Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Is Best Android Tablet
It's an interesting situation for a reviewer when he can say without exaggeration that an Android tablet is the best one currently on the market, and still harbor reservations about it. And yet here we are, lauding the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 while feeling the need to put in a caveat.
Perhaps it's the little things that disappoint the most, particularly when the newcomer comes so close to beating the iPad. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a fantastic tablet ; it's the operating system that's holding it back.
Let's talk about the hardware first, because this is what Samsung had the most control over, and it truly deserves praise.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is actually slightly thinner than the iPad 2, if you can believe it, even if you probably won't notice the difference. Still, that's remarkably thin, and it makes the Galaxy Tab 10.1 easy to hold and transport.
While the plastic construction doesn't feel quite as durable as the iPad's aluminum design, it's well made and feels solid in the hand. The power and volume rocker buttons are along the top (in landscape mode), and there's a rear camera and a front-facing camera for video chats.
The cameras (3-megapixel in back and 2-megapixel in front) are just like every other tablet camera we've seen so far — in other words, completely serviceable but far from spectacular, especially in low light.
The screen is quite nice, although it's a bit disappointing that the rumors of an extremely high resolution screen didn't come true. (Alas, such is the destiny of most rumors.) Still, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 sports a 10.1-inch HD-resolution screen that has excellent color and clarity at 1280 x 800 pixel resolution. What's more, it's very responsive and has a wider aspect ratio than the iPad, meaning it's longer and slimmer than the iPad screen, which is a good thing in some cases.
Most of this sounds pretty standard in the tablet space, and it is, but it's worth pointing out that as a whole, the design is magnificent compared with previous Android tablets. And when compared with the original 7-inch Galaxy Tab , it looks like a sleek alien mothership next to an old rowboat. Samsung truly deserves praise for rethinking its tablets and massively improving on past designs.
Samsung has improved performance in this tablet, too. The 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor provides an excellent performance boost over previous Android competitors. That, combined with a useful —but not revolutionary — 1GB of RAM, makes the Galaxy Tab 10.1 quite responsive. Swiping through menus, apps and home screens is instantaneous and smooth. And with a good connection (Wi-Fi or 3G) the browser loads most Web pages quickly.
The battery is also quite capable. It's rated for up to nine hours of video playback. Usually the manufacturer estimates are pretty optimistic, but independent tests have shown this one is not far off, with results ranging from seven to 10 hours. Now, it's far more important to have some real-world results, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 didn't disappoint there, either. We easily got a day and a half of life out of a single charge with moderately heavy use. That meant a few hours of gaming, a couple more hours of watching videos, and about three hours of work-related browsing and app usage. And all the while, messaging apps and news services were running in the background.
So with all this glowing praise for the hardware and performance, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 should easily trump the rest of the tablets out there. Right?
Well, no, and unfortunately it's because of something Samsung has little control over: the Android Honeycomb operating system.
Honeycomb does a good job of mimicking the success of the iOS platform for the iPad, and it seems that most, if not all, of the functionality is there. And as mentioned above, it all runs smoothly and quickly on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 hardware. However, for all their similarities, two differences persist between Honeycomb and iOS: the apps and the user experience.
While Honeycomb feels like a polished experience at first, niggling little problems crop up after a while. They aren't particularly bad on their own, but they start to accumulate and cause real annoyance. The volume does weird things in some apps; the onscreen keyboard design is unfriendly and sometimes buggy; some settings are either hard to find or seem to have no effect when altered. Things like these pile up and make Honeycomb feel like beta software rather than an iOS competitor. In that sense, the iPad still wins because it has buffed the user experience to a gleaming shine.
And then there's the lingering problem of Honeycomb tablet apps. There are still only about 200 sanctioned Android tablet apps (and yes, we are aware that Android smartphone apps can work on some tablets, but for the majority of apps it's not a sure bet). Meanwhile Apple is rapidly approaching 100,000 iPad apps. There are some excellent, high-quality Honeycomb-specific apps, and they run great on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. However, there are also some serious duds, and not nearly enough apps overall to make a Honeycomb tablet as versatile as the iPad .
In short, Honeycomb is still a good experience; it just needs more polish and a boatload more apps.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a great tablet, and the design is certainly among the best of Android tablets so far . It's just unfortunate that Honeycomb is taking so long to reach its true potential. Ultimately, it will hold Samsung back until Google can bring Honeycomb the improvements it needs.
So if you want the best Android tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is an obvious choice. If you want the best tablet, period, the Galaxy Tab still has a huge competitor.