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BW Businessworld

Power And Pen

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Let’s get the objections out of the way. Yes, it’s predictably plastic-ky. In fact, if Samsung doesn’t watch it, it will forever be synonymous with plastic, seeing the use of cheap-feeling material on so many devices, even flagship ones. Of all that I’ve seen so far, the Galaxy Note 800 (also known as the 10.1) is by far the most plastic-ky, with even a little play between the plastic and whatever the rest of the body inside is made of.

Which brings me to the second objection. At Rs 40,000 it costs too much. The first-level iPad costs less and while I can understand that Samsung wouldn’t want to position itself as low-end, the fact is that buyers will consider the iPad, too, with its burgeoning ecosystem of apps and a fabulous screen.
Which brings me to the third problem. The 10.1-inch screen on the Note 800. It’s bright and even glarey at times; it’s vivid and colourful; but the resolution, at 1280 x 800, is lower than it should be. And it’s in a form that I don’t particularly like — legal-size compared to the A-4 look of the iPad. But take that as a personal preference. 
BUDGET BOOK The Micromax Funbook Pro costs just around Rs 10,000
And related to this is the particular style of the keyboard which spaces out keys in a way that one is not accustomed to. Writing a short mail resulted in a few errors. I might also have said that the 5-megapixel camera was a disappointment, but I suspect taking pictures with a device of this form is going to be a rarity in any case. The pictures are bright and vivid, but grainy and fuzzy. Better in daylight, of course.

But now let’s get down to what’s interesting about the Note 800 and what makes it worth considering. I’d sum it up as: the power and the pen. The tablet runs on a 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos processor and has 2GB of RAM to get it to work without staggering. In fact, you can multitask by running two apps (from a list of six that can do this) simultaneously. You could, for example, watch a video and take notes at the same time. As you swipe through screens and move across the tablet to get to different areas, it feels fast and fluid. The OS used here, incidentally, is Ice Cream Sandwich, not the more recent Jelly Bean. You have 16GB of storage and can add an SD card. The battery is a 7,000mAh.
But the most distinctive feature of all on the Note 800 (and the rest of Samsung’s Note series) is, of course, the stylus or pressure sensitive and fine “S-Pen”. It’s super responsive, and you get a delightful surprise when you start to use it because it feels so natural. And it’s been improved since the previous Note. Tucked away neatly into a slot on the side of the tablet, you can pull it out easily and use it for all kinds of creative and fine work. It’s been said many times that Samsung has proved that tablets can be about content creation and not just consumption and I’d say that’s true. 
Artists, architects and anyone else who needs to work with the precision of pen and paper will enjoy this tablet. It’s an area where Samsung beats Apple hollow — the iPad isn’t optimised for stylus use. One needs many more apps, but there are pre-loaded ones to keep a user busy. These include PhotoShop Touch. There are many exportable features and capabilities on this tablet. Shape Match, for example, will “perfectise” a shape you draw with the pen. Formula Match will solve formulas written with the pen. Then there’s the ability to turn the tablet into a remote. 
As with the Galaxy S3, there are plenty of such usability touches that make the device interesting and a good alternative to those who, for whatever reason, aren’t interested in Apple’s iPad.
The Big Lowcost Tablet
We think of lowcost tablets as being on the small side, kitted out with just the merest basics. The Funbook Pro, from Micromax, may cost just Rs 10,990 or even less in certain places, but it’s a big, landscapey 10.1-inch tablet. It’s the successor to the Funbook which stopped at 7 inches. This tab has a bright, 1024 x 600 pixels display on which I had a rather good time watching strange fish swimming from one end to the other. While this was fluid enough, navigating screens and moving across apps did show up a little stutter; sort of a pause. going from one thing to another.
Anyone who needs to work with the precision of pen and paper will enjoy the s-pen in samsung galaxy note 800.

The Funbook Pro runs on a 1.2GHz Cortex A8 processor and Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich version, which, for all practical purposes, is the latest, as the most recent Jelly Bean hasn’t made it to many devices yet. The ICS truly adds to the tablet as it makes you feel that you’re not getting something severely dated and compromised. There’s 1GB RAM and 8GB of space that you can expand to 32GB with an SD card. These specs are not bad at all, though I wish the tab could work without that frame-by-frame feel that turns up sometimes.
This is a really wide tablet when you hold it sideways. And narrow and long otherwise.  It’s not the ideal paperback book size, for example. But it’s a nice browsing size. It’s also roomy enough to interest kids who want to get their hands on games — going by the name of the device. It’s a nice size for movies and also for typing, which is specially critical. 
Overall, while I wouldn’t say it feels premium exactly, I also definitely wouldn’t write it off as being cheap and plastic-ky. It’s a tiny bit heavy, but because it’s landscape you’ll probably be holding it in both hands and it feels safer and more solid-build at whatever weight it is. But it does tend to get a little hot right from the start as you use it. For a tablet with a name like Funbook, it’s unfortunate that there are no design stylisations and it’s the usual Android slab on that front. But it works fine and isn’t slow and sluggish despite the stutter. Battery life could have been better.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 01-10-2012)