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Tablets come and go, like the tide. And like the tide, some tablets are just flotsam on the ocean of tech, while others are buried treasures that need polishing to bring out their inner beauty. Some are pearls that started out as sand and made their way up the chain to become works of art, while others should probably be tossed back into the briny depths whence they came.
One keeper that you won't want to toss back is the Samsung 32GB Galaxy NotePRO 12.2” Tablet, a great alternative to the iPad Air while still retaining its Android roots. Samsung has assembled a good contender for tablet supremacy.
My first impression when starting up the Galaxy NotePRO was the smooth and seamless graphics. A watery ripple effect greeted me against a spectacular nighttime cityscape—one of the standard wallpapers on the tablet. The crystal-clear 12.2” TFT LCD screen showcases all of its 2560 x 1600 native resolution in brilliant contrast. That’s 4 million pixels on display for you, bringing every movie, photo, and web image into sharp and unmistakable focus. I kept turning to anyone in the room and asking, “Do you see this? Is this sharp or what?”
The screen is large—one of the largest on a consumer tablet—but is by no means unwieldy. I played and worked on this unit comfortably for hours without hand cramping or awkward positioning. The old tablet tricks such as putting a pillow on your lap, using a generic stand for the screen, etc., work on this tablet as well.
The Galaxy NotePRO features a 10-point capacitive display, meaning that all the 10-point mutli-touch gestures made popular on tablets work here. Pinching, swiping, zooming are all easily performed without any slowdown or glitches. The screen is responsive, although I did notice some weird stuttering when opening apps from the top part of the screen, but nothing that impeded my enjoyment of the tablet. The screen’s glossy surface is like a magnet for fingerprints, which annoys some. Getting a screen protector always helps, although there are those tablet enthusiasts like me who believe that a screen protector interferes with the sensitivity of the multi-touch aspect of a tablet. Purist, yes. Crazy, maybe.
Moving on from the near-flawless screen, the next concern I always have is video playback. I watched a number of movies on this tablet, including Netflix rentals and downloaded videos, and without a doubt, the Galaxy NotePRO handles video very well. It plays back and records video in Full HD 1080p with no playback problems, slowdown, flickering or lapses in motion—all great elements to have when viewing video on a tablet. Viewed on the ample 12.2” screen? Even better.
The processing that it takes to deliver the video is achieved through the proprietary Samsung Exynos Octa chipset. Samsung’s claim that it is the first mobile eight-core chipset is disingenuous—not all cores take on an equal load—but it is effective. The CPU uses dual processors; a quad-core A15 variant running at 1.9GHz and a quad-core A7 running at 1.3GHz, and what they achieve is a powerful and effective engine on which to run your games, productivity apps, music, and videos. This power also allows Samsung to provide a true multi-window experience. You can open up and work in up to four windows at once, which I would normally caution against on a standard Android tablet. But the execution of this feat is something to behold. I could not believe that I could run YouTube and work a word processing document while having my calendar and photo album open. This is what multi-tasking is all about, and the Galaxy NotePRO handles it with seamless ease. Although you may find that some apps seem to hang when loading, I think this has more to do with the KitKat operating system than the processing power.
And speaking of working productively, the virtual keyboard that Samsung provides on screen is a full-size QWERTY keyboard that mimics a real keyboard in almost every aspect. Unfortunately, the responsiveness of any virtual keyboard will never match that of a tactile keyboard, so the experience will differ from user to user. My fingers fly when I type (although I misspell one out of every three words), and the responsiveness of keys that click makes a big difference to me. Fortunately, there are so many tactile Bluetooth keyboards at market now that finding the right one for you is not a chore. But even with that caveat, you should know that the virtual keyboard on this Samsung tablet does provide a better-than-average quasi-tactile experience, with a sound and vibration accompanying each keystroke. I only mention it because you should try it out before you decide on buying a Bluetooth keyboard.
