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Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet went on sale on Thursday, with an emphasis on challenging the iPad by focusing on creative possibilities that are enhanced by its pen. Sony’s updated Reader, also just launched, has the simpler aim of immersing you in a digital book and it feels lighter than most paperbacks.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: 4/5
While Samsung has made little impression on the iPad with its Galaxy Tab slate, its smartphones have proved popular. It has also had encouraging sales of Galaxy Note, which with its 5.3in screen aims to strike a happy medium between a smartphone and a tablet for consumers who want to carry just one device. It also has a stylus and notepad software, hence the name.
Now Samsung is making a full tablet-sized 10.1in Note its main contender to challenge the iPad. No other leading manufacturers have tried a pen with this big a display. I am not usually a fan of using a pen with a tablet – the screen seems too hard compared with paper.
Pens are easy to mislay but the Note 10.1’s stylus is bigger and easier to grip than the smartphone version and is stored neatly in the device. It has a choice of nibs, and advances in screen overlays, software and the design of the pen make using it feel a more natural experience.
I soon got into the habit of using the pen to swipe through screens and make menu choices with precision. This also left the glass smudge-free.
The pen came into its own in a web browser with its “hover” feature. I could hold it just above the screen over a menu item such as the list of departments on Amazon.com and see sub-menus opening like drawers to reveal their contents as I passed over them.
A nice feature added to the customisable Android operating system and interface by Samsung is a split-screen view. I could surf in the browser in one half of the screen to check prices of gadgets, while I had the S Note notepad app in the other half to make notes with the pen.
I could open and watch a video in a small window as I used the full screen for email, writing notes and browsing. The tablet comes with apps such as the Polaris Office productivity suite, Netflix and the Dropbox file sharer. Adobe’s Photoshop Touch is there too; here, the pen provides extra precision for adding some sophisticated effects to photos.
The hardware specs of the Note are impressive too. You can use its infrared blaster as a universal remote control for your TV with the accompanying Peel app, and it has a speedy processor and 2 megapixel front and 5Mp rear cameras. A 16Gb version is $499 (£414 in the UK) and the 32Gb model costs only $50 more, still $50 less than the 32Gb iPad.
What impressed me most about the Note 10.1 was its ability to keep me engaged – the ease of using the pen made it fun and the applications and multi-screen features made me more productive while being entertained.
Other Android tablets, unable to match the iPad’s richness of apps, are gathering dust on my shelves, but this one’s pen has a chance of writing a new chapter of meaningful competition with Apple.
Sony Reader PRS-T2: 4/5
It doesn’t glow in the dark like Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch, and there is no colour screen, but Sony’s latest ereader does bring fresh refinements to its Reader brand and, unlike the others, it is available beyond the US ($129, £129 in the UK). This 6in black-and-white reader feels like a featherweight at 6oz. Pages turn faster and Sony says it has up to two months’ battery life. Improvements include links to Facebook, to post a passage from a book, and to Evernote, so that web articles can be saved and read offline.
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