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Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review: In Depth

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The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the first Honeycomb tablet to arrive from Samsung and arrives after having a drastic redesign following the release of Apple’s iPad 2, to which it’s directly competing with, not to mention the various other Android tablets.

Boasting a wide 10.1-inch touchscreen, a super slim frame (256.7 x 175.3 x 8.6mm) Nvidia’s dual-core Tegra 2 chip (the mobile CPU du jour) and coming in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 offers power, style and choice.

But in streamlining everything in a bid to provide a slimmer tablet than Apple, has anything been lost? The main camera has taken a tumble down from the 8-megapixler of the original to a more conservative 3-megapixel effort (which, to be honest, we can live with – taking pictures on a tablet is impractical and unweildy compared to taking them on a phone). More importantly, can the Tab 10.1 provide a decent Android tablet experience? Read on to find out.


What we like

The first thing you’ll noticed about the Galaxy Tab 10.1 when you first pick it up is just how light the thing feels. Along with the similarly waif-like feel of the Galaxy S2, it feels like Samsung has undertaken some quest for ever increasing lightness in its gadgets this year.

It’s also wafer-thin; 8.6mm, pipping the ultra-slender iPad 2 by 0.2 of a mm. It feels like you could pick locks with this thing.

This near-weightlessness means that you can easily hold the Tab 10.1 in one hand and flick through pages and menus with the other. Something you’d struggle to do with the comparatively weighty Motorola Xoom.

This light feel is complimented by the general speed and slickness of operations and overall presentation. The Tab 10.1 tears through high-end games and HD YouTube videos, colours are rich and vivid and the contrast and brightness are top notch. Occasionally it’s a little slow, like when navigating the Android Market, but it’s otherwise a very lean and sexy beast, browsing-wise.

Pinning widgets and app shortcuts to the five homescreens is a joy; it’s very easy to drag and drop things around and resize widgets to suit you. Though Samsung has added a slew of custom widgets and features (most of which are welcome additions) you can pretty much style the layout to your satisfaction – part of what the Android experience is all about.

We like that Samsung included a screen capture control on the status bar, allowing you to take screengrabs of everything without the need of having to download drivers and go through a lengthy install process. As we found out recently, a lot of you are interested in taking quick screenshots on your Android device so this should be welcome news.

If at times it feels like the Tab 10.1 is slowing down under the weight of processes, you can simply tap on the little chevron icon centre-bottom and fire up the Task Manager. Then you can kill any apps/processes you don’t need to lighten the load.

The chevron icon loads up a secondary bar of quick app shortcuts to various utility features like this; see our earlier hands-on with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 to get a better idea of how this all works.

The timing of the Tab 10.1’s release also sees it benefiting a little from some Honeycomb-optimised apps hitting the Market. Evernote has fairly recently been tweaked for Android 3.0+ devices and SwiftKey Tablet X makes typing a breeze.

The Pulse news reader app and Amazon’s Kindle app look, both optimised for Honeycomb, still look as good as ever. As the Tab 10.1 runs on Nvidia’s Tegra 2 chip, you get access to Tegra Zone games like Monster Madness, Galaxy on Fire 2 and History Great Battles Medieval, all of which play beautifully on the Tab 10.1.

We were also glad to see that you get some semblance of BBC iPlayer action on Android tablets, even if the app just redirects you to iPlayer in the browser. It’s a stop gap solution for now, but at least you can access it in the browser, which you couldn’t do three months ago.

Again, there’s still no official Facebook app for Honeycomb devices; you either have to go through Samsung’s proprietary Social Hub app (more on that later) or go through the browser and log in to Facebook proper. The latter option is pretty good, although we found that Facebook Chat would log a bit.

Until Facebook gets around to releasing it’s own Honeycomb app, there’s always FriendCaster Tab, a third-party Facebook app optimised for Honeycomb devices which also works pretty well.

The Tab 10.1 also runs on Honeycomb 3.1 out of the box, a minor upgrade to 3.0 sure, but an important one, as its more stable than 3.0. There’s noticeably less force closes and random shutdowns here than we experienced on our Xoom prior to the 3.1 update.

Generally, we’re less fussed about the imaging capabilities of a tablet than we are a smartphone. Taking a picture with a 10.1-inch device is unwieldy and difficult, compared to a mobile with a 3 to 4-inch screen which normally only requires one.

