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Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review: Android 3.1 Tablet
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Date: Jun 10, 2011
Section:Gadgets
Author: Ray Willington
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Introduction and Specifications
The tablet race continues to heat up. The iPad set the stage for this generation's tablet race, and although things have definitely tightened up, Apple's wunderkind, like it or not, remains the industry standard by which all others are judged. Seasoned technology buffs will likely recall that tablets had another go a decade or so ago, as a number of largely Windows-based, bulky devices hit store shelves. Unfortunately, those products weren't very well thought out -- they were hardly thin, battery life was terrible, and they ran a full desktop OS that wasn't designed for touch input.


But, a lot has changed in ten years. Mobile processors have gotten faster and more power efficient. Storage is cheaper. It's easier than ever to pack suitable power into a small frame. And in all of that, Apple has also managed to grab a scary amount of mind and market share, particularly in the tablet space -- a market where they didn't even compete just a few years ago. What does all of this Apple talk have to do with Samsung? A lot, actually.


The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the first consumer tablet to ship and be thinner (even though it's only thinner by the smallest of margins) than the iPad 2. Samsung actually went out of their way to make a tablet that was slimmer than their primary competitor's tablet, nixing the original Tab 10.1 (actually, renaming it the Tab 10.1v) and forging ahead with a new plan. The new plan has resulted in this: one of the first tablets to ship (as in, not be upgraded after unboxing) with Android 3.1.


Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Specifications & Features
Display:  10.1" LED Backlight WXGA (1280x800) LCD
10 finger multi-touch support
Scratch resistant glass

CPU:
  1GHz NVIDIA dual-core Tegra 2

Memory: 
   1GB

Storage:
  16GB/32GB

Wireless Data Network:
WLAN 802.11 b/g/n2.4GHz

Bluetooth V2.1+EDR

Camera:
2MP Pixel Front Camera, 3MP Pixel Rear Camera


Audio:
Stereo Speakers, Built-in Microphone

Interfaces:

1 x Open Media Connector
3.5mm Headphone Jack
Sensors:
G-Sensor
Light Sensor
Gyroscope
E-Compass
GPS

Multi-Task Support :
Yes
Flash Support :
Yes

Software :

- Android 3.1
- Music Beta
- Google Maps
- Android Market
- Gmail
- Pulse

Battery:
9 hours; 7000mAh Battery


Dimensions:
10.1" (h) x 6.81" (w) x 0.34" (d)
Weight:
595g/1.31lbs.


Is this ultra-thin Honeycomb tablet up to the task of taking on Apple's iPad 2? Does it have the app support necessary to rival the iOS' impressive catalog? Is there really a compelling reason to select this $499 tablet over Apple's already-proven $499 tablet? We'll investigate these questions in the pages to come, so join us for our full review...
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Design and Build Quality
From a design perspective, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is superb. It's impressive from any angle, and anyone that holds it will immediately be turned on to the form factor. Most tablets have external chassis that lack any major design cues; most are adorned with an excess quantity of plastic, shoddy buttons, and a thicker frame that just looks subpar when placed beside the forerunner of the group.


But what sets the Tab 10.1 apart right away is its size. At just 8.6mm thick, this slate is slimmer than the iPad 2, which demands a double-take right there. Furthermore, Samsung didn't skimp on build quality and materials. While there's obviously plastic in use here, none of it feels flimsy in the least. The entire body is rigid and comfortable to hold, and it really feels as the unit was solidly put together. That's a rarity when looking at slates these days, regardless of manufacturer.


Samsung has opted for a more simplistic take with this slate, and that includes the button layout; there aren't many things to poke and prod here. There's a media connector (Samsung's version of Apple's Dock Connector) along the bottom, with a volume rocker, on / sleep button along the top and two speaker ports on the sides. The 3G edition will also include a SIM card slot. Outside of that, it's just 10.1" of glossy screen (and a small outside bezel) to stare at.


The screen itself has a 1280 x 800 resolution, which is par for the course when it comes to Android tablets. But Samsung's display choice is really worth praising. It's easily one of the most crisp tablet panels we have witnessed to date, right up there with the IPS display on the iPad 2. Viewing angles are awesome, and motion scurries no ghosting. It's a beautiful display to consume content on, which is a real boon given that you'll likely consider one of these units if you're in the mood to consume a lot of content.


The speakers here aren't anything to write home about, but they're adequately loud and work just fine on simple presentations and for showing off a YouTube clip or two. Taking advantage of the 3.5mm headphone jack is recommended when you can. The display does a decent job of rejecting most fingerprints, and while it's glossy, the glare isn't nearly as bad as on some other mobile displays that we have seen recently. It's also worth noting that the multi-touch experience is really exceptional here; the horsepower within, combined with a great panel, makes for a terrific experience.


