sexta-feira, 27 de dezembro de 2013

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) vs Microsoft Surface 2: Tablet Comparison

The holiday season is almost upon us, and so the biggest players in the tablet market finally have their latest flagships already available. The Surface 2, from Microsoft, and 
the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, by Samsung, are some of the most interesting tablet 
flagships this holiday season. Both of them have very high-end specs, including high-resolution displays and powerful processors, along with a (perhaps too) high price tag. But which one is worth your money the most?

Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) Microsoft Surface 2
 Body   243 x 171 x 7.9mm, 540g (Wi-Fi)/547g (LTE)   275 x 172.5 x 8.9mm, 676g 
 Display   10.1" TFT LCD 2560 x 1600 (299ppi)  10.6" ClearType 1920 x 1080 (208ppi)
 Connectivity   Wi-Fi, GSM (2G), HSDPA (3G), LTE (4G)  Wi-Fi
 Storage  16/32 GB, 3 GB RAM  32/64 GB, 2 GB RAM
 Camera (Rear)  8 MP with LED flash, Dual-camera, dual-recording and HDR and 1080p video  5 MP with LED flash and 1080p video
 Camera (Front)  2 MP with 1080p video  3.5 MP with 1080p video
 OS  Android 4.3 Jelly Bean  Windows 8.1 RT
 Processor  Wi-Fi: Exynos 5420 (Quad-core Cortex-A15 @ 1.9GHz + Quad-core Cortex-A7 @ 1.3GHz + Mali-T628 GPU)
 LTE: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 MSM8974 (Quad-core Krait @ 2.3GHz + Adreno 330 GPU)
 NVIDIA Tegra 4 (Quad-core Cortex-A15 @ 1.7GHz + 72-core ULP GeForce)
 Battery  Non-removable 8,220 mAh
 Up to 10 hours of use
 Non-removable ~8,500 mAh (31.5 Wh)
 Up to 10 hours of use
 Accessories  - S Pen stylus  - Touch Cover 2 ($119)
 - Type Cover 2 ($129)
 - Power Cover ($199)
 Price  $549 (16 GB, Wi-Fi)  $449 (32 GB)

The two tablets, despite both being flagships, compete at different price points, which explains partially why the Surface 2's specs aren't as impressive as the Galaxy Note 10.1's.


These two flagship tablets feature some very nice designs to go with the powerful hardware inside them and their high prices. In terms of materials the Surface 2 has the upper hand, because while the Galaxy Note 10.1 has a plastic back with a special texture that makes it look like leather (aka faux leather), the Surface 2's internals are protected by a durable magnesium alloy the Microsoft calls VaporMg. That gives the Surface 2 a premium look over the Note 10.1, and it's more durable too. The faux leather on the Note 10.1 might be appealing to some, but to others, including me, the leather imitation is not attractive. 

Despite its high-quality materials, the Surface 2 just falls short of its competitors when it comes to its size and weight. It's inevitably larger, since the screen is 1/2" larger than its Android rivals and is 0.9" larger than the iPad's screen, so we can't blame Microsoft for that. Not only that, but it's also thicker than most recent flagship tablets (the Galaxy Note 10.1 measures 7.9mm thick, and the iPad Air is 7.5mm thick) and much heavier, weighing 676g versus the Galaxy Note 10.1's 540g and the iPad Air's 469g. Of course some of that extra weight comes from the larger dimensions due to the larger screen, but that doesn't excuse the Surface 2 for being that heavy. It's still quite comfortable to hold, but the Galaxy Note 10.1 will definitely tire your arms less when holding the tablet for an extended period of time. The Surface 2 also has considerably larger bezels than its rivals. Considering the size of the screen, however, the bezel size is quite appreciable.

Of course, the Surface 2's built-in kickstand distinguishes it from all of its competitors. The new 2-stage kickstand is very useful, and is something you'd only be able to achieve on other tablets with covers like the iPad's Smart Cover, and considering the Surface 2's weight, you might find yourself using the kickstand more than you imagine. Also, one unique feature of the Surface 2 is its keyboard covers, which attach to the amazingly strong magnetic connector on the bottom side of the tablet and can also double as a cover for the screen. There are three options of keyboard covers, starting with the Touch Cover 2, which sells for $119 and this one features capacitive keys, which are now backlit, the Type Cover 2, which sells for $129, is thicker than the Touch Cover 2 with the benefit of having physical keys, which are also backlit. Finally there's the Power Cover, which will be available as of early 2014 for $199, and will be basically a Type Cover 2 with a built-in battery. Along with Microsoft Office RT 2013, the keyboard covers make the Surface 2 just about the most productive ARM tablet on the planet. 

The Galaxy Note 10.1 also has some productivity-oriented tricks up its sleeve with its S Pen digitizer, which comes included with the tablet and offers precise pen input for taking notes and other related tasks. 


Of these two tablets, it's the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition that has the better display. While the display is smaller, measuring 10.1" diagonally, it packs much more pixels than the Surface 2, with a stunning 2560 x 1600 resolution and a top-notch 299ppi pixel density. Samsung's display also has excellent viewing angles and reproduces colors vibrantly and accurately. 

The Surface 2 packs a slightly larger 10.6" screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, resulting in a pixel density of 208ppi. Microsoft uses its so-called ClearType technology in the Surface 2, which means that the touch panel and the glass are laminated to the display, reducing reflections and thus making the tablet's screen more comfortable to use in direct light or outdoors. The display also has wide viewing angles, and like the Note 10.1 also reproduces accurate and saturated colors, although the Note 10.1 is still slightly more vivid. The difference in the two displays' pixel densities is quite easily noticeable when viewing text. The Note 10.1 is just completely devoid of any pixellation, while the Surface 2, while still very crisp, does show some pixellation in text if you look closely. 

The two displays have slightly different aspect ratios. While the Note 10.1 is 16:10, the Surface 2 is even wider with a 16:9 aspect ratio. So while the Note 10.1 is noticeably less wide, both screen share the same benefits and problems, for instance, they're excellent for watching videos, but while the Note 10.1 would show a very small amount of letterboxing, the Surface 2 should be devoid of any letterboxing. Both are also quite awkward to use in portrait mode, but the Note 10.1 is arguably a bit less awkward to use in portrait. In any case, both displays are excellent, but the Note 10.1 certainly outclasses the Surface 2 in every way, even if by a little. 


As flagship tablets, both of them are equipped with the latest and greatest silicon. The Surface 2 has a Tegra 4 processor, while the Galaxy Note 10.1 goes with a Snapdragon 800 beast for the LTE variant or Samsung's own Exynos 5420 processor for the Wi-Fi only version.

