16 February 2014

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 review

Key Features: 12.2-inch 2560 x 1600p display;
Quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor; Magazine UX
Manufacturer: Samsung

What is the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2?

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 is an expansion of the Note phone and tablet range. It’s a 12.2-inch Android tablet with a pressure sensitive S Pen stylus.

Samsung has packed the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 full of business apps to help give it a different angle to the new 12.2-inch Tab Pro. However, the stylus makes more sense than ever on a large screen like this, and it is a cut above its Tab-series brothers in a few respects.

The large screen, relatively heavy body and pricier-than-an-iPad Air £649 cost mean it’s not for everyone. But it’s a great tablet for the right person.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 – Design

Until last year, Samsung made glossy plastic tablets. Virtually all of its tablets and phones were made of shiny plastic, and it led to near-constant criticism of its top-end devices. They simply didn’t look or feel as expensive as they were.

Samsung’s answer to this is a new design, first seen in phones like the Galaxy Note 3 and shared by the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. Glossy plastic has been switched for rubberised plastic with a leather-effect texture. To complete the fake ‘handmade’ look, there’s pretend stitching embossed into the edges of the back.

It’s not a look we love, but it comes across better here than in previous ‘leather’ tablets like the Samsung Note 10.1 2014 Edition. The Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 is better-built than its brothers, and is far stiffer than we expected from a Samsung tablet as large as this. Its outer shell may be plastic, but there’s a rigid metal cage underneath that stops it from flexing.

The rubberised finish is also grippier than glossy plastic or anodised aluminium.

However, before buying a Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 you need to think carefully about how you’ll use it. At 750g it’s too heavy to use in one hand, making it much less flexible as a portable tablet than an iPad Air or Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4. It’s large too – a 12.2-inch screen is larger than that of some small laptops.

The placement of the front soft keys and the central select button are not designed for one-handed use at all either. Samsung has sensibly given up any idea of trying to make a 12.2-inch tablet ultra-portable in the same manner as its phones. However, the buttons do respond to the S Pen stylus as well as a finger – the earliest Note devices’ buttons didn’t. The S Pen lives in a little hole on the tablet’s right edge.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 – Connections and Hardware

This is a tablet aimed at the rather vague target of power users, and this is seen throughout the hardware, not just in the large screen. Like the Galaxy Note 3, it uses a USB 3.0 port rather than the older, slower USB 2.0 type. It looks like a normal microUSB port with a half-formed twin attached. In the Note 3 we thought it was overkill, but here it fits in well – it’s not as if there’s not enough edge space to go around.

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2’s USB 3.0 port allows much faster file transfers, and faster charging over a USB 3.0 port on a computer. However, you’ll still want to use the charger if you can. USB 2.0 power output maxes out at 500mA, USB 3.0 at 900mA. The tablet’s charger is a 2000mA power source, and even with that charging takes a while.

This port is also MHL-compliant. Using an MHL adapter you can output the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2’s screen content to any display with an HDMI input.

Completing the trinity of basic geek-friendly hardware features is the microSD slot. You get 32GB storage (23GB accessible) as standard, but a covered memory card slot lets you add up to 64GB pretty cheaply.

The obvious missing thing here is a way to turn the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 into a laptop. There are no docking points on its bottom or its sides that might open the doors to a keyboard accessory that would turn the Note into a Android laptop.

If you want a laptop-tablet hybrid, this isn’t it. Look to the Asus Transformer Book T100 or the Transformer Pad TF701T instead. You can, of course, use a Bluetooth keyboard with the Note 12.2, though.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 – Screen & Sound Quality

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 has a 12.2-inch screen, as its name suggests. It’s a big, bright, widescreen display that offers a much larger video-watching, reading and drawing space than any previous Note tablet or phone.

On paper it's very strong. This is a 2560 x 1600 pixel display – the same resolution as the 10.1-inch Note 2014 edition. And it is an LCD-type screen, rather than the AMOLED type used in Samsung’s Note phones.

Despite a solid screen resolution, the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 doesn’t offer that strong an impression of sharpness. It’s because of the kind of subpixel array used in the screen.

