Even Android lovers will admit that Samsung’s original Galaxy Tab was something of a false start. The device sported a 7-inch screen which made it look a little weedy when placed alongside the iPad, and the fact that it was running Android 2.3 – a version of the OS that even Google itself admitted wasn’t meant for large-screen tablets – clipped its wings somewhat.
However, Samsung isn’t about to make the same mistake twice. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a larger screen and is faster, sexier and comes pre-loaded with a true tablet OS – Honeycomb, to be precise.
In fact, this is being positioned by Samsung not only as the best Android tablet, but the best tablet, period. Is this stance backed up by the Galaxy Tab 10.1’s performance, or does the dominant iPad 2 continue to rule the tablet roost?
Sweet as Honey
Android 3.0 – codenamed Honeycomb – made its debut earlier this year with the Motorola Xoom, and has proven itself to be a very capable and versatile tablet OS. It shares many similarities with the mobile version of Android. There’s true multitasking, live homescreen widgets and a notifications area which alerts you to incoming email and other vital events.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is running Android 3.1, which brings with it a sprinkling of benefits over bog-standard 3.0. You’ve got better control over multitasking, as well as re-sizeable homescreen widgets. This means you can make widgets bigger or small depending on your preference, and therefore have more control over how your homescreens look.
Android 3.1 was also supposed to provide speed improvements, but we were disappointed to note that there’s still a bit of lag when moving around the screens and menus.
In terms of software, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 feels a bit bare, but there’s a good reason for that. Samsung will shortly update the device with a tablet version of its TouchWiz interface, as well as new apps such as the Samsung Media Hub, which will allow you to rent movies from the comfort of your armchair.
Designed for life
While we wouldn’t be as harsh as to brand previous Android tablets as ugly, it’s fair to say that they didn’t get our pulses racing in the same way the iPad 2 did. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is different, thankfully. It’s a drop-dead gorgeous piece of kit, and is thinner and lighter than the iPad 2.
It feels more like an e-Reader than a tablet, in fact. It’s ultra-portable and ultra-desirable, and more than matches Apple’s device in terms of aesthetic appeal.
Once you scoop up the Galaxy Tab 10.1, this positive impression dissipates a little, sadly. With the exception of the glass touchscreen, it is predominately fashioned from plastic rather than brushed metal. This helps keep the weight down, but it also makes it feel a bit cheap when placed alongside the premium-feel iPad 2.
The power button and volume controls are the only physical buttons on the exterior of the Galaxy Tab 10.1. The only other significant features of note are the 3.5mm headphone socket and 30-pin dock connector, which is used for charging and hooking up the tablet to your personal computer.
The mother of all displays
Samsung is a company famed for its display technology, with the Galaxy S II’s ultra-bright Super AMOLED Plus screen being considered by many to be the best in the business. The manufacturer is clearly looking to achieve the same fame in the tablet arena if the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is anything to go by. Its 1280×800 pixel resolution 10.1-inch display offers amazing brightness, bold colours and wide viewing angles, making it without a shadow of a doubt the best screen on a tablet device. Even the mighty iPad 2 can’t compete in this regard.
Of course the usual issues exist – the shiny surface is a magnet for grubby fingerprints and is prone to marks and scratches if you’re not careful with it – but these are par for the course with this kind of device.
The screen is capacitive so it offers accurate touch input as well as multi-touch gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom. This works especially well in the Galaxy Tab 10.1’s excellent web browser and Google Maps application.
Apps and games
While the amount of Android Honeycomb apps and games has gradually increased over the past few months, there’s no denying that the iPad 2 is much better stocked when it comes to downloads. There are some decent apps available right now, including some fetching RSS news readers and HD games such as Angry Birds and N.O.V.A., but the pickings are incredibly slim.
Of course this could potentially change over the next year or so, especially if the Android tablet market matures at the same rate that the Android phone market has done. However, this review is concerned with the present rather than the future, and at the time of writing the difference between app support on the iPad 2 and app support on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is like night and day.
If you’re keen to download applications and games on whatever tablet you purchase, it’s worth bearing this in mind before handing over your cash.
Expand your mind
In order to keep the Galaxy Tab 10.1 as slim as possible, Samsung has had to remove some features that many customers may consider to be vital. The most disappointing is the omission of a memory card slot, which means you can’t add more storage via SD cards. The tablet comes in 16GB and 32GB variants, so if you intend to dump masses of content onto the device, make sure you go with the higher-capacity option.
Another lamentable exclusion is USB ports. Android 3.1 has the ability to act as a USB host, which means it can communicate with peripherals such as mice, pen drives and – perhaps most excitingly – joypads. Out of the box, you can’t connect the Galaxy Tab 10.1 with anything.
However, it’s not totally excluded from this USB party – you can purchase a USB connector which hooks up to the 30-pin docking port – but the additional outlay seems a bit cheeky for functionality that is included as-standard on many other Android tablets.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1’s 7000mAh battery offers around 10 hours of moderate use, although that figure will come down if you’re constantly watching HD movies. The tablet is quite happy to playback 1080p content, and the 3-megapixal rear-facing camera can even record in 720p.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is almost certainly the best all-round Android tablet yet released. The stunning screen and sexy design put it on even terms with the iPad from a technical and cosmetic standpoint, but the lack of developer support and the omission of Android hallmarks such as expandable memory and USB ports is disappointing.
If you’re keen to expand your tablet then you may be better off considering the likes of the Motorola Xoom or Asus Eee Pad Transformer. Those of you gagging to download apps and games will definitely want to look at the iPad 2 before splashing out on this.
However, if you’re after an Android tablet and are not concerned with adding in more memory or hooking up USB peripherals, then this is probably your best bet. It’s the first Android tablet which looks as good as it performs, and that screen is to die for.