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Thoughts on the Note 2014 Edition
Let me be clear about something right up front…I’m not a Samsung guy. I’ve owned lots of Samsung devices, including every flagship Galaxy S (discluding the 3…because it was garbage by comparison) – but I wouldn’t exactly call someone like me a cheerleader for Samsung. Their software overlay (Touchwiz) is a mess, they routinely include features nobody asks for (or use), they’re terrified of any build materials not based on petroleum, in the past they’ve sucked monkey scrotum on software releases and so help me god the next time I see one of their ads on TV I’m going to punch a baby (not my baby…I’m thinking a baby at random).
You see, I flip flop a lot. My job affords me mobile phones at the drop of a hat – don’t be jealous, I’m both happy and sad that I go through so many – and average 10k texts and about 9gb of data a month (on average) – I don’t tell you that to brag – it’s rather unfortunate, but my devices just don’t seem to last. In the last year, for example, between my wife and I – we’ve been through an EVO LTE, Galaxy S4, two Nexus 5’s, a Sony **** box (sorry Sony…I’ll try you again after you stop building that garbage into your panels that acts like a sheet of visqueen every time I want to touch it). On the tablet front; we’ve had a Nexus 7 (12), Nexus 10, two Nexus 7’s (13), a Kindle Fire (kids) and now my new toy – the Galaxy Note 2014. We’re rough on electronics, sure, but not so much that we should have gone through thousands of dollars in devices over the last 12 months (which we have). I found myself suddenly needing a new tablet (my 2013 N7 got turned into a kid device for a recent trip to Disney – and there was just no going back). I decided that rather to replace it, I’d go somewhere I thought about for a long time “What if I could replace all my stupid notebooks and meeting journals with one device that would allow me to take notes and keep them all “immediately” in “the cloud.” Sounds appealing right? I mean, for anyone who hasn’t tried it on a tablet that didn’t support handwritten notes.
Those people…the people who have tried, are still rolling their eyes and trying to forget the vile malfeasance done to them under the guise of “just take notes on your tablet…it’ll be fine.” To date, and I mean anything prior to the Galaxy Note series…there just hasn’t been a good way to accomplish my goal. Writing with snub-nosed styli wasn’t practical in so much as it was infuriatingly similar to trying to write legal lined size text with a giant piece of chalk and the blackboard was covered with Vaseline. Even more infuriating was just how good the original Galaxy Note (fresh with wacom digitizer and real stylus support) worked – but just wasn’t the right form factor for me. Let me stop you there before the inevitable “but…but…the “phablet” (and yes I do hate you a little more for using the dumbass euphemism) – is almost like a tablet…why couldn’t you just use the phone?” Two reasons:
1) I’ve never felt the need to carry around a small TV I’ve been expected to hold up to my face to tell my dear old mom how to program her VCR, the fact that she’s using a VCR still is antiquated enough…much less having to hold up a small satellite dish to my noggin’ to explain it.
2) And I mean this…I really the form factor, touchwiz…pretty much everything about the original note. But wait! There was hope yet – the 2012 Galaxy Note 10.1! So I popped off to my local BestBuy to try one of the original Note tablets out – the problem was…at the time, I was using a Nexus 10, so the idea of stepping backwards into a blurrier, badly color calibrated world filled with ICS Touchwiz was just unappealing – despite me wanting to like it (and I really really did).
Flash forward to 4th Q of 2013 – and all my thoughts, hopes and prayers have been answered – a relatively high end device that supports handwritten notes and gestures. Was it all that it was cracked up to be? Yes and No….
I’m not sure what tree everyone is always talking about when posing a dangerously contrary opinion to the “en masse” audience – the whole concept of being contrary for the sake of contrariness is tres gauche to me – so let me find that limb and walk out on it. The Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition (which is one of the stupidest names imaginable) is actually a very well designed and even better built piece of kit. I can go into hardware specs, but luckily there’s the internet so you can go look up that **** yourself. I will note a couple of things from my perspective as standouts:
Absolutely fantastic! Despite it being made of plastic, no creak, no give, no gap – no gnawing little annoyances like light bleed – they even put the headphone jack in the right spot this time around.
Blah…it’s still plastic. I’m not sure what Samsung has against metals, but this is yet another device where I want the chrome band to be metal (glares at the GS4 on his desk) and not an absurdly articulated and illustrated piece of plastic mocked up to be so metal like (in appearance) that one has to touch it to be completely and totally disappointed. That said, I’m thrilled to death the headphone jack no occupies the left hand side (top) of the tablet and the USB charging port is squarely at the bottom.
