I don't often write reviews, I know that I should as I am a "techy" and buy pretty much everything I own from Amazon (approximately 100 items in the last 6 months alone). Although I didn't buy this from Amazon for 2 reasons:
1. I was impatient, it was payday and John Lewis had it in stock at the same price as Amazon (£318 at the time) and
2. it was suddenly unavailable from Amazon for reasons you can see if you read some of the 1 star reviews here (I'm not talking about the 1 star review by the Apple fan boy who would probably buy a car made by Apple if it cost four times the price of a Ferrari, would only allow you to drive it at times when Apple say you can drive it and did 3 miles to a gallon) But I digress, I am here to review the Samsung Note 10.1.
On opening the box the first thing you notice is the size of it. iPad's have a 9.7" screen, this beauty has 10.1" of high definition loveliness. OK so .4" doesn't sound like much but the larger the screen then the more HD goodness you can squeeze into it. You will also notice that it is COVERED in protective film. I was still finding small pieces of it on the edges 3 hours after opening it. This is something that has some importance to people like me who are OCD but love shiny things; a bad combination.
A few months ago I bought a very expensive Logitech Keyboard to find that on opening the brand new sealed box the logo on the wrist rest had a rather deep scratch. Yes, it went back.
So once you do get the protective films off you can be sure your new Note 10.1 will be in mint condition.
Other noteworthy points, in regards to aesthetics, are the stereo speakers placed either side of the screen and the front and back cameras; 5MP on the back and 1.9MP on the front. Not mind-blowing admittedly but if you want a camera then go and buy a camera. The cameras on the Note 10.1 are sufficient for the purposes of the tasks you would perform with a tablet camera, i.e Skype etc. All tablets are too unwieldy to be using them as a camera like you would a phone.
More importantly I need to stress that this tablet does NOT feel cheap.
It has a good weight to it, not overly heavy but you do feel like you are actually holding £400-ish worth of kit. It's sturdy, nothing creaks, as certain iSheep have been known to say, and everything feels of good quality. The iPad does have a brushed metal back, and I may seem like I hate the iPad but I assure you I do not, but being made of plastic doesn't make the Note 10.1 feel any less expensive.
The design is also quite satisfying. The iPad looks to me like Apple gave up on any kind of design effort years ago and are happy to churn out the same square shape over and over again. The Note 10.1, whilst hardly being light years ahead in regards to design, is a bit curvier and feels more comfortable in your hands.
So on to the important stuff, and I'll try to cover all the points as best I can.
The first thing to do is, obviously, switch it on. Duh. This is done by a not-too-obvious button on the top. The Samsung Note 10.1 is designed with the idea that it will be used in landscape as opposed to the iPad which looks like it should be portrait, with the home button at the bottom, and so on the Samsung "the top" could be considered "the side". Either way, it's on the top to the left. This isn't something that makes either tablet better or worse, it just is.
Next to the on/off button is a volume rocker. These are the only physical buttons to be found on the tablet.
Around the edges you will also find a 3.5mm headphone jack, an Apple style power socket, a tiny pin hole that is the microphone, a micro SD card slot and an IR LED (which I will get to later).
The battery life so far is much better that I expected, owning the Galaxy SIII which has a rather poor battery life I expected a similar affair with the Note 10.1. After charging all night on my second day of owning the tablet I turned it on at about 10am, used it for most of the day (testing everything from games to apps to Photoshop and Skype) and was still using it at about 9 or 10pm when it bleeped at me to say low battery (it bleeps when it reaches 15% remaining).
So far, so good. But how does the Samsung Note 10.1 perform?
Once turned on it takes mere seconds to load everything up, even now when I've installed tons of crap on it and synced it with hundreds of Dropbox pics. On the first switch on it takes a little longer as you need to input the date/time location and set up WiFi etc, but this is the case with all tablets.
The Multiscreen function is a great and innovative idea. If you are reading your emails and need to open a document at the same time, then Multiscreen it. This pops one app to one side and the other to the opposite side meaning you can see/work on both simultaneously. The same applies to movies. Watching a movie and you receive an email? No worries. Shrink the video screen down to a smaller box and read/reply to your message whilst continuing to watch your film.
In regards to how it performs in comparison to the iPad (and it has to be in comparison to the iPad as the Samsung Galaxy's/Note 10.1 and the iPad's are the best tablets on the market without a shadow of a doubt) I have to concede that, yes, the iPad's OSX is more reliable. Meaning that apps will crash less often and the screen will be more responsive for a larger majority of the time.
BUT, this doesn't mean what some suggest it means, i.e the Note 10.1 is worse/less powerful/not as awesome as the iPad.
What it means is this:
Apple limit what their consumers are allowed to do with their products. I am not saying this is a bad thing; it means that many who are less tech savvy need not worry about doing something that might turn their shiny new tablet into little more than a very attractive door wedge.
It means that Apple are well aware of the limits of the hardware and don't allow anything to overstep those limits. They only approve the apps that they like and there is NO chance whatsoever of installing anything third party or messing around with the settings in any way other than how Apple say you can. Which is pretty much no way.
Samsung however actually have settings on their Galaxy and Note devices that allow the device to be open to development. Check the settings. Its right there under Developer Options! Turn this setting on and you could even flash install a beta version of the new Android OS, at your own risk of course.
I wouldn't suggest it unless you know what you're doing but the option is there. When I pay £400-£500 for something, I want to do with it as I see fit; it is, after all, mine.
