Why the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1's stylus works (hands on, video)
BARCELONA, Spain--Forget about a smartphone you have to force to be a tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is a tablet in its own right, and in my opinion, the appropriate size for a device that makes use of a stylus for additional creative composition.
Let's back it up for a moment with a look at the Galaxy Note family tree. The first Note, which CNET first spotted back in September and has since intensely reviewed, comes with a 5.3-inch screen and a skinny, 4-inch tall pressure-sensitive stylus you can use to doodle or take notes.
The benefit of the phone's size is a point of debate, and even though I generally like the idea of giving people an option to use the S-Pen stylus in addition to their greasy fingertips, writing with it has its problems.
Now that I've seen the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, I can say with even more assurance that this is the better device for all those S-Pen ambitions. Think of it as a Galaxy Tab 10.1 that also lets you write and draw all over it.
Thanks to the 10.1-inch display, it has the screen real estate for scrawling notes, entertaining kids, and creating some real pieces of art if you're so inclined. Samsung thinks so too. It saved the thicker, sturdier, more sensitive, and more comfortable pen for the larger form factor, and gave it an "eraser" tip (actually plastic) that's intuitive to use.
It also chose the larger tablet to unveil improved S-Pen apps that give you room to run, like Adobe's sketch book and Photoshop apps, the latter of which supports layers for more sophisticated drawing. Even though I'm plenty familiar with the S-Pen on the original Galaxy Note, there were enough differences in the app layout to test the brain cells. On the flip side, three cheers for more templates in the sketch pad!
It also stands to reason that the Note 10.1 offers a more cohesive experience with the stylus than its smaller sibling, since Samsung licenses the digital pen-and-pad technology from Wacom, a dominant manufacturer of similar devices used by many graphic artists, including some employed by CNET.
The rest of the specs are rather nice--like Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich as the OS, a 1.4GHz dual-core Samsung Exynos processor, a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera, and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera.
The device looks and feels familiar, especially if you've already got an affinity for the larger tablet screen. It is too bad that there's no built-in S-Pen holder, though. I'd be afraid of losing it if I didn't have a separate case.
As always, pricing and availability will be key. The stylus is still a niche feature and one that could easily fail to attract uncertain buyers. If shoppers feel Samsung is charging too much for a feature, they may not be convinced they want in the first place, the Note 10.1 could go largely unnoticed while tablet seekers gravitate for the more affordable Galaxy Tab 2, in either 10.1- or 7-inch versions.
It doesn't help that Samsung admitted it's struggling to sell tablets.