With the original Galaxy Tab 10.1, Samsung had a pretty good thing going: It was thin, lighter than the iPad 2, and had strong speakers. But technology never stands still, which is why Samsung added smart remote capability for controlling your TV, as well as a microSD card slot, all while lowering the price by $100. Now just $399 for the 16GB version, the Tab 2 10.1 is a definite improvement over the original, but has Samsung done enough to stay ahead of the Android competition?
Unlike the Tab 2 7.0, which looks almost identical to its earlier iteration, the Tab 2 10.1 has a slightly different design. Most notable are the two silver speakers that flank the display when held in portrait mode. Their placement makes the Tab 2 a bit wider than the first (10.1 x 6.9 x 0.38 inches, compared to 9.7 x 6.7 x 0.34 inches), but it means that you'll never have to worry about muffling sound if you have the tablet in your lap.
Instead of the all-black aesthetic common to many touchscreen devices, we like the silver plastic back and gray plastic edges of the Tab 2 10.1.
Like the New iPad, the Tab 2 10.1 is both thicker and heavier than the previous version (1.28 pounds, compared with 1.24 pounds), but the difference in both cases is minimal. It's slightly smaller and lighter than the ASUS Transformer TF300 (1.4 pounds, 10.4 x 7.1 x 0.38 inches).
The top of the Tab 2 10.1 has a power button, volume controls, a microSD card slot (something missing from the original), an IR transmitter, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The placement of the speakers, IR transmitter, and webcam (along the long edge of the bezel) indicate that, unlike the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, this 10-inch version is meant to be held in landscape, not portrait mode.
Similar to the previous Tab 10.1 and the TF300, this version has a 10.1-inch display with a resolution of 1280 x 800. Explosions in the trailers for "Battleship" and "The Expendables 2" were fiery and vivid, though we noticed some splotchiness in darker scenes.
With an average brightness of 424 lux, the Tab 2 10.1 far outshone the TF300 (331 lux) as well as the Android tablet average (351 lux) and the new iPad (386 lux).
Having the speakers on the front of the Tab 2 10.1, as opposed to the edges or back, makes a big difference. Whether we were listening to music or watching a movie, it was nice to have sound directed at us. While there will always be an element of tinniness in speakers this small, we noticed good depth and detail in songs, from Bruce Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love" to Jay-Z's "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)."
We only wish the physical volume buttons were within easier reach of our left or right hand, instead of being on the top.
Samsung offers its keyboard only on the Tab 2 10.1, which works fine. Keys are nicely spaced, and a little light appears when caps lock is on. We also like that dedicated .com and @ buttons appear when you're typing in an email address field, for instance.
Google voice typing is also included for those who prefer to dictate their missives.
Software and Interface
Like the Tab 2 7.0, the 10-inch Tab features Android Ice Cream Sandwich with a topping of TouchWiz. Buttons for Back, Home, Settings and Recent Apps are in the bottom system bar. Dismissing recent apps and notifications took just a quick sideways swipe. Instead of holding down the power and volume buttons, we were able to take screenshots using the screenshot button next to the Recent Apps icon.
Samsung TouchWiz adds small flourishes with big impact. We continue to be fans of the arrow icon in the bottom system bar, which calls up helpful Mini Apps such as Calculator, Alarms, Email and Task Manager that open above the currently opened app. You can have up to seven apps in the system bar, but you can't use it for third-party apps.
The Notifications Box on the right side of the bottom system bar also has some TouchWiz tweaks. A large clock sits at the top, along with a Quick Settings box seen in most Galaxy S II phones. Scrolling to the left reveals a number of settings, including Wi-Fi, Airplane Mode and Bluetooth. Display Brightness and Settings are located beneath Quick Settings with space for other notifications underneath.
Overall, we like the look of the ICS/TouchWiz combination on the Tab 2 10.1, but with the app button, notifications menu, Mini Apps tray and multiple home screens, there's quite a lot to process versus the more straightforward iOS on the iPad.
Packing a 1.2-GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4430 processor and 1GB of RAM, the Tab 2 10.1 turned in good, but not great scores on our synthetic benchmarks. On the Benchmark CPU test, the slate scored 2,834, about 100 points higher than average, but well below the ASUS TF300, whose Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 CPU notched 3,613. In fact, it's lower than the original Tab 10.1, whose 1-GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor registered 3158.
On An3DBench, a graphics test, the Tab 2 10.1 scored 6779 to the TF300's 7,705. The category average is 7,194, and the older Tab 10.1 scored 7,526.
Still, the Tab 2 10.1 was speedy when opening apps and flipping through home screens. We rarely, if ever saw a slowdown or pause, even when we were surfing the Web with Pandora playing in the background.