Okay – I’m not going to win or lose any friends here – if you like, don’t mind, can stand, etc – Samsung’s design language – then you’ll appreciate the subtleties of this tablet. The three button system is stupid – but at least they’re close enough together that it doesn’t take a picnic and a day trip to get your finger from one to the other. The SPen folds cleanly against the side, but is never hard to procure from the devices – it, in and of itself, is a wonderful piece of design and build quality (little thin for my fat old fingers but that’s an issue between me and Denny’s – not the stylus!) Oh, and it’s got the leather back…the texture is nice, the stitches are stupid…there…I said it.
Lovely bit of SuperLCD goodness with a really nice resolution (2500*1600) and get this…is actually color calibrated correctly. This is a monumental first for Samsung – it’s not washed out (a la Nexus 10) and it’s not so oversatured that you might mistake the screen for the vomit of an infant goat who’d gotten into the neon green spray paint and anti-freeze. Seriously, a beautiful panel.
What’s not to like, an octa-core Exynos (wifi version) with 3gb of really fast memory, wacom digitizer, microsd card slot…it’s a Galaxy Note 3. Oh wait, that’s right…I do have a gripe, it’s missing the USB3 connector found on the Note 3 – an ostensibly stupid miss considering the phone and the tablet are the exact same bloody thing. While I’ve read reports that data transfers are limited to USB2 on the Note3 – I sure would have like to have had that charging time bump from the newer standard.
The version I picked up (wifi16gb) is running Android 4.3.something with the old Touchwiz running over top, so let’s start there:
It’s ******* Touchwiz, you’re either going to hate it or really dislike it – one of the two. Whilst I wax gripe, I will say that while Touchwiz is a 9-headed monster routinely drooling while chasing after my 3gb ram ravenously (more on that in a sec) – there are some things that TW gets right that no other skin has (and even does better than stock Android):
- The email client for example is leaps and bounds better than the stock Android exchange client – the fact that latter still can’t produce HTML signatures is absurd. Similarly, the TW calendar is far more function than the stock Android calendar.
- Creating ******* folders in the App Drawer – Holy goat testicles, why on earth can’t we just do this in native Android?
- And while the Samsung setting’s menu is absurdly complex and is tabbed now (for some reason); the overwhelming amount of options for its own copious applications is staggering. “Would you like S-Voice on/off, would you like it bound to the home key, no…how about long pressing the menu key, etc etc.” You may feel a certain way about Touchwiz, I certainly do, but you can’t argue that having that heady, memory sucking, skin doesn’t come with some real advantages (even if it is only Samsung whose taking advantage of them)
There’s a “My Magazine” “app” (if that’s what you want to call it…I don’t because I can’t shut the ******* thing off) – built in to swipe up from the home button…place…sort of, but as soon as I could figure out how to disable it from the home button long press – that thing was gone. It’s fine, but it’s flip board – and I don’t need flip board to aggregate my news, social, events, etc – I have a brain in my skull…I can do that. I’m assuming that this “app” is in fact the precursor to the Magazine UX built into Android 4.4/TwNext – so let me just say…”fine,” I don’t hate it – but I don’t love it.
S-Pen features – I’m not going to go into all of them here, but some are genuinely useful and intelligent:
Magic Window – the ability to draw a small box and then open a specific app within that box over all open elements, fantastic…now if I could just figure out what I’d possible want to do that with I’d be set – the only things I use it for now is the calculator and occasionally “hangouts” when I’m too lazy to long press the home key and multi task.
- Screen Write – OMFG yes – this is my new defacto editor. Functions by taking an instant screen shot of whatever you’re looking at and then giving you the ability to annotate on that picture. I could give two lily white dog turds if the people I’m editing for can appreciate my handwriting – it makes editing docs/websites/pdf’s…basically anything on a display….much easier and less time intensive. This is why I own this tablet.
- S-Note: Another winner – give’s me a virtual notebook(s) and lets me write notes in my own pen and then translates them to typed text. Can attach pictures, documents, etc – an all inclusive solution and a really good one
- S-Finder – wow…universal search on an Android device – that’s something. It’s not perfect, but that it’ll include scanning your handwritten notes when searching is pretty impressive.
