The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Wi-Fi is the first Android tablet to effectively challenge Apple's iPad 2 at what Apple does best: design. Let's face it, when it comes to tablets, design is the attribute that's squarely at centre stage. And the Tab 10.1 has that in spades. In fact, its design, together with its Android 3.1 operating system, vaults the Tab 10.1 to the head of the Android pack.
The Tab 10.1 achieves perhaps the greatest design compliment an Android tablet can hope for; namely, it was often mistaken at first glance for being an iPad 2. Even by Apple iPad users. This is remarkably understandable when you see and hold the Tab 10.1 for the first time. The Tab 10.1 has a slim profile, 8.6mm - a hair's breadth slimmer than the iPad 2 (technically, 0.2mm slimmer for those keeping the scorecard).
From the side, the two tablets look very similar. The Tab 10.1 has a more rounded edge, though, to the iPad's tapered edge. The tablet comes in two colours: shipping first is white, which couples a silver-painted plastic edge with a white plastic black (identical to the limited edition Google I/O version of the Tab, sans the Android graphic imprint); available on June 17, when the Tab 10.1 ships in volume, you can choose a Metallic Grey, with edges and back that more closely match.
I actually preferred the grey variety, even though that model would be less likely to be mistaken for Apple's ultra-hip tablet. I liked the feel and texture of the dark backing, as opposed to the more chintzy feeling plastic white backing.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 edges the iPad 2 on weight, too: 570g, to the iPad's 600g. And it stands slightly taller and narrower than iPad, dimensions you'd expect simply by virtue of its 10.1in display. It measures 260x175mm, compared with iPad 2's 240x185mm.
Using the Galaxy Tab 10.1
All of this is meaningless, though, compared with the reality of actually handling the Galaxy Tab 10.1. The Tab 10.1 feels lightweight and extremely well-balanced in-hand. I found it conducive to hold in one hand or two, and found it lightweight enough that I hardly noticed it was in my bag. I'd still like to see the weight on tablets of this size get closer still to the one pound mark, while adding even more built-in functionality (like additional ports), but this is a good start towards that goal. Especially considering the Tab 10.1 is Samsung's first mass-market tablet of this size (I'm not counting the region-specific, heavier and thicker 10.1V).
The Tab 10.1's overall design takes a minimalist design cue from Apple, as well. Beyond the docking port, you have a power button and volume rocker at top (horizontal) or along the right side (vertical). Also along the right top is the headphone jack; it's awkwardly situated if you're holding the tablet horizontally and video chatting at the same time, since the jack is just off to the right above where the camera is. But if you flip the orientation to put the jack at the bottom of the horizontal display, or hold the tablet vertically, with the jack running along the right side, the jack's location works fine).
The stereo speakers are situated a little more than an inch down from the top, along the left and right horizontal edges. This position proved a good one, since my hands didn't get in the way of the speakers. The speakers sounded surprisingly good, among the better I've heard on Android tablets, far better than iPad 2's single rear-facing speaker. But that's not saying much; audio still sounded too tinny on my test tracks.
The 1280x800 pixel resolution display looks bright and brilliant, two characteristics we've come to associate with Samsung displays on its phones and tablets. Like the 7in Galaxy Tab before it, the display also has over-saturated colours. On a colour chart test image, most of the colours, including reds and blues, were blown out. In our test images of sights and scenes, this tendency translated to images that popped, but had a bit too much red and blue thrown into the mix. In side-by-side comparison, the Apple iPad 2 generated better colour reproduction, especially when it came to the soft browns for skin tones.
However, the Tab 10.1 rendered images with terrific sharpness and detail. This is the first Android tablet to ship natively with Google's Android 3.1 update. And images clearly benefit from the updated OS: Images were crisp, with no signs of the fuzzy rendering issue that plagued earlier the earlier Honeycomb versions.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (top) and Motorola Xoom
Inside the Galaxy Tab 10.1
Like other Honeycomb tablets, the Tab 10.1 runs nVidia's Tegra 2 platform, with a dual-core 1GHz processor and 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. The Tab 10.1 has many of the now-standard tablet accoutrements like a rear- and front- facing cameras (3Mp and 2Mp respectively, with rear flash), gyroscope, accelerometer, digital compass, and ambient light sensor.
