Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition)

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Quick Summary:  The latest, most advanced 10.1 inch Note Tablet from Samsung, the 2014 Edition of the Note 10.1 gives users some of the most powerful Android device hardware combined with the unique stylus pen, and a unique software features.  This combination of pen-based input in a tablet form factor appeals to a number of users including those in various vertical markets (such as legal and healthcare), as well as technologists and hobbyists with an interest in Samsung and Google services.
Review Length:  Eight Months (about 247 days).
Intended Market: Technology hobbyists, Google aficionados, or Android developers who desire some of the most powerful Android-based, tablet hardware on the market, along with access to Samsung’s unique features and stylus.
Sub-optimal market:  Those persons who would prefer to use a device that integrates with Microsoft or Apple services and devices.  Those persons who prefer to have a device that “hides” technical complexity, removing access to less-used features to gain a more streamlines and efficient experience.  In addition, users for whom the included S-pen stylus is not needed for their lifestyle may find that this device is overkill when compared with less expensive tablets, such as Samsung’s own Galaxy Tab.  Finally, as this is the most recent member of the Galaxy Note family of 10.1 inch tablets, it is also the most expensive, making this device a difficult choice for the price sensitive user.
Approximate Retail Price:  ~$500 (~$315 used)
Purchase Link:  To purchase our specific review unit, please see this Amazon page:  (UNAVAILABLE)  Note, if the auction is unavailable, our review unit has already been purchased.

Unboxing Experience and First Impressions

On first glance, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition is very similar to its immediate predecessor, the Galaxy Note 10.1, but with an increased build quality that, while still using plastic, increases the rigidity of the unit and covers the back in faux leather stitching.  In addition, the 2014 Edition of the Note 10.1 has front and back cameras, light sensors, hardware multi-tasking and back buttons, as well as the standard Samsung rectangular home button.

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The available book cover allows users to set up the device for hands-free viewing, such as for movie watching and reading books, as well as providing automatic wake and sleep with the closure and opening of the cover.

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Included in the box is a USB 2 charging and sync cable and the charging adaptor. Also included are several removable tips for the pen stylus.

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In Daily Life

Unlike with the various Samsung Galaxy smartphones which we have set up in the past, the initial set up of the device took surprisingly little time. In summary, the only items that needed to be set up were the connection to a Wi-Fi network for Internet access, a Google and Samsung Account (both are optional, but Google especially is needed for many important services), and various privacy and data usage agreements. The relative ease of set up in this case is due to the lack of pre-installed carrier services and apps which require setup and/or skipping. In addition, I only needed to enter the extremely large 30+ character password for our NetWise Life Google account into the phone once to make it work with our Google account. This is a positive, since many times in the past that password has been necessarily entered twice. This is due to our use of two factor authentication security to prevent the “bad guys” from being able to access our account even with that password (use of two factor authentication is highly recommended – please see a forthcoming article from our friends at NetDefend Consulting for more information).

Once set up, I was able to install my apps to the tablet fairly easily through the Google Play store. In fact, the ease with which I installed apps was greater than on the Apple iPad, if only because I could set the store to NOT require a password every time I purchased an app. This can become tiresome on iOS devices, so having the ability on Android to avoid extra step was pleasant.  As I did not share my tablet with others who enjoying purchasing apps with abandon, this was not a concern to me.  For those of you with children who share your devices, you may wish to keep the option active to require a password to purchase apps from the Google Play Store.

I kept the tablet with me as my primary tablet for over eight months, using it for everything from magazine use with the built-in My Magazine app (a variant of Flipboard), to standard emails and calendaring, to playing light games such as Solitare and Minecraft, to web browsing, and note taking, using Evernote, OneNote, and S-Note with the included stylus pen. Skype video chatting was also used from time to time.

My daily routine for this device looked something like this:

  • At 7am, I would remove the device from its charging cable and pack it away in my computer bag. The thin size was an advantage when fitting the device in the bag along with my main work computer.
  • Once at work, if I had a meeting, I would use the built-in note taking ability with the s-pen to take notes using either OneNote, S-Note, or Evernote. This was effective, but I often found myself wishing that these note taking apps on Android had the same ability as OneNote on Windows or the Livescribe pens to record handwriting that is synchronized with an audio recording so that I could click on my handwriting text to hear what was being said at the exact same time.
  • From time to time, I would perform light research on the tablet, saving articles to Pocket or OneNote to read later. I would use the built-in My Magazine app for some research, which utilizes the entire screen of the tablet quite fully. That said, to all intents and purposes, this app is merely a customized version of Flipboard and thus comes with the same functionality as that app. In combination with the highlighting and annotating capabilities of the s-pen stylus, this app finds itself well-suited to such research.

