The new year has not yet arrived, but it looks like Samsung is perfectly satisfied to borrow a page out of the automotive industry and give a forward-thinking name to a product before we all gather around to sing Auld Lang Syne. What we're looking at today is the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition), not to be confused with the "old" Note 10.1 released earlier this year without the year designation. And yes, it really is a new product.
Specs and Features at a Glance
Not unlike the auto industry, the 2014 update to the Galaxy Note range from Samsung offers some upgrades and refreshes. The 10.1-inch TFT display, for example, has been bumped up to a 2560 x 1600 pixel (WQXGA) "beyond HD" resolution. Under the hood, you'll find a quad core processor, 3GB of RAM, up to 64GB of storage, microSD expansion, 8MP camera, 2MP front camera, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and a 8,220mAh battery.
Yes, absolutely there are cheaper and smaller tablets out on the market, but if you're looking for a flagship caliber experience on a full 10-inch tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) is going to sit pretty close to the top of the heap. And yes, as you'd suspect, it has that S Pen in tow with all the added features and functions that it provides.
Mirroring the New Galaxy Notes
The problem with some of the other Galaxy Tab and Galaxy Note products that we've seen before is that they were plagued with that glossy plastic back that made the tablet feel relatively cheap. Samsung has addressed this with the new Galaxy Note 3 phablet, as well as on the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014) tablet. The glossy back has been replaced with a leather-like textured back, though it is still made from polycarbonate.
This is no small observation for a couple of reasons. First, it may not be leather, but this new back sure gives the tablet more of a premium feel about it. The grooved chrome edges and the slightly slimmer bezel all add to this sense of an upgraded tablet. Second, the leather-like texture gives far better grip than the glossy plastic, making
this next year's Note far easier to hold and handle.
More S Pen Functionality
For the most part, if you wanted to, you could just use the Galaxy Note 10.1 as a regular Android tablet, tapping your way around with your index finger. If that were the case, though, you may be more inclined to get the Galaxy Tab 10.1 instead, even if the specs aren't exactly the same. You're getting a Note because you want that S Pen, right?
Everything that you've come to expect from the S Pen is alive and well with this newest tablet. You get the "hover" functionality to preview what different icons do, you get several S Pen optimized apps for notetaking and the like, and if you click the little button on the S Pen when you're hovering above the screen, you bring up the quick launch wheel that you see here. This isn't a quantum leap from what we've already experienced before, but that's not necessarily a bad thing either.
The overall form factor is another improvement over previous generations, giving us a product that is both slimmer and has a smaller footprint. The leather-like back is great for grip, so the tablet really is easier to use overall. The bezel is thinner, which is both good and bad, since it gives your fingers less space to rest. The speakers, while seemingly not any larger than what we've seen on other comparably-sized tablets, are surprisingly loud. They don't offer the best audio fidelity, to be sure, but if you want to hear something and you don't have headphones, these speakers are pretty great.
I didn't experience all too many issues when it came to general performance, though some larger apps did take longer to load than I had hoped. Battery life runs par for the course, giving me about two days of moderate usage, but your mileage will surely vary.
Camera Sample Photos
It would be nice if manufacturers started putting cameras in tablets that were on par with their smartphone counterparts, but that hasn't really happened yet. Again, we are left with pictures from the 2014 Note 10.1 that are mostly "good enough," but anything from spectacular.
Quadrant Standard and AnTuTu Benchmark Scores
To get a more quantitative sense of the performance on this tablet, we ran it through the usual set of standard benchmarks. In Quadrant Standard, we got scores in the 16,000 range, putting it way ahead of the Tab 3 10.1, Note 8.0 and Galaxy S4.
Similarly, scores with the AnTuTu benchmark were also impressive, pushing around the 32,000 range. Compare this to the 20,000 or so points that the Nexus 10 is able to achieve. That said, this score does put the new Note 10.1 in the same range as an LG G2, Xperia Z1 and Galaxy Note 3.
MEGATechie Noteworthy Upgrade or MEGATechie Nothing Notable?
The cheapest current generation 10.1-inch tablet of decent quality that you can get these days would set you back about $400. There seems to be far more of a race to the bottom in the 7-inch and 8-inch families, but if you're in the market for something bigger, there are far fewer options that are increasingly affordable. To this end, the 32GB Wi-Fi model, as tested, sells for about $600 online, though you can save yourself about fifty bucks if you bump down to the 16GB variant.
The question, then, is whether you're willing to pay about twice as much for a 10.1-inch tablet like this, compared to what you'd spend to get a decent quality 7-inch or 8-inch tablet. Absolutely, you get higher specs here. Absolutely, you get a really high resolution display and you get the added utility of the S Pen. And yes, this is absolutely an improvement over the non-2014 edition of the Note 10.1. It is indeed a noteworthy upgrade, but I'm not necessarily convinced that it is worth the added premium over smaller and potentially less powerful alternatives.