The Tegra 4 is NVIDIA's latest system-on-chip, and utilizes the 4-PLUS-1 architecture originally introduced in the Tegra 3, what that means is that there is one main CPU cluster, which is composed of four Cortex-A15 cores clocked at up to 1.9GHz with one core active (and 1.7GHz with more than one core active) and one additional shadow A15 core targeted for low frequency (up to ~825MHz) and low power consumption. When the CPU workload is very light, for example, when the device is idling, all processing transfers to the shadow core and the quad-core A15 cluster is power-gated, so that the shadow core can process these light tasks while consuming very low power, enhancing battery life. Performance-wise, the Cortex-A15 is one of the best performing mobile CPUs in existence, so CPU performance on the Surface 2 should be on par with the industry's greatest. 

The GPU in the Tegra 4 is a bit more disappointing. The shader architecture is the only one in the current mobile industry that is discrete rather than unified, and mind you, that's the architecture that most similarly resembles the Geforce 6000 series (which is very old indeed). Basically this means that, instead of each shader in the GPU being able to process pixel or vertex instructions based on the workload, there are separate pixel and vertex shader units. With a total of 72 shader cores (48 shader, 24 vertex) with a pretty high clock speed of 672MHz, the Tegra 4 actually packs a lot of processing power, despite its old architecture. As benchmarks will show, Tegra 4's GPU performance is somewhat behind the Snapdragon 800 and the Exynos 5420 processors used in the Galaxy Note 10.1, but considering that the Surface 2's GPU needs to push roughly half the amount of pixels compared to the Note 10.1, they're actually well-balanced performance-wise.

The Galaxy Note 10.1's Wi-Fi version is packed with an Exynos 5420 processor, more commonly known as Exynos 5 Octa. This processor uses ARM's big.LITTLE CPU architecture which, similarly to NVIDIA's 4-PLUS-1, has one high-performance CPU cluster and a second power-saving CPU cluster. The main cluster is very similar to the Tegra 4, containing four Cortex-A15 cores with a clock speed of 1.9GHz. Unlike the Tegra 4 though, which uses only one core in the power-saving cluster, Samsung went rather overkill and crammed in four low-power Cortex-A7 cores running at up to 1.3GHz. I'm not sure rather the Quad-core A7 @ 1.3GHz is more or less efficient in saving power than a single A15 @ 825MHz, but both solutions should have a similar effect on power consumption. In benchmarks, however, the Exynos 5420 is certainly very close to the Tegra 4, since their high-performing CPU clusters are practically identical. 

On the GPU side, the Exynos 5420 packs ARM's Mali-T628 GPU, which benchmarks prove to be a very powerful GPU and adequate for the Galaxy Note 10.1's high-resolution duties. Unlike the Tegra 4, the Mali-T628 is as modern as mobile GPUs go, as the shader architecture is unified and the GPU boasts full support of OpenGL ES 3.0.

The LTE Galaxy Note 10.1 is equipped with the industry leading Snapdragon 800 processor. This CPU in the Snapdragon 800 is a Quad-core configuration of Qualcomm's own Krait 400 CPU core, running at a max clock speed of 2.3GHz. The CPU is power-efficient enough so that an extra low-power CPU cluster isn't necessary here. In fact, one interesting ability of the Krait 400 core is that each core can run at a different clock speed depending on the workload put on each core, unlike the Cortex-A15, which has the same clock speed on all active cores. What's the advantage of that? For example, if the current workload requires two cores active, using one at full power but only processing light tasks on the second core, a Cortex-A15 CPU would put both cores on their highest clock speed, say, 1.9GHz, even though the second core is processing a light task and doesn't need the full 1.9GHz, while a Krait core, with the same workload, would put the first core on full power, in this case, 2.3GHz, and the second core at a lower clock speed adequate for its current task, say, 1.0GHz. This unique feature really helps increase power efficiency, and renders extra low-power CPU cores unnecessary. In terms of performance, its high clock speed and its strong core architecture make the Snapdragon 800 one of the fastest CPUs around, if not the fastest. 

The GPU in the Snapdragon 800 is the company's own Adreno 330. Since Qualcomm never discloses information about its GPU architectures, I'm left with very little to say about it, however, we do know that, like the Mali-T628, it has a modern architecture, with a unified shader architecture and full OpenGL ES 3.0 support. In general, the Adreno 330 does perform a bit better than the Mali-T628, but its performance is still pretty close to the Mali-T628. 

Now, with all that technical babble about architectures out of the way, let's get to actually testing these processors' performance in benchmarks, starting with Geekbench 3, which measures CPU and memory performance.

Note: The Galaxy Note 10.1's LTE edition isn't commercially available, so I had to take Snapdragon 800 benchmark results from the Note III, which runs the same software as the Note 10.1 and should therefore have almost identical results to the actual S800-powered Note 10.1. However, the difference in resolution (1080p vs 1600p) between the Note III and the Note 10.1 means I can't include onscreen GPU benchmark results for the Snapdragon 800.

Note (2): Unfortunately Geekbench 3 isn't available for Windows RT, so I can't include results for the Surface 2, so I took the performance results from an Android tablet whose processor most closely resembles the Surface 2's, the ASUS Transformer Pad TF701T, which is powered by a slightly higher-clocked Tegra 4.

The main current SoC flagships all have surprisingly similar CPU performance. The Tegra 4, Snapdragon 800 and Exynos 5420 offer very similar single-threaded performance, despite the architectural differences between the Krait 400 core and the Cortex-A15. The only clearly distinguished competitor here is the 64-bit Apple A7, but this is out of the scope of this comparison. When it comes to heavily-threaded tasks the Tegra 4 and the Exynos 5420 are practically identical (seeing as their CPUs ARE identical), along with the Apple A7, while the Snapdragon 800 takes the lead, though not by a big margin.

Evidently, the Galaxy Note 10.1's and the Surface 2's respective processors perform very similarly when it comes to CPU performance, so now let's check out some performance scores regarding the GPU performance with the popular cross-platform application, GFXBench. The two following tests are Offscreen test. That means that the GPU renders at a non-native, fixed 1080p resolution, so that differences between the devices' resolutions don't impact their performance.
In this test the Apple A7 takes the lead, followed closely by the Snapdragon 800. The Exynos 5420-toting Note 10.1 falls a bit behind, and the Tegra 4 in the Surface 2 receives a mediocre score compared to its competitors. Thankfully, the Surface 2 has less pixels to push than the Note 10.1, which will give it a performance advantage in the onscreen tests. 

In this test the Snapdragon 800 and the Exynos 5420 take the lead, with the A7 hot on its heels and the Tegra 4, again, yielding a rather mediocre score. 

Since the Note 10.1 has to push about a couple million pixels more than the Surface 2, it was the Tegra 4 that was faster in the Onscreen T-Rex HD test, but not by as much of a huge margin as two million less pixels would otherwise imply. In fact, I expect the Snapdragon 800-powered Note 10.1 will be able to match or even outperform the Surface 2 in this test, despite having twice the resolution. 