So all this means that sometimes the Samsung device you are using, be it Note 10.1, Galaxy Tab or whatever, might lag ever so slightly, making it seem a little unresponsive for the merest of milliseconds. An app might crash unexpectedly but this is almost always more to do with the OS (operating system, for those that don't know) than it is to do with the hardware and when it is to do with the hardware it's simply because you, the user, are probably giving it a little more to be doing than it can cope with. We have all had moments like that. For me personally, the very occasional glitch is an acceptable sacrifice for more freedom and choice in what I do with my gadget.
The Note 10.1 uses the Android OS which is used across countless devices and means that there is a massive range of apps available. You have the choice of the Samsung Apps store, which to be honest has sweet FA going for it other than the occasional gem; i.e. the Polaris Office Suite that allows you to read/edit/create MS Office documents on your tablet/phone and is free from SA Store. It is however already installed on the Note 10.1.
The other choice is Google Play Store, which is where all the best apps can be found. Pretty much anything you can get on OSX you can get on here.
The Note 10.1 is also, of course, compatible with Flash Player. Meaning that you can access and view any websites that use flash. Which is something Apple, in their infinite, god-like wisdom, decided to omit from the, otherwise generally exceptional, iPad. Apple decided that one day soon nobody would use Flash anymore. That was a while back. People still use flash. iPad's still aren't compatible with it. Go figure.
The other stick that Apple lovers use to beat down Samsung's tablets is the one that reminds us how the iPad has a Retina Screen...OOOOHH. Exciting huh? Well..kind of.
Let's lay this one to rest.
Yes, the iPad does have a much higher resolution in comparison to the Samsung Note 10.1 but we are talking about 2 screens here that are each approximately 10" in size.
One could argue that 1080p resolution on a TV is far better than 720p but if you are viewing it on a 19" TV how much of that are you going to genuinely notice? Not a great deal is the answer.
So although the Note 10.1 has a resolution of 1280X800 and the iPad has, an admittedly higher, 2048X1536 you are unlikely to notice it unless you hold them up side by side, use a magnifying glass and play the same HD film on each. I have done this (without the magnifying glass) and was underwhelmed by the huge (not) difference in the two.
Add to this the likelihood of you finding anything (in regards to films and honestly when we talk about HD, films are all we care about) that actually supports the level of HD the Retina screen has and it suddenly seems less of a big thing.
You certainly wont be sighing into your cornflakes as you watch an HD download of Wall-E on your Note 10.1 and wishing you had got the iPad because the picture just isn't crisp enough. Not going to happen my friend.
Other great points about the Note 10.1 are that you can put a micro SD in it and expand the already ample 16/32GB by up to an extra 64GB, which once again is a choice Apple have taken away from you, instead opting to charge excessively more money for a version of the iPad with more memory.
And then there's the S Pen.
Oh my, the S Pen.
I do a lot of graphic design work and use a Wacom graphics tablet all the time so when I heard that the pen bundled with the Note 10.1 was designed and made by Wacom I had the highest of hopes. And I can assure you it did not disappoint.
The pen is so responsive and comfortable to use that I actually hate to touch my tablet with my fingers now, despite how shiny it is. It just feels less...effective.
The S Pen is pressure sensitive and has a soft, fine, almost fabric tip. So it's nothing like those horrible capacitive pens with the fat rubber tips you can get for the iPad and smartphones that just seem to stick on the screen all the time. The S Pen glides across the screen very smoothly.
The Note 10.1 comes bundled with Photoshop Touch which I wasn't sure I would get on with, being a lover of the PC version, but it has turned out to be a very useful tool. Its so easy to doodle and edit photos with it and with the added usability of the S Pen it has become my most used app.
The handwriting recognition is spot on pretty much 99% of the time, even with my "spider limping across the page" handwriting. The S Note app is very useful. Put the widget on your home screen and if you want to take a quick note: open it up, scribble it down and save it. Done. No need to open the keyboard and type something that auto correct will undoubtedly change to the wrong word. Don't want it written in your handwriting? Open the keyboard, change the input option to handwriting (a T with a pencil next to it), write what you want to type and watch as your scribbles are converted to crisp typeface!
The IR LED on top of the Note 10.1 also means that it can, with minimal setup, be used as a universal remote. Within a few minutes of opening the ready installed 'Peel' app I had set mine up to control my LG TV, Sony 5.1 Surround System, Set-Top Box and Sony Blu ray player. (It's also fun to sit in pubs when the football is on and turn off the TV just as a goal is about to be scored).
So to summarise.
+Good build quality
+Crisp, clear LCD screen with nice colours and good viewing angles. HD films look stunning on it
+Minimal lagging. Any issues of unresponsiveness I have experienced so far have be the fault of either the OS or the app itself
+The S Pen is a delight to use
+Stereo speakers give a nice clear and non-tinny sound
+Good strong WiFi. Haven't yet found it to lose signal or slow down when connected
+Can be set up as a universal remote
+Pretty decent battery life
-Not quite as high resolution as the iPad but still a very clear and beautiful screen
-Doesn't (yet) have the easy syncing to sync contacts/pictures/films with other Samsung products that is one of the better features of owning an iPad, iPhone, iMac etc
-Camera could be higher res but it's hardly a bad camera
-Accessories are nigh on impossible to find. Even Samsung themselves are out of stock of most of them on their webstore!
So I hope my review has convinced you that the Note 10.1 is the tablet to buy and you didn't get too bored before the end, there really is so much to say about this incredible piece of kit. Having played around with most available tablets from the Kindle Fire to the Google Nexus to the iPad I feel like this one certainly has the most going for it.