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  • As needed, I would load documents into the tablet for on the go reading of Word Docs, Excel spreadsheets, and Powerpoint PPTs. As with most tablets, the lack of a keyboard and mouse makes significant editing difficult, although light editing and annotations with the pen stylus works fairly seamlessly when paired with the Microsoft Office app.
  • At the end of the work day, I pack the tablet back into my bag and then head home.
    After reaching home and having dinner, I would sometimes use the tablet to check Facebook and Twitter, and write notes and bits of various articles for NetWise Life.
  • After getting into bed at 11pm, I would place the tablet on my nightstand and attach it to its microUSB charging port.

Battery Life

Battery life with this tablet was extensive, lasting around 8 hours under heavy use, where more medium-level use averaged around 10-11 hours of battery life. In all but the most intensive use throughout the day, I was able to use the device throughout the day without needing to top off again until bedtime.


 

Speed and Performance – What’s It Like Under The Hood?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, as the most advanced Note series tablet, remains one of the more powerful tablets currently available on the market: easily capable of running applications that run the gamut from demanding interactive games to professional line of business applications. For those readers who are interested in technical specifications, the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 uses a Quad-core 2.3 GHz CPU, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset, along with 3 GB of RAM. Effectively, this means that, for the next 2-3 years, those who prefer an Android / Samsung combination, will find the performance of this tablet, compared to other Android tablets, to be more than sufficient.

On the other hand, as with all Android devices, I found the differences in function placement between apps from different manufacturers to be somewhat jarring, increasing the difficulty with which I was able to become familiar with new apps. From time to time, I was impacted by performance issues, and stuttering of the UI. This occurred much more rarely on this tablet than it did on other KitKat devices (e.g. Samsung Galaxy phones), only becoming truly bothersome when multiple applications were open simultaneously using the multi-window multi-tasking available on this device. In addition to unpredictable performance, apps still adhere to a less stringent set of UI design standards than do iOS and Windows 8 (Metro) apps, meaning that while on Android it is often necessary to relearn each app without making assumptions as to where specific areas (such as settings) are located, on iOS and Windows 8 tablets, common types of functionality are conversely often located in common areas.

Performance quirks are common to many Android implementations and are mostly related to the underlying foundations of the Android OS itself; foundations that can cause any Android device to exhibit certain erratic performance tendencies. These issues may include erratic, temporary slowdowns, sporadic “jerkiness” in the user interface, and more. Thus, those people who are not familiar with these oddities of Android may find these performance hitches to be unexpected and jarring. This was corrected to a certain extent with the release of Android “L” (a.k.a. “Lollipop”), which uses a more modern, streamlined, and powerful engine, called “ART”, to run the Android OS and applications.  As such, while sporadic “jerkiness” will continue to occur on this tablet until Lollipop is released for this device, this performance stuttering should dissipate after the device is updated to Android 5.0 Lollipop.


Connectivity

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition supports the standard range of tablet connectivity, including USB 2, micro-SD card support, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, an Infrared Remote “blaster”, and 802.11n/ac. Now, what do all of those technical buzzwords mean to you?  Here’s a quick run-down:

  • USB 2: though the subsequent USB 3 is a much faster means of sending information, such as movies, TV shows, music, and more back and forth between your computer and this tablet, most tablet users have begun to operate their devices independently of computers. Ergo, relegating the USB port to the role of a mere charging connector, rather than a means to transfer large files.
  • Micro-SD support: for when the size of stored music, videos, and apps becomes so large that the phone cannot save any additional content, the user can use a small, removable storage chip to add up to 3 times the previous storage capacity present out of the box in the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014.

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  • NFC: a very short range, wireless communication standard capable of sending and receiving small amounts of information between either devices or devices and small tags that may be placed on other physical objects. By using this standard, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition enables convenience features, such as tapping the tablet on a small sticker (a.k.a. an NFC tag) to enable a certain configuration, such as docked at a desk. Or perhaps tapping the back of your phone to this device to enable the transfer of URLs browsed, etc.
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE: many people are familiar with the advantages of Bluetooth, such as connecting to in car stereos to allow for hands-free operation or working with an ear-based Bluetooth headset. However, in the case of the most recent version of Bluetooth, version 4.0 “Low Energy”, even more uses may be found. For example, devices with Bluetooth 4.0 LE may connect to fitness bands and smartwatches, such as the FitBit One, or smart tags (e.g. “Tile”) enabling people to locate lost items such as key rings.
  • 802.11ac: This wireless networking standard enables devices to communicate with the broader internet, or your computer at home much more rapidly than older, slower standards, such as 802.11b or 802.11g, or even the most previous speed champion, 802.11n. This can enable the much faster download of music, apps, and videos to your device from your computer, or just a more stable connection, thus somewhat compensating for the lack of USB 3 connectivity.