But for what it’s worth the main camera on the Tab 10.1 is pretty good; you get a good set of options of white balance and lighting conditions, options for metering, autofocus and macro shot modes and three fun effects (greyscale, sepia and negative). At 3.2-megapixels as well, it trumps the iPad 2’s weedy camera in raw power by some margin.

The built-in Music Hub, powered by 7Digital, gives you a one-stop music buying shop for all of your tune-buying needs. It’s pretty seamless and is stocked with a good selection of tracks. Which is just as well, as neither the Amazon MP3 or Spotify Android apps have been tweaked specifically for Honeycomb yet. They both work (kind of) but are hobbled somewhat by being stretched wide across the massive 10.1-inch screen.

Android and Good Battery Life are two things that generally don’t go well together, like chalk and cheese and Recombu and spell check.

But out of a fully charged Tab 10.1 we got a good 7-8 or so hours of juice, even with the browser and music/games running. So the next time someone tells you that all Android devices suffer from crippling battery life, slide a Tab 10.1 in their direction.

Finally, as with the Motorola Atrix, it’s worth considering the value added to the Tab 10.1 by the Keyboard Dock accessory, which practically turns the tablet into a laptop for an extra £80. The dock itself is great quality and at the very least worth a look if you want to get some work done on your Tab 10.1.

 


What we don’t like

One of the Tab 10.1’s sacrifices on its quest for the holy grail of slimness is connections. Though the 30-pin port on the bottom sorts your mains power and data connection needs (mitigating the absence of a micro USB port to an extent), there’s no HDMI-out.

You can buy a separate HDMI adapter for £30 if you really want this, along with however much a cable costs these days. So while there is an option to wire your Tab 10.1 to your big telly, it’s a bit of a hassle and it’s going to cost you roughly upwards of £40.

More shockingly, there’s no microSD slot, despite early rumours suggesting that this would be the case – the original Tab 10.1/10.1V (or whatever it’s called now) didn’t come with this elementary feature and we were hoping that this new version would be able to fit it in.

Though you get a choice between 16GB, 32GB and 64GB flavours, not being able to bulk the memory out further is a little disappointing. The version we’ve reviewed here is the Wi-Fi only version; we’re seriously wondering where the SIM slot is going to end up on the 3G ones.

While there are a few more Honeycomb-specific Android apps out there, there’s only a few really decent ones compared to the hundreds available for the iPad. This will probably improve over time, but for now, as with the Xoom, there just aren’t many apps out there.

Samsung’s proprietary Social Hub is a social network aggregator that blends Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. This gives you the option of adding Facebook events to you Tab 10.1’s calendar which is useful, and gives you the basics – your news feed and the ability to check your messages.

While it does this fine, we’d have liked to have been able to add pictures and videos straight from the Tab 10.1, use Facebook Chat and all the rest. It doesn’t go far enough to be a full replacement for Facebook.

Finally, there’s not really any other way of saying this, but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 isn’t quite as nice as the iPad 2. The pricing for all iterations of both products is exactly the same across the board, making choosing between the two a real exercise in hair splitting. So here we go.

The Tab 10.1’s screen is bigger (10.1 vs 9.7), the cameras are more powerful (3 & 2 megapixels front and back vs 0.92 & 0.31 megapixels) and yes it’s a thinner device (8.6mm vs 8.8mm). You also get two external speakers instead of the iPad 2’s one, giving the Tab 10.1 a bit of an edge here as well.

But compared to the smoother and more stable experience offered by iOS not to mention the sea of iPad apps in the App Store compared to the comparative trickle in the Android Market then the iPad 2 pips it – just.

If you’re committed to Team Android and want a tablet life outside the confinements of Apple’s walled garden, then the choice is a no brainer; the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is hands down the best Android tablet currently going.

If you’re indifferent to OSs and you’re mainly buying a tablet as a fancy (albeit expensive) coffee table trinket to show off when people come round, then you’ll probably opt for an iPad 2.


Conclusion

If you’re in the market for an Android tablet then the choice is clear; the Samsung Galaxy Tab offers the best Honeycomb experience out there. It’s fast, lightweight and boasts a solid battery, easily customisable homescreens and some nice added features with the TouchWiz UX. No wonder Google gave a bunch of these away to developers at I/O 2011.

Speaking of developers, the one area where the Tab 10.1 falls down is on apps. But due to the nascent nature of Honeycomb, this will be true of all Android 3.x devices released this year.

The dearth of connections may also frustrate some. Luckily there’s a workaround to connect the Tab 10.1 to your HDTV via HDMI, but nothing in the way of support for microSD.

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