For the Egypt HD Onscreen test, not even the Surface 2's lower resolution helped it outperform the Note 10.1. Even with double the resolution, the Note 10.1 managed a much higher score than the Surface 2. In comparing the Surface 2's GPU performance to other Tegra 4 devices, I realized that the Surface 2 is in fact one of the worst performing Tegra 4 devices. That is probably because Microsoft chose one of the slower Tegra 4 SKUs for the Surface 2, and the CPU clock speed reduction from 1.9GHz to 1.7GHz might have come along with a GPU clock speed reduction from the full 672MHz, perhaps to 600MHz like on the 1.8GHz Tegra 4 in the Tegra Note tablet. At any rate, it's clear that the GPU performance in the Surface 2 isn't as good as the Galaxy Note 10.1

Power Consumption

From these two devices being compared, it's probably the Galaxy Note 10.1 that draws the most power. The first and most obvious cause is that it has much higher resolution screen to power. Also, while the SoC should be very power efficient due to its 28nm process (the Exynos 5420 is built on a 28nm High-K Metal Gate process, while the Snapdragon 800 uses a 28nm HPM process), but given the heavy duties that the GPU will be in charge of due to the high pixel count, it could become quite a power hog, especially when playing games. But the battery is very decently sized, which leads to Samsung's 10 hours of usage claim. 

The Surface 2 has, obviously, much less pixels to power, so the power consumption of the display is significantly lower. The Tegra 4 processor is also built on a 28nm process, so it won't get too hot or consume too much power when processing heavy tasks, like gaming. And while I can't compare the Surface 2's and the Galaxy Note 10.1's battery sizes directly, since Microsoft gives the battery size in watt-hours, and Samsung uses mAh, I can only compare them by estimating the Surface 2's capacity in mAh. Assuming that it's a 3.7V battery, the Surface 2 has around an 8,500 mAh capacity, which is actually slightly larger than the Samsung's 8,220 mAh battery. Then again, the battery voltage in the Surface 2 could easily not be 3.7V, which would lead to a different value altogether, but the safest bet (and that in itself isn't very safe) is 3.7V. Well, the extra thickness of the Surface 2 had to offer some advantage aside from the kickstand. Anyways, despite the lower display resolution and the (maybe) larger battery, Microsoft claims the same 10 hours of usage for the Surface 2, but in practice I'd expect the Surface 2 to outlast the Galaxy Note 10.1, even if only by a little. 

Pricing and Conclusion

Of course, the Surface 2's slightly weaker specs compared to the Galaxy Note 10.1 is justified by their different prices. The entry-level 32 GB Surface 2 sells for $449, while the 16 GB Wi-Fi only Galaxy Note 10.1 has a hefty $549 price tag. That's a $100 dollar difference for the same user-available storage capacity (as the Surface 2's OS leaves it only with about 17.5 GB of free disk space). The 64 GB Surface 2 (that has about 47 GB of free space initially) matches the 16 GB Note 10.1 at $549, while the 32 GB Note 10.1 will cost you $599. So clearly these tablets are competing at different price points. 

The Surface 2 is hands down the best tablet for productivity. With its handy two-stage kickstand and the new backlit Touch and Type covers, which act as much as keyboards as screen covers, as well as the Windows 8.1 RT operating system and the inclusion of Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student make it by far the most productive tablet available. However, the relatively new Windows Store has many important apps available, but is still missing some key apps, like Instagram, and has nowhere near the amount of apps that the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store offer.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition is the polar opposite of the Surface 2. With a higher-resolution display and a very useful S-Pen stylus, as well as the vast app and media ecosystem offered by the Android OS and its associated app store, the Note 10.1 is up there with the iPad Air as one of the best tablets available for entertainment.

So it really comes down to whether you want a tablet that is geared towards productivity, i.e. a laptop replacement, or a tablet that offers the best for entertainment purposes. The difference in pricing is also a factor, as many will probably find the Galaxy Note 10.1 too expensive.

sábado, 14 de dezembro de 2013

Apple iPad Air vs Microsoft Surface 2: Tablet Comparison

The holiday season is almost upon us, and so the biggest players in the tablet market finally have their latest flagships already available. The iPad Air, from Apple, and Microsoft's Surface 2 are some of the most interesting tablet flagships this holiday season. Considering how Windows RT and the original Surface have both failed to gain significant market share in the tablet market, it'll be interesting to see how the second generation Surface fares. Both tablets have very high-end specs, including high-resolution displays and very powerful processors, along with a high price tag. But which one is worth your money the most?

Apple iPad Air Microsoft Surface 2
 Body    240 x 169.5 x 7.5mm, 469g (Wi-Fi)/478 (LTE)  275 x 172.5 x 8.9mm, 676g 
 Display   9.7" IPS LCD 2048 x 1536 (264ppi)  10.6" ClearType TFT LCD 1920 x 1080 (208ppi)
 Storage   16/32/64 GB, 1 GB RAM  32/64 GB (microSD expandable), 2 GB RAM
 Connectivity   Wi-Fi, GSM (2G), HSDPA (3G), LTE (4G)  Wi-Fi
 Camera (Rear)  5 MP with face detection, F/2.4 lens aperture, HDR and 1080p@30fps video  5 MP with LED flash and 1080p@30fps video
 Camera (Front)  1.2 MP with face detection and 720p@30fps video  3.5 MP with 1080p@30fps video
 OS  iOS 7  Windows 8.1 RT 
 Processor  Apple A7 (Dual-core Cyclone @ 1.4GHz + PowerVR G6430)  NVIDIA Tegra 4 (Quad-core Cortex-A15 @ 1.7GHz + 72-core ULP GeForce) 
 Battery  Non-removable Li-Ion 32.4Wh
 Usage time: Up to 10hrs
 Non-removable Li-Po 31.5Wh
 Usage time: Up to 10hrs 
 Accessories --  Optional keyboard covers:
 - Touch Cover 2 ($119)
 - Type Cover 2 ($129)
 - Power Cover ($199)
 $499 (16 GB, Wi-Fi only)
 $449 (32GB)


Build and material quality is absolutely top-notch with these two tablets. The iPad Air has an aluminium unibody frame that's available in either "space" gray or silver. The Surface 2 is encased by silver-colored magnesium, or as Microsoft calls it, VaporMg. But what really sets the Surface 2 apart from all of its competitors is the built-in kickstand at the back, which this time around, stops at two different angles. It's also not very hard to notice that the iPad has some very thin bezels compared to the Surface 2, but that shouldn't really matter that much for most users, unless the looks of your tablet matter a lot to you.  

