Samsung has done the best job thus far of challenging the iPad 2's supremacy, and a new adversary has now landed on Verizon Wireless. Not only is this 10-inch Android Honeycomb tablet as slim as Apple's slate, it connects to Verizon's blazing 4G LTE network, offering 10 times the data speeds of the 3G-only iPad 2. Still, $529 isn't cheap, and you'll wind up forking over a lot more cash in data fees over that two-year contract. Is this Android tablet worth the investment--and commitment?
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is one seriously slim slate. Identical in size and shape to the Wi-Fi-only version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (10.1 x 6.9 x 0.34 inches), it's also as trim as the ultra-svelte iPad 2 (9.5 x 7.3 x 0.34 inches). This tablet is slightly wider than the iPad 2 but a tad lighter: 1.25 pounds to the iPad 2's 1.35 pounds. We could easily hold the Tab with little arm strain while reading for extended periods. The Tab is much lighter than competing Honeycomb slates such as the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer and the Motorola Xoom (1.4 and 1.6 pounds, respectively).
The Galaxy Tab's screen sits in a black bezel, and aluminum rings the edges. Unlike on the Wi-Fi Galaxy Tab 10.1, power and volume keys sit on the slate's left side (in landscape orientation) instead of on top. We actually prefer this placement, as the Honeycomb UI is optimized for landscape mode. Two speakers are located to the left and right, while a headphone jack and SIM card slot occupy the top edge. While the back is plastic like on the Wi-Fi-only version, here it has a finish that looks like brushed metal, making it feel sturdier and more luxurious than the Wi-Fi model.
Also on the back is a 3-megapixel camera with LED flash, which complements the 2-MP front-facing shooter. No other ports are on board, save Samsung's proprietary connector on the bottom. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 lacks a microSD expansion slot as well, so users must live with either the 16GB or 32GB of memory that comes standard.
Display and Audio
The Galaxy Tab's 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 WXGA display is lovely to behold. It provides vivid, eye-catching colors with wide viewing angles. Even so, the iPad 2's smaller 9.7-inch screen looked a little brighter than the Tab's, which possessed a slight blue cast. That said, watching the YouTube HD trailers for Battleship and Conan the Barbarian was extremely entertaining. The Tab 10.1 sharply rendered deadly swordplay, gruesome monsters, fantastic landscapes, alien warships, and fiery explosions. However, the same glossy treatment that gives the screen an enjoyably high contrast with deep blacks and saturated colors also tends to attract smudges and fingerprints.
As with the Wi-Fi-only Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the tablet's twin stereo speakers provide surprisingly pleasing audio for a device this thin and compact. Our test song, "I Follow Rivers" by Lykke Li, was clear with a wide sound field and breathy vocals. The classic hip hop track "Electric Relaxation" by A Tribe Called Quest had no distortion, but the absence of bass was noticeable.
Software and Interface
The Tab 10.1 runs Android Honeycomb 3.1, the most modern version of Google's tablet OS. An unlock screen displays time and date in a futuristic font. Unlocking the device is a simple matter of pulling a padlock symbol to the edge of a small virtual ring. As on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 Wi-Fi unit, Honeycomb ran smoothly on this device. We were able to switch between more than a dozen simultaneously running applications using the app tray, which can list up to 16 most recently used programs.
Like other Honeycomb tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 forgoes physical buttons for an ever-present system bar on the bottom of the screen. To the right are software keys for Back, Home, and recent apps. The right houses the notification area that provides easy access to system settings, system-wide alerts, time, date, and battery and network status. Along the top are shortcuts for search, voice commands, and opening the full app tray. Pressing the + symbol here also lets users customize the interface by adding apps and widgets to any of the five home screens, or swapping wallpapers.
Unlike the Wi-Fi version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Verizon's version has yet to incorporate Samsung's custom-made TouchWiz 4.0 UX interface. We hope it arrives soon, as we like many of the features the UI offers, including a bar of apps users launch by swiping up from the bottom of the screen and a Social Hub to keep tabs on social messaging updates.
The Tab 10.1 features the same virtual keyboard we liked on the Wi-Fi-only model. It uses a layout similar to Samsung's original 7-inch Galaxy Tab, with large keys that are easy to read and hit. Also welcome is the ability for some keys to do double duty as symbol buttons and punctuation characters through a long press. Too bad you'll have to wait for Swype support, which is currently only offered on the Wi-Fi Tab 10.1 with the latest software update.
Web Surfing and 4G LTE Data
Web surfing on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 with LTE is a dream. Thanks to the one-two punch of an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core chip plus connection to Verizon's ultra-fast 4G network, we saw swift average download speeds of 13.5 Mbps. Uploads were quick as well, with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 turning in throughput of 2.6 Mbps. The iPad 2 3G, by contrast, managed downloads of just 460 to 980 Kbps, and uploads were a pokey 192 to 210 Kbps. So the Tab is about 13 times faster when it comes to mobile broadband.
