Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE for Verizon

Samsung harnesses 4G LTE with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (September 16th, 2011)

Several months ago we took a close look at the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which represents Samsung's answer to the iPad 2. The device offered some of the best features among Android-based tablets, but without any particularly stellar capabilities compared to Apple's alternative. Samsung quickly followed up with an upgraded edition, however, taking advantage of the higher data speeds attainable from Verizon's 4G LTE network. In our full review, we see how the LTE variant stacks up against the Wi-Fi model and the rest of the tablet crowd.

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Samsung

Price: $530 as tested

The Good

  • Excellent Android 3.1 experience
  • Solid hardware
  • Extremely fast Internet via LTE
  • Attractive display

The Bad

  • Late to get TouchWiz, Android 3.2
  • Expensive standalone LTE plans

Several months ago we took a close look at the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which represents Samsung's answer to the iPad 2. The device offered some of the best features among Android-based tablets, but without any particularly stellar capabilities compared to Apple's alternative. Samsung quickly followed up with an upgraded edition, however, taking advantage of the higher data speeds attainable from Verizon's 4G LTE network. In our full review, we see how the LTE variant stacks up against the Wi-Fi model and the rest of the tablet crowd.

Design

The Wi-Fi Galaxy Tab 10.1 that we initially reviewed arrived with a glossy white finish, while the LTE variant arrived with a brushed gunmetal housing. Both the Wi-Fi and LTE editions can be purchased with either finish, however we found the gunmetal housing to be more attractive and less prone to fingerprint smudging. Despite the appearance of metal with the gunmetal housing, both finishes appear to be placed upon the same plastic backside.

Aside from a small door for the LTE SIM card, Verizon's 4G Tab is indistinguishable from the Wi-Fi model. We found both tablets to be easily to handle, with a fairly solid grip and a weight just shy of the iPad 2; the Tab 10.1's LTE hardware only adds two grams to the overall heft.





Display and cameras

The LTE variant integrates the same display and cameras as the Wi-Fi edition. Reiterating our observations from the original Tab 10.1 review, we found the display to be vibrant and crisp but without the extremely wide viewing angles of the iPad 2's IPS panel.

Samsung originally equipped the first-generation Tab 10.1 (the "10.1V") with an eight-megapixel primary camera. Both the second-generation Tab 10.1 Wi-Fi and the LTE model both integrate a three-megapixel sensor, but we find this to be sufficient for most situations in which a user would find a tablet to be a better option for taking pictures than a dedicated camera or cellphone.



Performance

As expected, the LTE Tab's dual-core Tegra 2 chipset brought the same level of performance that we experienced from the Wi-Fi model. The interface is snappy and smooth, while the hardware easily handles complex apps and multitasking without dragging down.

We are still impressed with the stock Android 3.1 interface, however we are disappointed to see that Verizon has not kept up with the same updates that are available on the Wi-Fi version. Samsung early in August released a significant update for the Wi-Fi Tab 10.1, bringing the company's custom TouchWiz overlay, however the same update has yet to arrive for the LTE variant.

To get the most up-to-date Android experience on Verizon's 4G network, subscribers must look to the Motorola Xoom. Although the Xoom was late to receive hardware upgrades to enable LTE functionality, the tablet was upgraded to Android 3.2 around the same time Wi-Fi Tab 10.1 received its TouchWiz update.

LTE

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE diverges from the Wi-Fi variant by enabling users to connect to Verizon's 3G and 4G cellular networks. In many cases, the 4G network may provide much faster data speeds than public Wi-Fi access points or home broadband connections typically provide.

We took the Tab to one of the latest markets to get Verizon's 4G service, where we were able to achieve average download speeds of approximately 20Mbps. Most of the tests reached at least 10Mbps, while peak speeds pushed 30Mbps.

The network tests show a significant jump between real-world speeds on Verizon's 3G and 4G networks. In the same areas where 4G towers were able to sustain 20Mbps download speeds, we averaged 2Mbps on the 3G network. In fact, Verizon's own FiOS broadband Internet service starts at 15Mbps. Other competing ISPs around the local area offer 15Mbps as the top tier for consumer-level service, with a 30Mbps plan considered a business connection.





Final thoughts

Despite the Galaxy Tab 10.1's extreme speeds on Verizon's LTE network, we still find it to be an unlikely device to have widespread appeal. Most potential customers willing to dish out $500 up front and $30+/month for an away-from-home Internet and app experience are likely to already own, or can afford, a smartphone capable of serving as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

For Verizon subscribers already paying for the basic smartphone data plan, which costs $30/month for 2GB of data allowance, purchasing the LTE tablet with its own 2GB plan costs an additional $30 each month--a total payout of $60 each month for 4GB of data across both devices.

For smartphone owners, Verizon's $50/month data plan with a 4GB of data and hotspot functionality arguably serves as a better deal. The allowance can be used to connect a wide range of other devices: the Wi-Fi Galaxy Tab, an iPad, an iPod touch, notebook computers, friends' smartphones, game consoles, etc. The savings of $10 each month extends to a total of $240 across the two years that a subscriber is tied to the Galaxy Tab LTE agreement, while the up-front purchase price for the Wi-Fi Tab is $30 less than the LTE edition.

Potential customers already tied to smartphone contracts from other carriers that have yet to catch up to Verizon's LTE speeds, or customers who do not have or want a smartphone data plan, may find the 4G Tab to be an enticing offer. It is an excellent tablet, one of the best Android offerings on the market, but buying one of Verizon's LTE-capable smartphones with a hotspot plan can bring more flexibility at a lower cost.



by Justin King


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