While in terms of materials the Surface 2 is on par with the iPad, and the kickstand is a very delightful feature, the Surface 2 falls behind severely in terms of dimensions and weight. It's actually not that thick, really. Measuring 8.9mm, it's on par with the ASUS Transformer Pad TF701T and the Lumia 2520, but it's still significantly thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) and the iPad Air. The weight is what really bothers me. At 676g, not only is the Surface 2 not significantly lighter than its predecessor, it's also the heaviest tablet we've seen this year. In fact, it's almost as heavy as the first-generation iPad, and is about 200g heavier than the iPad Air. The fact that the Surface 2 has a larger display than its competitors partially justifies the below average weight, and the larger area of the device also means that, due to the weight distribution, the Surface 2 might not feel as heavy as its weight suggests. 

We must, of course consider that the iPad Air and the Surface 2 have completely different purposes. While the iPad air is a device geared towards entertainment, the Surface 2 has productivity written all over it, considering that the official keyboard covers are an essential part of the Surface experience. There are three different keyboard covers available for the Surface 2, all of which attach to the magnetic connector on the tablet's bottom and double as a cover for the tablet's screen. There's the Touch Cover 2, which is 2.75mm thin and whose keyboard has capacitive buttons, not physical ones, and the keys are backlit. I'm not sure how Microsoft managed to put backlighting on such a thin keyboard, but it's very impressive. Then there's the Type Cover 2, which swaps the capacitive buttons for physical ones, thus providing a much better typing experience, but with the trade-off that the thickness increases to 5.4mm. Finally, there's the Power Cover, which is yet to be released, and is just like the Type Cover 2, but adds an integrated battery that extends the tablet's battery life, but it should be considerably thicker than the Type Cover 2. All of the covers provide an excellent typing experience and, together with the inclusion of Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student, puts the Surface's productivity potential way ahead of the iPad Air. 


The Surface 2 and the iPad Air both feature excellent displays. With the iPad Air it's the usual 9.7" 2048 x 1536 "Retina" display, which is very crisp thanks to its 264ppi pixel density. The use of IPS technology attributes wide viewing angles to the display, and colors are both bright and accurate. The 4:3 aspect ratio of the iPad is great for browsing the web and reading e-books, but is known for causing letterboxing when viewing videos and movies. 

The Surface 2 has a much larger 10.6" display, but unlike its predecessor is suited with a good screen resolution. 1920 x 1080 pixels give the Surface 2 a pixel density of 208ppi, which is obviously less than the iPad Air's 264ppi. Both displays are very sharp, though, and the iPad Air's higher ppi is only significant enough to be slightly noticeable, and is likely to only make a difference when viewing very small text. The display also presents us with wide viewing angles and good color reproduction. The 16:9 aspect ratio of the Surface 2 is great for watching videos, but it does make use in portrait mode almost unbearable, because the screen is too long and too narrow, so keep in mind that you'll want to use the Surface 2 in landscape mode most of the time. 

In terms of sharpness and color reproduction, the two displays are quite close, even though the iPad Air is a tad sharper, but it all comes down to display size and aspect ratio. The Surface 2 displays might be a bit too large for you, and the choice in aspect ratio will depend on what you'll use your tablet for the most. 


These two tablets are powered by some of the best silicon available currently. With the Surface 2 it's an NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor, which consists of four Cortex-A15 CPU cores with a 1.7GHz clock speed plus a low-power shadow A15 core designed to help keep power consumption low. The Surface 2's high-resolution display is fitted with a large 72-core ULP GeForce GPU. While the Tegra 4's GPU's benchmark scores are decent, the actual architecture the GPU is built on might disappoint you, especially considering it's an NVIDIA GPU. You get 72 discrete shader cores, which separate into 48 pixel shader units and 24 vertex shader units. This discrete pixel and vertex shader architecture was abandoned many years ago in favor of the more efficient unified shader architecture, which all current mobile and PC GPUs use, save for the Tegra 4. But as long as the benchmark scores are good enough, the older architecture won't really affect the user's experience. But, even though it's based on old architecture, the Tegra 4 has a very good GPU and yields some great gaming experience out of the small (but increasing) number of 3D intensive games on the Microsoft Store. Just know that the iPad Air will be a bit smoother most of the time. 

The iPad Air is powered by Apple's latest A7 processor. The A7's CPU consists of two Cyclone cores clocked at 1.4GHz. The Cyclone CPU is a custom ARM CPU designed by Apple, which is the first commercially available mobile CPU based on the ARMv8 64-bit architecture. While 64-bit's benefits lie mostly on larger RAM capacity, which isn't a concern for Apple devices, which are still on the 1 GB range, the architecture's larger memory registers does improve the overall efficiency of the CPU. Not only that, but the Cyclone core is just about the widest mobile CPU ever created, so we can expect to see single-threaded performance that's far ahead of any of its competitors, and is probably why Apple didn't need to go quad-core to keep its SoC offering competitive. The A7 is also fitted with a beefy PowerVR G6430 GPU, which, unlike the Tegra 4, is the pinnacle of contemporary mobile GPU architecture, with OpenGL ES 3.0 support and a unified shader architecture. So aside from the A7's higher benchmark scores compared to the Tegra 4, the A7 also has more potential for future-proofing.

But since babbling about architectures probably doesn't matter to you, let's get to the benchmarks. First up is Geekbench 3, which measures CPU and memory speed. Note that since the Geekbench 3 app isn't available for Windows RT, I had to use the results from the closest match to the Surface 2 I could find running Android: The 1.9GHz Tegra 4-powered ASUS Transformer Pad. Since the clock speed here is 200MHz higher than on the Surface 2, keep in mind that the Surface 2's performance should be lower, however, since I'm comparing devices from completely different OSes, the difference between the Surface 2 and the Transformer Pad results I used here might account for more than just the 200MHz clock speed difference. Don't expect a huge performance gap between the two Tegra 4 devices, though.
This chart illustrates how the A7 has much better single-threaded performance compared to its rivals, and how that allows the SoC to offer competitive multi-threaded performance with half the core count of its competitors and a much lower clock speed. The A7 actually even beats the Transformer Pad (and probably beats the Surface 2 by a slightly larger margin) in multi-threaded performance, but not by much. It's a bit more complex than that though. It's still true that the Surface 2 has double the thread count compared to the A7, so it should be noted that, while having strong single-threaded performance is more important for overall performance, having more threads is better for things like multi-tasking, something that, coincidentally, is an important aspect of the Surface 2's productivity potential. 