This nimble performance translated to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 loading full desktop versions of the ESPN and The New York Times web pages in 11 and 9.7 seconds, respectively. The tablet took a little longer to load LaptopMag.com--about 14 seconds--but that's still pretty swift.
Camera and Camcorder
We still find the idea of using a camera on a device as large as a tablet a little awkward. Nevertheless, Samsung has included a 3-MP rear-facing camera on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 for shooting pics in a pinch. While this main camera doesn't have the sharp pixel count to compete with high-end smartphones, it captured images quickly with no perceptible lag. On a bright summer day, pictures looked somewhat washed out. Low-light shots were decent, with the Tab's LED flash doing an admirable job of evenly exposing subjects even at close distances.
The 720p HD Video we shot of New York City street scenes was smooth, though not as crisp as footage we filmed using handsets such as the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide, which captures movies in stunning 1080p HD. That said, the Galaxy Tab 10.1's camera boasts a host of great extras. Users get multiple shooting modes, including Action, Panorama, and Smile Shot (which snaps the shutter when grins are detected). Eight different scene modes are on board as well, including Candlelight, Landscape, Night, Party/Indoor, and Sports.
A 2-MP front-facing camera handles the video chat duties on this Tab 10.1. On our tests, we successfully made Google Talk video calls with our Gmail contacts over the Verizon LTE wireless network. Callers said our face looked clear with audio properly in sync.
Like all of its Honeycomb tablet brethren, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is powered by a robust Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core CPU. As with the Wi-Fi version of the device, Verizon's Tab was snappy and responsive. Benchmark testing bore this out, with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 scoring a high 3,057 on the Benchmark CPU, more than 420 points above average. This showing beat the Motorola Xoom (2,996), but wasn't enough to edge out the Acer Iconia Tab A500 (3,214), the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer (3,126), or even the Galaxy Tab 10.1 Wi-Fi (3,158).
The graphics test An3DBench highlighted the Tab's Nvidia horsepower, with the device notching a blazing result of 7,616, more than 700 points higher than the typical tablet. It was enough to best the Iconia Tab (6,938), but not the powerful Eee Pad Transformer (8,579).
In our everyday use, the Tab 10.1 smoothly jumped from screen to screen and opened applications quickly. Software that typically gives lesser tablets a hard time, such as TweetDeck and the Pulse news reader, proved no trouble for the Tab 10.1. Graphically demanding games such as the space-age flight combat title Galaxy On Fire 2 also played well. Dogfights were filled with bright energy blasts and slickly detailed planetary backdrops.
It's well known that Verizon's 4G LTE phones don't offer the best battery life, and unfortunately this tablet is in the same boat. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 lasted just 6 hours and 8 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test over 4G. By comparison, the iPad 2 ran for 8:59. Over Wi-Fi, the original Tab 10.1 lasted 8:23, so we'd expect similar endurance here. The iPad 2 lasted over 11 hours in Wi-Fi mode.
Apps and Media
Old hands at Android will find the familiar collection of Google apps on the Galaxy Tab 10.1: Gmail, Latitude, Maps, Navigation, and Talk. There's Movie Studio for quick editing of videos including splicing, adding transitions, and dropping in soundtracks. A free version of QuickOffice HD lets users read and edit documents, and Samsung's Media Hub serves up movie rentals and purchases (it only offers TV shows to buy permanently).
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for Verizon is one of the first tablets we've used that feature Google's new Market app that offers both books and movie stores. Purchased and rented movies will also appear within the Video app alongside personal content.
At the moment the Android Market only has about 60 or so applications specially enhanced for tablets, which pales in comparison to the more than 90,000 available to iPad owners. The Nvidia Tegra Zone offers about 15 game titles meant to harness the graphical power of the Tegra 2 CPU, including Fruit Ninja, Galaxy On Fire 2, Pinball HD, and Riptide GP.
Pricing and Value
At $529.99, the 16GB Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is $30 more than its Wi-Fi-only cousin ($499). The 32GB model on Verizon costs a steeper $629 ($599 for Wi-Fi only). It's the data costs that really add up. Access to Verizon's 4G LTE network runs an extra $30, $50, and 80 per month for 2GB, 5GB, and 10GB of data, respectively. If you run over your allotment of data, users will be charged an additional $10 per GB. Annoyingly, to use this tablet as a mobile hotspot and tethered modem, customers must sign up for 5GB or 10GB plans.
Over the course of two years, you'll be paying $1,249 for this tablet, so you'll really want to think long and hard about how much you'll need that mobile broadband connectivity. The iPad 3G on Verizon costs $100 more up front ($629) and provides a slower 3G network connection, but users aren't locked into a contract and can activate or drop data from month to month.
Those who spend a a lot of time on the go will certainly appreciate the sheer speed of the Verizon Galaxy Tab 10.1's 4G LTE connection, plus its slim and light design and great display. While Apple's iPad 2 on Verizon has a slower 3G radio, it offers many more apps, longer battery life, and doesn't force you into a two-year contract. But among Android tablets with mobile broadband, the Verizon Galaxy Tab 10.1 can't be beat.