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The stylus and medicine, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Review

Starting with the tagline “The Next Big Thing Is Already Here,” Samsung has been clearly setting its sights on Apple’s iPad and iPhone.

On the heels of the successful Galaxy smartphones, Samsung released the Galaxy Note 10.1, an Android-based 10-inch tablet that introduced a true fine-tipped stylus, promising a more precise and natural pen-like interaction with documents.

Contrary to the clumsy, blunt-tipped capacitive styluses for the iPad, the Note 10.1 (and it’s 5.5” tablet/phone sibling, the Galaxy Note II) utilizes stylus technology from industry-leader Wacom that provides pressure-sensitivity and precision.

The saying goes that the pen is a physician’s most important medical instrument, so does that mean the Galaxy Note 10.1’s advanced stylus allows it to edge out the iPad?

Can doctors finally enjoy a true pen-like experience with tablets?

Hardware: Clean and Professional

The Galaxy Note 10.1 features a professional and clean two-tone color motif with silver and black. It features two speakers in stereo (the iPad only has mono), and houses the stylus in one of its corners. A 1.9MP front-facing camera rests above the screen, and a 5MP rear camera sits in the top middle of the tablet.

Unfortunately, the tablet housing is made almost entirely of plastic. While the plastic does not feel flimsy or overly cheap, it definitely lacks the sturdiness and solid feel of the iPad. Along its top, the Note features a power button, volume buttons, a microSD card slot, an iR blaster, and headphone jack. Unluckily, it utilizes a proprietary Samsung cable for charging and syncing, so be careful to not lose the cable.

The Note’s 10.1 inch screen features a resolution of 1280 x 800, which comes out to 150ppi (pixels per inch). For reference, the iPad’s Retina Display features 264ppi, and the iPad Mini features 163ppi. While the lack of retina display was discernible with noticeable pixilation when compared side-by-side with a retina display, the Note 10.1’s screen was still fairly sharp, with excellent viewing angles and sufficient brightness for hospital use.

iPad 3 (Left), Galaxy Note 10.1 (Right)

Form Factor: 10-Inch Tablets Are Too Big for Most Medical Use

As we’ve written in two separate articles thus far, the general consensus here at is that 10 inch tablets are simply too bulky for regular use by most physicians. The Note 10.1 is no exception. In thickness and weight, the Note 10.1 just barely edges out the Retina iPad: the Note is 0.35 inches thick as compared to the 0.37 inch iPad, and weighs 1.31 lbs compared to the iPad’s 1.44 lbs.

The Note does have a slightly larger surface area, as it houses a 10.1 inch screen rather than a 9.8 inch like the iPad, although the screens seem virtually the same size side-by-side. When held landscape, the screen on the Galaxy Note is slightly wider and shorter, adopting a 16 x 10 ratio rather than the 4 x 3 ratio of the iPad.

While the 16 x 10 ratio might be preferred for watching video, I prefer the iPad’s 4 x 3 ratio’s versatility in both portrait and landscape orientations. When held in portrait, the Galaxy Note 10.1 felt a little too tall and narrow.

Stylus Hardware: Real Pen-Like Interaction Has Arrived …

In reality, the Galaxy Note 10.1’s usefulness as a tablet for physicians really hinges on the experience created by its fine-tipped stylus (branded the S Pen) and Wacom digitizer. Technologically, the S Pen functions almost exactly as advertised: The fine tip was precise, and I even felt confident writing small text, which is simply not possible with blunt-tipped capacitive styluses. The feel of the stylus on the screen was smooth and natural.

Furthermore, every stroke was rendered quickly. A bonus perk is that the Note 10.1’s stylus can be replaced with any Wacom-compatible stylus, just in case you lose the original S Pen. Wacom recently announced the bamboo line of styluses, built specifically for the Galaxy Note line.

Another feature I appreciated greatly (enabled in most apps) was the option to disregard pen strokes not made by the S Pen, preventing stray pen marks from being made by my wrist. Despite this feature, I did find myself occasionally pressing buttons on the screen with my wrist, which was aggravating at times.

With respect to the stylus itself, it is roughly the thickness of a standard BIC pen, and about two-thirds as tall. Hidden where you grip the S Pen is a small button than enables certain actions when associated with gestures.

