Nov. 8 and after selling 5-10 from FS or BB then it stopped… You cant find it anywhere here in Vancouver. …

  • thedosbox

    “At $599, it’s cheaper than the equivalent iPad Air, but still far too expensive for the average Android tablet buyer.”

    Wow, I’m sure the implications of that line are going to go down well.

    • 4u2nvinmtl

      Depends how you take it… I take it as Apple users will pay what ever the price is. But you can also say that Android users are just poor and cant afford Apple products. Honestly IDK

    • Collin dubya

      i don’t think its an issue of being poor, Most android users are Ex iOS users, android users are smart consumers and know value when they see it, more functionality and more variety combined with beautiful powerful hardware makes a superior product.

    • 4u2nvinmtl

      Well said! (true enough; I came from an iPhone 3G to a Galaxy S1)

  • TomsDisqusted

    Sounds pretty good. It is, of course, quite ironic that a tablet that sounds really great (and which is really the only choice for those who want a good pen experience) is really dinged for being close to the price of the iPad – not more then it, like the Surface – just close!
    But it is a good review and it is probably right – people will reject it as too expensive.

  • BB BB

    Is it even available in Canada Yet?

    • Unorthodox

      It is in Canada, but only in Ugly White.

    • BB BB

      Thanks but I have yet to find one just wanted to try it out but I’m afraid of laggy android tablets. Out of the box they run great at first then they turn into laggy frozen digital bits like my transformer prime.

    • Unorthodox

      If you’re just trolling, then walk away. If you’re not – my last year’s Note 10.1 didn’t change a bid in it’s fluid experience. And to tell you the truth, I haven’t touched my VAIO FHD laptop ever since I bought this tablet. Equipped with S-Pen, it’s a very powerful business tool, unlike any other tablet, iPads included.

    • BB BB

      Nope not trolling. My friend drove all the way to buffalo to buy one. It’s funny how they say $599 is expensive for a 8core tablet with 3 GB of ram 32gb of expandable storage and a FHD display. It pretty much says it all. The prime was a great tablet but it’s past it’s prime sadly. Cyanogen mod made it a bit better but it wasn’t the easiest device to unlock. The Good thing is samsung hardware usually has more Roms to play with.

    • Anavil Patel

      How is it past it’s prime it was released like a month ago
      Don’t know which one you bought mine doesn’t lag ever no matter how much I use it

    • Unorthodox

      Well, yes, I can’t find it in a store yet. I too want to hold it first, just because I want to know if silly buttons and white color are a tolerable trade-off for that screen and power.

    • BB BB

      I personally don’t mind the menu and escape keys. On the N7 I was always accidentally pressing the on screen keys which is annoying. The keys aren’t probably ideal if you tend to use the tablet in portrait but using and abusing samsung devices for quite some time I am used to them and it’s nice having all my settings accessible from the menu button, that is until all the google apps stop allowing apps to put them there.

    • Guest

      Wake up bb and get your asss out of 2010.

  • sandi

    What about the old 10.1? Will that get an update so it could have the same features? Its happening with the S3 why not this

  • HeyYoWL

    So I realize this isn’t the most appropriate place to ask but I’m going to go ahead and do it. Where’s the Nexus 5 review? Am I alone in not caring about Samsung Tablet of Varying Size #5?

    • thedosbox

      Right, because there’s a “shortage” of Nexus 5 reviews….

    • HeyYoWL

      There isn’t, but there’s an overabundance of Samsung products reviewed here that are all similar and I’m interested in Mobilesyrup’s take on the Nexus 5.

  • Ashish

    Samsung is very bad with tablets.
    Buttons , notification bar not upto the mark.

    • Anavil Patel

      You’re joking right. Notification bar not upto mark? You can control music access your wife and data and turn off many features quick access to settings, and you can control brightness. The new IOS7 copied most of that as well as the closing applications. First you had to x out the apps, now you can swipe them away. Also on android first. The note has tons of more features compared to any tablet including the iPad air. All the iPad air is is that it’s faster lighter and has some more tablet optimized apps. Most of the major apps are for both tablets and phones on android. Ipad air doesn’t bring anything new and the display is the same too

  • Evan Hindra

    I’m a little surprised by the score you give on the Note’s performance.

    I agree on everything else. I had the device for a little over a week; I experienced plenty of lags/stuttering when the Note tries to draw animations. Some areas where I see performance degradation: page transitions on the TouchWiz launcher, drag and dropping widgets and icons, pulling up the app drawer, the AirCommand animations (opening up the radial menu, hovering the selection items). I tried turning off animation scales/reduce timing; and the tablet performs “better”, simply because there’s no animation at all.

    The Note also suffers when I do *real* drawing. There’s a good 1 second lag between line strokes when using SketchBook Pro; and it would get progressively worse. I’m not sure whose fault for the poor performance on the SketchBook Pro tho, could be Samsung’s TouchWiz (running in the background) or the demanding nature of the app itself.

    I’m assuming all of the sub-par experience with the tablet’s performance is caused by TouchWiz itself.

    I do like TouchWiz, it adds useful features, but needs to be *heavily* optimized. I don’t claim to understand programming, but I consulted with plenty of Android developers. They all agree TouchWiz could use some optimization work.

    Having said that, I LOVE the pen. I think pens/stylus should come with *every* tablet. In fact, I got my Retina iPad Mini a Pencil stylus, so I can do some real work. Less fingers callous! yay!

