I have to admit that I was noticeably surprised when I discovered the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for the first time – the device is sleek, elegant and its materials do not look cheap. This device is so different than the one I first saw at MWC, the hardware has really improved! Except for the proportions ratio, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks very similar to the iPad 2, it is lighter (1.31 lbs vs. 1.33 lbs) and at 8.6 mm, it is now the thinnest tablet in the World! (iPad 2: 8.8 mm).
Out of the box, I immediately noticed the great quality of the display, alongside performance, one of the most important feature for tablets. As secondary communication and computing devices, they are mostly used for entertainment consumption, and the display is at the core of the experience.
Similar to the Xoom, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 runs a Tegra 2 1GHz dual-core System-on-Chip, and we can expect powerful performance as well.
The downside is its lack of a standard USB port and HDMI out connectivity, which is offered by the Xoom. You get a proprietary USB cable to plug the device to your computer, which is more difficult to replace immediately in case of damage or loss. Samsung might plan to sell adapters for connecting to big screens via HDMI, but we do not have the information yet.
The unit we have tested is the WiFi only Limited Edition, with no 3G and no SD card slot. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 that will ship on June 8th will feature the customized user experience “Samsung TouchWiz UX” that enables customization of the home screen with a Live panel to display content selected by users, additionally it will be possible to launch frequently used app such as task manager, calendar and music player from the Mini Apps Tray while other applications are also in use. TouchWiz UX was not available in the unit we got at Google I/O.
Processor: NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz dual-core processor
OS: Android 3.0 software (Honeycomb)
Apps: GoogleTalk Video Chat, Google Maps, Books, Android market, Quick office HD Editor
Samsung UI: Samsung TouchWiz UX, Samsung mini App tray, Social Hub, Music Hub, Readers Hub
Display: 10.1” WXGA 1280×800, capacitive touch screen, pinch to zoom
Connectivity: 3.5mm jack, WiFi a/b/g/n. Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
Network: HSPA＋ 21Mbps 850/900/1900/2100, EDGE/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900
Camera: backside 3 MP camera AF with LED flash – frontside 2 MP camera (webcam)
Video: 720p HD video capture – 1080p full HD video playback @ 30 fps -
Flash support: Adobe Flash Player 10.2 in web browser
Memory: 16 / 32 /63 GB built-in, 1GB DDR2 RAM,
Sensors: Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Digital Compass, Ambient Light sensor
Weight: 595 g – 1.31 lbs
Size: 256.6 mm x 172.9 mm x 8.6 mm
Thinness comparison: Xoom: 12.9 mm – iPad 2: 8.8 mm
We always have a hard time ensuring objectivity in our reviews, since different people use electronic devices in drastically different ways depending on their needs and lifestyle. By telling you how I use a tablet, it will be easier for you to decide which aspects of this review will be useful for you to help make up your mind. I have used the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for a few days as an additional device to my desktop computer, my MacBook Pro (running Windows), my Macbook Air (running Windows) and my Smartphone. Since I have bought the Macbook Air, I do not use a tablet for meetings as much any more, it has become more of an entertainment device from which I watch movies in my bed or in the plane, read news and books, play with apps (ie Angry Birds, Music apps), Skype/chat with friends, check Facebook updates, play music on a mini Bluetooth speaker.
External design (very good)
As I wrote in the introduction, the Samsung Galaxy Tab looks very similar to the iPad 2, featuring high end materials in a elegantly designed chassis. Its 8.6 mm thinness is the most notable feature, making it the thinnest tablet in the world, something we never expected to happen since the device we saw at MWC was so bulky and looked so cheap in comparison. The review unit I received is the limited edition, it displays a pattern of Android mascots printed on top of the shiny white backside, making it a billboard for the Google OS. to continue
Display (very good)
The 10.1 inch display has the same resolution as the Motorola Xoom, 1280×800, however the quality is much better. We could not expect less from Samsung knowing that it is one of the top providers of LCD panels worldwide.