 Moving on to graphics tests, the Surface 2's results don't look so good. The Surface 2 is actually one of the slowest Tegra 4 implementations available, maybe because of the OS it runs on, or maybe because the graphics clock is reduced along with the CPU core. The iPad Air, along with Samsung and Qualcomm's latest offerings, trumps the Surface 2 in this test. In fact, the Surface 2's performance in this specific test is almost identical to the iPad 4.
Moving on to the Onscreen T-Rex HD test, which is run on the devices' native resolutions, we see the iPad Air's higher pixel count holding it back, so that the 1080p Samsung Galaxy Note III outperforms it. Even though it has to power approximately 700 thousand more pixels than the Surface 2, the iPad Air still manages to beat it by a moderately large margin.
The lighter Egypt HD test now causes the Surface 2 to fall way behind all of its competitors, while the iPad Air sits comfortably between the Snapdragon 800 and the Exynos 5420.
Finally, the Egypt HD test run on native resolution shows the iPad Air once again falling behind the Note IIIs slightly, but still far ahead of the Surface 2.

Microsoft clearly doesn't care as much about gaming performance as Apple, otherwise they would've worked on optimizing the OS for its processor a bit better to at least yield benchmark scores that are close to other Tegra 4 implementations on Android. Then again, given that the Surface 2 is more of a working device than a playing device, I can understand why Microsoft wasn't too concerned about the GPU. 

Power Consumption

It's a bit strange that the iPad Air is so much thinner and lighter than the Surface 2 and yet has a bigger battery. The latest iPad comes with a 32.4Wh battery, which is slightly larger than Surface 2's 31.5Wh battery. Both are very large batteries, and should keep these devices running for quite some time on a single charge. However, the iPad Air does have more pixels to power, which increases overall power consumption compared to the Surface 2. As for how much power the SoC draws, both tablets have processors built on 28nm circuitry. The A7 has less CPU cores to power versus the Tegra 4, but the T4's shadow A15 core saves it in that regard. When running intensive tasks, however, the Dual-core Cyclones are likely to draw less power than the Quad-core A15s. Anyways, both Microsoft and Apple claim the same 10 hour battery life.


It's actually very easy to choose whether the Surface 2 or the iPad Air is better for you. If you want a tablet that offers the best productivity in the tablet market, pick the Surface 2. On the entertainment side Microsoft is making strides with Windows RT, as the 8.1 update improves the OS significantly and the Windows Store is improving on a daily basis, and with decent gaming performance and a bright, sharp display, the Surface 2 is not bad at all for entertainment, but the iPad Air is certainly better on this front. With almost unmatched gaming performance and one of the best displays in the mobile market, as well as what is just about the best app selection in existence, the iPad Air tackles your entertainment needs with near perfection. Of course, if you're fine with third-party bluetooth keyboards, the iPad Air, with its iWork app suite, also can also be used for productivity. While not as good as Microsoft's keyboard Covers, the third-party iPad keyboards are decent alternatives.

There's also the pricing factor. The Surface 2 undercuts the iPad Air with a starting price of $449 for 32 GB of storage, compared to the iPad Air, which sells for $499 with 16 GB of storage (Note: Windows 8.1 RT takes quite a lot of space out of the Surface 2's 32 GB capacity, and with Office included you'll only have about 15/16 GB available). The pricing is still similar though, and it'll almost definitely come down to whether you want a device for work or for entertainment.

terça-feira, 3 de dezembro de 2013

Apple iPad Air vs ASUS Transformer Pad TF701T: Tablet Comparison

The holiday season is almost upon us, and so the biggest players in the tablet market finally have their latest flagships already available. The iPad Air, from Apple, and the Transformer Pad TF701T, from ASUS, are some of the most interesting tablet flagships this holiday season. Both of them have very high-end specs, including high-resolution displays and very powerful processors, along with a high price tag. But which one is worth your money the most?

Apple iPad Air ASUS Transformer Pad
 Body   240 x 169.5 x 7.5mm, 469g (Wi-Fi)/478g (LTE)   263 x 181 x 8.9mm, 585g 
 Display   9.7" IPS LCD 2048 x 1536 (264ppi)  10.1" IPS LCD 2560 x 1600 (299ppi)
 Storage   16/32/64 GB, 1 GB RAM  32/64 GB (microSD expandable), 2GB RAM
 Connectivity   Wi-Fi, GSM (2G), HSDPA (3G), LTE (4G)  Wi-Fi
 Camera (Rear)  5 MP with F/2.4 aperture, face detection, HDR and 1080p@30fps video  5 MP with 1080p@30fps video
 Camera (Front)   1.2 MP with face detection and 720p@30fps video  1.2 MP with 720p@30fps video
 OS  iOS 7  Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
 Processor  Apple A7 (Dual-core Cyclone @ 1.4GHz + PowerVR G6430 @ 450MHz GPU)  NVIDIA Tegra 4 T40X (Quad-core Cortex-A15 @ 1.9GHz + 72-core ULP GeForce)
 Battery  Li-Po 32.4 Wh  Li-Po 31 Wh
Accessories  --  - Keyboard dock
 Starting Price   $499 (16GB)  $449 (32GB)


The iPad and Transformer lines of tablets have had the most distinguished tablet designs for a long time, and the trend continues with the TF701T and the iPad Air. Unfortunately though, the TF701T has fallen behind the competition in terms of size and weight. While 2013 has ushered in a new trend of thinner and lighter tablets with narrower bezels, the Transformer tablet is still about as thin as light as its predecessors, and the bezel continues to be as wide as it can get. Of course, the unchanged bezel width is a design choice, rather than a technological incapacity to reduce it, and it at least brings the benefit of having lots of room where you can rest your thumbs without them touching the screen. 

The Transformer Pad is noticeably thicker than the iPad Air (8.9mm vs 7.5mm), but the Transformer Pad isn't exactly thick either, as it's at least slightly thinner than last year's iPad 4. The TF701T is also much heavier, weighing 585g, versus the iPad Air's 469g. Again, that doesn't mean that the TF701T is too heavy, and it's significantly lighter than the iPad 4, but it's undeniable that the iPad Air's lighter body makes it less tiring to hold and use for extended periods of time compared to the Transformer Pad. 

The Transformer Pad and the iPad Air are among the few tablets that have an aluminium construction, so they're on the same page in terms of the quality of its materials. The iPad Air, adopting the same design as the iPad mini, has an aluminium back, available in two colors: 'Space' gray and silver. The Transformer Pad also has a gray-colored aluminium back, but with a finish of concentric circles, a signature ASUS design. Like the LTE version of the iPad Air, the Transformer Pad has a plastic RF strip on the top.


The iPad Air and the ASUS Transformer Pad have some of the best displays ever seen on a tablet. Both have extremely high resolutions, both get pretty bright and colors look vivid on both. 

The iPad Air has the usual 9.7" IPS display, and has a resolution of 2048 x 1536, resulting in a pixel density of 264ppi, so as expected text is razor sharp. The IPS technology also ensures a near 178-degree viewing angle and bright colors. The 4:3 aspect ratio of the display is very good for reading and web browsing, but isn't so great for watching videos because the 16:9 aspect ratio of most movies and videos result in a lot of letterboxing in the iPad's 4:3 screen. 