For example, holding the button and then tapping and holding the S Pen on the screen allows a screen shot to be made, which can then be edited and annotated with the stylus. Also, holding the button down and double-tapping on the screen brings up a quick notepad for jotting notes at the spur of the moment.

Unfortunately, the button is so subtly designed (no differentiation in color or texture), I often found myself accidentally pressing down the button and rendering the S Pen ineffective as a writing device.  It also would be nice for the option to use the button as a toggle for erasing or changing color, as that might be more useful for certain users.


David Ahn, MD (@AhnCall)

Former Staff Writer for iMedicalApps, he is a senior Endocrinology fellow at UC San Diego. He primarily covered Diabetes, Fitness/Metabolism, and wearable technology. David is now working on Sugar Streak, a smartphone and watch app for Diabetes.

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7 Responses to The stylus and medicine, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Review

  1. faraz January 21, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    Wait till the galaxy note 8.0 is released at MWC next month, then you will have something more practical in size.
    And the S pen can be used anyplace you use your finger not just ln S Note. I regularly use it to mark up pdfs on adobe. It can also be used instead of the regular keyboard with inbuilt handwriting recognition (which is still quite buggy) just by long pressing the key on the left of the spacebar.

    Sent from my galaxy note 2

    • David Ahn, MD January 23, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

      thanks faranz! i’m actually using a Galaxy Note 2 right now, and am finding the size much more usable than the 10.1. Like you, I’m particularly excited by the galaxy note 8. Depending on what it’s like, it could provide real competition for the iPad Mini. thanks for the tip!

  2. Tony January 31, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    I agree, the galaxy note 8 will be the best one yet! I just hope they don’t make it too expensive, which wouldn’t suprise me :/ I carry my note 10.1 everywhere, and I think it’s just a tad too big.

    As for the usability of the s pen in a medical setting, I think you should try the app called “Lecture notes”! You mentioned that there weren’t any other apps that really utilized the s pen, but this one does an amazing job with it! I am not really a fan of s note myself, mostly because the palm rejection isn’t that great. Lecture notes is just like carrying around a notebook and it lets you adjust just about everything you can think of!

    Here are my favorite ones:
    – Complete palm rejection so you don’t accidentally zoom in while writing, the only issue I have anymore is if I occasionally let my palm hit the notification bar. If that really annoys you, you can root the tablet and LN will give you the option to hide the notification bar.
    – Fully adjustable pen tip sizes so you can make a tip significantly smaller than any s note size. I’m 99% certain you could make a size small enough for your charts. You can also set a quick bar for different pen tips anywhere on the screen, and you can make it so the size is pressure sensitive or velocity sensitive.
    – You can import a pdf pretty painlessly for everything you need. I have a 4 page pdf for full H&P’s and a 2 page one for progress notes, and I love them.
    – The page layout is adjustable, so you can make different size pieces of paper if you want.
    – You can set the volume buttons to scroll for you. This feature is amazing actually, because I hold the tablet with my left hand behind it so my index finger is on the volume rocker and as I write I can scroll the page without having to use my right hand at all.
    – There are a few different ways to zoom. You can set a zoom bar on either side of the screen, you can have preset zoom sizes in the toolbar for quickly zooming in and out, and you can even set a minimum space between your fingers (This is really handy for me. I set it so I can put my finger and thumb on the opposite corners of the screen and then change zoom from there, but if my fingers are too close it wont let me change zoom. This stops inadvertent zooming.)

    There are numerous other reasons that this app is the best, but a lot of it is just preference in how you set it up! There is a free trial version in the market, you should seriously consider it and write back if you like it!


    P.S. I have no association with this developer in any way, I honestly just love the app enough to say something about it!

  3. Bill Mitchell March 2, 2013 at 6:25 am #

    When the Note 8.0 finally does arrive (I HATE waiting) two things will happen. It will sell out quickly as pretty much everyone will want one and, there will be a flood of cheap Note 10.1’s on eBay and Craigslist as everyone tries to dump theirs to get a Note 8.0.

  4. Carol July 26, 2013 at 1:40 am #

    Does anyone use the note with electronic medical records? Is it possible to sync it with an EMR, write in cursive (or print), and have that converted to text? That’s what I’ve been waiting for in a tablet.

  5. Ahmed faik December 26, 2013 at 3:18 am #

    Now GN3 is muchbetter

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