When one considers the wealth of inexpensive Android tablets available, the idea of paying $750 for a 12-inch Android tablet seems inconceivable. But if now isn't the time for consumers to start thinking of large Android tablets as legitimate Windows laptop replacements, that day isn't far off.
That's right: a Windows laptop replacement. That's the only way to consider the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro, a massive tablet that, like the Microsoft Surface, works best on a desk. Samsung's 12.2-inch Galaxy Note Pro (7.95 mm thick, 1.65 pounds) is virtually identical to the Galaxy Tab Pro, save for the addition of an S-Pen stylus.
This is not a competitor to smaller tablets like the Nexus 7. Indeed, if last year's Galaxy Note 3 smartphone doubles as a reporter's notebook, then the new Galaxy Note Pro is something akin to an electronic legal pad. And with a surprisingly complete selection of productivity apps in both Google Play and Samsung's own app store, this massive Android tablet can help you get real work done.
The Note Pro is available for either $750 for a 32GB model, or $850 for 64GB of onboard storage. So far, Samsung has yet to announce the price for a model with an integrated LTE WLAN chip. According to Samsung, the Wi-Fi version of the Note Pro houses a 1.9GHz quad-core ARM Cortex A15 chip, powering Android 4.4 (KitKat). Our performance tests produced a Sunspider score of 0.97 seconds (which hits the upper echelons of the tablet market), and a PeaceKeeper score of 815. For the sake of comparison, the iPad 3 managed 516 in PeaceKeeper, and the Dell XPS 10 hit 324 (higher scores are better).
The Samsung Surface'
It's not much of a stretch to consider the Note Pro as Samsung's response to Microsoft's Surface 2 Pro, which starts at $899 for 64GB of onboard storage. Both the Note Pro and the Surface Pro 2 ship with foldable keyboard covers; the Note Pro's can be configured so that it wakes up and unlocks the tablet when flipped back. But while the Note Pro's cover actually doubles as a stand, it's not immediately obvious that it does so.
The Note Pro also lacks an integrated keyboard, such as the Surface's Type and Touch Covers. In fact, to use it as a laptop replacement, you'll need to buy a Bluetooth keyboard and possibly a mouse. That completely eliminates its use as a "lap top" computer.
Physically, the Note Pro looks like a Note 3, flipped on its edge. The tablet is designed to be held in landscape mode, with the physical home button mounted between the back and applications buttons. Near the top sits the 2-megapixel front-facing camera, with an 8-megapixel camera at the back. (Unfortunately, the cover lacks a rear camera cutout, so when thumbing the camera button, you'll have to awkwardly hold up the cover.) Volume and power switches sit on the top, while an all-important microSD card slot sits on the side.
An underrated productivity tool
Like the Note 3, the Note Pro uses the new USB 3.0 connector, collecting juice through a high-output charging plug. Charging the Note Pro takes about three to four hours, but battery life is excellent: You'll see two, possibly even three days or so of casual use from its integrated 9,500 mAh battery, and our looping video test ran down the battery in 8 hours, 37 minutes. That's on par with the Dell XPS 10 tablet.
Unfortunately, you won't be able to use the Note Pro on long flights. The tablet, its stand and a Bluetooth keyboard will take up too much room on a seat-back tray. But you can still use the tablet for mid-flight video playback in your hands. The 12.2-inch display boasts a 2560x1600 resolution and 247 ppi pixel density, and you can even hook up an external monitor care of an optional external HDMI dongle for $39.99.
One of the problems with Samsung's latest devices, beginning with the Galaxy S4 smartphone, is their overwhelming number of largely extraneous features, such as the "smart pause" feature that supposedly pauses video playback when you look away. You'll see a number of these still hidden deep within the Note Pro's settings menus--but thankfully turned off.
The default home screen contains a giant reminder widget for S Note, so that you don't forget the S Pen. Equally useless New York Times and Twitter widgets can be tossed out. And, fortunately, a collection of news and entertainment apps, such as WatchON and a version of Samsung's Flipboard-like My Magazine app, are confined on the peripheral screens.
As with the Note phones, pulling out the S Pen triggers several options, including an Action Memo; the ability to save content into a Scrapbook; and my favorite, the Pen Window. The Pen Window lets you run a second app inside a window, providing Android with a desktop-like multitasking environment. You simply draw a box, and when it's done, select the app you want to fill the space.
Samsung, however, now has a better option: Multi Window mode, which Samsung has made available on only the largest Galaxy Tab and Note tablets. To trigger Multi Window mode, you swipe in from the right-hand side, via a list of supported apps. (YouTube is supported, for example, but Angry Birds is not. And, inexplicably, Chrome is not supported by Pen Window mode, but it is under the Multi Window view.) Dragging one app to the main screen fills it. Dragging a second "snaps" the screen into two halves--and so on, up to a total of four screens. On a smaller tablet, this is a gimmick, but on a larger tablet like the Note Pro, it's surprisingly useful.
A viable office suite
More impressive are the numerous productivity apps that are either available via the Note Pro itself or via Samsung's own app store. Apps such as Cisco's WebEx, a Samsung Remote PC app (an alternative to Microsoft's own Android app, Microsoft Remote Desktop), and the Hancom Viewer are all included. On Google Play, Hancom's Hanword, a word processor, cost over $17 at press time, but on the Note Pro, it's free, as are similar apps to view and edit PowerPoint and Excel documents.
The Hancom apps ship in both "viewer" and editable versions, and the Note Pro tends to open files in the "viewer" version first without an option to choose the editing app, which is annoying. Google's own Quickoffice is also installed. Aside from some possible font compatibility issues, the Hancom apps seemed to work surprisingly well.
Keep in mind one thing: With the Note Pro, these productivity apps are free. If you purchase a Surface Pro 2, you'll also need to pay for a subscription to Office 365 or a standalone copy of Office 2013. That pushes the long-term cost up.
Samsung inexplicably omitted the VPN app that it included on the Note 3, meaning that you'll need to search out an Android version, such as Cisco's Easy Connect, on the Play Store. In all, though, I found Android versions of virtually every productivity app I wanted from either the Samsung or Google Play, giving me a PC-like experience on an Android tablet.
This is the bottom line. Windows PCs and Macs represent the power-user extremes of the computing experience, owning everything from Adobe Photoshop to the latest first-person shooters. But tablets are for centrist users: Android tablets and iPads dominate casual gaming, and more and more light-productivity apps are being written for those platforms.
The sum of its parts--a large screen, excellent fantastic battery life, multi-app windows, and equivalent PC software--not only make the Note Pro a viable choice for a tablet enthusiast, but a jumping-off point for an adventuresome road warrior to leave the Windows world entirely. If only Samsung could knock another $150 or so off the price.