The second generation of Samsung's Galaxy Tab has been longer in the making than the company anticipated. Reportedly, after the launch of Apple's iPad 2, Samsung felt that the planned (and already shown-off) Tab 10.1 was "inadequate." Now they've revamped the Tab's design to make it thinner, lighter, and more of a direct contender to the iPad, not to mention every other Honeycomb tablet on the market. However, design alone does not a great tablet make. Read on to see how the Tab 10.1 stacks up against Apple's tablet and the rest of the Android field.
Editors' Note: The Galaxy Tab we tested was a special limited edition given to attendees of Google's I/O conference. The general consumer version will have a different back, slightly different hardware, and will come with Samsung's TouchWiz interface and an updated versions of Samsung Apps. When that version is available, we'll post another full review.
At 9.7 x 6.7 x 0.34 inches, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a little wider than the iPad 2 (9.5 x 7.3 inches), but it has the same thickness. In the weight department, the Tab is a hair lighter, coming in at 1.24 pounds to the iPad 2's 1.35 pounds. The light weight makes a difference, especially when compared to other Honeycomb tablets such as the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer or the Motorola Xoom (1.4 and 1.6 pounds, respectively). Our wrists didn't get as tired holding the Galaxy Tab for long reading sessions, and the rounded edges made it more comfortable to hold.
The minimalist design is also reminiscent of the iPad 2. Along the edges you'll only find two buttons (power and volume toggle on top) and just one port (the 10-pin proprietary connector) on the bottom. Two small oval speakers sit on the left and right. Unlike most other Android tablets, there's no user-accessible microSD card slot or the full-size USB found on the Acer Iconia Tab A500. Not being able to add extra memory means owners are stuck with the 16GB or 32GB that comes with the unit.
An 8-megapixel camera and flash sit on the back in the center. The 2-MP front-facing camera is the only thing that interrupts the glass-covered display bezel on the front.
The back of our special-edition Tab is white plastic with a fun gray Android robot pattern on the back. The consumer version of the Tab will come with a black back.
Display and Audio
The Tab's 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 WXGA display offered bright, popping colors and deep blacks, plus wide viewing angles. Next to the iPad 2's 9.7-inch screen, the Galaxy Tab's looks slightly less bright due to the subtle blue tinge to the display. This isn't a detriment, though, as it makes text-heavy websites and eBooks easier to read and puts less strain on eyes. While watching episodes of Criminal Minds and Doctor Who, we held the Tab at very extreme angles yet didn't encounter any color distortion, just as with the iPad 2.
The Tab's glossy touchscreen had an unfortunate habit of picking up fingerprints easily. Still, it responded instantly to taps and swipes.
Given the small speakers, we found audio quality on the Tab better than expected. While listening to Zoe Keating's "Legions (War)," Jill Sobule's "Cinnamon Park," and Tricky Pixie's "Tam Lin," we noted that layers of sound weren't as separate as we'd like, but the audio did have some depth to it. Bass and treble were distinct, though the former wasn't very strong. We had to turn volume up to 100 percent in a medium-sized room with minimal background noise. In quieter situations, 50- to 70-percent volume filled the room.
Software and Interface
The special edition Google I/O Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn't have all of the features and UI tweaks that the consumer version will have. For instance, it lacks Samsung's TouchWiz UI with L!vePanel promised on the tablet's product pages. However, the Samsung Apps portal (with no apps available yet) and the Music Hub are on board. Otherwise, the overall interface is basic Honeycomb with no enhancements.
As with other Android 3.0 tablets, the system bar at the bottom of the screen is persistent. That's where you'll find the Back, Home, and Recent Application buttons (which look like space-age line drawings) on the left side. The bottom right houses the notification area, where you can do everything from glance at incoming e-mail alerts and skipping to the next song to adjusting settings such as brightness. When you open an app, the Action Bar will appear, which presents contextual menu items at the top of the screen.
The Galaxy Tab's keyboard is not the standard layout found on the Motorola Xoom. It looks like an enlarged version of the keyboard found on the 7-inch Galaxy Tab. Overall, we prefer this layout, which has larger, easier-to-read keys. You'll also find alternate punctuation characters available via tap and hold. And because the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is narrower than the iPad 2, we found thumb typing to be faster on this tablet.
