Samsung is the main innovator in the mobile market after Apple -- the tiresome lawsuits over design and patents notwithstanding -- and that adaptation really shows in the Galaxy Note 10.1. For example, rather than simply port its pen interface from the phablet to the tablet, Samsung has introduced a split-screen mode for Android apps so that you can run an app on one side while having your pen-savvy notetaking area in the other. I've grown quite comfortable switching screens on my iPad and various Android tablets, but being able to scribble without leaving the app entirely is really useful.
Microsoft's decade of bad pen computing in various Windows versions may have convinced Apple to ignore the technology. However, I believe a stylus has a useful place on a tablet, where simple drawings are often more effective than text for some types of notes and where annotations are helpful in presentations and other collaborative activities.
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I was also pleasantly surprised that the Note 10.1 was able to connect to my company's secure Wi-Fi network, whereas all previous Android devices have failed (but not the Pad). Alas, the Note still can't connect to our Cisco IPSec VPN. Here's hoping a software update by either Google -- which has long been aware of the problem -- or maybe Samsung will finally fix that and let me use the Note 10.1 on the VPN as I can my iPad.
The other Samsung enhancements are small. One is the ability to change the system font. (A word of caution: The other fonts are hard to read, so don't bother. Maybe when the font store goes live there'll be ones worth using.) Another is the ability to set up your ChatOn, Dropbox, and even Web server accounts where you establish your email and related accounts. All that's missing is the ability to print, a capability that only Motorola Mobility has brought to an Android tablet.
Of course, the Note 10.1 takes full advantage of the strengths of Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich." Except for the ads placed on the home screens (Samsung, please don't become a Dell!), the Android 4 experience is unmarred by the dubious UI changes common to Android devices.
Taken all together, the Galaxy Note 10.1 offers the polish, usability, and sophistication that have long been the province of the iPad. It also adds pen capabilities the iPad doesn't even attempt. The iPad still has some big advantages -- AirPrint, AirPlay, iCloud, and much better apps -- but the differences have narrowed noticeably thanks to the Note 10.1. Let me explain its strengths -- and weaknesses -- in more detail.
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