When it comes to Android tablets Samsung has every base covered in size terms. Or so we thought, as with the Galaxy NotePro 12.2 the company gets a little experimental, opting for a large scale 12.2-inch slate.
We're already fans of earlier Note devices, from the smartphones through to the tablets, and their included S Pen stylus that comes in the box to offer a different way of interaction. The NotePro offers enough features at a scale to make it a plausible laptop alternative, particularly as there’s stacks of power behind the scenes.
But has the Pro 12.2 gone one step too far in terms of physical size, or is this Samsung pushing out into new territory and opening new doors? We've been using the Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2 for a couple of weeks to get a real feel of what it's all about.
Straight out the box and there’s no denying that the NotePro 12.2 is one big slice of tablet. But it’s a rather gorgeous one too, with that 2560 x 1600 resolution LCD screen being a key feature as to why.
When it comes to resolution we’ve often said that smaller devices with an ultra-high resolution output are often a step beyond where they need to be. With the NotePro 12.2 there’s the screen real estate and resolution to match, which makes for a sharp, detailed view that’s more resolute than a 1080p HD TV.
Icons within the Android KitKat operating system (4.4.2 for the number counters) look sharp, as does text in all applications, and we’ve enjoyed playing back HD movies and TV series through the Android Beta of VLC player.
As a touchscreen device fingerprints can mar the screen’s condition from time to time, so you’ll want to keep it clean and clear with a microfibre cloth - but it’s easy to buy and carry one of those around with you, as you should with any tablet really.
Scratch the Surface
We can’t help but think about the Pro as a sort-of Samsung alternative to the Microsoft Surface. But, if anything, we prefer the thinner build that Samsung has come up with here - the Samsung is 8mm thick rather than the Microsoft’s 8.9mm - and the inclusion of the S Pen has some great potential, that we’ll cover in more detail later.
But despite these positives there’s no avoiding that 12.2-inches is just a bit big for a tablet. At least, it is for a tablet for all things. We’ve been carrying the NotePro around the UK and abroad and while we’ve not found the 750g weight a bother compared to a laptop equivalent, it just doesn’t suit all situations.
As an at-home lap-based tablet it might be spot on for your needs, but even then you’ll likely find yourself holding it in one hand, stylus or free hand at the ready in a slightly strange position. We’ve used it on the tube too, but felt somewhat reluctant to have it on display whereas with something like a Nexus 7 we’d happily tap away playing games out in the open. There’s no getting around it: the NotePro is big, but avoids being big and fat.
What the faux?
In general the Galaxy NotePro 12.2 feels well built thanks to a sturdy silver-colour metal bezel around the edge that frames the tablet. We’re impressed with the screen, and there’s a sensible amount of non-display black bezel to the edge of the screen which acts as space to hold the device. This is all tucked under a single sheet of glass, but it’s not a tie-in with Gorilla Glass or designated as scratch resistant - not that we’ve been running keys down it - so is best treated with a bit of due care.
But it’s the latest Samsung trend for a faux leather rear - including stitching to the edges, albeit not realm functional stitches - that we’re not keen on. From afar the aesthetic looks fine enough, but up close it lacks total refinement. Given the £649 starting price of this tablet it’s hard for this element of the build to not enter your mind.
Saying that it’s not exactly offensive, and to hold it functions well because the tablet doesn’t slip due to the subtle texture, nor does it feel too hot or cold to the touch. On balance it’s one of those features we’ve slowly come to terms with and even stopped noticing - it is at the back, after all - but you may or may not sit on the fence where this aspect of design is concerned.
Directly on the tablet body there’s a USB 3.0 mini port for charging and transfer, microSD slot to expand the on-board memory, both of which live to the right side; on/off and volume up/down buttons to the top, where the infrared (IR blaster) also lives to the centre; while a 3.5mm jack for audio lives tucked away to the left side, opposite an integrated S Pen stylus storage port to the right. It’s all very neat and tidy, nothing gets in the way and all the buttons are well finished. As expected for this sort of money.
In the UK the Pro is released in the Wi-Fi only form, so no 3G/4G/LTE options to be found on these shores as you may in the US, Asia and beyond. We don’t see that as a big issue, given the nature of this big-scale tablet.
If you really want connectivity then it’s no problem to connect it up to your smartphone hotspot and with increasing numbers of unlimited data contracts - even Three offers a pay monthly unlimited data contract in the UK - and use wireless connectivity to your heart’s content.
Packs in the power
The UK version of the NotePro also comes with the octa-core processor, marrying a quad-core 1.9 GHz Cortex-A15 and quad-core 1.3 GHz Cortex-A7 into one Exynos chipset powerhouse. That means no quad-core Snapdragon 800 chipset for UK users, as this is reserved for the models with wireless connectivity.
But whatever it is bubbling under the surface we don’t doubt that you’ll get plenty of power out of it. And then some, hence the "Pro" part in the name.
