Review: Samsung Galaxy Note Pro: A laptop replacement (sort of)

When most people think of tablets they think of cheap, small devices: the $230 7-inch Google Nexus 7, for example, or the 7.9-inch $399 iPad mini with Retina Display.

In contrast, the $749 Note Pro is expensive and enormous. With a 12.2-inch screen, it feels like half of a laptop -- with the whole keyboard-and-trackpad part ripped off. It’s different in other ways as well, not the least of which is the built-in stylus that lets you jot notes right on the screen.

It’s sort of like other tablets -- in the same way that sushi is sort of like canned tuna.

The Scoop

Product: Samsung Galaxy Note Pro

Summary: Built mainly for business, the $749 Samsung Galaxy Note Pro is sort of like other tablets -- in the same way that sushi is sort of like canned tuna.

Processor: Quad-core, 1.9-GHz Arm Cortex A15

Screen: 12.2-inch WQXGA (2,560 × 1,600) TFT LCD

Storage: 32GB

Camera: 8MP

But the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro isn’t meant to compete with all those cheap gadgets; it’s meant as an alternative to laptops running Windows or Mac OS. So Samsung has stuffed it to the gills with business-friendly features, including Hancom Office for Android, a powerful suite of programs akin to Microsoft Office, and the power to run multiple apps at once. (Who doesn’t love multitasking?) There’s even a Bloomberg Businessweek app and a free year’s subscription.

I found it hard to get work done on the Note Pro, however, and for the price, a standard Windows laptop seems a better bet for most road warriors. Still, the Note Pro is a fascinating if flawed look at what the future might hold, an example of Samsung’s “relentless innovation” strategy -- which might result in mistakes but still expands our notion of what’s possible from PCs.

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In terms of hardware, the Note Pro is powerful as all get out. It has a 1.9-GHz processor and 32GB of storage, and a MicroSD slot provides room for expansion. Physically, it’s so big as to be ungainly. At 1.6 pounds and almost a foot wide, this is the Yao Ming of tablets. I found it hard to hold in portrait mode for reading like a Kindle (plus it’s so big that this looks silly), and my arms got tired holding it up while watching an hour-long episode of “True Detective” via HBO Go.

Give Samsung credit: The 2,560 × 1,600 screen is gorgeous, and makes it reasonable to watch a movie with another person. Two bodies crammed before a 7-inch tablet is a comedy of headbumps and jostling.

But who has time for fun stuff? This tablet means business!

To take advantage of that screen, Samsung gives you the ability to run four apps at the same time. Other gizmos from the company offer this power, but you need a screen as big as the Note Pro’s to make it useful. The controls are a tad confusing, and the apps supported by this feature are limited at present, but it’s still neat.

Then there’s the stylus. Pull it from the tablet and the Air Command menu pops up, offering a choice of five options. You can draw a rectangle anywhere on screen to launch an app there, over whatever is currently running. You can take notes, which the Note Pro will decipher and parse into meaningful bits of data -- names, phone numbers and more: Write an address, click a button and presto, the Note Pro will locate it on a map.

It’s a very neat innovation, and one of the reasons people go gaga over the smaller (and at $299, far cheaper) Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

At 1.6 pounds and almost a foot wide, this is the Yao Ming of tablets.

The Galaxy Note Pro runs the very latest Android OS, version 4.4.2. But Samsung dresses it up with a custom interface based off the Flipbook app, in addition to standard screens filled with apps. The Note Pro’s options menus are clean and straightforward, a huge leap from the jumble of icons you’ll find in the Galaxy S4, for example. All in all, it’s really very nice.

The jewel here is Hancom’s suite of apps, which offer a near perfect replica of the Office experience. The Hword app, for example, has drop-down menus for File, Edit, Format and more (sound familiar?), and a click brings up a row of nicely designed icons for common functions like cut and paste, paragraph and font styling, and so on. It’s powerful -- and free with the Note Pro.

But without a keyboard I found myself struggling to work with the suite. And it’s a challenge just to open existing documents: Hword doesn’t talk to Google Drive, for example. And I found I could open a file from Microsoft’s OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) and edit it, but then Hword wouldn’t save the document back where the app found it. You’re kidding, right?

So does the Note Pro work as a laptop replacement? Not by a long shot.

Without a keyboard, you’ll be hard-pressed to type emails, much less write anything meaningful. And it’s awfully convenient to take quick notes with the S-Pen stylus, but writing the next great American memo will have you gnashing your teeth. Add the challenge of getting to the docs in your office -- Android still doesn’t natively support accessing a shared Windows drive -- and you’ll see what I mean.

Depending on your business, however, this might be a great gadget. If getting work done means frequent travelling and presentations, the Note Pro is a jim-dandy. Just connect to your computer and drop a few files on before you travel. Does getting work done mean collaborating at a job site? Take a photo, then mark it up together with your colleagues on screen using the S-Pen. (But please, don’t drop the tablet down a well or something.)

The Note Pro’s many innovations are worthy of some applause. But overall, it’s hard to see this gadget transforming most businesses.