Rather than using uniform rows of red, green and blue pixels, the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 has rows of red, green, blue and white pixels. It increases power efficiency, but dramatically decreases how sharp a screen appears. It’s down to the uniformity of the rows of pixels – consecutive rows are shunted by a subpixel, causing straight lines to look fuzzy. It also has a patterning effect on block colour/white areas.

This pixel arrangement is part of the PenTile family, and it lets the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 increase brightness with less power consumption than rival RGB screens. And top brightness is indeed pretty searing. Whether you prefer the pure image quality of RGB (as seen in the iPad Air) or better efficiency is down to your own taste. But we’d opt for image quality every time – especially in a tablet with design/arty potential like this.

We saw this symptom in the Note 10.1 2014 Edition and didn’t see it as a big problem, but here the lower pixel density makes it more apparent.

The backlight in our review sample is also inconsistent. In a darkened room it’s extremely clear where the side-firing LEDs that light the screen live, and when viewed from certain angles, the screen greys as the backlight’s 'separate' presence becomes all too obvious.

This is a good screen, but ultimately we’re a little disappointed. We wanted a great one - and we deserve one for £650.

Another important feature for the home tablet is speakers. The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 makes a good start with stereo speakers – there’s a driver on each end.

Side-firing drivers give a distinct stereo image when the tablet is held out in front of you. However, the sound quality isn’t particularly remarkable. Like most tablet speakers that haven’t had some serious work put into them, they sound a little thin and lacks the lower-end warmth and power that makes a speaker more enjoyable to listen to.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 – Screen Multi-tasking

As well as having a larger screen than any other Note tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 tries harder to make its screen inches work for you.

Some of basic interface tweaks include reworking the Android home screens layout in order to make better use of space. The Google Search bar is sensibly relegated to a small corner of the bottom-left rather than taking up the whole length of the screen, and there’s no persistent app shortcut bar. Samsung has made the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2’s home screens into zones that are as customisable as possible, rather than plastering each with everyday ‘essentials’. It’s a sensible choice.

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2’s multi-tasking skills are more attention-grabbing, though. In the other Note phones and tablets, a feature called Multi Window lets you open two apps at once on-screen. With this tablet you can open four.

Not all apps can be opened in Multi Window, but most the basics can - the browser, email, YouTube, S Note and more. Some third-party apps work, but it is a case of hit and miss.

These apps are then scaled to the size of the window, and you can also choose how much room each gets. It works remarkably well – and is very usable. Forgetting the coding wizardry needed to make this work for a second, it’s not that surprising. Each quarter of the display is roughly equivalent to a 720p display in resolution, and the 12.2-inch work surface offers plenty of space.

The only issue is finding a use for this sort of multitasking. A classic quartet might be the browser, a video player (MX Player works with Multi Window as well as the default player), your Gmail and S Note, a note-taking app. Why? Use your imagination.

This sort of intensive use is a bit at odds with the more relaxed way most of us use our tablets. But Samsung has successfully taken tablet use to the next level with the Note 12.2, if that’s what you’re after.

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 also offers a slightly more casual way to use multi-tasking. Using the stylus and a feature called Pen Window, you can draw a box on the screen and load up most Multi Window-compatible app in it. This has uses that are a little less of a tablet stretch than quad-add multitasking. You could, for example, look up a game walkthrough online while playing a game or bring up your email while watching a video.

Like other Samsung tablets, there’s also a more traditional app switching menu, accessed using the left soft key.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2: Software and Performance

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 runs Android 4.4 with the TouchWiz interface laid on top. It’s pretty similar to what we saw in the Note 10.1 2014 Edition, but with a few elements given a spruce-up so they look less ugly.

As ever Samsung’s custom interface is less than beautiful. However, Android on large tablets never looks or feels perfect, and Samsung has made some sensible changes. 

The notifications bar is also different from the norm. There are nice, big feature toggle buttons up at the top, and the usual notifications below. We’d ideally like to see Samsung make better use of the screen space here, but it is certainly clear regardless.