The Transformer Pad has a 10.1" IPS display with power-efficient IGZO technology manufactured by Sharp, with a 2560 x 1600 resolution. This resolution gives the tablet a 299ppi pixel density. While you may think that 299ppi is much sharper than 264ppi, the difference in sharpness between the two screens is barely noticeable, at least at normal viewing distances. Much like the iPad Air, the TF701T's use of IPS display technology gives it wide viewing angles and nicely saturated colors. The 16:10 aspect ratio of the Transformer Pad's screen is great for watching movies, but it makes use in portrait mode a bit awkward. 

And let's not forget about what gives the Transformer Pad its name. While the iPad Air is almost definitely a device geared towards entertainment rather than productivity, the Transformer Pad goes the other way. That's because the Transformer Pad is actually a hybrid tablet/notebook. The optional keyboard dock that ASUS sells for about $149 attaches to the tablet via the dock connector at the bottom and turns the Transformer Pad into a sort of 10.1in Android notebook. The presence of a physical keyboard obviously makes writing documents a lot easier than using onscreen keyboards, and the device's small footprint makes it very portable, so if you're into writing documents while on the go, the Transformer Pad is perfect for you.

The keyboard itself isn't very different from previous iterations. This time around it's made of plastic, unlike the aluminum-built tablet. The dock doesn't look super sturdy, but I don't expect it to break very easily, however, when docked the tablet has a bit too much space to wobble, which is a bit of a concern to me. In fact, I've been seeing many complaints that some of the first units manufactured had some problems with the tablet-to-dock connection, so be aware of that. Other changes include a USB 3.0 port (up from USB 2.0 in the last generation). The keyboard dock also features a 16Wh battery that charges the tablet's battery when docked, giving it a little extra juice on a single charge.


As flagship tablets, both the iPad Air and the Transformer Pad feature top of the line processors. The iPad Air is powered by an Apple A7 processor, while the Transformer Pad sports an NVIDIA Tegra 4 SoC. 

The Apple A7 is a remarkable processor, in the sense that it's CPU core, dubbed Cyclone, is the first to be based on the ARMv8 architecture, which also happens to be the first mobile 64-bit architecture. While the main advantage of 64-bit is support for more than 4GB of RAM, an advantage that won't be useful for iOS devices for a long time, since they're still on 1GB, the 64-bit architecture also boosts the CPU's performance because it can handle much larger memory addresses than conventional 32-bit CPUs. That alone boosts single-threaded performance significantly. Not only that, but Apple's Cyclone core is also much wider than its predecessor, the Swift. In fact, it's the widest mobile CPU architecture ever seen so far. The wider machine plus the 64-bit architecture boost single-threaded performance ahead of all of its competitors. With so much power on a single core, the A7 needs only two of these Cyclone cores clocked at 1.4GHz to be competitive with the latest quad-cores.

The Tegra 4's CPU is a bit more mundane than the A7's, but it still performs admirably well. It has four Cortex-A15 cores clocked at 1.9GHz, plus a shadow A15 core that can go all the way to 825MHz. This is the same 4-PLUS-1 architecture seen on last year's Tegra 3, and is quite similar in function to ARM's big.LITTLE technology. Basically, in situations where the performance demand from the CPU is low, for example, when your device is locked or idling, the quad-core A15 is power gated and all processing is transfered to the shadow A15, which consumes much less power than the other A15 cores. When the demand on the CPU increases beyond the shadow A15's capabilities, the processing transfers back to the quad-core A15 seamlessly. The only function of this architecture is to increase battery life. 

Looking at the GeekBench 3 results for the Apple A7 and the Tegra 4, it's clear that the A7 is much ahead of its competition in single-threaded performance. However, moving to multi-threaded applications, the A7 has the disadvantage of having less cores than its competitors, but it can still achieve a score close to its quad-core competitors. 

In theory, the Apple A7 really is on par with the Tegra 4 and the other high-end SoCs, but the A7 may have the upper hand due to its strong single-threaded performance. Mobile OSes and most of the applications available for them usually rely more on single-threaded performance, so in this sense the A7 may turn out to be faster for most uses than its competitors. However, having more cores = more threads, so the A7's quad-core competitors may be better for multitasking, something that OEMs have been craving to perfect on tablets. But as far as theory goes, the Apple A7 is just as good as the Tegra 4. 

Moving on to the GPU, the A7 continues Apple's tradition of licensing GPUs from ImgTech, and this time it's the PowerVR G6430. This is a very powerful GPU that boasts of OpenGL ES 3.0 support.

As you may have imagined, the Tegra 4 features NVIDIA's own GPU core, which they like to call the 72-core ULP GeForce. Unfortunately, the Tegra 4 uses an ancient shader architecture, which is composed of discrete pixel and vertex shaders, a much more limited architecture compared to the unified shader architecture in the PowerVR G6430. The Tegra 4 also does not support OpenGL ES 3.0, and only goes as far as OpenGL ES 2.0. For now, this is not a problem as there aren't any games that require OpenGL ES 3.0, but in a year or two it may be. 

To see how these two tablets compete in terms of GPU performance we turn to GFXBench. Note that the first two tests are rendered offscreen at a fixed 1080p resolution, so the Transformer Pad's higher resolution doesn't penalize it there.

While the iPad Air reigns supreme in the T-Rex HD Offscreen test, the Transformer Pad is left as the slowest flagship tablet this holiday season. The difference in framerate between the two tablets isn't enormous, but it's still a very tangible difference. 

Once again, there is quite a gap between the Transformer Pad and the iPad Air here.

Next up are the Onscreen tests, which are run at the device's native resolution. The Transformer Pad really falters here because it has to render at a higher resolution than the iPad Air. Also, the Onscreen tests are the most representative of real-world graphics performance.
The Transformer Pad's higher resolution increases the gap between it and the iPad Air quite tangibly.

Now the Transformer Pad is way below its main competitors, even the Galaxy Note 10.1, which has the same screen resolution. The difference in performance between the iPad Air and the Transformer Pad are pretty big here.

<geek talk> I suspect that the Transformer Pad falters so badly in the Egypt HD Onscreen test because of its fill rate limitations. Since the Egypt HD test is less shader bound than the T-Rex HD test and is therefore probably more fill rate bound, and the Tegra 4 in the Transformer Pad is tasked with powering A LOT of pixels, together with the Tegra 4's average fill rate score, I think it's probable that what we're seeing here is a performance bottleneck due to having few ROPs in the Tegra 4's GPU die. </geek talk>

Power Consumption

As flagship tablets that pack a lot of punch, the iPad Air and the Transformer Pad are expected to have relatively high power consumption. The high-resolution displays themselves draw a lot of power, and when at full power the tablets' processors should be power hungry as well, however, since the processors are both based on 28nm technology it shouldn't be a huge concern. The Tegra 4's 4-PLUS-1 architecture helps the Transformer Pad last a little longer on a single charge, too. 