    On Buttons:
    Really awkward at times, particularly when you’re using the Note in the dark. Having to reposition the Note while watching a movie/reading a book can result accidental presses on the back/menu softkeys. I know I can turn on the backlit on those keys permanently, but that’d be too distracting in the dark. Nexus tablets got it right.

  • wes

    Microsoft surface pro first gen 64 gig 585$ student price beats this in most aspects.

    • Victor_Creed

      3 hours battery life really weakens its usefulness. Especially for students. Having to be near a charger for more than 1 class a day is a major hinderance IMO. I’m a student myself.

    • wes

      It lasts 6 hours on power saver mode, and there is usually a plug readily available.

      battery life is about the same as a macbook air. theres also a power cover thats coming out in 2014, which will more than double the battery life. for my uses, i find that the battery life is acceptable, but i look at it more as a laptop hybrid than a pure tablet.

      one can consider the pro 2, but at 900 (starting) id rather save 300$

    • frostythesnowman

      6 hours on power saver mode staring at the desktop, 4-4.5 seems like the normal runtime while actually using the thing based off of the pile of people I see IRL using them. That’s similar to last years Airs, this year gets 10-14 depending on screen size. I’d still consider that a hard sell for many people even at 600$ if someone is looking at a tablet, which is what someone looking at this review would be considering.
      The Pro 2 on the other hand is getting about 7.5-9 hours of use and runs much cooler and quicker. My cumulative average is 7:09, that includes everything from gaming to office use while on battery. It’d be around 8 probably if I didn’t game on it. Dell’s Venue tablets are also solid and don’t compromise so much w.r.t heat and battery performance, offered for around 600 too.

    • frostythesnowman

      6 hours on power saver mode staring at the desktop, 4-4.5 seems like the normal runtime while actually using the thing based off of the pile of people I see IRL using them. That’s similar to last years Airs, this year gets 10-14 depending on screen size. I’d still consider that a hard sell for many people even at 600$ if someone is looking at a tablet, which is what someone looking at this review would be considering.
      The Pro 2 on the other hand is getting about 7.5-9 hours of use and runs much cooler and quicker. My cumulative average is 7:09, that includes everything from gaming to office use while on battery. It’d be around 8 probably if I didn’t game on it. Dell’s Venue tablets are also solid and don’t compromise so much w.r.t heat and battery performance, offered for around 600 too.

    • wes

      Agreed with most statements. The only difference is that I’m a student living on a budget. So, running x86 programs and at 675$ is a great compromise (vs.1000$).

      I also won’t pay more for a Microsoft product versus an Apple product. In terms of battery life,, I think that an option is the power cover which will add 8ish hours of battery life.

    • TP

      or Asus Transformer T100 32GB new baytrail quadcore with keyboard dock and USB 3.0 and MS Office preinstalled..$399. 11 hours of battery life. If you really want productivity, iOS and Android are very very limited.

    • wes

      yup only diff us that i can play steam games. installed league of legends, cod 4, and a few other games. when im at home i plug in my 24″ monitor and it becomes my desktop.

  • cloakster

    Drop the price to $500 and Samsung will have a winner.

  • John

    I dont want to buy anything samsung tablet since they are keep coming up with another one pretty much every 3~4 month… makes me feel like my product just got outdated that quick

    • TP

      but the ‘Note’ line is updated once per year.

  • Jimmy

    Is LTE really required if you always have your smartphone in your pocket? #tether

    • Anavil Patel

      I have my phone on me all the time so I got wifi. Don’t really need it and if I do mostly have optimum wifi or can tether it

  • Yuenster

    Hi everyone, being a new android phone user, I am thinking about switching my tablet to android too.. I am using my iPad2 right now for school and using this app call notability to take notes. Specifically this app allows me to “print” my PDF into the app and write on top of it.. If I were to switch to note 10.1 , is there any note taking app that does what I said above? I really like the note 10.1 since it has a active digitalizer (s pen) I know windows surface pro can run Microsoft OneNote on it and it has smth like a s pen too. But so far the app version of OneNote is useless in note taking. I am tried of writing with a crayon on my iPad ..

    • frostythesnowman

      I’m not sure how good it is, but I believe S Note can import PDFs allowing for annotations.

  • dunnerb4u

    I had to drive 2 hrs to get mine…..well worth it. It’s the best functioning tablet I have ever owned. I have not used my computer since I turned it on. I am not a huge stylus user but I find I’m using it more every day.

  • Jonathan Schmitt

    Only thing I would argue is the build quality. I have an iPad Air and work gave me a Note 10.1 and I absolutely feel like, even though the iPad feels much more sturdy, that when these things drop, the Note will last longer.

    Its similar to the S3 and iPhone 5. Broke my work iPhone 5 easily, but my S3 is still going strong after a lot – and I cannot stress that enough – of abuse.

    Everything else is spot on.

  • Fredz

    Hi everyone…I live Quebec Canada and i want to buy a note 10.1 2014 but it is out of stock everywhere. What’s the problem with Samsung Canada……will i be able to have one before the holidays ???

  • Irving Eskenazi

    It’s a top notch tablet as soon as you get rid of touch wiz I use nova prime as my launcher.
    When you pair with a BT keyboard it’s a fantastic productivity machine.

  • luvmygadgets

    Had to order mine from ebay ! Black 32GB LTE version :) Costs an arm and a leg with the import charges, taxes, shipping and 2 year warranty… but I have to have it :D