- Sketchbook for Galaxy – Yeah, actually, it’s been a long time since art school and even drawing for fun is time consuming and costly (you’d never believe if I told you how much it costs me to buy a decent set of paper and pen for to sketch upon in “the real.”). Layers work decently enough – though I want a solution long term that doesn’t force me to compress layers (only gives 6 by default) – every time I turn around. Good for doodling or proof of concept pre-work (if you’re an arts guy like me)
Performance and Battery Life:
Okay, let’s talk turkey – how well does it perform? Okay
Ooh, such vagary and noncommittal verbiage used to describe something…can’t be good right? Well…no, it performs “fine” – that’s not to say that I don’t want it to be faster at times, or that it doesn’t have its moments of pure fluidity – but “fine” is a good consensus. But why? It’s got the newest latest whiz bang Exynos or S800…why doesn’t it just cut through everything like bread…or warm butter (okay, I suck at clich’s), two reasons:
- The resolution. The Nexus 10 suffered from the same issue, paired with a Wacom digitizer (which eats performance given it needs to always be on and on the lookout for input) – it was wound to even out even with a faster SOC. It performs on par with the Nexus 10…don’t expect much more or less until 4.4 debuts.
- Touchwiz. Touchwiz is hog…from its menu transitions, to its customizable app drawer…it’s eating tons of resources…and that’s after disabling loads and loads of Sam-Crap that gets in its way. Air View, Eye Tracking, S-Everything (except pen and note support) – all disabled….it runs better, but it takes some tinkering to get it fixed from “out of the box.” ** And you won’t find the option anywhere else, but if you want to turn off the “long press menu key to get to S-Find” you can disable it from within S-Finder (settings/disable button press startup)...
Battery life is decent to really good. Having had multiple occasions where I’ve had my tablet up for more than 24 hours with 5-6 hours of on screen time. The Wacom digitizer is a big drain on battery, it’s never going to be better, so you’d better prepare to plug in your tab at night
The front facing one works fine for hangouts, skype and selfies
The rear facing camera: Who gives a ****…really? I’ll never know and I’ll hit you with a tire iron if I catch you standing at the zoo taking a picture of the polar bears with your tablet.
Works fine – Sbeam is more functional, but I prefer the standard Android beam on the few occasions I’ve had to use it.
So what would I rate this tablet out (scale 1-10)? Probably an 8.5/9. It’s got lots of little niggles that annoy me, but overall the payoff is a device that’s better than the sum of its parts. There’s real genuine productivity potential here, paired with a great potential for fun and screwing around with your tablet in the downtime.
The (thus far) unreleased version of Android 4.4 (with the new lighter TW), that’s available for the Galaxy Note 10.1 pro – which is really ****ty given they’re the exact same piece of hardware sans the digitizer. Having played with both the 10.1 Pro and the Note 12.2 pro – I can tell you that the software is certainly refreshed and looks cleaner, and while it may be placebo – they both felt faster than the Note 2014 on Jelly Bean
Why the **** can’t I sync my SNote directly to Google Drive again? Dropbox? Really? To be fair, it’s not all that hard to grab my notes and copy/paste them to my drive – but it’s annoying that there’s not direct Google Drive integration here.
Some minor performance hiccups especially when pulling down the notification shade or doing anything while an application installs or updates in the background. For the record, performance in-APP is AMAZING. The SOC is up to the challenge of running single apps with beastly levels of performance (Go look at Asphalt 8 or RiptideGP2 for examples of screaming speed and high quality assets)
Stupid microUSB connector – a USB3 port should have been included on this model. Charging time is something crazy like 6 hours from start to finish – can’t help but thinking having an upgraded standard would have helped there some.
Man…that is a pretty, well calibrated display…
It takes handwritten notes and can convert them to typed text with at least 95% accuracy on the fly. /Drops the mic
Screaming performance in single use applications (again, asphalt/riptide…go go go)
MicroSD card slot – Until Samsung, Google and every other OEM does something to limit the absurd markup on 16gb of flash memory ($50-100 per bump…suck my socks OEM’s) – I’m going to want MicroUSB storage, if for no other reason than to keep my cached music through Google Play. Since Google was just kind enough to update its app to do so…I’m happy as a pig in crap (after I get 4.4 that is)…/taps foot.
Terrific Industrial design and build quality (provided you agree with Samsung on design language) – me? I don’t mind the three button system, but I’d prefer to have it match the standard set by Google….at least give me the option to put the soft keys up and disable the physical and capacitive buttons).
It's not a Tegra Note - because that thing is garbage
Hope it helps!