Compared to the iPad 2, at maximum brightness, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 display offers a similar image quality. As usual, Samsung’s screen provides more saturated colors that are a little bit darker, which personally I like, please note that the display does not make use of AMOLED technology. As you may know if you have read my Xoom review, the Motorola device features a lower quality display.
In direct sunlight the galaxy Tab 10.1 is similar to the iPad 2, it has the same level of reflection. (see picture above)
Virtual Keyboards – Samsung and Android versions – (very good)
You have the choice between the custom keyboard from Samsung accessible by default from all applications when you start typing in an edit box, and if you prefer the original Android 3.0 keyboard (as I do) you need to go to the settings app in the “language & input” menu, Keyboard Settings sub-menu, then select “Current input method” - what a drill down!
Samsung keyboard: I am not sure why Samsung designed its own custom keyboard, the responsiveness is similar to the Android keyboard but sometimes it can be a little buggy when used in the browser, and it does not react immediately when you tap in an edit box.
I can say that both keyboards offer similar performance, both are easy to type on and responsive, one is black the other is white, so it is a matter of tastes and lighting condition whether you select one over the other.
The differences are in the placement of the keys and some keys are made accessible depending on the situation and the application you are in: the www key is displayed when you start typing in the address bar in the browser, then this key is replaced by .com when you are typing the url. The www key is not available in the Android 3.0 keyboard, only the .com appears when you type an url in the address bar.
On the Samsung version, the @ sign is not accessible in the first keyboard screen when you type in an edit box of the google search bar in google.com, Android 3.0 makes it available with caps lock.
There may be other differences in behavior when you use both keyboards in different applications, I have not checked, but other than that you can see the two different layouts in the picture.
The speakers audio quality for a tablet is good. I have compared the Samsung galaxy tab 10.1 with the iPad 2, the Xoom and the Playbook using the same song. All tablets offer a comparable audio quality, the iPad 2 being slightly better with a deeper sound texture, the Samsung sounding more acute and slightly more “metallic”. The Playbook provides the most powerful sound volume with a good audio quality, which is surprising given its smaller size.
With headphones, the audio quality is good, better than with the built-in speakers, and I could not notice any differences.
Performance and hardware (very good)
Perceived Performance (very good)
Like the Xoom, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 runs the dual-core Tegra 2 processor that makes the device very responsive, especially for web browsing: the dual-core boosts web page loading. The powerful GPU integrated in the SoC delivers a smooth interface, allows fast scrolling of web pages loaded with graphics and enables a fluid full HD video playback experience.
Tested against the iPad2, Xoom and the Playbook, overall the overall system’s perceived performance was similar on all tablets.
Measured Performance (very good)
Android 3.0 aka Honeycomb user interface (good)
I have already written extensively about the new Android 3.0 OS (Honeycomb) featured in the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in my Motorola Xoom review. I am going to give a shorter overview of the main features, for those who would like more details, read the Android 3.0 paragraph in the Xoom review here.
The most notable new feature of Honeycomb is the higher resolution support, which allowed manufacturers such as Samsung to build a device larger than 7-inch. Google has completely redesigned the Android user interface to adapt it to the extra screen real estate, overall, the navigation is efficient and the system is very responsive. See below for an overview of the new features.
OS design – look and feel (could be better)
Although some efforts have been done to unify the interface, to make it more subtle and a bit more intuitive than the previous versions. Design-wise, Android is my least favorite OS compared to iOS, Windows Phone 7 and QNX (Playbook).
The severe lack of consistency in the shapes used across the OS, without commenting on the Tron-like graphic style, is the main reason why Honeycomb’s look and feel is not as appealing as iOS or Windows Phone 7. The most notable example is the huge difference in form factor and graphic style between the system icons – back, home, recent apps, menu- (picture above) and the contextual icons displayed in the action bar at the top in various applications. (see picture below) For more info, read my review of WP7 in the Samsung Focus review and my review of the BlackBerry PlayBook.