Both tablets have large batteries to sustain their power hungry systems, and on the Transformer Pad it's a 31Wh unit, slightly smaller than the iPad Air's 32.4Wh battery (So yeah, the Transformer Pad is thicker AND has a smaller battery. Come on ASUS). And the iPad Air does in fact last considerably longer on a single charge than the Transformer Pad. However, don't forget that the Transformer's keyboard dock has a 16Wh battery that can give the Transformer Pad up to 4 hours of extra usage. With the keyboard dock, the Transformer Pad can outlast the iPad Air quite easily. 


Many times I call a tie in these comparisons, but this time I have to say that for most uses the iPad Air is clearly the better tablet. It has a much sleeker, lighter frame, significantly better performance and even better battery life than the Transformer Pad TF701T. Of course, if you want to have a tablet on which you can be productive, then that changes everything. The iPad Air is simply not a very good device for work. Of course you can always use a third-party bluetooth keyboard with iWork apps and call the iPad productive, but ASUS' integration of the keyboard dock and the tablet/notebook convertible concept makes the Transformer offering better for productivity than any iPad + bluetooth keyboard combination. If. however, you only want a tablet for playing games, watching movies, browsing the web, etc., then the iPad Air is probably a better offering than the Transformer Pad.

In truth, the Transformer Pad would've been much better had it launched a few months earlier. It's much more of a close match to the iPad 4 rather than the iPad Air, so basically the Transformer Pad is a tablet that feels one generation old. 

However, I can't just say that the iPad Air is superior to the Transformer Pad and leave it at that, as these two are competing at very different price points. The 32GB Transformer Pad costs $449, $150 less than the 32GB iPad Air ($599), and even the entry-level 16GB iPad Air ($499) costs $50 more. The Transformer Pad with the keyboard dock would match the price of the iPad Air at the same storage capacity, actually. Compared to other offerings in the $449 price range, the Transformer Pad fares much better, competing with the Surface 2 and the Xperia Tablet Z.

So who would I recommend the ASUS Transformer Pad to? Obviously, I highly recommend it for who likes to work while on the go. If the iPad Air's $499 starting price is a bit too much for you, the Transformer Pad is generally the best tablet in the $449 range. However, if you want a tablet for entertainment rather than productivity, or if can do with bluetooth keyboards for the iPad and you can afford $499 the iPad Air is almost definitely the better tablet.

domingo, 24 de novembro de 2013

Apple iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition): Tablet Comparison

The holiday season is almost upon us, and so the biggest players in the tablet market finally have their latest flagships already available. The iPad Air, from Apple, and the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, by Samsung, are some of the most interesting tablet flagships this holiday season. Both of them have very high-end specs, including high-resolution displays and very powerful processors, along with a (perhaps too) high price tag. But which one is worth your money the most?

Apple iPad Air Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014)
 Body   240 x 169.5 x 7.5mm, 469g (Wi-Fi)/478g (LTE)  243 x 171 x 7.9mm, 540g (Wi-Fi)/547g (LTE)
 Display   9.7" IPS LCD 2048 x 1536 (264ppi)  10.1" TFT LCD 2560 x 1600 (299ppi)
 Storage   16/32/64 GB, 1 GB RAM  16/32 GB, 3 GB RAM
 Connectivity   Wi-Fi, GSM (2G), HSDPA (3G), LTE (4G)  Wi-Fi, GSM (2G), HSDPA (3G), LTE (4G)
 Camera (Rear)  5 MP with 1080p@30fps video, F/2.4 aperture, HDR, face detection  8 MP with LED flash, face detection and 1080p@60fps video
 Camera (Front)  1.2 MP with 720p@30fps video and face detection  2 MP with 1080p@30fps video
 OS  iOS 7  Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
 Processor  Apple A7 (Dual-core Cyclone @ 1.4GHz + PowerVR G6430 @ 450MHz) -Wi-Fi: Exynos 5420 (Quad-core Cortex-A15 @ 1.9GHz + Quad-core Cortex-A7 @ 1.3GHz + Mali-T628)
-LTE: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 MSM8974 (Quad-core Krait 400 @ 2.3GHz + Adreno 330 @ 450MHz)
 Battery  Non-removable Li-Po 8,820 mAh
Video playback time: 10hrs
 Non-removable Li-Po 8,220 mAh
Video playback time: 10hrs
 Starting  Price  $499 (16GB, Wi-Fi)  $549 (16GB, Wi-Fi) 
 Accessories  --  S Pen


Both Samsung and Apple have produced good designs for their flagship tablets, but it'll come down to the usual plastic vs aluminium debate, or in this case faux leather vs aluminium. While the iPad Air maintains its all-aluminium design, this time inspired on the iPad mini rather than the previous iPad, Samsung has done the same as it did with the Note III, replacing glossy plastic with a back casing that is still plastic, but is now disguised as leather. I'm not sure I appreciate the faux leather design at all. Personally, not only do I prefer the iPad's aluminium construction, but I think the faux leather looks so old-fashioned that even the glossy plastic they used previously may look better. That's just my opinion though, and ultimately it'll come down to personal taste. At least the faux leather gives the Galaxy Note 10.1 more grip than the iPad Air. The Galaxy Note 10.1 is available in black and white (bezel color included), and the iPad Air is similarly available in "Space" gray and silver. 

Both the Galaxy Note 10.1 and the iPad Air are remarkably thin and light. They are in fact one of the thinnest and lightest tablets available, but the iPad Air is definitely the winner in this department. It's technically thinner than the Note 10.1 (7.5mm vs 7.9mm), but the difference is so small it's practically unnoticeable to the user. While their thickness is one the same level, the iPad Air is significantly lighter than the Note 10.1 (469g vs 540g). In this case the difference in weight is definitely noticeable. The Note 10.1 is still lighter than most other tablets, though. 


The display is possibly the area where these two tablets fare the best. Both are large, crisp, bright, and colorful. The iPad Air, much like two of its predecessors, has a 9.7" display with a 4:3 aspect ratio and a resolution of 2048 x 1536, which gives the screen 264ppi pixel density. The Note 10.1 has, like the name implies, a 10.1" display with a 16:10 aspect ratio that packs 2560 x 1600 pixels and has a pixel density of 299ppi.

Perhaps the most fundamental difference between the displays is the aspect ratio. The almost-square 4:3 display in the iPad Air makes it better to use in portrait mode, and is more suited for reading and web browsing, while the wide 16:10 display in the Note 10.1 makes it better suited for usage in landscape mode, and frankly makes portrait mode use a bit awkward, but is generally better for watching videos. 

