Thoughts On: The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 From An Artist's Perspective

I bought the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet three times, I liked it so much.

I also returned it three times, which I guess means I didn’t like it enough.

Like the living dead--or bad tablet art representations of them
--it will probably return from the grave...

Since I’m writing this article on the off chance artist-y types might be Googling what other artist-y types thought of it, here’s my verdict: it’s a really good tablet for an illustrator, especially if that illustrator doesn’t have a tablet already.  It wasn’t attractive enough for me to want to give up my iPad2 and regular paper sketchbook, but it was close enough to warrant second (third) thoughts.

I bought a Note 10.1  the day the model came out in Canada.  The plan was to dive into its Wacom-enabled pressure-sensitivity goodness, swim around in artist bliss, and pass my iPad 2 to the wife.  And while I’m not used to Android, or Samsung mobile goods, I got used to the interface pretty quick, and the tablet itself seemed pretty cool.

What I was not prepared with what an absolute joke connectivity was (or wasn’t) possible between the tablet and my iMac running Mountain Lion. I know that neither Google nor Samsung exactly want to make-out in a closet with Apple these days, but the Samsung “Kies” program, meant to hook the tablet up to my iMac, was and is a joke.  At first it wouldn’t even unbundle on Mountain Lion because it was out-of-date software and the Apple Nazi Program (TM) wouldn’t let it.  After finding an unpackaging workaround online, “Kies” still didn’t work for me.  That first purchase, it never worked.  Connected to my iMac by USB the tablet remained permanently invisible.

apple fan-boy! apple fan-boy! apple-fanboy!

--No, let’s nip that talk in the bud before this goes any further.  If I had the time to do the number of opinion articles on this blog that I’d like to, believe me, I’d eventually get around to a post on the million and a half ways that Apple Inc. makes my life hell.  I’m convinced I hitched myself to the Apple wagon train at exactly the point in time (2008) that it was headed downhill.  But no matter; the world does not need another article about how nuts iTunes can make a person, how their maniacal locking down of the iMac with anti-upgrading countermeasures is pure evil, and how the iOS-ing of the regular Macintosh OS is pure stupid.  Anyway, I can’t go back now; I bloody buy software now that I can afford it, and I’ve bought too many of the Apple versions of things to go back.  It’s a marriage, for good or ill.

Back to the Note 10.1:   I tried the “Kies Air” version of “Kies”, but that was no dice.  I also tried Bluetooth hookup, but that was slower than hell, so back went the tablet.

This “art” was from my first round of fiddling with the Note 10.1  Feel free to laugh, but realize also: these were paid for with much swearing...

The failure of my second purchase of the Note 10.1 had nothing to do with Samsung, Google or Apple.  When I learned that Samsung finally got around to updating the “Kies” software (version 2 - point-something) for Mac, I impulse-purchased a Note 10.1 from a Staples, and the jerks sold me a tablet that somebody else had previously returned.  No discount, no notice, just a new seal applied over the previously broken one.  Screw them and their aisles full of overpriced paper.

Two days later I bought the Note 10.1 for the third time, and we can get to the meat of things:

First thing, the “Kies” interface is still crap.  My iMac running Mountain Lion still wouldn’t see the tablet via the USB wire.  After four hours of futzing, I gave up and switched to “Kies Air” and this time got it working. Frankly, it wasn’t worth the wait. The Android experience was certainly not all the free-wheeling goodness I’d been led to expect from all the anti-Apple rhetoric.  But forget that; some people like organizing their stuff via storage clouds and drop boxes and whatnot, and I’m just too Grandma Simpson for all that.  I’m sure for the younger set the Note 10.1 is just jazzy wonderful.  It certainly ran fast and all that, and complaints about its lack of super-duper resolution never really made much sense to me.

But because the regular tablet side of the Note 10.1 experience really wasn’t wowing me, if I was to hand off my iPad 2 to the wife, the art side of things had to really be worth it.

I ran that third tablet for a week, sketching or painting every evening after work.  The first thing any sketchers out there reading this need to know is this: forget PS Touch and S Note, the apps that ship with the tablet and S Pen.  Using those, I couldn’t sketch anywhere near well enough to suit myself.  This YouTube video turned me on to Layer Paint, and indeed it blew S Note and PS Touch out of the water.

I’d like to say that the sketching potential of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is entirely up to the user’s endless abilities, but I just can’t.  There’s just a little too much in the way of the experience to call this a complete replacement for old fashioned paper and pencil, or even a notebook with a proper Wacom. I’m an infrequent sketcher.  I never practice as much as I should, and futzing with the orientation bothered me; futzing with the interfaces bothered me; zooming in and out to properly oversee line width bothered me; the little S-pen bothered me (but you can get bigger ones); lastly, the slippery surface of the tablet really bothered me (I never installed a screen protector, but I suspect one might really help)   I have no doubts others will be able to make the Note 10.1 sing.  Me, not so much.  I felt hemmed-in, out-of-my-league and timid.

Again, I imagine this is what the lovemaking of an overwhelmed 15 year-old virgin with a bad facial birthmark looks like when you represent it as low-brow sketching...

When I originally contemplated buying the Note 10.1  I was really envisioning several scenarios, but the most common one was never having to travel with both my iPad and a sketchbook and pencils again.  I now realize that wasn’t going to come completely true because I just wouldn’t get the time to make the Note 10.1 reproduce what I can do with the paper and pencil. So when I lugged the tablet out to places I could draw with it--on vacation, at the cottage, in the doctor’s office-- I wouldn’t get real sketching.  Why?  Because I wouldn’t be using the tablet enough the rest of the time to get to the point I could actually produce anything of value when I did use it.

Would I be practicing on it at night when I come home from work, when I have a proper Wacom, not to mention regular paper and pencils?  No, and the moments when my free time and mood for drawing line up are so finite, they’re practically worthy of their own particle accelerator experiment.

What I’d have when I traveled would be a subpar sketching interface that I might get good at, if I stuck it out long enough.

Speaking to the artist-y types, I think the Note 10.1 is perfect for someone who really wants to tackle the challenge of making it sing.  I’m sure it can be done.  But I don’t have the on-the-go lifestyle to make it worth my while to buy one.  I don’t travel often or far enough to make owning the Note 10.1 a wise decision.  If I didn’t already have a tablet, it’s maybe the one I’d buy so that I could do occasional work on it.  But that’s the only way I’d justify the purchase.