 

New Features

There are several new features that Samsung added in to this generation of their Galaxy Note series of tablets. With apologies to my less technically inclined readers for the detailed specs located hereafter, these include:

  • Significant processor upgrade, going from a quad core 1.4Ghz Cortex A-9 processor to a 2.3 Ghz quad core Krait processor.  Technical terms aside, the performance of this phone is approximately 35% faster depending on the task at hand, when compared to the most previous Note series tablet.
  • The screen has a higher pixel density and resolution, increasing resolution to 2560×1600 with a ppi of around 300.  This produces text and pictures that are more clear and crisp.  That said, this ppi (pixel density) is still somewhat lower than the most high end Note 4 phones from Samsung. Covered in the newer, and stronger Gorilla Glass 3, the screen of the Note 10.1 2014 Edition is  resistant to scratches and impacts.  That said, we still do recommend a resilient screen protector, such as those by BodyGuardz or Tech21 and/or the Book Cover to protect the valuable screen from damage.
  • While the 8MP rear facing camera and 2MP front facing camera have improved resolution compared to the most previous generation of the Note 10.1, the significantly lower quality of the camera and larger size of the tablet as compared to most modern smartphones makes it unlikely that users will attempt to use this device for photo snapshots or selfies. The ideal purpose would be scanning documents and vertical applications (e.g. in home estimates) for the rear facing camera and video chatting for the front-facing camera.
  • Streamlined and improved S-Pen experience, with improved charts and graphs generation in s-Note, as well as action memos, and scrapbooks

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Other Major Features

Samsung has always been well known as a device manufacturer that adds a lot of additional hardware and software functions into their devices to make themselves stand out amongst strenuous competition in the Android device market. The Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition is no exception to this rule. In addition to its new features mentioned previously, the Note 10.1 comes with a number of software and hardware features that are common to all of Samsung’s Galaxy series of tablets. Here are a few of those capabilities:

  • SmartStay and other Software UI Features: Over the past few years, Samsung has continued to refine their TouchWiz proprietary layer that sits on top of Android – a layer that not only changes the look and feel of the interface of their devices, but also provides a number of additional features. Included in these features are items such as these:
    • SmartStay, which detects the user glancing at the screen and keeps the device from timing out while the user is actively looking at the device’s screen.
    • SmartSwipe: which allows the user to perform a screen capture by swiping their hand above the screen from one side to the other.
    • Others: Smart pause, scrolling, rotation, etc.

Please note that there are a number of other additional features that TouchWiz provides, features that are too numerous to list in this article.


 

Summary:

  • Sometimes Erratic Performance (Android OS 4.4): When under a heavy load of apps (e.g. multi-tasking), the device would exhibit sporadic stutters and “jerkiness” in the UI, giving a less than professional appearance.
  • High Comparative Cost: More expensive than other, equivalently powered Android tablets of the same generation.
  • Chaotic UI standards (Android OS 4.x and before): Android app developers do not regularly adhere to a common set of UI guidelines. This can cause confusion and difficulty for users learning new apps.
  • Slow and Sporadic Updates:  The haphazard and convoluted path by which Android updates are promulgated to users results in higher security risks and delays in obtaining new features.learning new apps.

The following are a selection of pros and cons associated with this device. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to provide a sampling of the more significant strengths and weaknesses of this specific tablet.

Pros

S-Pen

The ability to use a pen to interface with a tablet is even more of an advantage than with phones, for the larger screen is more conducive to both reading and note-taking, as well as handwriting recognition.

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Customizability

This advantage is held in common among all Android tablets, allowing Android users to adjust many more settings of the device than users of other platforms, including Windows 8, iOS, or Blackberry. Key for developers of Android apps and technology hobbyists, this customizability extends to enabling, with varying levels of difficulty, the user to “root” his device and obtain extremely low level access to the tablet’s internals. Finally, this level of customization even allows for users, again with varying levels of difficulty, replace the stock Android OS on the tablet with highly customized OS versions, known as ROMs, providing the ultimate in tablet “hot rod” modifications.

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Android Revolution HD:  One of many custom ROMs available for most any Android tablet.

Credit:  XDA Developers – Android Revolution HD ROM

Cons

High Cost Compared to Other Android Vendors

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition is more expensive than other, comparable flagship tablets from vendors such as HP, Asus, and others. As such, unless a person is specifically attracted to the Samsung ecosystem of services and apps, as well as the few unique UI (e.g. smart stay) and S-pen features, the differential may be hard to justify.

Chaotic UI Standards

Android app developers do not regularly adhere to a common set of UI guidelines. This means that color schemes, icon appearances, and placement of similar functions differs from developer to developer, and even from vendor to vendor or model to model of the same vendor’s devices. This was somewhat addressed with the newer UI design standards called, “Material Design”, present in Android “L”, lollipop.  Unfortunately, not only is Android Lollipop not yet officially available on this tablet, this improvement is highly dependent upon app vendors creating revamped Lollipop compatible versions of their apps, with more consistent functionality placement.

Slow, restricted, and convoluted access to updates

Much has been written about the difficulty of updating Android devices in past.

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Android updates proceed through a convoluted and slow update process to proceed from Google to the end-user. (c) 2015, NetWise Life

In summary, when looking at the process of how patches and updates for Android are distributed, we come to realize that the convoluted path by which Android updates must travel (how they promulgate ) causes systemic issues for Android users: getting updates is a slow, and never guaranteed process. The only positive is that this process is somewhat streamlined for tablets, as those devices are not carrier-branded and are thus updates for those devices are not controlled by the carrier. Unfortunately, this has not helped the timeliness of updates for the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition tablet. In fact, Lollipop has been available for months for many various smartphones (as of Fall 2015) and has yet to make it to this device.


 

Target Market

While some may see this as an oversimplification, most users of Android would agree that Android devices in general tend to appeal to two separate, and somewhat contradictory markets: cost-conscious device buyers who desire to use a large number of apps, video, and music features, and more technically savvy, but less price sensitive, programmers and hobbyists who desire the most powerful devices that give those users the ability to customize and tweak their tablets and phones to fit their unique needs. We will cover this overall in more detail in our forthcoming mobile OS platform comparison, however, in summary Android tends to appeal to two ends of the spectrum.

After digesting this information, it becomes apparent that the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition is primarily targeted to a specific market of users; users identifiable through specific characteristics.  As such, if a prospective user of this device matches two or more of the following characteristics, this device may be a good fit:

  • Is a technology hobbyist or programmer desiring access to the deep internals of the device to perform significant levels of customization.
  • Is tied to the Google ecosystem of services and apps, such as Gmail, Google Now, and Google Voice.
  • Is tied to a significant portion of the Samsung ecosystem, especially purchased apps through the Samsung app store.
  • Users who are consistently using pen and paper to write may find advantages to using the handwriting capabilities of this tablet to take notes for classes, meetings, and reminders.
  • Is not particularly price sensitive.

Sub-Optimal Market

Just as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition is targeted to users with a specific lifestyle, so to is there a category of users for whom this device is not the most appropriate.

Thus, users who match two or more of the following characteristics may find this device to be a less than perfect fit for their lifestyles:

  • Users who desire a streamlined, consistent user experience more than access to deep levels of customization. These are users who value stability and simplicity, even at the cost of eliminating less commonly used settings and features.
  • Users who are price conscious may find another, cheaper Android tablet to match their needs.
  • Users who either work in security-focused organizations, or who are concerned about the timeliness of security patches that must make their way through the multiple layers of the Android OS update process.

 

Sweet Spot

Given all of this information, we can come to a broad conclusion about the lifestyle and type of user for whom this device would be a good fit.  This particular device, due to its substantial price premium, significant processing power, and raft of premium features, tends to appeal to those technology hobbyists or developers who desire a powerful, premium experience at a premium price.  In addition, users who are significantly embedded in the Samsung or Google ecosystem of services would find this device to be highly appealing. Finally, anyone who desires a handwriting experience with a pen, and who would not consider Microsoft’s Windows-based Surface line of devices, may find this device singularly appealing.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading this review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition.  For a quick video analysis of this device, please take a look at our Mentor Minute, just posted for this phone.  Please subscribe to our YouTube feed as well.  In addition, if you are interested, we will be selling this device through Amazon in the next few weeks.  For a link to this auction, please see the link that will be posted at the top of this article.

Thank you again, and have a Wise Day!

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