I am not going to debate here about the advantages of Android as a more open system than iOS, as some people have argued in the comments of my previous review, when I pointed out that the Android user interface is not as good looking and as intuitive as iOS or Windows Phone 7.
It may be true that some people do not care that much about intuitive user interfaces and aesthetics, however, given the overwhelming success of the iPhone and the iPad, I am comfortable to state that both matter a lot to a majority of users.
With Honeycomb running in a powerful tablet such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and an app store providing a lot of the most popular apps available in iTunes, including the long awaited and recently released Netflix app, users can get a lot done efficiently. However, designer Matias Duarte has more work to do to make the user experience better.
See below a short overview of the new features:
Home screens and virtual buttons
The most notable change in Android user interface the replacement of the 4 physical buttons home, menu, back and search, with virtual versions and the ability to customize the five home screens in one place via a 3D carousel (see picture above).
Users now have access to navigation icons from all four corners of the device, the design team has conceptually categorized them in two main zones:
- the System Bar at the bottom - on the left corner users access back, home, recent apps virtual buttons and, on the right corner, various notifications including new emails, apps updates, new tweets, time, WiFi or 3G connection status, and battery life status.
These functions are accessible across the system and in all applications, an additional menu icon appears when needed in some applications (on the left corner). (see picture of the system icons in previous paragraph)
- the Action Bar at the top – It gives access to contextual options, navigation or widgets. On the home screen, from the top left corner, users have access to search and they can use text or voice input. From the top right corner, they can go to the all apps screen by tapping on the multiple squares icon or they can access the customization screen with the 3-D carousel – from the + icon (picture of the customization screen )
An information window appears when you tap on the connectivity and battery icons, at the bottom right. It displays the latest notifications, the time and the connectivity and battery status, from there, after pressing on the settings icon, users access the basic settings including screen brightness.
Customizable Home Screens and Widgets (good)
Android 3.0 like the previous versions offers five home screens to browse by swiping the display horizontally. On the customization screen, accessible by tapping the + icon , you can simply drag and drop any elements (Widgets, Apps, Wallpapers…) from the sections displayed in the middle to the screen of your choice in the 3-D carousel at the top (see picture below the subtitle “screen and virtual buttons). It is easy to move around icons and widgets to organize the home screen the way you want, unlike the iPad. Simply press and hold on any element, then you can drag it to a new spot.
Android 3.0 now offers a Gmail widget, an email widget, a revamped calendar widget that allows you to scroll through events, a contact widget and more. The calendar widget is visible on the home screen in the first picture of this review. The CNN widget is very cool yu can shuffle through the breaking news’ images in 3D (see picture above).
Recent Apps for multitasking (could be better)
The Recent Apps feature was a smart addition to Android 3.0, unfortunately its implementation is not that good compared to other OS offering a similar feature: accessible from the System bar (bottom left, third icon) across all applications, it displays the five most recent applications opened, and from there, users can switch rapidly from one application to another. Unfortunately, it is not possible to scroll in the list to access all the running applications unlike in the Playbook. More strangely, it is not even possible to close the apps from there! In the PlayBook you can close the running apps from the carousel on the home screen two different ways: by clicking on the little cross below the app’s thumbnail or by dragging the thumbnail away. iOS also gives a quick access to running apps via a double click on the home button. With Android 3.0, closing applications is a whole different adventure: you need to drill down in the Settings, which will take 4 to 5 clicks, depending on whether or not you placed a shortcut for the Settings app on the home screen.
Improved text selection and copy and paste (very good)
We have seen this improvement with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) in the Nexus S, the selection and copy paste looks similar in Honeycomb, except for the color, it is green here and orange in 2.3. The ability to apply other actions than just copy/paste to the selected sentence is new: now you can share, perform a web search or find. All these functions are accessible from the action bar.