“Before you consider springing for a full-fledged, name-brand software suite, I should mention that this Samsung tablet comes equipped with a fairly robust word processor, worksheet, and presentation package that rivals its more famous counterparts. Developed by Hancom, a South Korean software developer, the Hancom Suite is optimized for use on Android-based operating systems, and does a great job of providing you with a productivity suite of programs that will satisfy your needs. The word document program has all the abilities and functions of other Windows 8-based word processors, and the accounting worksheet program does a good job of mimicking Excel. The presentation program looks and feels like PowerPoint, with a few minor inconsistencies, but the basics are there in all three applications. A word of caution: invest in that keyboard. The virtual keyboard, without a mouse, is cumbersome, especially when you need to place graphics or move from command to command in the HCell software.”
The next important factors to consider when looking for a tablet are storage and memory. The Samsung Galaxy NotePRO provides 3GB of onboard RAM (not user serviceable) which is a nice bump up from the standard 2GB packet on every other tablet. The NotePRO comes with 32GB of internal storage, but thankfully, Samsung includes a microSD card reader capable of up to 64GB of extra memory. Sandisk just released a new 128GB microSD card that I am pining over, which would effectively quadruple the onboard flash drive. I will get back to you with the results soon.
With those features down, you have to look next at the tablet’s style and design. Samsung again comes up smelling like roses. They’ve managed to compact a powerful processor and 64GB of flash storage into a sleek and beautiful thin form factor. It’s only 0.3” thick, about the same as the iPad Air, and weighs about 1.5 pounds. The feel of the unit is sturdy—a faux leather backing definitely takes the icky feel of low-grade plastic from other tablet makers out of the equation. The button placement on the bottom center of the front of the tablet is ideal, and will minimize the accidental switching off of power (as some tablets do). The power button and volume rockers could have used a little distance, but remain far enough behind the front panel to stay inconspicuous.
After memory, storage, processor, and style, the rest is icing on the cake, but Samsung puts something extra into their icing. Their network connectivity includes 802.11 a/b/g/n and ac, with an HT80 MiMO antenna configuration for better range and connectivity. It includes Bluetooth 4.0 + LE, an IR blaster, and GPS with GLONASS (the Russian satellite tracking system used worldwide).
And there you have a complete, gorgeous, powerful tablet.
Oh, and then there’s the apps and interface.
Samsung loaded the tablet with useful, somewhat useful, and totally bloatware-filled apps. The useful apps are ones you’ve already come to know and love, but are optimized for the Galaxy NotePRO. These include the Google suite of apps (Chrome, Gmail, Google Play), FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube, to name a few (for a full list of the apps, check out the specifications page attached at the end of this article). The somewhat useful apps include Samsung’s S suite (Hub, Note, Voice, etc), and WebEx, which allows you to use the tablet in a conferencing mode. The bloatware is really a series of apps that you wouldn’t normally use unless you are after something specific; Scrapbook and WatchON come to mind.
But where Samsung pulls ahead of other tablets is the integrated S-Pen functionality. The S Pen is Samsung’s proprietary stylus, and it is used for a number of functions on the NotePRO. It has a small button set into the side of the pen that you use as a quasi-mouse button. Hold the stylus above the tablet and click, and you bring up a semi-circle menu called Air Command that allows you to perform different functions, like posting Action Memos (sticky notes for your working space), Scrapbooker, which lets you save all the detritus of your Internet searches (images, articles, notes) and lets you save and retrieve them for later, and S Note. S Note is the app that gives the Note an added dimension of productivity, especially for students. With S Note, you can take handwritten notes and have them converted to digital text. You can also mark up images, documents, and pictures from other sources and annotate them for your needs. There’s also a cool Sketchbook app that lets you get your creative on by allowing you to sketch, color, and paint using a variety of brush styles and canvas types. Again, if you have a student in the house who needs a great all-in-one tablet, the Note is a tablet of note.
As for the interface, the tablet uses the latest Android operating system, KitKat. The responsiveness of this operating system, coupled with the powerful processor, makes Internet surfing a breeze. Apps open smoothly, run without error, and transition easily. There were no unexpected shutdowns, system restores, or glitches with which other lower-cost tablets are rife.
