Review: Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12 -- The Biggest Tablet Yet

Samsung has gone big into tablets. The company on March 9 began shipping the Galaxy Note Pro 12, a collosus aimed at power users that's packed with pixels, processors and productivity packages. "There's an increasing need for content consumption but also for content creation," said Jen Langan, director of mobility product marketing for Samsung. "But B2B customers and prosumers want an actual tablet for productivity, not a PC crammed into a tablet," she said.

The CRN Test Center was eager to get a close-up look at the new tablet's 12.2-inch screen, which pumps out 2,560-x-1,600 pixels and 16 million colors. Like its other tablets, the Note Pro's screen is surrounded with a white plastic bezel and silver metal band. The screen shines brightly through razor-sharp graphics, and the half-inch bezel is wide enough to prevent accidental screen touches.

But at 1.7 pounds, it's too just heavy to hold in one hand for too long without cradling, even though it's just 0.31 of an inch thick. For use in professional settings, a laptop-sized (8-x-11.6) screen ideally should be sold with a strap on its underside for holding it like a pallette. Better still, the strap could be designed to double as a kickstand. Samsung offers no strap, but does sell a Bluetooth keyboard that holds up the tablet and doubles as a cover.

There's plenty of new software running inside Note Pro 12, and some even enhances content creation and productivity. Samsung's Multi Window capability has increased to four, and there's still plenty of processing horsepower to spare. To test this, we played a movie in one window (using the excellent video player included), and in three other windows ran Gmail, Maps and Google Chrome. All worked smoothly and the video never missed a beat. To further tax the processor, we visited Youtube in the Chrome window and started streaming some music. The music played fine, but doing so paused the video, a nice Samsung touch. Even nicer, pausing the music resumes the video. Well done.

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In Multi Window's two-window edition, app windows are resized by dragging the line that separates the two, and killed by tapping an X. In the four-windows edition, a small, blue ball appears between active apps and adjusts the sizes of all active windows when dragged. Since there's no longer an X in these windows, quitting an app is done by swiping it away in the recents menu (the list of running apps). The recents menu is brought up by pressing the button. The menu now pops in from the bottom and includes buttons for Task Manager and Close All. Multiwindow sessions are retained when visiting other apps, and are reactivated when any active app is called up.

The Note Pro 12 also contains enhancements to Air Command, the menu of choices invoked by Samsung's S-Pen stylus (included). A new Action Memo app converts handwritten notes into text and sends to an email, imports into contacts, used as a web search, plotted on a map or entered as a task. A variant of the Multi Window feature is Pen Window, which pops up any five of about a dozen apps into a box drawn anywhere on the screen by the stylus. This allows a calculator, music player or alarm clock, for example, to float above all others for as long as it's needed.

Powering up this tasking is Samsung's Exynos 5 Octa5420 eight-core processor, which packs four Cortex-A15 cores running at 1.9GHz and four Cortex-A7 running at 1.3GHz. Part of Samsung's secret sauce is its embedded GPU, which handles some of the general-purpose computing workload when it's not busy performing 2.3 times better than the Exynos 5 graphics accelerator that came before it. It's running Android 4.4 Kit Kat on 3 GB of LPDDR3 RAM. The tested unit had 32 GB of storage. There's also a 64-GB model, and both can be expanded with as much as 64 GB more via a microSD card slot.

Magazine UX Galaxy Note Pro 12 serves as the coming out of Magazine UX, a Samsung-built interface overlay that lets users put as many as eight active widgets on the screen at a time. "These are customizable so users can pick which information they need quick access to on the go," said Langan. It's not a bad look, and it permits a new degree of customization with as many as eight size-adjustable widgets on about a half-dozen widget screens, in addition to the five conventional app screens. "These are live tiles; you can click on them to see data and launch apps," Langan said of the widgets, apparently without realizing her use of Microsoft's nomenclature for the Modern UI of Windows 8. "I never even thought about that." The Magazine UX will be included on all Pro-series Galaxy Note and Tab devices.

NEXT: IT Not Forgotten

Samsung hasn't forgotten IT departments, whose needs include manageability and security. For the latter, there's Knox, an easy-to-use partitioning system that builds a wall between personal and professional apps and data. Icons of protected apps are dog-eared with a golden keyhole. For the former, Samsung offers no tool of its own, but instead "works hard to develop APIs that work with third-party management products," Langan said. The latest version of Samsung's management APIs support more than 500 policies, up from 300 in the prior version. "We enable third-party products to do more with a Samsung device than with just a plain device running Android."

The full-size screen has begotten a full-sized keyboard, complete with number keys, and shift and control keys that work like a physical keyboard. There's also room for all 10 fingers and "it's redesigned and closer to a real keyboard, with haptic and sound feedback," said Langan. In other words, it vibrates and clicks when touched. We like the clicks, but haptic is a far cry from tactile. A second, smaller keyboard pops up for apps that are windowed.

Also new is Remote PC, which lets the tablet control any web-connected PC or Mac. This works by installing a Java-based agent through a browser on the target computer(s) to be controlled. It supports Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari browsers, but not Chrome. We tried it on a Mac with Safari and Firefox, and on Windows with Firefox. Results were mixed; we suggest waiting for v2.0.

To test the 9500 mAh battery, we started with a full charge, and with Wi-Fi, GPS and AirView enabled. After using it continuously for about four hours, the battery reported 49 percent remaining. While on standby for about 14 hours, the battery lost another 10 percent. We shut off the GPS and ran the Note Pro 12 for an additional two hours and 40 minutes, which took battery from 39 percent to 5 percent. During the whole time, screen brightness was set to about 80 percent, and the screen timeout was at its maximum of 30 minutes. If left to its own power-saving devices, we're confident that the Note Pro 12 would have run far longer than the six-and-change hours we got from it. Samsung claims that its battery delivers up to 11 hours of video playback, 13 hours of Wi-Fi or 131 hours of audio.

With each new device, Samsung bundles about $200 worth of software and services, including a year of Go-Go In-flight Wi-Fi, six months of Go-to-Meeting, the Hancom Office Suite, a 50-GB DropBox account and $25 to spend in the Google Play. The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12 starts at $750 with 32 GB of storage, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, USB 3.0, an 8-MP main camera with 30 fps video capture and sensors galore. For the enterprise, it's got security, manageability and remote-control capabilities. And for the prosumer, its multitasking and input capabilities are unparalleled. The Note Pro 12 is as close to a laptop replacement as we've seen; it's great for short trips that don't involve business, and it's a recommended product by the CRN Test Center.