review There’s nothing like a little controversy to drive up demand for a new gadget. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the famous tablet Apple didn’t want us to get our hands on, and yet despite its best efforts in the courtroom, Samsung was successful at getting the injunction against Aussie sales lifted in time for Christmas. Was it worth all the legal wrangling? Read on to find out.
After all the fuss, we were expecting the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 to look a lot more like the iPad. Perhaps if you’d never seen an iPad before, and assumed any tablet-looking device was an iPad, you’d make that mistake, notwithstanding the Samsung logos emblazoned on the front and back. But holding the white iPad 2 and white Galaxy Tab 10.1 side-by-side, you’d never mistake one for the other. The white iPad 2 has a white bezel around the screen, a metal back and 9.7” display in a 4:3 aspect ratio, while the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a black bezel around the screen, a plastic white back with chrome frame, and a 10.1” display 16:10 aspect ratio.
With the obligatory iPad comparisons out of the way, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a handsome device in its own right – possibly the best-looking Android tablet we’ve come across so far. At 565g and a skinny 8.6mm thick, it’s both the lightest and thinnest tablet for its size. As with most tablets, the battery is sealed in to keep it slim as possible, but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 skips a few of the niceties that we’ve come to expect in an Android tablet, namely a micro-USB port (it uses the same proprietary jack found on earlier Samsung tablets for charging and syncing), a HDMI port, and a microSD card slot. You can, however, buy adapters that attach to the proprietary port for adding HDMI, USB and SD card reader functionality.
There are no real surprises on the Galaxy Tab 10.1’s spec sheet. It has the stock-standard 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, a 10.1” 1280 x 800 display, front and back cameras, and both Wi-Fi and 3G versions. For some reason, Samsung has skipped the 32GB option in favour of 16GB and 64GB storage capacities, and this is something you’ll want to get right up-front, as there’s no microSD slot for adding extra storage. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 uses a PLS (plane to line switching) LCD rather than the IPS panel found on most other tablets, and while this is meant to have the same effect for ultra-wide viewing angles, we found the screen dimmed considerably when moving it from side to side.
Software is the main way that Samsung differentiates the Galaxy Tab 10.1 from the legion of other Android tablets. Alas, it doesn’t run the latest Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android (Samsung says an over-the-air ICS update will be available in the first quarter of this year), but the Android Honeycomb 3.1 build running on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has been heavily customised with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. It’s always a bit of hit or miss as to whether vendor skins are better or worse than the vanilla OS, but in this case, TouchWiz is a definite improvement over Honeycomb’s homely – and at times, confusing – UI.
Extras include lots of tablet-optimised widgets to choose from on the homescreen, a ‘Mini Apps Tray’ that you can for running supported applets (such as calendar, music player and calculator) on top of the app that’s currently open, an enhanced ‘Quick Panel’ notification area that includes shortcuts to system settings like Wi-Fi, GPS, screen brightness and auto-rotation, and custom fonts, apps and settings that put a much friendlier face on Honeycomb.
There’s also the usual Samsung software like Samsung Social Hub (an aggregator app for email, PIM, chat and social networking), Samsung Music Hub (a music subscription service), Kies Air (an app for wirelessly transferring files with a computer through a web browser), and the Samsung Apps store, and some Android apps exclusive to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 like MagShop (a digital newsstand app for ACP magazines) and ABC Reading Eggs (an educational children’s app). The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is also the only Android tablet we’ve come across so far with native support for DivX, XviD and WMV.
For day to day use, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 felt slightly snappier than other Android tablets we’ve reviewed. Things like launching apps, switching screen orientations, moving between homescreens and loading webpages felt just that little bit faster. Its Rightware Browsermark score of 88,970 is significantly faster than the average Android tablet score of 55,000, and not too far behind the Apple iPad’s score of 99,578.
Standard definition video playback was decent, if not occasionally choppy. The stock video player can’t play 720p MKV videos, but like most Android tablets, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 supports hardware acceleration for 720p and 1080p videos thanks to its Tegra 2 processor. Also like most Android tablets, 720p video (using the third party VPlayer) isn’t great, with audio sync problems and jerky playback. We didn’t even bother trying a 1080p video. Audio performance didn’t blow our hair back either – the Galaxy Tab 10.1 surround sound stereo speakers sound a lot better on paper than they do in practice, and while the volume is adequate for personal listening, you’ll struggle to hear it in noisy environments.
One thing we noticed when transferring files to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is that the USB connection only supports MTP – there’s no option for mounting the tablet as a USB mass storage device. It still mounts as an external drive on a WIndows computer, but if you’re using a Mac, you’ll need to either install the Samsung Kies desktop software, or use Kies Air over a Wi-Fi connection to transfer files.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1’s battery life is much better than expected for such a skinny device. Playing a loop of standard definition videos (Wi-Fi on, 3G off, screen brightness set to ‘Auto’), it lasted for just under 12 hours. This beats the iPad 2’s record of 10 hours of continuous video playback.
Based on its own merits, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is an impressive tablet. It’s sleek, good-looking, offers a great user experience out of the box and has the best battery life out of any tablet we’ve reviewed so far. But it’s not really the hardware we have an issue with – it’s the dearth of tablet-optimised apps for Honeycomb tablets. The app situation for Honeycomb has gotten a little better in the past few months, but it’s still drastically behind its main competitor, the Apple iPad 2 – an issue that’s all the more significant given both the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and iPad are priced identically. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn’t even get the benefit of the extra features usually found on Android tablets like microSD expansion, HDMI output and USB OTG; some of these features are available for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 using optional adapters, but then again, you can say the same for the iPad 2.
If you’re ideologically opposed to any Apple-branded products, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is definitely one of the better Android tablets available, but even then, your money may be better spent on one of the newer devices with quad-core processors and Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 starts at $579 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model and $729 for the 16GB 3G model, and it’s available on plans from both Optus and Vodafone.
Jenneth Orantia turned her back on a lucrative career in law to pursue her unhealthy obsession with consumer technology. She’s known for having at least half a dozen of the latest gadgets on her person at a time, and once won a bottle of Dom Perignon for typing 78WPM on a Pocket PC with a stylus.
Image credit: Samsung