Android 3.0 Updated Standard Applications
The applications featured by default on the start screen on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 are different from the one in the Xoom:
Xoom: Browser, Gmail, Google Talk, Music, Books, Android Market
Galaxy Tab10.1: Browser, Gmail, GoogleTalk, Gallery, Android market
The Google Books app is not pre-loaded in the Galaxy Tab 10.1, if you need it you have to download it from the Android market (free), the Kindle app is pre-loaded in the Tab, but is not featured on the Start screen.
Browser with Flash Support (very good)
As I wrote in the performance paragraph, the browsing experience offers a rapid loading time, thanks to the software optimization and the dual-core CPU. Scrolling and pinch-to-zoom are fluid and fast, thanks to the GPU integrated in the Tegra 2 SoC (system-on-chip).
Compared to the iPad 2, the Playbook and the Xoom, the web page loading time, tested with CNN and the New York time websites is comparable on all four devices, the iPad 2 was slightly faster.
I personally like the tab-based design of the Chrome-based browser a lot, it allows a more convenient navigation experience than the usual browsers designed for tablets: in Safari for iPad, you have to click on an icon to access a page with your saved web pages thumbnails, then you can click on one of them to access the website, in the Playbook, you have to pull a virtual tray containing the web pages thumbnails by swiping the top part of the screen.
Last but not least, one great thing about Android 3.0 is Flash support, as usual I tested it with the website wechosethemoon.org, a site that does not work in the iPad 2 due to its lack of Flash support.
Email and Contact (Gmail good – Outlook would be ok with search)
Android 3.0 offers a two-panel design for email applications and the contact app – in Gmail and Outlook, the left side is dedicated to the email list and the right side displays the selected message. There is no search box in Outlook and this could be one of the roadblocks for me to switch from the iPad 2 to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. I use Microsoft Exchange for easier synchronization across my multiple devices, the configuration process is not too painful but a little more complicated than in WP7.
In the email interface, going back to the message list could be easier: a “cancel” button would have been nice, instead of having to use the system back button located on the opposite corner of where the main navigation icons are.
Google Maps with 3D
The Google maps app (v5) has been redesigned for Honeycomb to take full advantage of the larger screen size featured in tablets. The most notable addition is the 3D rendering you get in compass mode when you zoom in.
Over WiFi in my office, my location was instantly found very accurately and i had just to type the name of a local restaurant to get an immediate result.
The revamped Android 3.0 Google Maps app provides more features than the one in the iPad: Places gives access to default POIs-restaurants, bars, coffee, attractions, ATMs, Gas Stations…- and you can create your own as well, I tried “parking” and it worked very well. The layers menu provide various ‘layers’ that you can apply to your map such as Traffic, Buzz (status update from people on the map), satellite, terrain, latitude (where your friends are), and Wikipedia which gives information about POIs.
Google Talk with Video Chat
One of the great addition of Honeycomb is the video chat feature in Google Talk. We tried it with a call initiated from a PC to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The video quality on both devices was regular for video chat. Compared to Tango, a cross platform (Android and iOS) mobile video call service that works over 3G and WiFi, the video quality and audio is better, however, it is not possible to place video call to an iPad or iPhone user with Google Talk.
Photo Gallery (regular – user interface could be better)
The Galaxy Tab 10.1, unlike the Xoom, does not feature The Android 3.0 camera application, Samsung designed its custom camera app, since we are in the Android 3.0 applications paragraph, I will give an overview in the “entertainment” section below. The gallery has a regular design and provide access to various useful functions from the menu at the top right, when you select an image.
Functions description: the arrow starts a slide show, the share icon allows to share the picture
via Bluetooth, on Picasa, Facebook, Gmail or email, the menu icon gives access to photo details (resolution, file size, date and time, aperture, ISO and more…), from there you can also rotate the image, set the picture as wallpaper, use for contact or crop. Compared to the iPad 2, you can do much more with the photo, the Apple device allows only sharing via email, wallpaper usage, slideshow and print.
