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Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review - Is It Better than the iPad 2?
As soon as it came out of the box, it was clear to me that the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the best Android tablet on the market. It's far thinner and lighter than any of its Android competitors, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the first Android tablet to give the iPad 2 a real run for its money. If you needed proof that Android will be competitive with Apple's iOS, this is it.
But for all the beauty of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 hardware, Android's Honeycomb is still hit and miss. Features such as live widgets on the homepage and a tabbed browser running Flash put Apple's iOS to shame. Yet with a limited app selection and laggy performance in browser text entry, investing in a Galaxy Tab requires a small leap of faith in what the future will bring.
How it feels in the hand
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is simply a beautiful device and, in my humble opinion, is every bit as appealing as an iPad 2. It is as thin as the iPad 2 at .34 inches and even lighter at 1.25 pounds (vs 1.33 pounds for the iPad 2). The Motorola Xoom at 1.56 pounds doesn't even come close.
Around the side of the Galaxy Tab is an aluminum strip, while the back is white plastic. The plastic may be more prone to scratching than the iPad 2's aluminum back, but also offers a more secure grip. The power and volume rocker buttons along the top feel solid, though their close proximity to each other and similar shape make it too easy to turn off the tablet when you are just trying to change the volume—I wish Samsung would have gone with the power button on the front like the iPad 2.
Display & sound
Like many other 10.1-inch Android tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Tab has a 1280 x 800 TFT LCD display, beating out the iPad 2's 1024 x 768 display. The display was bright and colors were noticeably more vibrant than on the Motorola Xoom, though were slightly oversaturated—an issue we've seen on other Samsung devices.
Unfortunately, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 does not have a standard HDMI output jack, but can output HDMI through an optional cable and will support DLNA with a future software upgrade.
The sound quality from the Tab 10.1's dual speakers was surprisingly good. Not only was sound clear, but the Tab 10.1 was able to deliver a true stereo effect in games and movies.
Web browsing is a much better experience with Android Honeycomb than Apple iOS. The browser supports tabbed browsing and true multitasking, so pages continue to load in the background when you switch tabs. That makes a big difference if you're constantly browsing multiple pages at once, like I do. Apple will finally gain tabbed browsing when iOS 5 launches in the fall.
Of course, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 supports Adobe Flash, providing access to many web page features the iPad 2 can't.
The Tab 10.1 has the same Nvidia dual-core processor as the Motorola Xoom and Acer Iconia Tab A500, which makes for a speedy browsing experience. Page rendering, scrolling and zooming were all quick. Though I had annoying lag issues when using the virtual keypad to enter in urls or other text while in the browser. I had similar problems with the Motorola Xoom, so this seems to be a Honeycomb issue.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is currently Wi-Fi only, though a Tab 10.1 4G LTE version for Verizon should be available in July.
Camera & video recording
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 only has a 3MP rear-facing camera and a 2MP front-facing camera. Image quality was decent from the rear-facing camera when there was plenty of light, but suffered noticeably from graininess and poor color accuracy in low-light conditions. I wish Samsung had gone with a 5MP.
The front-facing 2MP camera was fine for video chat.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 can shoot 720p video, and quality wasn't bad. There were no major issues with jiggles and stutters, though image detail was not great.
Keyboard & navigation
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 ships with Android Honeycomb 3.1. While I find Honeycomb less intuitive than the Froyo and Gingerbread Android variations found on cell phones, as well as Apple's iOS, it does offer a number of features iOS does not. Chief among those is the ability to customize your homescreens with live versions of various widgets, such as email, calendar and music players. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, these widgets can also be easily resized.
The dual-core processors along with Honeycomb provide speedy navigation, videos played well and apps opened quickly. As mentioned above, I had problems with text lagging in browser entry fields. This is a Honeycomb issue and I hope Google fixes it soon.
Tablet specific apps for Android are still few and far between, with less than 100 called out in the Marketplace. Though for the average user who mostly uses the tablet for email, browsing and media consumption, the apps available are excellent. Android smartphone apps also work just fine, and many of these have been adapted to work well on tablets, too. I did experience the occasional app crash, which is disappointing, There's no doubt that Apple still holds a big advantage here.
If you're a Mac user, you need to know that there is a problem syncing files between the Tab 10.1 and Macs. This is likely something that will be fixed soon, but for now, getting photos or videos off the Tab will require emailing them to yourself.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is available with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, but no microSD slot on the 16GB Wi-Fi model I tested.
Battery life was very good during my use, down about 40% after many hours of usage. In-depth battery testing by Engadget suggests that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has longer battery life than nearly all other Android tablets and is nearly on par with the iPad 2—an incredible achievement for Samsung in a tablet this light and thin.
Pricing & availability
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be available on June 17th in a 16GB Wi-Fi version for $499 and a 32GB version for $599—exactly matching the iPad 2 pricing. If you're in the New York City area, you can pick one up now from the Best Buy in Union Square. 4G pricing has not yet been announced.
Should you buy it?
Make no doubt about it, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a very fine tablet. From a hardware perspective, the tab 10.1 is very much the equal of the iPad 2—slightly behind in a couple of areas, and slightly ahead in others. If you're in the market for a 10-inch Android tablet, this is the one to get.
When compared head-to-head with the entire iPad ecosystem, Android still has some catching up to do. The app selection is limited and there are a number of quibbles I have with stability. But Android also offers some very helpful features that iOS does not, such as customizable widgets and tabbed browsing (at least not until iOS 5 comes out in the fall). It will be very interesting to see where things stand six months from now.
While it's perfectly understandable that Android Honeycomb, which has only been on the market for five months, may be behind iOS, I still don't get why the tablet manufacturers have not recognized this in their pricing. Only the Acer Iconia Tab and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer offer a significant discount versus the iPad 2, but their hardware doesn't come close to the quality. Samsung (and Motorola, too) has chosen to match the iPad 2 pricing dollar for dollar, and that makes the Galaxy Tab 10.1, as much as I liked it, a little harder to strongly recommend—a $50 discount would have made a big difference here—but even tablet shoppers committed to the iPad 2 should take a look at the Galaxy Tab 10.1 before deciding.
OS: Android Honeycomb 3.1
Weight: 1.25 pounds
Dimensions: 10.1” x 6.9” x 0.34"
Display: 10.1" WXGA LCD (1280 x 800)
Video: 720p HD video recording
Camera: 3MP with autofocus and LED flash
Front-facing camera: 2MP
Processor: 1GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra Processor
Memory: 16GB or 32GB on-board, no microSD slot for Wi-Fi models
Wi-Fi: 2.4GHz and 5GHz