Although we don’t do boring, unreliable benchmarks we do like to do all that everyday stuff. We’ve been using the NotePro 12.2 as our go-to device, or as a complementary one when working in the office. It’s cut its way through 1080p movies no problems, we’ve spent a little bit too long dashing through courses in Angry Birds Go!, while editing various documents has been a breeze.
Where that power comes into better use is with the ability to run and display up to four apps at a time. Now here’s where many will roll back on the verdict of "too big" and things begin to make more sense at this scale. Bigger isn’t always better for all situations, granted, but on our laps and crunching through various tasks such as email, word processing and browsing all at the same time the NotePro in the office made life a breeze.
And despite Android being the base OS for the Pro, the whole Samsung Magazine UX interface can all get a bit too much. Samsung, like plenty of other manufacturers, likes to re-skin and re-work stock Android into something a little different. Here it's an advancement on the earlier TouchWiz. If you're brand new to it then the mix of tile-based access and home screen customisation does, in our view, assist with a more personalised and glance-able display.
Android purists may otherwise disagree. And we can understand why: take email, for example, where you'll get notifications and alerts and be able to check incoming messages just as you would on any other Android device, and swipe down to get a closer look. But there's the Magazine UX alternative: two side-swipes on the home screen to reveal the email, calendar, office and business section arranged in a Windows 8 sort of tile fashion. Now this is useful to access these sections, and the active preview in each is great, but it also "doubles up" the access point which can feel, ultimately, a bit pointless.
Saying that, we did find the mail application, easily accessed via the Magazine UX widget, was great to use in full screen. If it's synched to Hotmail - or Outlook as we should probably say - as ours was then the three-section full-screen interface is more usable than Outlook in an online browser window.
And whatever path you choose in what you're doing, customisation is an option. Arrange apps on the home screen as you please, or the usual "show all" app icons section is available if that's more your method of organisation. The only thing you can't do is delete all the Samsung implemented widgets from the homepage - there will always be one final one remaining, thus ensuring that Magazine UX is always there to stay visible whether you like it or not.
The pen is mightier than the... keyboard?
One thing the Galaxy NotePro 12.2 delivers that we love is the S Pen stylus. It tucks neatly inside the body and can be easily slipped out for some handwriting - including decent handwriting recognition software - doodling or whatever it is you happen to want to do. It's even possible to open a quick menu, called Air Command, to navigate through the S Pen options at speed.
If you want a Post-It-style note to pop up on screen that's no problem, multiple apps can be opened, or use Pen Window to draw your own window space and open a core app up within it - a browser window, video player or such like. That's the benefit of a multi-core processor - separate tasks can be assigned to different cores to alleviate the pressure and see everything run smooth whatever you're doing.
That goes some way in to making the NotePro feel like a full-on laptop alternative. Ok, so there's no physical keyboard, but then this is a tablet rather than a laptop. And you could always pair a Bluetooth keyboard with it if you really wanted.
Typing comes in the form of Google's standard keyboard or, by default, the Samsung version which has slightly more apt key sizes for this scale and does a decent job. It took us a bit of time to learn where certain special characters were as this wasn't our usual setup, but after that it all went swimmingly.
Keeping all this tech afloat is a 9,500mAh battery that lives within the body. It's got a lot to handle too: the screen, the multi-core processor and the balance of any number of apps.
But battery life lasts out into double digit hours with what we'd consider to be normal use with Wi-Fi on. Which is really good going. Dim the screen and you're likely to get over 12-hours of use out of it.
We suspect that Android KitKat has some say in the battery's longevity per charge, but that even Samsung's own UI re-skins are lightweight enough to not hinder the overall battery performance. We're happy and we're sure that you will be too.
There's a heap of things to like about the Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2. It's got a great screen resolution, the integrated S Pen stylus elevates it beyond tablet to a viable laptop alternative and there's plenty enough power under the hood to run just about anything you'd care to throw at it.
However, that 12.2-inch screen size may perplex some and it did have us scratching our head at first. But then it clicked: if you want a laptop alternative then we think Samsung's on to something here. It's not the crazy-big 20-inch nonsense offerings that some manufacturers have been experimenting with, nor is it the sort of tablet you're likely to pull out on the train - but then there's nothing stopping you. It's more versatile than we first assumed it might be, which has only come to make sense through use.
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Overall the concept of the smaller 10.1-inch version of the NotePro makes more sense to us. But the very fact that both product sizes exist puts the choice in your hands. Yes, for many the 12.2-inch version will be just too big and it's on the cusp of taking it a step too far - and yet something about it gels and there's a longer-lasting battery in the larger model too.
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Like we said at the beginning of this review, Samsung has every base covered when it comes to tablet sizes and the 12.2-inch NotePro can be added to the viable stack. Just by reading the specs we didn't think we would be saying that. It's definitely large, but it will make plenty of sense to a particular audience. Assuming, that is, you're one of those people and can get over the £649 asking price hurdle.