You may think that the difference between 264ppi and 299ppi is huge, but honestly, it's hard to notice the Galaxy Note 10.1 being any crisper than the iPad Air, especially at the usual viewing distance. The difference is there, however, and any eagle-eyed person would probably notice a slight difference in sharpness. 

Leaving the numbers and quantitative data aside, both the Note 10.1's and the iPad Air's displays are sufficiently bright. Viewing angles are good, as is expected of any half-decent tablet these days, and colors are accurate and satisfyingly saturated in both tablets. 


Both of these tablets have the most powerful processors available to handle their ultra high-resolution duties. On the iPad Air we have the same A7 SoC found in the iPhone 5s and the Retina iPad mini, and on the Galaxy Note 10.1 we have either the Snapdragon 800 or a rare Exynos 5 Octa (5420) SoC for the LTE and Wi-FI models, respectively. All of these SoCs are built on 28nm process node to keep power consumption lower. 

The A7's CPU technology has gained quite a bit of popularity since its launch back in September. That's because its the first CPU to utilize the ARMv8 ISA, which happens to be a 64-bit architecture, hence also making it the first 64-bit mobile SoC. Apart from the new ISA, Apple made its new Cyclone CPU core the widest mobile CPU ever seen. With all that power packed into a single core, Apple needed no more than two of those cores with a relatively low 1.4GHz clock speed to match its competitors' performance. As benchmarks show, the dual-core Cyclone CPU @ 1.4GHz is perfectly capable of competing with the latest quad-core beasts, and since it packs much more power on a single core, the A7 really stands out from its competitors in single-threaded CPU benchmarks.

The CPU in the Exynos 5420 SoC in the Wi-Fi Galaxy Note 10.1 is one of the few CPUs to ultilize ARM's big.LITTLE technology. Based on the ARMv7 32-bit ISA, the Exynos 5420 contains two CPU clusters, one high-performance cluster to handle demanding tasks, and a low-power cluster for handling lighter tasks while reducing power consumption.The high-performance cluster contains four Cortex-A15 cores clocked at 1.9GHz, while the low-power cluster has four Cortex-A7 cores @ 1.3GHz. 

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 variant of the Galaxy Note 10.1 (the LTE version) has, like Apple, a custom CPU core dubbed Krait 400, based on the ARMv7 32-bit ISA. The Snapdragon 800 has four Krait 400 cores with an insane 2.3GHz clock speed. 

Like I said before, since the A7's Cyclone CPU has a 64-bit architecture and is wider than all of its competitors, it manages a much higher score in single-threaded CPU benchmarks. However, in multi-threaded applications the A7 has the disadvantage of having fewer cores compared to its competitors, however it can still definitely keep up with its quad-core competition. The multi-threaded test puts the A7 very close to the Exynos 5420, but both processors lag behind the Snapdragon 800.

With the CPU out of the way, let's focus on the GPU of the Galaxy Note 10.1 and the iPad Air. The A7 SoC follows Apple's tradition of licensing GPUs only from ImgTech, and so we have a PowerVR G6430 graphics processor in the A7. On the Wi-Fi Note 10.1's Exynos 5420 processor there's an ARM Mali-T628 GPU, and the LTE Note 10.1 has an Adreno 330 GPU. All of these GPUs are among the most powerful mobile GPUs available, so we turn to GFXBench to tell us which of these GPUs is the most powerful.
Note: Unfortunately there are no benchmark scores yet available for the Snapdragon 800-based Note 10.1, so I'm taking data from the closest match I could find, the Galaxy Note III with Snapdragon 800. However, I'll omit the Note III scores from the Onscreen tests due to the difference in resolution between the Note III and the Note 10.1.
The T-Rex HD Offscreen test shows the PowerVR G6430 in the iPad Air remarkably close to the Adreno 330, however the Mali-T628 GPU in the Wi-Fi Note 10.1 lags behind them both, but at least outperforms the NVIDIA Tegra 4 SoC in the ASUS Transformer Pad.

The lighter Egypt HD Offscreen test shows the iPad Air's GPU falling behing both the Wi-Fi Galaxy Note 10.1 and the Snapdragon 800-powered Galaxy Note III and puts the Snapdragon 800 at the top of the chart.

Note that since these two tests are rendered at a fixed, non-native resolution, the difference between the resolution of the Note 10.1 and the iPad Air don't affect the scores here. 

The Onscreen tests illustrate how the 1 million more pixels that these two Android flagships have to push versus the iPad Air bog down their performance. The T-Rex HD test shows that the iPad Air managed a much higher score compared to the Exynos-based Galaxy Note 10.1 and the Tegra 4 ASUS Transformer Pad TF701T. 

Since the Egypt HD test is much lighter than T-Rex HD the margin between the iPad Air and its competitors becomes narrower. However, it's still clear that the iPad Air, due to its significantly lower resolution, can push more frames than its 1600p Android competitors. 

Until the Snapdragon 800-based LTE Galaxy Note 10.1 gets released there's no data to indicate how it compares to the iPad Air in the Onscreen tests, although if I were to guess, I'd say that, even though the Adreno 330 is slightly more powerful than the PowerVR G6430 in the Apple A7, its performance advantage still won't be able to offset the resolution difference between it and the iPad Air.

Usually, the Onscreen tests would mimic most accurately real world gaming performance, given that Android and iOS games tend to run at the device's native screen resolution, but since the iPad 3 developers have been going another way: For specific ultra high-res devices, in order to avoid performance issues, the game runs at a lower-than-native resolution and then upscales to the device's screen resolution.  For example, a developer might program a game to run at 1920 x 1200 and then scale to 2560 x 1600 on the Galaxy Note 10.1 to keep framerates high. Given how the Galaxy Note 10.1's higher resolution obviously puts it behind its iPad competitor, it might be necessary for this sort of optimization to be made to keep a decent framerate in very demanding 3D games.


The Galaxy Note 10.1 and the iPad Air are in fact similar in many ways. They both have thin, light designs (although the plastic vs metal war continues with these flagships), displays with a very high resolution, large batteries and some of the best-performing SoCs available. 

In hardware terms, the iPad Air and the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition are indeed very similar, so it'll probably come down to software to determine which one is best for you. With the Note 10.1, we have Android 4.3 (and soon enough 4.4) with Samsung's TouchWiz UI added on top, and the iPad Air obviously runs iOS 7. 

The addition of the S Pen digitizer might make you choose the Note 10.1 over the iPad Air, but that'll be only if you really value the advantages that a stylus brings.

Selling for the usual $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version, the iPad Air is an expensive tablet, although not as expensive as the Galaxy Note 10.1, which sells for $549 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version. $549 is asking for a lot, so unless the S Pen is really useful for you or you really prefer the Android ecosystem, the iPad Air offers more bang for your buck than the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition.