When Samsung launched the Galaxy Note late last year, it was tough to know what to think of the 5.3-inch smartphone-cum-tablet.

On the one hand, it was a sleek device that carried an air of expensiveness about it. On the other, it was a stylus (stylus!)-based machine that was neither small enough to be a useful phone, nor big enough to be a decent competitor to either the iPad 2 or the Galaxy Tab.

With the Galaxy Note 10.1, though, Samsung has decided it's probably best admitting that the device is a tablet first and foremost. But, with the Galaxy Tab 2 having been announced yesterday, is there even room for a stylus-based device in an increasingly touchscreen future?

Turning over a new leaf

As you might expect from Samsung, the Galaxy Note 10.1 does at least look rather swish, with a metallic rim at the top and a pearl white colour around its sloped back edges. There's no mistaking this one for an iPad (although the big "Samsung" text certainly doesn't hurt).

In terms of internal workings, the machine ships with the most up-to-date version of Android - Ice Cream Sandwich. Its fast dual-core processor is clocked at 1.4GHz, making it a more powerful machine than all of the Galaxy Tab models revealed to date.

You can feel that extra horsepower in the operations, with windows and apps starting quickly and transitioning smoothly.

One of the neatest features about this side of the device is the way a double-tap with the stylus anywhere on-screen brings up a notepad. This means you don't have to meander through all the usual swipe-to-scroll menus just to jot down a quick thought / idea.

Got style

The stylus - officially labelled the "S-Pen" - is fairly similar to the one that debuted on the original Note, albeit with a few key differences.

Most significant of these is the ability to erase drawings / writing using a digital rubber on the 'tail' end of the pen. Supposedly, the pressure applied by the rubber affects the area it spans, but I didn't really see this happening during my hands-on, no matter how careful I was with the pen.

What I did see, however, was the pressure-sensitive stylus nub in action while writing, which allows you to italicise and embolden text without pressing a button. You can, of course, still use a virtual keyboard for the fancy (almost Apple-like) postcard creator, mind.

Another piece of pre-installed software unique to the Note family is the rather lovely colouring-in app for kids, which asks you to fill in scenes by drawing items such as flowers or characters.

The interface was a little clunky: I managed to fill in the entire drawing at one point accidentally. Regardless, it is a neat implementation of the tablet's touchscreen technology, especially once you get used to its quirks.

No holds barred

However, if you were expecting somewhere to put said stylus after your young child's been 'drawing' on it, you're out of luck.

Rather than compromise what is now considered the de facto tablet design, Samsung has decided that the pen must be carried about separately from the device - there's no holder tucked away here.

At least owners of the Galaxy Note 10.1 will find a few games installed on the device for them to play around with should they lose the stylus, though. Samsung has teamed up with Mobage to offer a range of social titles, playable through a dedicated Games app.

Overall, the Galaxy Note 10.1 comes across as a pretty good tablet, thanks to its speed and the welcome inclusion of Ice Cream Sandwich (over Honeycomb).

The company will no doubt sell it on the basis of the S-Pen - it is the one thing that definitely differentiates it from all other tablets out there, after all.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 will be out later this year.