Only the geekiest of the tech press attended Samsung’s U.S. launch event for the Galaxy Note 10.1 on Wednesday. The kind of gizmo-sapians who wrote their first hands-on previews of the tablet when Samsung debuted it at Mobile World Congress in February, and published their second-round reviews—with a multitude of pictures from every conceivable angle—before today's event had even begun.
But even though most of them can rattle off the device's clockspeed with ease, they were at a loss when asked to explain the difference between the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, a tablet Samsung launched earlier this year, and the newly unveiled Galaxy Note 10.1.
"It’s the pen," said one reporter from a publication that specializes in mobile device reviews.
Ok, the Galaxy Note 10.1 has a pen. More specifically an "S Pen," as the company termed it when the feature was originally introduced with the Galaxy Note Smartphone in February. But if you took the pen away, would this tablet be any different than Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 2?
"There are some cool side-by-side features," the reporter adds, referring to the tablet’s ability to run two apps at once.
"I think the trim is different," offers another from a competing technology-focused publication.
Samsung’s presentation didn’t offer much more distinction. The S Pen stole the show.
"What makes the Galaxy Note 10.1 possible is the S Pen, which really, truly changes the game," said President of Samsung Electronics America Tim Baxter during an on-stage presentation.
One important thing you need to know about the S Pen is that it is not a stylus. "Make no mistake, this is not a stylus," said Travis Merrill, Samsung’s director of tablet marketing, during the same presentation. "Our competitors have nothing like it. The S Pen looks and feels like a pen, yet it’s packed with advanced technology."
To be fair, it’s a pretty cool stylu—er, "S Pen." For one, it uses electromagnetic technology to wirelessly sync with the screen, which helps accuracy. If you increase pressure on the S Pen, for instance, the line will be thicker on the screen. The screen distinguishes between more than 1,000 levels of pressure sensitivity.
The Galaxy Note 10.1's screen can also tell the difference between the pen and your hand, so you won’t see marks from where your hand touches when you write. And the built-in software works with the pen to translate hand-drawn math problems, text and shapes into type.
But no matter how you spin it, the S Pen is a stylus. Samsung is relying on it to position the Galaxy Note 10.1 as a tablet for content creators. Instead of just consuming content, this feature allows them to easily sketch, take notes or write math problems.
So what’s new in the tablet itself? The Galaxy Tab 2, which does not include an S Pen, measures 10.1 inches diagonally. The Galaxy Note measures 10.1 inches diagonally. The Tab 2 has a screen resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels. The Note has a screen resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels. The Tab weights 1.24 pounds, the Note weights 1.3 pounds. Both tablets run Android 4.0 and have similar audio, video and camera features. It’s a good thing the color choices are different (the Note comes in white and dark grey, the Tab in white and titanium silver).
Merrill tells Fast Company the biggest distinction between the Galaxy Note 10.1 and the stylus-less Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is the device’s quad-core 1.4GHz Exynos processor and 2 GB of RAM. Translated from Greek—"Exynos originates from the Greek words smart (exypnos) and green (prasinos)," according to Samsung—that means it's more powerful than any of its predecessors, which allows it to run two apps simultaneously.
"Think about it like the car industry." Samsung Director of Public Relations Ethan Rasiel tells Fast Company. "When you go to buy a car, there’s not just one car, you might have a hatchback, you might have an SUV or a convertible. That’s what you’re doing for different lifestyles and different needs."
Baxter jumps in: "And then within the SUV market, now you have the small, the big and the supersize. As those categories are emerging, and as we’re looking at a 25-million unit market of tablets in the U.S. this year, consumers are all not using them in the same way."
While Apple has earned a 65% worldwide tablet market share with one line of iPads, Samsung aims to serve a segmenting market. It started by offering two different size Galaxy Tabs. Now it's aiming to tackle different styles of tablet use.
That’s a big job for a pen.