My review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 last week sparked a lot of discussion — I was unhappy with the tablet's sluggish performance, which seemed to be caused largely by the company's TouchWiz Android skin. It was particularly disappointing given the Note 10.1's speedy 1.4GHz Exynos processor and healthy 2GB of RAM, and I received a lot of questions from readers who were convinced I had received a defective unit, or that I had mistakenly switched on Samsung's power saving mode, which ratchets down the processor speed when the battery gets low.
Since I was so excited about the Note 10.1 to begin with, I asked Samsung to send me another Note 10.1. They agreed, although they told me they'd also watched our review video and didn't see anything that would indicate a faulty unit. Samsung's engineers in Korea also answered a few of my outstanding questions about performance and software updates, which was very nice of them.
Long story short: the new unit performs exactly the same as the review unit, with or without power saving turned on. Scrolling the home screens gets sluggish whenever Samsung's default widgets are displayed, the lag in multiscreen mode is extremely noticeable, and things definitely slow down over time. In particular, Samsung says it expects a delay of a second or so when switching apps in multiscreen, which is far from the press release's claim of "true multitasking" while running two apps "simultaneously." The company did say a forthcoming software update would improve the performance of multiscreen, but it made no such promises about those performance-killing homescreen widgets — I was simply instructed to delete them.
The company also says it'll be adding more features to the Note 10.1 over time, including additional apps that can use multiscreen mode and S Pen support in the S Planner app. But since only Google can modify Gmail and Chrome, they won't ever support multiscreen — you're stuck with Samsung's slow mail client and a rebranded version of the older Android system browser, which for me makes multiscreen essentially a gimmick.
It's clear that our first Galaxy Note 10.1 review unit was not faulty
On a happier note, Samsung pointed out that I'd missed the trick to enable handwriting recognition on the system keyboard — you have to long press on the gear icon on the keyboard, and then slide over to the T symbol. (Simply tapping the gear brings up the keyboard preferences screen, which tantalizingly lists "handwriting" but offers no way of turning it on.) There's no way normal people would find this setting, but it's probably just as well — the handwriting recognition is pretty hit-or-miss, and it seems to only really understand cursive. If you write in fast block print like me, it's really not useful at all. But still, it's there, and I'll update the review to reflect it.
Ultimately, however, it's clear that our first Galaxy Note 10.1 review unit was not faulty in any way. I'm hoping Samsung can improve the performance of the Note and provide more of an ecosystem around the S Pen, which is impressive — but until then, there are better ways to spend $499.