By Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY
The Galaxy Note smartphone that Samsung unleashed early this year raised a few eyebrows. With a relatively gargantuan 5.3-inch display, here was a device that was a cross between a smartphone and a tablet, a "phablet" as it came to be known. Though most people didn't quite know what to make of it, Samsung sold 10 million units, smashing expectations.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet that went on sale Wednesday at the Union Square Best Buy store in New York City, to be followed by numerous retailers on Thursday, is conventional by comparison. There's no mistaking what it is - we're talking tablet all the way. And with a 10.1-inch display - thus the name - the screen is more or less in line with the iPad, with Samsung's own 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab 2 slate and with other larger-display tablets on the market.
A $499 16 GB version comes in dark gray or white (the device I got my hands on a day in advance of Samsung's announcement). The step-up 32 GB model (gray only) fetches $549. The devices sold in the U.S. are Wi-Fi only for now. Samsung is expected to bring out a 4G LTE cellular model later in the year. You can bolster storage through a microSD slot.
The new 1.3-pound Note boasts some beefy specs, notably a 1.4GHz Quad Core processor and 2 GB of internal memory. It's also got a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and 1.9-megapixel front-look camera. The (1280 x 800) screen is good looking, and capable of delivering full high definition playback. You can also record in high definition.
Samsung says the tablet can produce about 9 hours of battery life but I haven't had it long enough to put that claim to the test. To help preserve juice, the Note 10.1 borrows the Smart Stay feature found on the Galaxy S III smartphone. That is, the screen will dim accordingly after a specified time interval. But by using the front camera to detect that you're still eyeballing the screen, the tablet will remain awake.
In producing its latest tablet, Samsung brings over a few goodies from the Galaxy Note phablet. The most important of these is the so-called S Pen, which Samsung is loathe to call a stylus because it isn't just a dumb pointer such as the pens that came with PDAs and early smartphones.
After pulling it out of its holder, you can use the S Pen, which I found very responsive, to draw perfect shapes (that is, your attempt at a perfect shape is converted into one), jot handwritten notes, take a screen shot, cut, copy and paste, and drag and drop content from one open window to another.
Indeed, the new multiscreen feature may be the most impressive new feature on the device. At the tap of a button, you can display two apps on the screen side by side or by changing the orientation of the screen, one on top of the other. So you can run the video player app while simultaneously browsing the Web, with no speed penalty for either app. I couldn't play a video on both screens at once (not that you'd necessarily want to). So when I started a video in the video player app on the left side of the screen, the video that had been playing on the USA TODAY website on the right side of the screen paused. Of course, you can always switch back and forth between the two apps, just by tapping the screen.
For now only a half-dozen apps can exploit the multiscreen feature: Email, Browser, Video Player, S Note, Gallery, and the supplied Polaris Office app which you can use to create and edit Microsoft Word documents, PowerPoint slides, and Excel spreadsheet. Samsung plans to open up the multiscreen feature for more apps.
Samsung has preloaded Adobe Photoshop Touch-you can use the S Pen to doctor photos. I also used the pen inside the Kno.com Textbooks app.
You can tap an S Suggest icon to find other apps you can download for free or purchase that can take advantage of the pen. But there are only 17 S Pen apps shown in the store, including apps such as Evernote, Skitch, and one that football fans will appreciate called Galaxy Note Coach's Playbook. It lets you draw up plays with the requisite Xs and Os, just like a big time football coach.
Dropbox, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and Netflix were among the other apps preloaded on my test device, along with Samsung's own Media Hub, Games Hub and Music Hub apps to keep you entertained. But Android still lacks nearly the number of tablet-optimized apps that have been produced in iOS for the rival iPad.
I'm not a huge fan of the Android interface for tablets either - this one runs the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android's mobile operating system software and will be upgradeable, Samsung says, to the next version, Jellybean.
That said, my first impression is very positive. Samsung has produced an attractive tablet that should be especially appealing for students or business people that can take advantage of a pen.