The back of the device isn't anything spectacular, and it's certainly far less enthralling than the rear of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition that was handed out at this year's Google I/O conference, but it's subtle, classy, and it fits well with the overall motif. All in all, the Tab 10.1 rivals the iPad 2 in the design department, which seems like a major success in and of itself. 
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Software, Camera and User Experience
Software is a major consideration for users contemplating a tablet purchase. Many early tablets didn't measure up from a hardware perspective; there always seemed to be notable compromises made in order to keep costs down, or just a general lack of effort in the build quality department. But the Tab 10.1 definitely passes muster from a design standpoint, so from here, it's on to software.


As we mentioned before, the Tab 10.1 is interesting in that it's one of the first (if not the first) Honeycomb tablet to ship with Android 3.1 from the factory. Most Honeycomb tablets today shipped with Android 3.0, and only a handful have been deemed worthy to receive the Android 3.1 update (the Motorola Xoom and Asus Transformer come to mind). Google used their annual developer event last month to speak about the major new features coming to 3.1, and it's safe to say that those are here on the Tab 10.1.

If you aren't familiar with Honeycomb, you should first have a look at some of our earlier Android slate reviews which feature the v3.0 build of the OS. Basically, this is Google's tablet OS -- it's designed to work better on larger panels, whereas Gingerbread (v2.3) and Froyo (v2.2) are tailored for cellphones. In practice, Android 3.1 is a very solid OS. We never ran into many issues with v3.0, but v3.1 does indeed include a good bit of polish.


The Gmail app is still best-in-class, and Google Music Beta is a great way to access your music files from the cloud. Granted, it looks a bit skimpy compared to Apple's new iTunes in the Cloud, but we have a feeling that Google is looking to improve that service as soon as humanly possible if they plan to match up. Android 3.1's largest problem is the same as Android 3.0's largest problem: developer support. There simply aren't nearly as many Honeycomb-centric apps in the Android Market as there are iPad apps in the App Store. Apple now has 95,000 iPad-centric apps, and while Google hasn't released any figures for Honeycomb apps, it's safe to say that they aren't anywhere close just yet.

But what Android 3.1 does, it does very well. If you're a heavy Gmail user, you won't be able to top the e-mail interface on any other tablet, regardless of OS. It loads fast, transitions are snappy, and it offers all of the major Gmail functions (Starring, Archives, etc.) As a media consumption device, it's also on its game. Video playback (even 720p and 1080p content that was loaded) was beautiful, and we saw no noticeable lag when loading up content nor when it was playing back.


Android's Music app is fairly simple, particularly compared to the iPad app within iOS, but it gets the job done, and Music Beta integration is succinct and quite useful assuming you've got the bandwidth to upload all of your tracks on your home PC. Maps, as always, is impressive; Google's mapping services have already ranked highly, and they're as snappy as ever on v3.1. Honeycomb-centric apps like TweetDeck look gorgeous on the display, and there's enough horsepower beneath the lid to keep things humming along nicely.

As for Android 3.1's improvements? Well, scaling our widgets worked as advertised. We were able to scale a Gmail widget as well as a Gcal widget to take up a rather insane amount of our screen, but at least that's an option now. Users can now also import photos into Android directly from a digital camera (thanks to a simplistic new host mode), and there's even USB support for controllers and the like. Unfortunately, there aren't really any "wild" Honeycomb apps out there just yet to truly showcase that functionality, but as we said with the original iPad, the apps will come now that the groundwork has been laid.


From a pure software standpoint, it's impossible to miss the addition of "Movies." That's an app that is new exclusively to Android 3.1, and it's an obvious rival to the Movies section of the iTunes Store. Google has landed rental deals with major studios, and it shows in this app. It's clean, streamlined, and easy to operate. We experienced no troubles renting a new film and streaming it over Wi-Fi; we wouldn't recommend trying this over 3G, of course. Along these same lines, Android 3.1 adds a video editing program called Movie Studio, a slightly redesigned Books application and a Web browser that Google claims is even faster than the one in Honeycomb.


We never really took issue with browser speed within Android 3.0, but the performance actually does feel somewhat faster. It's clearly not an eye-popping difference, but when it comes to browsing on a mobile product, we're willing to take any performance gains we can get our hands on.


The Tab 10.1 holds two cameras: there's a 2MP one on the front, cut out for nothing more than casual video chatting, and a 3MP one on the rear that's capable of 720p video as well as still shooting. As with most other tablets that we've tested, neither camera is particularly noteworthy. We've been trained to not expect too many amazing things from a camera embedded within a slate, and thus, we aren't too let down here. The reality is that not too many people will be taking pictures with a tablet, at least not ones where you care about the quality, so this shouldn't be too much of a deal-breaker for most. However, those hoping for spectacular optics here will probably be disappointed, but we have to ask: why would you expect decent optics in a tablet? A few (unaltered) sample shots are below.