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 also has a pair of extra home screens that you won’t find in Samsung’s previous phones. You access these by swiping beyond your normal home screens.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 – Magazine UI

These are pages of Samsung’s new Magazine UI, used in addition to the standard Android home screens. They arrange your favourite content as sharp, stylish-looking blocks that are reminiscent of Windows Phone (or the touch interface of Windows 8) and Flipboard, a hugely popular news aggregation app.

You can choose all sorts of 'blocks' including feeds from websites, your Twitter account, your email and your calendar. And they can be arranged in all sorts of ways.

Tapping on one of them takes you to another screen that shows you all the content from that source, again arranged attractively.

In pure functional terms, Magazine UI works very well. However, its 'auto opt-in' prescriptive nature is entirely contrary to what the best tablets are all about – the Nexus 7 2 and the various iPads are blank slates you can fill with whatever you want. The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 is a bit like moving into a lovely new flat only to find it comes with a live-in butler who asks you if you need anything every five minutes.

Some people will love Magazine UI, we’re sure, but the assumption that everyone who buys a tablet like this will have a remote interest in such an interface is overly presumptuous. And a symptom of Samsung’s OCD-tinged approach to including every feature it can think of.

Unlike some other, smaller Samsung tablets, though, the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 doesn’t feel cramped, cluttered or particularly confusing if you forget Magazine UI exists. But it does reinforce that this is not a tablet for those just getting into gadgets.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 – Stylus

Where we’re keen on Samsung doing its best to get the most out of something is with the S Pen stylus. A few crucial 'right moves' make the stylus a great asset rather than a naff add-on. They’re pretty much the same as Samsung’s other Note products, so we’ll be brief:

  • The S Pen slots into the body so you’ll only lose it once a week, not three times a day
  • It uses pressure sensitive digitiser rather than ‘dumb’ capacitive pen, making it worthwhile
  • There’s palm rejection, meaning when the stylus is close to the screen you can rest your hand on the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 without it counting it as a touchscreen prod
  • The nib is rubber rather than plastic, and has a bit of give, making it feel more natural to write with
  • There’s no battery in the stylus

The S Pen is a great piece of hardware, and one of the few things that sets Samsung’s tablet line-up apart from the rest. This particular tablet doesn’t introduce many brand new stylus software features, but the current bunch is pretty good regardless.

The stylus can be used wherever you need to input text, as the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2’s custom keyboard has a separate OCR mode that lets you write – rather than tap. It’s generally slower than typing with your thumbs, but character recognition works quite well unless you have truly terrible handwriting.

When not handwriting, Air Command is the main way to access S Pen features. It pops up when you hover the S Pen over the screen an inch or closer and press the button on the pen itself.

Functions on this radial menu include partial screengrabs, writing notes on the screen, the universal search and two more interesting ones – Action Memo and Pen Window.

Action Memo gives you a post-it sized scrap of note paper. Write something on it and it’ll be OCR’d into standard text that you search the web with it or email to someone.

Pen Window is a multi-tasking feature we referenced earlier. You draw a Window on the screen and can then run a mini version of a core app within it – a browser window, a calculator, video player or your email being obvious examples.

These extra stylus bits turn the S Pen from a stick into a tool.

However, it’s also useful as simply another way to navigate around the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. For the most part it works just like a finger when prodded on items – it can flick through menus, run apps, be used to play games and so on.

There are also a few stylus-optimised apps included. The most important are S Note, the versatile note-taking app that can even be made to sketch out presentations, and SketchBook Pro. This is a fantastic drawing app that shows off the stylus’s benefits for creative types. It supports pressure sensitivity, Photoshop-style layers and plenty of brush customisation. It’s one of the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2’s best apps.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 – Performance

All this was true of the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition. However, that tablet was beset with performance issues at launch that we haven’t experienced with the Note Pro 12.2.

Performance is pretty great generally, with little lag and plenty of power on tap. The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 version we’re reviewing uses the Octo core Samsung Exynos 5420, clocked at 1.9GHz. This is the chip used in the Wi-Fi only version of the tablet. The 4G version uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 instead.