Going to the camera application from the gallery is not very intuitive, before I shot more than 2 pictures, the camera icon accessible from the gallery’s start screen, top right, was not displayed. Illogically, this icon when it finally appears, is only available from the gallery start screen, but not from individual image screen. For some odd reasons, the home button that brings you back to the gallery application’s home screen, accessible from each picture at the top left; does not work on the Xoom, but was working in the Samsung tablet until it just stopped working.
Communication and social Apps (regular)
I tried the Skype application, the design is regular but could be better, the video call is not available.
Tango is a cross platform video call application that works over WiFi and over 3G. It works both on Android and iOS. So if you need to place video calls to iPad or iPhone users from the Samsung Tab 10.1, you can. I tried it and it worked fine, the image quality is a bit pixelated.
The Facebook app offers similar functions as the iPhone/iPad application except that the user interface is different and not very intuitive. Instead of the main button displayed in the iPhone (the 9 squares icon) you have to press on the Facebook logo to reach the major sections: News feed, Profile, Friends, Messages, Places, Groups, Events, Photos, Chats.
It looks like Facebook did not design a Honeycomb version, it seems to be exactly the same as the one featured in Android Smartphones.
Hootsuite / Twitter
I use Hootsuite to update my Twitter and my Facebook accounts on the go, usually from my iPhone. Hootsuite allows users to create multiple columns with streams coming from Twitter filtered by keywords and topics, it makes it easier to follow what you are interested in. On the iPhone you access each column by swiping from left to right, only one column is displayed per screen, on the iPad, you can see three columns on the same screen.
Hootsuite for Android 3.0 is the same as the smartphone version: displaying only one column per screen. Hopefully Hootsuite will develop a Honeycomb version soon.
Media and Entertainment (good)
Photo and video capture (good)
The photo app in the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has been re-designed by Samsung and the photo gallery is the original from Android 3.0.
As a camera manufacturer, we can understand why Samsung wanted to add its own design to the camera application, in fact it provides additional features: there is a macro focus mode to shoot from close, a metering option to measure the light in different spots, a timer, four shooting modes (single shot, Smile shot, panorama,action shot), and an exposure slider.
Compared to the Android 3.0 application, which is a well designed camera app, the Samsung version has only 4 color effects (6 in Android) and 6 scene modes (12 in Android).
The iPad 2 camera application in comparison is very basic: there are absolutely no settings available except switching front/rear camera, video/still image, there is no flash and the shutter button is annoyingly placed at the bottom of the device making it very hard to operate. On top of it, the photo quality is bad compared to the Xoom, the Playbook, the iPhone 4 or the Nexus S.
While the iPad 2 is inferior to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 ones, very few people actually seem to complain about it. It’s possible that Apple has decided that it had bigger fish to fry. You tell us.
Books with Kindle application (good)
Unlike in the Xoom, the Google Books app is not pre-loaded in the Galaxy tab 10.1, and the Kindle application is. When I tried to download the Google Books app from the Android market it did not work, the app is “not compatible with the device” (notification message).
YouTube and HD Video Playback (very good)
The YouTube application has been redesigned for Honeycomb, offering a nice 3D carousel on its home page.
I tried a few HD trailers to test the full HD video playback and the image quality. Thanks to its larger width, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 displays movie in a 16:9 video format on a larger surface than the iPad 2, offering a better experience. The display quality is great, the audio quality with headphones is great and the performance over WiFi is good, the video was very fluid with a consistent image quality, no jittering or pixelation at any time.
Netflix (Still waiting)
Netflix is now available for Android for selected Smartphones but not for Android 3.0 on tablets! According to FierceMobile Content “A now-deleted post on the Netflix Blog blamed the limited rollout on Android fragmentation: “One of these challenges is the lack of standard streaming playback features that the Netflix application can use to gain broad penetration across all available Android phones,” Netflix product team member Roma De wrote.
Read more on Fierce mobile Content.