Camera and Camcorder
This special edition's cameras are not as good as those you'll find on the consumer version. Instead of an 8-MP rear-facing camera capable of recording 1080p video and a 2-MP front-facing camera, our Tab has 3-MP and 1.3-MP cameras and the rear-facing one can only record up to 720p.
It's a good thing the consumer model will have better hardware, because the rear-facing camera captured slightly washed-out images. Video recorded indoors at 720p had a lot of noise and graininess. It was less grainy when we adjusted the white balance ourselves instead of leaving it on auto, but we've seen better from high-end smartphones.
Despite the lack of a flash, the 1.3-MP front-facing camera took self-portraits that weren't too dark and showed a decent level of detail. During a video chat using the Google Talk app, our friend said that skin tones and the color of our shirt were mostly accurate. The video wasn't very sharp, though.
Just as with all other first-generation Honeycomb tablets we've tested, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 rocks a 1-GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor backed by 1GB of RAM. During our hands-on time we found the Tab snappy when surfing the web, switching between apps, streaming tracks from Google Music Beta, and playing games.
Over Wi-Fi, the Tab 10.1 loaded full, image-heavy websites speedily: Flickr's Interestingness page in 4 seconds, Laptopmag in 8.5 seconds, and Lightspeed Magazine in 9 seconds. Unfortunately, scrolling wasn't as smooth or as fast as we would like. Worse, the browser force-closed on us once, though that speaks more to Google's buggy Android 3.0 software than the hardware. We also encountered an issue where the Tab 10.1 simply stopped responding to touch input. We had to turn off the display and turn it on again. Things should improve once the Android 3.1 update rolls out.
The Tab 10.1 scored 3,196.9 on the CPU portion of the Benchmark test, higher than the Motorola Xoom (2,995.90) and the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer (3,125.80), but slightly below the Acer Iconia Tab A500 (3,213.90). Oddly, the Tab's graphics score (321.59) was lower than all three of those slates.
While playing Angry Birds Rio, Fruit Ninja, and more complex 3D games such as Jet Car Stunts, we saw smooth frame rates, great responsiveness, and well-rendered backgrounds. The accelerometer easily kept up with the twisting, turning tracks in Jet Car Stunts. Outside of games, we noticed a pause when we turned the device and the screen switched orientations. We've seen this on other tablets, too, and it appears to be by design.
The 6,860 mAh Lithium-Polymer battery inside the Galaxy Tab 10.1 lasted a whopping 9 hours and 23 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test. This score is on a par with the iPad 2 (9:28) and almost an hour and a half longer than the Motorola Xoom (8:00).
Currently there are only 60 apps listed in the Android Market specifically designed for tablets. The rest of the more than 200,000 apps usually expand to fill the screen without trouble, though there are exceptions. In addition, there are currently 15 games available from the Nvidia Tegra Zone, such as Fruit Ninja, Pinball HD, and Riptide GP. Also, Tab owners will have access to Samsung Apps once they're available in the U.S.
Still, when compared to the more than 65,000 iPad apps available, the Android ecosystem has some catching up to do.
Pricing and Value
The Wi-Fi version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 will cost $499 for 16GB and $599 for 32GB. This is the same pricing for comparable Apple iPad 2 units. Acer's Iconia Tab A500 starts $50 less for 16GB and includes a microSD slot for memory expansion, but it isn't as light as the Galaxy Tab. The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer starts at $100 less (without the dock) and also has a memory card slot.
Design-wise, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has no reason to feel inadequate next to the iPad 2. It's just as thin and even weighs less than Apple's device. Unfortunately, the company tried a bit too hard to emulate the iPad 2 by taking away the memory card slot found on most Android tablets. And regardless of the hardware, Apple still has a commanding lead in terms of tablet-specific apps. If you don't mind the extra weight, the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer offers similar performance to the Tab 10.1 for $100 less and works well with an optional keyboard. Overall, though, the Tab 10.1's more portable design, great display, loud speakers, and strong endurance make it among our favorite Honeycomb tablets.