They’re fairly evenly-matched processors, and both version of the tablet have 3GB of RAM. This is the most seen in any mainstream Android tablet or phone, as of February 2014.

In the Geekbench performance test, the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 scores 2,712 points. That’s roughly on-par with the fastest Snapdragon 800 tablets and phones. It has enough power to play top-end Android games. However, you will find that not all games are optimised for the tablet’s super-high resolution screen. Real Racing 3 looks blockier than you might expect, for example.

Still, that is not Samsung’s fault.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 – Camera

The larger a tablet gets, the less keen we are to use it as a camera. You need to shed your dignity to use the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 as a compact-replacer, but its camera is actually pretty good.

It’s very fast to focus and there’s virtually zero shutter lag. Tablets often treat their cameras as afterthoughts, and this tends to result in slow performance, making the things frustrating to use. In daylight, sharpness and photo ‘pop’ are both great. Some of that sharpness is down to processing, but when it results in photos that good a good deal better than those of other tablets, we don’t care much.

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 also has a very effective HDR mode, which melds multiple shots in order to make scenes with trickier lighting easier to shoot. Once again, the tablet is much closer to smartphone levels than what we might usually expect from a tablet.

We found the camera’s close-up shots a little soft, but we doubt many people of you will want to buy a Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 to take macro photos.

For the spec fans out there, the camera has an 8-megapixel 4:3 aspect sensor - of the usual 1/3.2-inch size. The lens has an f/2.4 aperture with a focal length of 32mm. The front camera shoots at 1080p resolution and is pretty good too.

You get most of the same modes as Samsung phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 as well. This includes drama shot, which takes multiple exposures for some natty action photos, panorama and the face-smoothing Beauty Face. They're most frivolous, but there's some fun to be had with them.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 – Battery Life

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 has a 9,500mAh battery that is non-removable. That’s bigger than the iPad Air’s 8820mAh battery or the Note 10.1 2014 Edition’s 8220mAh battery.

Stamina is, as you would hope, very good. With brightness set to 40 per cent we got 13.5 hours of SD-quality video playback off a charge. That’s even better than the 10.1-inch model.

Good stamina makes this a tablet you can rely on, even if it is just around the home – where the Note Pro 12.2 thrives. However, charging the battery does take quite a while. It takes a good few hours with the bundled 2A charger, and will take forever plugged into a laptop.

Other things to consider

We are not a business technology website and have therefore not focused hugely on the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2’s inbuilt business apps. However, Samsung considers them an important part of the tablet.

Perhaps the most important is Knox. This is a security system designed to let tablets and phones be used within large companies’ corporate networks. It offers far greater security than Android, and is a great addition given how fiddly some third-party BYOD security packages for Android are.

We haven’t spent a great deal of time with the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2’s other business-focused apps, but they enable things like WebEx virtual meetings and remote access to your work computer through the tablet. These are things that can be provided in other tablets with third-party apps. But having them all 'centralised' under the Samsung banner is a bonus.

The tablet also has an IR transmitter, letting you control your home entertainment gear with the tablet, using a third-party app.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2?

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 is not a tablet suited for most people. It’s big, it’s relatively heavy and it’s quite expensive.

However, this is an area without many rivals. If a 10.1-inch screen isn’t big enough and a pressure sensitive stylus is a must, this is actually a very successful tablet. The Samsung UI remains overwrought in places, but looks better than before and works pretty well on the big screen. And the S Pen works better than ever before thanks to the increased screen space.

We’re not convinced it’ll actually be that much more useful than an iPad Air for many people using a tablet for the more social side of business – presentations, displaying data at meetings and so on – but the more PC-like features such as quad-app multitasking should prove indispensable for some. And while the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 is not light, it is lighter than any 12-inch laptop and certainly thinner at just 8.6mm thick.


A 12.2-inch tablet is not the right choice for 90 percent of tablet buyers. However, good build quality, decent specs and the always-handy S Pen make this a good buy for arty types or business users not satisfied by an iPad Air.

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