The Galaxy NotePRO does veer away from other Android tablets in one minor respect. Instead of using the traditional Android desktop to launch their wares, and mimicking the tile interface of Windows 8, Samsung opts for what it calls the Magazine UX. Think of it as Flipboard for your desktop; you can flip tiles to find your content easily, depending on how you organize it. The only problem I had with the UX was just that—I am highly unorganized, so my Magazine UX was all over the place. I still found my apps (although there is a learning curve and it does not happen as organically as it does with Windows 8) but I was slightly disappointed at how customization of this feature required jumping through some hoops. I found it better looking and more organized than Android but less organic than Windows 8.1. As for Apple’s iPad interface, that still reigns as the most intuitive interface for a tablet. Apple and Windows fans, please feel free to discuss.
All in all, my week with the Samsung Galaxy NotePRO disproved the old adage that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Samsung goes all out against the big guns of the Apple iPad Air and comes away with a thin, light, powerful tablet that will appeal to high-end tablet aficionados.
|Operating System||Android 4.4 KitKat|
|Processor||1.9GHz ARM A15
1.3GHz ARM A71.9GHz ARM A15
|Storage||Embedded MMC 64GB|
|Native Resolution||2560 x 1600|
|Ports||1x USB 3.0 - Micro|
|Audio||1x 1/8" (3.5 mm) Headphone
1x Integrated Stereo Speakers
1x Integrated Microphone
|Flash Media Slot||1x microSD
|Wi-Fi||802.11a/b/g/n/ac HT80 MIMO Wi-Fi|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 4.0 + LE|
|GPS||GPS + GLONASS|
|Camera||Front: 2.0 MP
Back: 8.0 MP
|Battery||Built-In Lithium-Polymer (9500.0mAh)|
|Dimensions (WxHxD)||11.6 x 8.0 x 0.3" / 295.5 x 203.9 x 8.0mm|
|Weight||1.58 lb / 717 g Approximately|
|NYTimes for Android, Bloomberg Businessweek+, Livesport, Oxford Advanced Learner's A-Z, LinkedIn, Blurb, Hancom Office for Android PC, Cisco WebEx Meetings, Remote PC App, EasilyDo Pro for Tablet, Evernote, Dropbox, Bitcasa and Sketchbook for Galaxy. Please see the manufacturer's website for details.|
|Pre-loaded: Businessweek+, Calculator, Camera, Chrome Browser, Clock, Contact, Dropbox, Email, E-Meeting, Evernote, Flipboard, Gallery, Gmail, Google, Google+, Hancell, Hangout, Hanshow, Hanwrite, Internet, Maps, Music, My Files, New York Times, Play Books, Play Magazines, Play Movies and TV, Play Music, Play Store, S Finder, S Note, S Planner, S Translator, Samsung Apps, S-Voice, Twitter, Video, Voice Search, WatchON, WebEx, Meetings, YouTube|
|Stub: Group Play, S Translator, Samsung Link, Story Album, Video, Editor, Knox, Sketchbook Pro, Side Sync|
|Download Apps for Galaxy: ChatON, TripAdvisor, Scrapbook|
|Audio Codecs: MP3, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, WMA, AMR-NB/WB, FLAC, Vorbis(OGG), WAV|
|Audio Formats: MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, MID|
|Video Codecs: MPEG4, H.264, H.263, VC-1, VP8, WMV7/8, Sorenson Spark, MP43|
|Full HD (1080p) Recording & Playback: Playback at 60 fps|
|Formats: GIF, AGIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP, WBMP, WEBP|
|Word Formats: .doc, .docx, .txt, .hwp, .rtf|
|Excel Formats: .xls, .xlsx, .csv|
|PowerPoint Formats: .ppt, .pptx, .pps|
|PDF Format: .pdf|
|Email (POP3, IMAP, SMTP, SSL, TLS)|
|Exchange ActiveSync Email|