An alternate solution to access movies on the tablet might be using the DoubleTwist app to convert your iTunes playlists and videos and sync to Android, I have not tried it, so I do not know if it really works. http://www.doubletwist.com/
As part of the Android 3.0 design update, the music app has been revamped with a great 3D interface that provides a good browsing experience.
Angry Birds and CNN app (good-see video)
Battery Life (good – charging slow)
Battery life with minimal usage
The battery life is pretty good, with minimal usage, mostly email, web browsing not much video playback, the battery lasted for 3 days.
Battery life with average usage
When used a little bit more intensely with a lot of applications testing, web browsing, emailing, and 15 minutes of video playback, the battery lasted for a day, roughly 15 hours.
Recharging time (too long)
Recharging is slow in comparison to the Xoom: after 2 hours, the battery was charged at only 41%, after 4hours and a half it reached 92%. The Xoom is fully charged in one hour and a half, and the iPad 2 takes long as well (we did not measure it yet).
What is good
The key hardware features that are essential to the tablet experience are similar or better than the dominant product on the market – aka iPad 2:
- the display quality is great with a higher resolution (1280×800 vs 1024×760)
- the screen ratio offers more real estate in width, therefore it fits better with the 16:9 ratio, a standard for movies. The Galaxy tab 10.1 displays a larger image in this format.
- the battery life is equivalent
- the display and the user interface are very responsive across the OS and the applications
- the form factor is thinner and lighter, it is easier to hold it with one hand.
- the audio is good
- it is not a key feature for a tablet, but it is worth mentioning that the camera application is way better, the shutter virtual button is well placed on the right side
In term of user interface, Android 3.0 is efficient although less intuitive, some software features are better than the iPad 2:
- the browser supports Flash
- the browser user interface is better
- the camera application and the photo gallery offer more functions
- the maps application packs more features
- the widgets are great to get updates about news (CNN widget), calendar and emails instantly from the home screen
What is not good
I have seen people coming to meetings or attending conferences an taking notes on their tablets, while checking Twitter, Facebook or their email. Personally, I mainly use tablets for entertainment, since I carry the Macbook Air to meetings and conferences. For this reason, video streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu are key features I expect to have in a tablet. Both are accessible from the iPad 2, Netflix recently launched on selected Android Smartphones, but not for Honeycomb yet.
- the charging time is too long
- no Netflix app – it is coming I know
- no Hulu app
- no search available in Outlook Exchange
- why the proprietary USB cable?
- no HDMI out – this is not vital though, but some people might like it – Samsung might offer adapters in the near future
What could be better
Overall the design of the OS user interface could be improved as well as its aesthetics. Some inconsistencies such as the lack of efficient navigation between the photo gallery and the camera application and the impossibility to close and scroll through the running applications from the “recent apps” section could be easily corrected. Adding a search box in Outloook would not be so hard knowing that the OS developer is the leading search company in the world.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the first tablet that can go head to head with the iPad 2. The hardware packs an elegant and sleek design combined with great performance, in a thinner and lighter chassis than the Apple device.
Featuring a great display, good audio, larger image and similar battery life, the Samsung device delivers a better video playback experience than the iPad2, except for the lack of Netflix (coming soon, I hope) and Hulu applications.
For some people, Flash support in the browser is very important, so we can list this as a key feature that Samsung delivers which is lacking in the Apple tablet.
Apple still has the advantage on the app store side, featuring way more applications than the Android Market, however, I am assuming that the majority of people use no more than 20 applications, and the most popular ones (except Netflix) have an Android version.
The real downside of this device is the very slow charging time: after two hours, it is charged at 41%! It takes 5 hours to have it charged at 80%!. It is just a guess: thinness alongside cost effectiveness might be the reasons for the battery’s low performance on this side. The lack of search in Outlook would be a roadblock for Exchange Server users.
In conclusion, this is the first time I told myself that I could use an Android tablet instead of my iPad 2. Since Google gave-away the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition to all Google I/O attendees, we do not have to send back the device as we do with all the review units – I will use both the iPad 2 AND the Tab 10.1
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