Ever since Apple forever changed the mobile computing landscape with its iPad tablet, its competitors have been scrambling to catch up. The market is now flooded with tablets claiming to be the iPad-killer, but, to this point, few if any have come close. For the last few weeks I have been testing one of the tablets that may just give the iPad a run for its money—the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The Galaxy Tab is lighter and thinner than the iPad 2 and offers comparable battery life, but it lags in the number of available apps.
Samsung went back to the drawing board for the Galaxy Tab when Apple announced the iPad 2 and the end result is a tablet that is lighter, thinner and, in my opinion, more aesthetically pleasing than the iPad 2. Front-to-back, the Galaxy Tab measures a mere 0.34 inches, and it weighs 1.25 pounds (the iPad 2 is a few millimeters thicker and weighs 1.33 pounds). The Tab’s 10.1-inch screen is formatted for wide-screen viewing and is slightly larger than the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen. The high-resolution touch-screen display is the best I have seen on a tablet and is responsive to touch commands.
Samsung was able to make the Tab so light by constructing it out of plastic, unlike the metal body of the iPad. However, the Tab still has a solid feel to it. I actually prefer the plastic backing of the Tab, which makes for easier gripping compared to the iPad’s aluminum backing.
There are no buttons on the front of the Tab, as the Honeycomb Android OS makes use of programmed soft buttons. When you are holding the Tab in landscape orientation, there are two stereo speakers on both sides of the tablet. The front-facing, 2-megapixel camera is located at the top center of the screen in landscape orientation. On the top of the tablet are the power button and volume rocker as well as a 3.5mm audio jack. The back of the Tab has the 3-megapixel rear-facing camera and flash. The proprietary docking/charging port is on the bottom of the Tab. Unfortunately, like Apple, Samsung chose to make the charging cord way too short, making it difficult to find a place to charge the Tab.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 ships with the latest version of the Android operating system, Honeycomb 3.1, which I found to be much more stable than Honeycomb 3.0, which came with my Motorola Xoom. Being a relative newcomer to the Android OS after using my iPads for the last couple of years, it took some getting used to. However, once I got the hang of it, I found it to be user-friendly and intuitive.
I installed several apps with ease, and the Tab’s dual-core Tegra 2 processor handled them all without any problems. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 also comes with several apps already installed, but Samsung does not load it down with proprietary apps. Power Gmail users should seriously consider an Android device simply for the Honeycomb Gmail app. This app gives you the Gmail desktop experience, but optimized for touch-screen operation.
One area where the Galaxy Tab outshines the iPad is in Web browsing: Android supports Adobe Flash playback. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to try to view a website with my iPad, only to receive a message saying I need to install Flash.
While, in theory, having cameras on tablets is a nice idea, the picture quality has a long way to go before owners are going to make extended use of them. Personally, I would not take pictures with my tablet, although the Galaxy Tab’s 3-megapixel rear-facing camera takes satisfactory pictures. I used the pre-installed Google Talk app to video chat. The picture quality was satisfactory, as was the audio quality. Again, however, I don’t see many users buying a tablet to video chat.
Much has been written about the disconnect between benchmark tests of the Tab’s battery life and real-world experience. Since real-world experience is what most people are interested in, that is what I measure. Under normal operation, which included having the Wi-Fi receiver enabled, I was able to get over 10 hours of usage without having to plug the Tab in. That is on par with what I get with my iPad 2.
When comparing the Apple iOS and Android OS, it doesn’t take long for the topic of app availability to arise. The number of tablet-specific apps available through Apple’s iTunes is vastly higher than the number available for the Android OS. Furthermore, I have found that some financial apps do not have the same level of functionality on Android as they do on iOS. Ultimately, in order for Android to successfully challenge Apple’s iOS, developers will need to create Android apps with similar functionality to those available for Apple. Having used both the Galaxy Tab and the iPad 2, the “app issue” would be the only reason I would caution someone against opting for the Galaxy Tab.
I have been waiting to see if a company could develop a tablet that rivals Apple’s iPad, and it seems that Samsung has done just that. While the Galaxy Tab is an attractive piece of gadgetry, it isn’t just a pretty face. It is lighter than the iPad 2, and it has better-quality cameras and comparable battery life. Android has a significant advantage over Apple’s iOS in that it supports Flash. Having used the Galaxy Tab 10.1 for these last few weeks, there is nothing I have seen that would keep me from recommending it based on its performance and technology.
Ultimately, it comes down to apps, and Apple holds a distinct edge. If you are a die-hard Android user, the choice is simple—the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. If you are indifferent toward Android and iOS, I would say it’s six-to-five and pick ’em. While it is true that Apple has more apps, I would expect this to change as Android gains in popularity and as more quality tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 come to market. Of course, all this could change when Apple releases iOS 5 in the coming weeks.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1” Wi-Fi Tablet
Price: $499.99 (16G) to $599.99 (32G)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.