Impressively, the specs for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 have actually changed - for better and for worse - since its initial introduction at CTIA just a few months ago. Most notably, the weight has decreased-from 595g to 570g. Unfortunately, that weight reduction might be due to the now-gone microSD card slot, a disappointing omission given that would have provided a significant edge over the Apple iPad 2.
Also missing so far: any mention of a 64GB version, which was previously announced. The Tab 10.1 supports Adobe Flash, but I was surprised to find my test unit came without Flash preinstalled. Nor did it have a shortcut on the desktop linking directly to Adobe's Flash Player on the Android Market, as other Honeycomb tablets have handled the Flash installation conundrum (since it's not native to the Android OS).
And yet, other file support surprises abound. The Tab 10.1 actually comes with support for Windows Media audio and video files (including .WMA, .WMV, and .AVI); these files are not natively supported by Android 3.1, so it's impressive that Samsung jumped in to the fill the void. It also can read Xvid, another format not noted on Android's official list. The Tab 10.1 comes pre-loaded with Quickoffice HD, for reading and editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files as well as serving as a functional file browser. (Interesting observation: files I downloaded via Gmail appear only in the Download folder, even though the images and videos appear directly in the Gallery app, and the music shows in the Music app.)
As initially shipped, the Tab 10.1 comes with stock Android 3.1 on board, and very little to distinguish it. It's the first Honeycomb tablet to ship with Google's facile Android Movie Studio (the Google answer to Apple's iMovie on iOS). And it does have a customised keyboard from Nuance, with trace typing capabilities. This keyboard is the default keyboard, although you could switch to the native Honeycomb keyboard if you prefer. I found I liked the Samsung keyboard; it's grey, with black letters, large keys and mostly useful shortcut keys (for example, @, .com, and :-) in the email keyboard).
Beyond that, you get Samsung's attractive orange-and-blue sunrise-like wallpaper scheme; Samsung Apps, Samsung's nascent and for now, irrelevant app store; Samsung Music Hub, a music store and player powered by 7digital; and Pulse news reader.
Samsung's more customised overlay, TouchWiz UX, will be available later this summer as an over-the-air update. It's not available pre-installed at launch, Samsung says, because the company didn't have enough time to test it with Android 3.1. When the overlay does arrive, Samsung says the current plan is for users to be able to opt to use elements of it, or they can go back to stock Android. That said, we won't know the implementation for sure until it arrives.
TouchWiz UX will add a variety of interface customisations to improve Android 3.1's usability. It will also add Samsung's Media Hub movie and TV purchase and rental service, as well as Reader Hub (powered by Kobo Books and Zinio) and Social Hub (for accessing social networks under one roof).
Of note for business users: The Tab 10.1 can be set to encrypt user data, and supports enhanced Exchange ActiveSync, Cisco AnyConnect SSL VPN, and F5 SSL VPN.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: What you sacrifice
By going slim and light, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 makes some trade-offs. And those tradeoffs may limit, or at least temper, the Tab 10.1's appeal depending upon your needs. For starters, like Apple's iPad 2, it has no ports beyond its docking port, located centred along the horizontal bottom edge. To add connectivity, you'll need to invest in the optional dongles coming later this month.
Samsung will have docking port dongles to add USB, SD Card, and HDMI. Unfortunately, all of these feel like the afterthoughts they are; it would be nice to get to a point where at least HDMI and USB connectivity can be integrated directly into the tablet. Many competitors in the red-hot tablet space build in at least one such port, but those competitors are also far heavier, at 1.5 to 1.65 pounds. Once the dongles come available, I'll update the review with hands on.
Another thing I noticed in my casual testing: The 7000mAh battery took inordinately long to charge. After two hours plugged in, my test unit only came up to about 30 percent charged. The battery is rated for up to nine hours of use.
Stay tuned for our full labs performance test results, including battery life and recharge times.
Next page: Our preview of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, by PC World Australia's Ross Catanzariti, from 1 April 2011 >>