The introduction of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has
been the most dramatic of any consumer electronics device in recent memory,
dragging Samsung through court and blocking the sale of the Tab, only
to have the injunction lifted a few weeks later. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the tablet
that Apple didn't want you to see, let alone buy. But does this automatically
mean that the 10.1 is the tab you've been waiting for?
Full marks to Samsung's design and
engineering teams; the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is seductively thin and wonderfully
lightweight. Android tablets this year have suffered from being exactly the
opposite, with Motorola's Xoom weighing in at nearly 50 per cent heavier, for
example. With the core purpose of a tablet computer centring on its
portability, the weight of a tablet is central to its success, and the 10.1
passes this test with flying colours.
Speaking of colour, Samsung's 10.1-inch
display is a treat for the eyes, with great viewing angles and enough pixels in
its 800x1280-pixel resolution to render sharp, clear pictures and text
onscreen. Owners of Samsung's Galaxy S II might be slightly disappointed with
the difference in contrast between the AMOLED screen on the phone and the PLS
LCD panel used in the tablet, but the black levels and clarity are really very
good for a screen of this size at this price.
The Galaxy Tab is as thin and light as
this picture suggests.
Android fans following the progress of Honeycomb
tablets throughout 2011 will notice a distinct absence of ports and sockets
around the edge of the Galaxy Tab 10.1. To keep its svelte waistline to 8.6mm,
we didn't expect Samsung to include a full-sized USB port, but it is more
disappointing that there is no micro-USB port — which is the industry
connectivity standard. There's also no expandable memory (several other Android
tablets feature an SD card slot) and no TV-out port, like micro HDMI.
Samsung takes the Apple approach to
connectivity in the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and will disappoint anyone who has been
avoiding the iPad for exactly this reason. Like the iPad, the Galaxy Tab ships
without these extra connectivity options, and, like the iPad, users can choose
to add these features with expensive adapters. A quick browse of the Samsung US
website shows individual adapters ranging in price between US$20 and US$40,
which is a lot to pay when the other tablets offer this functionality for free.
User experience and performance
Although Samsung has added a custom layer
to the basic Android Honeycomb user experience, the feel of using the Galaxy
Tab 10.1 is mostly identical to using any other Honeycomb tablet. Samsung's
refinements extend to the system fonts, a collection of widgets and a
user-customisable shortcuts panel on the taskbar at the bottom of the screen.
These adjustments do add to the user experience, but not as much as we'd like.
The Honeycomb user experience is far from perfect, and Samsung's TouchWiz makes
only a minor contribution in rectifying this.
Using the tablet is a pleasant experience,
with Samsung's capacitive touchscreen working well, and the onscreen keyboard
presenting large enough virtual keys to make typing a fairly painless
Powering the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is Nvidia's
dual-core Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM. This is the default configuration
for Android Honeycomb tablets this year, with the same hardware found in the
Motorola Xoom, the Acer Iconia A500 and the Sony Tablet S. Performance for the
10.1 then matches its competition, but fails to better it. For most of the
time, the system performance is fine, but you'll notice regular stutters in
animations and a noticeable pause when you exit an application and return to
the home screen.
We experience two-day battery life using
the Galaxy Tab reasonably frequently for web browsing and playing 3D games,
like Shadowgun. To push the battery further, we set the
brightness to full, switched off wireless connectivity and looped a 720p HD
video file. Under these conditions, the Tab lasted for about 5.5 hours before
requiring a recharge. In comparison, the iPad 2 will
play the same video file for 7.5 hours with its brightness ramped up to
No one will be choosing a tablet computer
based on the quality of its camera, but, for what it's worth, here are a couple
of examples of photos taken on the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Compared to other Android tablets
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Sony Tablet S
Nvidia Tegra 2
Nvidia Tegra 2
Nvidia Tegra 2
Nvidia Tegra 2
microSD, microUSB, USB Host, microHDMI,
microSD, microUSB, microHDMI
microSD, microUSB, Infrared
If you're in the market for an Android
tablet this year, you're not short on choices. A visit to your local JB Hi-Fi
will present you with six Android alternatives to the Galaxy Tab 10.1, each
looking fairly similar, and each offering something a little different.
Samsung sets itself apart primarily in its
design, with the Galaxy Tab slinking in with its total weight being 100g
lighter, and being 5mm slimmer than its nearest competitor, the Asus
Transformer. This is an important factor, to be sure, but is it the only
factor you need to consider? If you're looking for a tablet for web browsing
and media consumption only, then the size and weight should be your top
priorities, but if you're looking for a tablet suitable for taking to work, you
should look a little further.
The absence of standard USB connectivity,
expandable memory and a ready TV-out option are the great shortcomings of the
Tab 10.1. All of the alternatives include expandable memory, some with a
full-sized SD-card slot, and all but the Sony Tablet S feature micro HDMI-out
for connecting to TVs, projectors and computer monitors. You'll have to ask
yourself whether you need these features or not, but it is a shame that Samsung
doesn't offer these out of the box, especially when you consider that the
Galaxy Tab is amongst the most expensive of the Android tablets.
Galaxy Tab vs. iPad 2
They sort of look the same?
The million-dollar question is how the
Galaxy Tab 10.1 stacks up next to Apple's iPad 2. With Apple dominating the
tablet sales market, it's not surprising that Samsung should try to replicate
Apple's successful iPad formula, but we are a bit bewildered by just how
similar Samsung's approach is. No, we're not suggesting that Samsung is copying
Apple's precious intellectually property (that's for the courts to decide), but
if you compare the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad 2 based on features and price,
there is very little between them.
Samsung has price matched the iPads across
all of the variations of the device, and follows Apple's lead in not including
a long list of important computing features, leaving customers to pay extra for
adapters to return certain functions to the tablet that we believe should be in
the tablet to begin with. If you're a photographer and want to mount an SD
memory card, you'll hand over an extra US$29.99. If you want to use your Galaxy
Tab for presentations, you'll need a US$40 HDTV adapter, plus a
The big difference between the iPad and the
Galaxy Tab is the software, however, and with those you can argue the pros and
cons of Android vs. iOS until the end of days, but you can't argue with the
fact that there are tens of thousands of apps designed specifically for the
iPad, including Apple's excellent Garage Band music creator, while there are
few stand-out tablet apps for Android. When the two devices are priced the same
and share a look and feel, this should be an important consideration for a
savvy tablet shopper this year.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is an extremely
desirable device limited by a lack of computing features common in other
Android tablets. The Galaxy Tab is the thinnest and lightest, but you'll pay a
premium for this design, and you'll go without expandable memory, a standard
USB connection and an HDMI port. Plus, there's no killer feature or app that
helps the Galaxy Tab stand apart from any of the other tablets available. The
Asus Transformer has its keyboard dock, the Lenovo
ThinkPad has its digitiser pen and the Sony Tablet S has easy DLNA
sharing and infrared for controlling TVs. These aren't just extra features;
these are tools that suggest the way each tablet could be used, and are factors
that elevate these devices beyond merely being larger versions of the
smartphones already in our pockets.
We also have to consider that new tablets
will be entering the market in a matter of months; tablets with quad-core
processors and new versions of Google's Android OS. With the trouble Samsung
has had getting the 10.1 into Australia this year, some may say that its
arrival is better late than never, but for us it just feels late, and we'd
suggest waiting for the next wave of Android tablets to arrive in the new year.
Like the pretty faces draping the covers of
gossip magazines, the Galaxy Tab looks better than its peers, but is decidedly
average below the surface. Users of the 10.1 will enjoy good web browsing,
gaming and media playback, but the same can be said for the majority of devices
in this category.