Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 shines bright

Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 is the first Android tablet that could replace an iPad

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Welcome to pen computing
The big differentiator in the Galaxy Note 10.1 is its support for a pen -- or stylus, if you prefer. There's one tucked in the bezel, where it's out of the way and yet always available. The pen capabilities in the Note 10.1 tablet are similar to those in the Note phablet. But there are some differences.

The first difference was frustrating: It's less obvious how to call up handwriting recognition when in a text field on the Note 10.1 tablet than in the Note phablet. The secret is to tap and hold the speech-recognition key (the microphone icon) between the Sym key and the spacebar. That pops up a menu where you choose the handwriting-recognition icon, which then remains easiiy accessible in place of the microphone icon. Basically, you use this key to cycle through speech recognition, handwriting recognition, and keyboard entry as needed.

Within the handwriting "keyboard" you'll find handy icons for accessing symbols through a menu and for switching back to the text or speech keyboards. There's also a feature to recognize mathematical equations, which engineers, mathematicians, and scientists (and their students) will appreciate.

Handwriting recognition is passable, not great, though a menu of options appears that you can tap to hone the accuracy as you write. For most people, the Note 10.1 won't be for handwriting recognition but for drawing and annotating. This is where the Note 10.1 really shines, but only in apps designed to support the pen.

So far, only a few third-party apps support the stylus, mainly games and art titles. The Note 10.1 does come with several programs, including Adobe Photoshop Touch for photo editing and painting and Samsung's S Note for notetaking. They offer a solid glimpse of what's possible.

The handwriting 'keyboard' on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.
The handwriting "keyboard" on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.

The multiscreen capability debuting in the Note 10.1 is also intriguing. In a compatible pen-based app such as S Note, tap the Multiscreen button to get a menu of apps that can split the screen -- for example, the browser, Video Player, Polaris Office, and Email. The app opens on one side of the screen, with S Note (or other pen app) on the other. You can swap the screens if desired.

What you get is the ability to jot notes while referring to the contents of that other app. You can capture the screen, then crop the image in the Gallery app and paste it into other apps. The process is not smooth, but it's possible to add drawings and artwork to documents and so on.

The multiscreen view on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
The multiscreen view on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.

Clearly, the pen capabilities are for specialty needs, but the beauty is that they're there when you need them and out of the way when you don't.

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