A year is like a lifetime in the tech world. Heck, even one action packed day can turn the industry on its head. Today I have the new Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014) from Samsung, and to see where it’s come from, last year’s version of the same model. So how far has the large screen Note evolved, and is it a worthwhile contender for best tablet in the market?
Let’s start on the surface, so to speak, with the design language. Last year’s model took its cues from the Tab2 range with the front firing speakers. This did result in a fairly wide device, and it matched that in height, probably to retain its sense of proportion. This year’s model is much leaner in dimensions, with less curvature and is interestingly fits within the footprint of the white inner frame of the old model.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014) has close to 2 centimeters shaved off the width, so instantly feels much less bulky in one hand, which is the way you’ll be using it with the stylus. It’s 8 millimeters shorter and a millimeter thinner, and it’s design DNA is straight from the Note 3, including the fake leather back, which adds some texture when it’s being held. And speaking of holding, the new model is a full 60 grams lighter, and that’s instantly noticeable.
Even though both models have exactly the same screen size, there’s now some additional real estate with the introduction, (or is it re-introduction?) of the capacitive and physical buttons on the new Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014), which again appears to be following the Note 3 in this respect. However, given this model would probably be used in both portrait and landscape, placing those action buttons back on the unit is probably not the best execution. And have a look at it in portrait mode, it has a good visual balance to it, which is thrown off by the home button now living on the side.
And of course, let’s just stay on the screen for a moment. It’s great to finally see such a high resolution on this model, remembering that for Samsung tablets, a 2560 x by 1600 pixel screen has up till now been reserved for Google’s Nexus 10, which is also made by Samsung. It’s a crisp, highly detailed display with no individual pixels to be seen. Honestly, it’s chalk and cheese between the two models. 1080p content looks exceptional, and the side speakers aren’t that loud but I’d definitely accept that audio compromise for the smaller form factor.
One thing I have noticed when comparing them is that the white colour reproduction seems to be more natural on the previous Note, with this one looking more red. On its own, it’s not that noticeable, but side by side it can be seen.
A couple of other notable physical differences are the move to the micro USB for charging and PC connection, a very welcome change. The back camera has improved and you can take full high def video now, but cameras on large size tablets are not deal breakers in my mind.
Connectivity has improved as well, with the new Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014) offering LTE on the mobile network models, and the introduction of ac speed wi-fi connectivity. The processor moves from a 1.4GHz quad core to a 2.3GHz quad core, along with an extra gigabyte of RAM to match the 3GB offered in the Note 3.
Software-wise, the new note is a replica of the Note 3 with Android 4.3 with the usual TouchWiz treatment. The previous Note 10.1 has been upgraded to 4.1.2. This is most noticeable in the way you access common functions and navigate within the settings menu, with the drop down and toggle expansion.
The final point here is the S pen, of course. Up till now, the S pen functionality has felt like an accessory with apps to support it. Now, with Air Command and the richer functions within that, the stylus feels and acts as part of the tablet, and it’s definitely the most natural I’ve felt using the s pen. That and the screen quality are the two key reasons you’d look at this tablet over others in the market.
So to wrap it up, it’s fair to say that the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014) has matured a lot in a year from it’s predecessor. Build quality, design, hi res screen and a more integrated S pen experience adds up to a huge leap forward. It almost feels as if the original model was a prototype to prepare for this model.