Samsung's Galaxy Note line has always been some of the Korean company's highest-end hardware. But with the new 2014 model update, the Galaxy Note 10.1 has been outfitted with a slew of top-of-the-line specs: the highest resolution screen on any tablet (even beating the iPad), a whopping eight processor cores, expandable memory, and a host of other features. Not to mention Samsung's specialty "S-Pen" and all the apps and options that go with it.
On top of all that, Samsung also throws in a huge load of bonuses with the purchase of a Note 10.1 before the end of 2013: $50 in credit for Samsung's "Hub" content store. $25 credit for anything on Google Play. A 50GB Dropbox account, free for a full two years (valued at $100). Three free audiobooks from Audible, 12 months of free Boingo hotspot access, three months free of Hulu Plus, and the list goes on. Most people probably won't use half of these, but it's clear that Samsung wants its customers to feel the full usefulness of their new tablet. Make no mistake about it: the Note 10.1 2014 is aimed directly at fighting the iPad for the title of best high-end tablet. And with all it has going for it, it might actually win.
Build and Design
The second-generation Note comes in two colors, white and black; we received the white version. The front is classic Samsung: a white (or black, on that version) bezel surrounding the screen, with a physical central home button and two capacitive buttons for Menu and Back.
If (like me) you weren't a fan of Samsung's recent tendency toward glossy plastic backings, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised by the newest Note. The back is still made of plastic, but it's textured to resemble leather, complete with "stitching" around the edges. I suppose some people might find this tacky looking, but I felt it looks pretty good, and more importantly feels good in the hand. It not only gives traction, it also won't take fingerprints, so you don't have to worry about smudges. The edges are all done in a plastic faux-aluminum look -- which admittedly, I could have done without -- but it's not that overly showy.
Overall, the Note's design is solid. The quality feels great, it looks good, and the design decisions are largely done right, with the exception of the buttons (more on that later). It avoids the cheap-looking glossy plastic backs of other Samsung models, and it covers all the areas you want to be covered. It's a very well built piece of hardware.
The Note 10.1 2014's screen is simply awe-inspiring. It boasts a whopping screen resolution of 2560 x 1600, which is incredibly high; far above even the highest HD standard (defined as a mere 1920 x 1080), and sitting right at that ~300 DPI number where the human eye can't really appreciate any higher resolution. To that end, it actually significantly outpaces the Apple iPad and iPad Air's "Retina" displays in both raw resolution and pixel density (299 PPI vs 264).
And it doesn't just impress based on the specs. Looking at it, you can see the clarity easily. Comparing it to my personal tablet -- a Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE -- looking at the same photo on the Note 10.1 2014 makes my GT10 look muddy, weak, and pathetically low resolution. Compared even to another high-res screen, it's as clear and crisp as you could possibly get. Looked at side to side, it bests any other tablet I could compare it to -- even a Retina iPad -- for color quality and contrast. Simply put, it's the best display I've ever seen on any tablet. I'm sure you could do better with an OLED display, but until those are practical in a 10-inch size, the Note 2014 is as high quality a display as you could ask for in a tablet.
Other Buttons and Controls
The power button on the Note 10.1 2014 has moved to the left part of the top edge (if you're holding it landscape) alongside the volume controls. Microphone jack, top of the left edge. The top of the right edge holds the famous "S-Pen," the active digitizer pen that makes the Note series devices unique. More on that later.
Be warned, you might get your edges a little confused at times, because both the "bottom" and "top" edges have small, semi-circular dark spots in the exact center. The difference is, the bottom spot is a microUSB connector for data and charging, while the top one is an infrared port to let you use the tablet as a remote control for your TV. (More on that later as well.) So far I haven't tried plugging the charger into the infrared port, but I can see how someone would do that, especially if they weren't paying attention.
But that's a pretty minor item. As far as design goes, my main complaint about the second-gen Note 10.1 is the buttons. Samsung opted for capacitive Back and Menu buttons, and a physical Home button, similar to the other Galaxy Note devices. Personally, I would have much rather seen them use on-screen buttons that rotate along with the orientation of the device. Given how much you're likely to be moving the tablet between landscape and portrait, fixed buttons just provide way too many opportunities to be accidentally pushed or touched, especially in portrait mode. You can brush up against them with surprising ease. Virtual buttons would rotate along with the user, and wouldn't be an annoyance if you were holding the Note by the side. As it is, there's an inevitable ergonomic issue in portrait; either you're holding it by the side with the buttons, or you're brushing them with your free hand as you go to touch the screen. I suppose this might be a minor gripe, but on a device as otherwise sleek and cutting edge as the Note 10.1 2014, I wish the designers had thought it through a little more.
Keep reading... Page 2 covers the performance of this high-end tablet.
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