With the Galaxy Note 10.1, Samsung has introduced two capabilities that make tablets easier and more convenient to use: a built-in stylus and apps designed for it, so you can point, click, draw, and write, often more accurately than with a fingertip, and a windowing capability that lets you run two apps side by side. It's an innovative design. We found it succeeded in some ways, but fell short in others
For note-taking, Samsung includes its own app, S Note. For photo editing, it includes Adobe Photoshop Touch. Both have potential, but I found each challenging to use for a different reason. The Galaxy Note 10.1 uses Android 4.0 right now, but Samsung says it will be upgradeable to Jelly Bean, or 4.1, later this year.
Using S-Note. Some of my colleagues and I tried out the press sample from Samsung. When you open a new document, you can choose from a group of general-purpose templates, including memo, note, diary, and travel, as well as options for business, education, and ideas. Note and Memo are the most versatile, since they are basically empty pages into which you can write, cut-and-paste, or place content such as photos.
You can input text in three ways: by typing using the on-screen keyboard; by writing with the stylus; or by having the handwriting recognition convert your writing to text. I found writing with the stylus straightforward. But one of my colleagues, whose hands are larger, had trouble avoiding inadvertently pressing a button on the stylus that disabled the ability to write.
The handwriting recognition's success varied with the user. Sometimes when I wrote, the program began the process of handwriting recognition mid-sentence, which stopped me from writing. And it didn't necessarily pick up where I'd left off, instead saving the converted text in individual boxes rather than in one straight line across the page.
The stylus is pressure-sensitive, drawing a thicker line when you press harder and a thin one when you press more lightly. However, I found it difficult to press lightly enough to get a really thin line. The stylus also has a feature that can be helpful on a Web page with many links in small print. It highlights each link it hovers over, so instead of struggling to position your finger on a tiny link, you can more easily select it using the stylus.
Using PhotoShop Touch. I found this app quite robust, with many of the editing tools you'd get with the computer version of Photoshop Elements. But be prepared for a long learning curve. If Adobe and Samsung had created fly-outs to help identify the variety of on-screen tools, that would have been be a good way to take advantage of the stylus's hovering capability. Once you figure out how to use the app, it's a great way to edit photos. The stylus lets you do so with greater precision than with a finger.
Multiscreen in action. (Photo: Consumer Reports)
Multitasking. Here the Note distinguishes itself from other tablets. From certain apps, you can have two active windows open, similar to what you'd do on a computer, simply by clicking on an icon labeled Multiscreen. For example, you can watch a video in one window while browsing the Web in another; or open an e-mail in one window and a Polaris Office document in another. Multiscreen is available only with certain pairs of apps, including the browser, e-mail, S Note, and Polaris Office.
Bottom line. The Galaxy Note 10.1 is very innovative and fun to use, but because some of its most useful apps aren't very intuitive, expect to spend a good amount of time getting up to speed. I found this unfortunate, because tablets are supposed to be easy devices to pick up and use.
The Note does present many new ways to use a tablet, but expect more to come as tablets incorporate computer-like functionality such as multitasking and the finer, more detail-oriented capabilities that you can achieve with a stylus.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 will be available starting August 16, at $500 for a 16GB model and $550 for a 32GB version.
We'll be testing the Samsung Galaxy Note more fully in our lab. If a more conventional tablet appeals to you, check our Ratings to see how they stack up.