The tablet-computer market is almost an one sided affair. A huge chunk is dominated by Apple, while many players compete among themselves and with Apple.
Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 10.1 scores a small victory of sorts. It’s a tablet that does something that the iPad doesn’t do, and it does it well.
The $499 tablet comes with a pen, or more precisely, a stylus. It doesn’t leave marks on paper, but the tablet screen responds to it. It’s precise and responsive, and it glides easily across the screen.
There are styluses available for the iPad, but they’re not very good. The iPad’s screen can’t sense sharp objects, so any stylus has to be fairly blunt. Many of them have rubber tips, which resist being dragged across the screen. The Galaxy Note has an additional layer in its screen, tuned to sense special, sharp-pointed pens through magnetism.
So what can you do with the pen? You can jot down notes, or edit photos in an included version of Photoshop. You can scrawl personal notes to people and email them. Instead of using the on-screen keyboard, you can use handwriting and let the tablet interpret it. You can even enter Web addresses this way. Handwriting is slower than typing, and the tablet’s interpretation introduces errors, so it’s not clear why you’d use it much, though.
The stylus senses how hard you press into the screen. Samsung’s S Note app responds by making the line you make thinner or thicker, an essential feature for anyone who wants to use a tablet for serious drawing. The pen also comes with a side button that works much like the left mouse button, giving access to extra features with little effort. Very few third-party apps are designed with styluses in mind, but some of them work better with a stylus anyway.
The Galaxy Note does chip at the iPad’s defences with other features the Apple tablet lacks. One is a slot for microSD memory cards, which means you can expand the memory of the Galaxy Note inexpensively. That’s very welcome.
The other feature is an infrared light, which can be used in place of a remote at the home entertainment centre. This is a feature Sony pioneered in its Android tablets.
Compared with other tablets that run Google’s Android software, you’re not giving much up by getting a Galaxy Note. Samsung’s quoted battery life of nine hours is somewhat shorter than equivalent models, possibly because of the pen-sensing layer or the new processor.
The Note runs on Ice Cream Sandwich, the next-to-latest version of Android, and can be upgraded to Jelly Bean, the latest. It has a fast processor and a big screen. At $499, it costs $100 more than the pen-less Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, which has the same size screen but a slower processor.