Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 takes on the iPad 2 (June 10th, 2011)
Although Apple's iPads have only been on the market for one year, the devices have served as the gold standard in the tablet arena. The most competitive alternatives are equipped with Google's Android operating system, however many of the tablets have failed to contend with the iPad's strengths without commanding a significantly higher price. Samsung has finally released the revised version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, a tablet that aims to close the feature gap while matching Apple's pricing structure. In our full review, we'll take a look at how the new Tab stacks up against the iPad 2 and and the rest of the Android-based tablet crowd.
Product Manufacturer: Samsung
Price: $499 to $599 (16GB or 32GB)
- Appealing aesthetics, thin
- Fast dual-core processor
- Bright display
- Long battery life
- Price matches iPad 2
- Equipped with Android 3.1
- Plastic back does not feel as solid as metal
- No microSD slot
- Requires dock adapter for HDMI output, other connections
(Note: we've since tested the 3G version. The inclusion of 3G and TouchWiz doesn't revolutionize the overall verdict, but is worth reading if you're considering use on Bell, T-Mobile, or another 3G carrier.)
Samsung initially unveiled its first-generation Galaxy Tab 10.1 early this year at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. We liked the device, however Samsung appears to have been dissatisfied with its design after Apple introduced the iPad 2. The company decided to keep its commitment with Vodafone and split the Tab 10.1 into two models: the "10.1V" edition previewed in Barcelona, and the Tab 10.1 redesigned to compete directly with the iPad 2.
The new Tab 10.1 appears to have been reworked with dimensions as a primary focus, besting the iPad 2's 8.8mm thickness by 0.2mm. The housing has been smoothed to a soft contour, rather than the clunky-looking but grippy build of the 10.1V. Unlike the iPad's aluminum case, the Tab 10.1's backside is protected by a plastic panel. We expected the material choice to be detrimental to the experience, but the thin profile and plastic housing seemed easy to hold. Without dropping the Tab and an iPad 2 on a concrete floor, it is difficult to determine if the plastic housing sacrifices durability.
The new Tab weighs in at 595 grams, just five grams shy of the iPad 2. As a full-fledged 10.1-inch tablet, the device is not designed to be wielded as easily as a Kindle. The heft does not detract from usability, however; we found the tablet to be comfortable through extended trials.
To compete with the iPad's size, Samsung followed in Apple's footsteps by eliminating a number of ports. The Tab 10.1 relies on a proprietary dock connector that appears to be nearly identical to Apple's 30-pin connector. We would have liked to see a dedicated HDMI port that does not require a special adapter; other users may be more frustrated by the lack of a microSD slot.
Display and cameras
As the name suggests, the new Tab centers around a 10.1-inch display. The LCD offers 1280x800 resolution, slightly higher than the iPad's 1024x768 panel and matching the Motorola Xoom.
We found the display to be bright and vibrant, however the standard LCD lacks the extreme viewing angles of the iPad's IPS panel.
Samsung mostly upgraded the Tab 10.1 from its predecessor, except for the cameras. The 10.1V offers an eight-megapixel primary camera, but the new model downgrades to a three-megapixel sensor. The sacrifice was likely necessary to shave thickness.
We do not miss the eight-megapixel camera; tablets are generally too large for any type of photography. The newer model still offers a two-megapixel front-facing sensor, which is sufficient for video chat and other features, while the rear-facing camera is paired with LED flash and autofocus despite the comparatively low resolution.
Internals and performance
Like many Android-based tablets, the Tab 10.1 is powered by NVIDIA's dual-core Tegra 2 chipset running at 1GHz. We found the interface to be slightly snappier than the competition, though it is unclear if the performance boost is related to the hardware or Android 3.1 optimizations.
Throughout our time with Samsung's latest tablet, we found the overall performance to be comparable to the iPad 2 and Motorola Xoom. Dual-core processors have become the norm for tablets, and the Tegra 2 components handled multitasking, gaming and 720p video playback without any problems.
Despite the Tab's thin profile, the device manages to integrate stereo speakers with small ports positioned on the left and right edge of the housing. The configuration seems more sensible than the iPad 2, as side ports remain unobstructed when the bottom of the tablet is resting on the user's lap. We did not have a 10.1V for a side-by-side comparison, however the new Tab produced surprisingly robust sound from the small speakers. The sound was somewhat tinny, as expected from any tablet, but the headphone port easily powered a pair of high-impedance earbuds.
The new Tab 10.1 steps up to a 7000 mAh battery, which offers slightly higher capacity than the 10.1V's 6860 mAh cells. In our tests, which spanned a wide range of activities, we reached Samsung's claim of nine hours per charge. Battery performance was similar to that of the iPad 2, which is claimed to reach 10 hours for similar usage.
Samsung suggests it is working to bring its TouchWiz UI overlay to the Tab 10.1 sometime in the near future. In the meantime, users get to take advantage of the stock Android 3.1 experience.
The v3.1 update offers several notable improvements over the previous release, including resizable widgets and a revamped multitasking interface that provides quicker access to various apps. We like the widget upgrade, though the resizing options are currently limited to a select number of apps.
Transitions between UI elements appear to have been optimized for quicker responsiveness, while users can now touch the Home button to navigate to the home screen that was last viewed. The update also offers slight tweaks to the e-mail and calendar utilities.
Google suggests the latest version of the tablet browser has been improved with expanded support for standards such as CSS 3D and embedded HTML5 videos. We did not have any problems browsing the Internet; the redesigned Quick Controls feature can be used to quickly switch between a number of open tabs.
Stock Android builds typically offer an effective and simplified interface, though some users may prefer the customized overlays offered by many companies. We did not run into any usability issues with Android 3.1 -- a modest upgrade with sensible improvements. Google took time to build a proper tablet OS, and the latest revision does not diverge from the fundamentals that arrived with v3.0.
Samsung seems to have made an insightful decision by scrapping the early 10.1V to go head-to-head with the iPad 2. The refreshed Tab 10.1 arguably represents the most competitive tablet emanating from the Honeycomb realm. Hardware capabilities are not exceptionally different from other tablets, however the new Tab's refined aesthetics and attractive price help push the device to the head of the Android crowd.
The Tab 10.1 puts the Xoom in an even tougher spot, as Motorola first pushed its 3G-equipped tablet, which costs $800, rather than initially shipping the cheaper Wi-Fi model. Now that the Wi-Fi Xoom has arrived, it is only available with a 32GB capacity for $600. The Tab 10.1 with 16GB of storage fills the gap at the $500 magic price point that has helped the iPad dominate the field; customers can also buy a 32GB edition for $600.
Best Buy has already begun selling the Galaxy Tab 10.1 at its Union Square location in NYC. Customers can also place pre-orders on the retailer's website, with shipment expected by June 17.