Bonnie Cha

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Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 U.S. Launch Set for August 16

In less than 24 hours, Samsung will release its flagship tablet for the year here in the U.S.

The company announced today at an event in New York that the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 will go on sale Aug. 16 at various retailers, including Best Buy, Office Depot and Amazon, with pricing set at $499 for the 16 gigabyte Wi-Fi model, and $549 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model.

First introduced in early August, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is a bit different from other tablets on the market, as it features a built-in stylus (or the “S Pen,” as Samsung calls it) and comes preloaded with a set of apps optimized for use with the S Pen to help increase productivity, creativity and multitasking.

You can read more about the tablet’s features and performance in my colleague Walt Mossberg’s full review. I also had a chance to check out the tablet in person a few days before the event, and there are many things that I like about Galaxy Note 10.1. But I’m not completely sold on it.

As far as hardware, the Galaxy Note 10.1 isn’t a real standout. It has a 10.1-inch display with a 1,280 by 800 pixel resolution. Though it’s clear and bright enough for reading text and viewing video and images, it’s not the sharpest display I’ve ever seen (the iPad has a 2,048 by 1,536 pixel resolution). Samsung said it had to make some trade-offs to keep costs down.

The tablet is on the larger side, at 10 inches wide by 7 inches tall, but is still relatively slim at 0.3-inch thick. On top of the device, there is a power button, volume up and down keys, a microSD expansion slot and an IR port that lets you use the tablet as a remote control for your TV. The Galaxy Note 10.1 also has two cameras — a five-megapixel camera on the back and a 1.9-megapixel camera on the front just above the display.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 will ship running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but it will be upgraded to the latest Jelly Bean operating system. Samsung did not provide a time frame for the update.

Things get interesting once you start using the S Pen. As soon as you remove the stylus from its housing, a pop-up menu will appear on the right side of the screen that displays all the apps that are designed to work with the S Pen. This includes S Note, S Planner, Crayon Physics, Photoshop Touch and Polaris Office.

In addition to the apps, Samsung added a multiscreen feature that allows you to work in two different programs at the same time, for easier multitasking. For now, you can only use the multiscreen function with six apps — Web browser, video player, photo gallery, S Note, Polaris Office and email — but Samsung said it will open up the feature to other developers, so they can add their apps to the list.

When you’re in one of these apps, you’ll find a drop-down menu that allows to you launch one of the other five programs and then presents them side by side. I thought this was a pretty cool feature. I can imagine myself having an email open on one side and then making notes to a document using Polaris Office on the other. I also liked that you could take a screenshot by pressing a button on the S Pen, and then drag it over to a note or document to add comments.

The stylus has other tricks. It’s pressure-sensitive, so if you press down harder on the screen, it will create a thicker line when you’re drawing or writing, while light pressure will create a finer line. You can also hover the S Pen’s point over a section of a Web site to view any drop-down menus or other graphical elements.

With the multiscreen feature, suite of apps and larger display, I think the S Pen-tablet combination is a good one, much more so than the Galaxy Note smartphone. While not a laptop replacement, I see the benefits it could bring as a productivity tool and educational aid.

But one of my reservations of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is that it’s not entirely user-friendly. While trying out a couple of apps, there was a lot of trial and error to figure out how to complete a task. For example, the Kno textbook app lets you add notes to any page in a book, but it’s not immediately clear how to do so.

The other thing that gives me pause is the price. At $499 and $549, we’re talking iPad prices here. Though I always appreciate a choice in devices, I feel the Galaxy Note 10.1 is a tad overpriced for what it offers. Whether people are willing to pay a premium for a stylus and a few extra apps remains to be seen.

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