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Two weeks with a Galaxy Note 10.1

January 1, 2013

Samsung gave us Galaxy Note 10.1s as Christmas presents, so in the spirit of trying out the company hardware (I usually use an iPad 3 as my go-to 10″ tablet) I’ve been using it as my primary tablet for the last two weeks. Overall I like both the hardware and software more than I expected, but the Android tablet ecosystem is still pretty sparse compared to the iOS tablet ecosystem.

I was initially a bit concerned about the Note’s build quality; I’d read a number of reviews claiming that the plastic back was too compressible. Either the reviewers were exaggerating, there were initial build quality control issues that Samsung straightened out, or my fingers aren’t that strong, but I found the case sufficiently rigid. The hardware is also plenty fast, and the stylus very responsive when used for input (although since I’ve been off work for most of the last two weeks I haven’t used it much for taking notes yet).

I found two advantages to the Note hardware over the iPad 3, both linked to the choice of plastic for the body over aluminum. First, the Note is lighter, so it’s a bit easier to hold for sustained periods. Second, the Note is more comfortable to hold in winter; I find the iPad’s aluminum enclosure somewhat chilly when you first pick it up on cold days.

However, the iPad 3 has its own advantages. I like the 4:3 aspect ratio better than the 16:9 aspect ratio of Android tablets (I use tablets much more for reading than for watching movies, and the 16:9 aspect ratio is awkward for reading long-form content. The iPad 3 is also a retina-quality display, while the Note 10.1 is not. And I hadn’t realized how much I took it for granted until I went without it for a couple of weeks, but the automatic wake-sleep behavior you get with a Smart Cover on the iPad is just freakin’ awesome. Who knew how annoying it could be to have to press the power button to start and stop using the device?

On the software side, Android as an operating system is getting close to par with iOS these days (although I still wish it was better at power management). But the application ecosystem is still pretty lousy in comparison to iOS. The built-in email client is pitiful. The New York Times app is designed for Android phones, as is the Facebook app. The Twitter app also appears to be a scaled up smartphone app, but it’s hard to tell (the iOS Twitter app is more or less a scaled-up iPhone design as well, since Twitter back-tracked from Loren Brichter’s more interesting tablet design). I couldn’t find a task management app on par quality-wise with Things. And Amazon doesn’t yet have a version of their Instant Video app for Android.

I did manage to find fairly good equivalents of two iOS apps that I commonly use. Marco Arment worked with Mobelux to create a version of Instapaper for Android that’s decent. And I finally found a decently designed RSS reader for Android: Press.The fine folks at TwentyFive Squares may have drawn inspiration from Reeder, but I’d count that a good thing.

Google likes to tout the number of applications in the Android ecosystem, but to my mind a better measure of the quality of an ecosystem is how many of the best applications aren’t built by the ecosystem creator. Most of the best Android experiences are still built by Google. Contrast that situation with iOS, where most of the best iOS experiences are not built by Apple (although they do build some fine applications). I have some theories as to why the quality of Android apps continues to lag that of iOS apps, but that’s a post for another time.

In summary, my two weeks with the Note 10.1 went better than expected. I’ll be bringing my iPad back into my regularly used devices, but the Note and associated apps are of sufficient quality that I’ll keep them as part of the mix.

From → Hardware, Mobile, Software

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