Sizes are pretty similar, though the iPad Air is slightly smaller in every dimension. It's five percent thinner and one percent shorter than the Note 10.1.
The iPad Air lives up to its name, as its ridiculously light build is its killer feature. Despite the minor difference in size, the iPad is 13 percent lighter.
The new iPad takes on the build and design aesthetic of its little brother, the iPad mini. That includes narrow side bezels, which have its screen taking up a higher proportion of its front than the Note 10.1's does.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 has the same faux leather (plastic) build as the Galaxy Note 3 phablet. It also has capacitive menu and back buttons, sitting alongside a physical home button, below its screen. The iPad Air, like all iOS devices, has a lone home button below its screen.
Both tablets are sold in black-ish and white color options, fancy names included.
Both tablets give you top-of-the-line screens. The Note's is sharper, but you won't likely have any complaints with the Retina Display in the latest iPad (it has the same 2,048 x 1,536 resolution as the last two full-sized iPads).
You'd think a 10.1-in screen would be somewhat bigger than a 9.7-in screen. And it technically is, but the iPad Air gives you 99 percent as much screen real estate, owing to its less oblong 4:3 aspect ratio.
That aspect ratio also makes the iPad more versatile in terms of orientation. The Note 10.1's 16:10 screen is probably going to make more sense in landscape than portrait. Samsung agrees, as evidenced by its button placement.
You can buy third-party iPad styluses that simulate touch from fingers, but the Galaxy Note series is centered around its bundled S Pen stylus. Samsung threw in a ton of software goodies to take advantage of that pen, including quick note-jotting, screen grabbing and annotating, and handwriting recognition.
The only differences here are the lack of a 128 GB option for the Note 10.1, and the Note's microSD card support.
Forget how the iPad Air's dual core A7 (clocked at 1.4 GHz) looks on paper, because it wins the performance showdown. The Note 10.1, however, should be plenty zippy for just about anyone, whether you snag the octa core Exynos processor in the Wi-Fi only and 3G versions, or the Snapdragon 800 in the LTE model.
The iPad Air has 1 GB of RAM, while the Note has 3 GB. On paper, this looks like cause for concern for the iPad. In experience, you have nothing to worry about here (more on that soon in our review).
Apple is advertising an extra hour of battery life over the Note 10.1, but we'll have to wait for some hands-on time to have anything solid on this front.
The Note's camera wins on megapixels, but we'd take that with many grains of salt, as its rear camera isn't really anything to write home about. Consider this another "incomplete" until we snap some test shots with the iPad Air.
Both tablets are sold in both Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi with LTE options. As we mentioned, there's also a Wi-Fi + 3G model of the Note 10.1, limited mostly to regions that don't have LTE anyway.
If you're interested in throwing down an extra US$300 for a smartwatch, then the Samsung Galaxy Gear is compatible with the Note 10.1.
As much as we enjoyed using the Gear with the Note 3, though, we don't think it makes much sense with a tablet. The point is that it puts some basic smartphone functionality on your wrist, courtesy of a constant Bluetooth connection. Less pocketable tablets just don't fit that bill nearly as well.
Both iOS and Android have their share of loyal fans, but the iPad's App Store has a larger and far superior selection of tablet apps. Google Play's tablet selection has improved in the last year or two, but it still features too many stretched-out smartphone apps to put it in the same echelon as the iPad App Store.
Unless you're deeply invested in the Android or Galaxy ecosystems, the biggest software advantage that the Note offers is the stylus integration we mentioned earlier. That's pointing at a much more niche target audience, though, so we'd give the software advantage to the iPad Air for most customers.
Samsung's tablets don't sell like the iPad (no other tablets do), but that doesn't mean Samsung is trying to undercut it on price. On the contrary, the Note 10.1 starts at US$50 more than the cheapest iPad Air. Both of those entry-level models give you 16 GB of storage, with Wi-Fi only connectivity.
Wrap-upRather than picking "winners" in these showdowns, we prefer to try to target who will prefer one device, and who will prefer the other. For most people, though, we see the iPad Air coming out ahead. It has a lighter, more premium build, it has a performance edge, as well as terrific battery life. Most importantly, though, is the iPad's stacked App Store. There's a lot to love about Google Play, but again, its tablet selection still has a lot of catching up to do.
The big exception is if you're looking for a tablet with stylus input. If your job or personal life requires a lot of note-taking – or if you just prefer the greater precision that a stylus offers – then the Note 10.1 is one of your best options. Likewise, if you prefer Android, its greater flexibility, and the integrated Google services that go along with it, then the Note 10.1 looks like one of your best options for this holiday season.