  
   
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Performance Benchmarks
The user experience perhaps the most important aspect of a tablet. It's the combination of hardware, software, and a lot of other factors that make some tablets stand out, and others forgettable. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has managed to get both angles right, and it makes for an overall great experience. But of course, just telling you that the hardware is powerful enough to run the software adequately is only half of the story. The other half is told in raw figures, and we've got a few benchmarks below that help to demonstrate our point.


Quadrant Android Benchmark

The first two tests presented here are general purpose computing type benchmarks.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

Some mixed bag scores here; the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is far faster on the Web browsing front, and that's largely because Google overhauled some of the engine within Android 3.1. But on Linpack, it's lacking. The truth of the matter is that these benchmarks are probably not optimized for Android 3.1, so performance may be somewhat different with a future update.

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

An3DBench is a benchmarking tool based on an Android port of the jPCT 3D engine.  The app runs 7 tests in total that look at graphics processor fill rate and complex rendering workloads and scenes.  We were also able to run some tests with An3DBenchXL, which is a newer version of the app that is significantly more demanding.

Here, we see the Eee Pad Transformer and the G-Tablet, as well as the Xoom, best the Tab 10.1 on one test. On the other, it's pretty much an even split between the top three or four tablets. Again, we're thinking that Android 3.1 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1's drivers are throwing these tests for somewhat of a loop.

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Battery Life Test
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the Galaxy Tab 10.1's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we also ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics and text. The page automatically refreshes every three minutes.

Battery Life Tests
Untethered Up-Time Measurements

For this test, we set the tablet's display to 50% brightness, which is still plenty bright and easy on the eyes. The Tab 10.1 was able to last well over 8 hours on its own before it powered down.

This is a fairly new test in our set of benchmarks, so we don't have a lot of other tablet data yet to which we can compare. However, we have run the test on a few smartphones and the Motorola Xoom. The graph above shows how the Tab 10.1 compares. Versus the Motorola product, we pulled almost an additional 3hrs out of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and a few extra minutes compared to the Transformer -- impressive.

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Summary and Conclusion
Galaxy Tab 10.1 Performance Summary: The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is competitive with the best of the Android tablets -- from both in terms of benchmark scores and real-world performance. There are a couple of areas where the unit trailed the Asus Transformer or Moto Xoom, but the delta's weren't dramatic.We feel confident in saying that anyone who uses a Galaxy Tab 10.1 for an extended period of time will be satisfied with its snappy performance, and while it doesn't do "true" multitasking in a way that webOS does, it's still good enough for average consumers, and it handles multiple applications / panes with ease. The 1GHz Tegra 2 chipset is a potent one, and it manages to be plenty powerful for HD video, yet energy efficient enough to eke out nearly as much battery life as the iPad 2 and more than the Transformer.



The design of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is excellent. It's thinner than the iPad 2, and feels great in the hand. It's comfortable to hold and to operate, and the simplistic nature has kept ports and toggle switches to a minimum. Some may scoff at the fact that dedicated HDMI or USB ports are missing, but the media connector at the bottom is a suitable alternative given that adapters can be made for just about any connection out there. For what it's worth, Samsung throws a USB adapter in with the slate.


Is the Galaxy Tab 10.1 a real threat to the loads of other Honeycomb tablets on the market, and moreover, a threat to the iPad 2? For the former, the answer is a resounding "Yes," but the answer isn't so clear for the latter. The 16GB Wi-Fi model is priced at just $499 -- the iPad 2 is priced at the same starting point. The 32GB Wi-Fi model is $599. This makes the Tab 10.1 highly competitive on the Android landscape, considering what you get for the money.


The iPad 2, however, still maintains an edge at the $499 price point in our opinion. With nearly 100,000 iPad-centric apps available right now, the iOS catalog is simply more compelling than the growing Android Market. In a year or two, that field may be more level, but as it stands today, the vast majority of what's impressive on Honeycomb actually ships with Honeycomb -- there aren't very many compelling apps that truly exploit the capabilities of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 when digging through the Market.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is still an excellent tablet and media consumption device, however, and if you're specifically in the market for a 10.1" unit, this one is going to be very tough to beat for a while to come. Fans of Android should have an easier decision here, but those who are OS-agnostic may take comfort in the larger app selection found on the iPad 2. Give developers a year or so, and we may be singing a different tune though.

     
  • Slimmer than the iPad 2
  • Great battery life
  • Good graphics performance
  • Android 3.1
  • Reasonably priced
  • No microSD card slot
  • Glossy display is really glossy
  • Wonky connection issues with Windows 7 and OS X
  • Not enough tablet apps in Android Market


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