Our configuration of the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 came with 16GB of internal storage, which can be expanded to 48GB using the microSD card slot.
As with Samsung's other tablets, the company packages a number of its own apps in the Tab 2 10.1, some of which are more useful than others. Samsung AllShare lets you stream multimedia content to other DLNA devices, such as TVs and set-top boxes, using Wi-Fi. We were able to connect quickly and easily to a Samsung Series 9 running AllShare, and stream videos to it, as well as to the Tab 2 10.1. However, when we tried to connect to our Buffalo network-attached storage drive, all we got was a spinning circle on the Tab 2 10.1.
Samsung Media Hub is where you can rent movies and single episodes of television shows, such as "American Dad" for $1.99. There's also the Music Hub, where music lovers can purchase albums or single tracks (for $14.99 or $1.29, respectively). Games Hub offers a large catalog of casual and hardcore games while Reader's Hub offers newspapers, magazines and books courtesy of PressPower, Zinio and Kobo.
Samsung also includes ChatON, a mobile communication app that works over most smartphone platforms. ChatON tracks interaction with your buddies and enables the sharing of calendars, contacts, video or music. Users can also create messages with hand-drawn animation.
Google and Third-Party Apps
Google-branded apps include Google Talk, Play for downloading apps, Google+, Google+ Messenger, Play Music and Play Books. Netflix, Skype, Polaris Office and Dropbox are among the third-party apps. Samsung even bundles a free year of Dropbox with 50GB of online storage, which typically costs $99.
Although Samsung has done a pretty good job here creating a mini ecoystem, it's fighting an uphill battle versus Amazon, which lets you purchase everything from games and movies to books and music using a single account most people already have. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 gives you more choice but also a bit more complexity. For example, to download apps from the Samsung App store, you'll first have to create a Samsung account, in addition to the main Google account on the tablet.
The third-party app selection on Android tablets continues to be a mixed bag. While some apps look great on larger screens (such as Netflix and "Angry Birds Space"), others are just stretched-out phone apps (Pandora, Facebook).
Exclusive to Samsung Android tablets is the built-in Peel Smart Remote, which let us control our cable box and TV using the tablet's IR blaster. Setup was relatively fast, taking approximately five minutes. We could almost immediately turn on our Samsung television using the app, which also quickly recognized our Motorola DVR cable box and was automatically able to switch channels and access the channel guide.
Our favorite Smart Remote feature is its ability to learn our preferred programs. After choosing several genres and shows, Smart Remote began suggesting shows and movies from the channel guide. It's a lot more personal than Logitech's Harmony Link.
Unfortunately, the Peel app seems less stable than when we tested it previously. For example, when we pressed the power button to turn off our TV, cable box, and stereo simultaneously, the app would crash.
Camera and Camcorder
We doubt many consumers will use a 10-inch tablet to take photos, but we still want them to look good Sadly, the 3-megapixel camera on the back of the Tab 2 10.1 did not fare well indoors. Images were grainy and washed out; a model Ferrari Testarossa looked more pink than its trademark red.
Outdoor photos weren't much better as the edges of objects such as buildings and trees seemed a bit hazy, even on a sunny day. Images taken in direct sunlight were fairly colorful, but not particularly sharp and those taken in a shady area were darker than we'd expect.
A 720p video we shot of a city landscape was smooth, but suffered from the same haziness as outdoor stills. Colors like the green on tree tops appeared a bit muted too.
The front-facing VGA camera was even worse. We saw many more artifacts when we turned the camera on ourselves.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 should last you all day long. When we ran the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi at 40 percent brightness, the Galaxy Tab 2 lasted an epic 9 hours and 59 minutes. By comparison, the TF300 lasted 7 hours on Balanced mode; the tablet category average is 6:51.
One of our pet peeves about the Tab 2 10.1 is how slowly it charged. At one point, it had charged only 6 percent after 25 minutes. We found things moved quicker, though, when the screen was turned off.
With the addition of a microSD card slot and moving the speakers to the front of the tablet, Samsung has made some nice improvements to the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, all while keeping the price below $400 and the battery life really long. Our favorite feature is the ability to use this slate as a smart remote.
However, the Asus ASUS Transformer TF300 offers faster quad-core performance and offers twice the internal storage for the same price. Plus, the TF300 can double as a mini laptop when you add the optional keyboard. Then again, the Tab 2 10.1 has a brighter display, longer battery life and better sound in a thinner, lighter design.
It all comes down to what you value most, but the new Tab is certainly one of the top mid-range Android tablets.