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Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs Apple iPad 2

Samsung and Apple are currently embroiled in a legal dispute over alleged copycat behaviour and patent infringement. Such matters are common in the mobile tech sector, with Apple suing Nokia and HTC while being served legal notice by iCloud Communications, apparently not keen on Apple using the ‘iCloud’ name for its upcoming service.

Courtroom dramas aside, there’s not disputing the fact that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Apple iPad 2 have a lot in common.

They’re both slender, elegantly designed tablet devices. They both boast large, high resolution displays fall around the 10-inch mark (either a little under or just over). Both have a twin camera set up for regular pics and video-calls and both come in 16, 32 and 64GB editions. Oh, and they’re both available in black and white as well.

The obvious differences come down on the software side of things. The iPad 2 runs on Apple’s own iOS 4 (currently 4.3.5), whereas the Tab 10.1 runs on Honeycomb (currently Android 3.1) the tablet-specific version of Google’s OS.

Honeycomb hasn’t been out as long as iOS and consequently there aren’t as many apps going for it. So the Tab 10.1 is immediately at a disadvantage to the iPad 2 in this respect. But depending on where you fall on the iOS vs Android fence, this probably won’t effect your decision much.

While taking this into consideration, we decided to do a full on nuts ‘n bolts, spec for spec comparison of the two devices side by side to see how they really measure up.


Design and build

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is a very slim and lightweight tablet. It measures 256.7 x 175.3 x 8.6mm and weighs just 565 grams. It’s effortlessly lightweight, but somehow doesn’t feel insubstantial or flimsy. It feels like a space-age bit of kit, especially the NASA shuttle white version.

The back cover is made from a shiny reflective plastic (black or white) that provides a measure of grip, but is admittedly something of a fingerprint magnet.

It’s 10.1-inch screen means that physically it’s wider than the iPad 2 when held in landscape, but its also not as tall this way up. This wider form means that typing on the Tab 10.1 in landscape is trickier than it is on the iPad 2. But by the same token, it’s also easier to type on the Tab 10.1 when it’s held in portrait.

The iPad 2 by contrast is a shorter, wider oblong than the taller, thinner Tab 10.1 – the Oliver Hardy to the Tab 10.1’s Stan Laurel. The iPad 2 looks like a smart digital photo frame from the front. It’s a sharp minimalist design, interrupted only by the iconic circular menu/home button on one side, with the lens for the front-facing camera over on the opposite side.

The back of the iPad 2 is covered in a smooth metal jacket emblazoned with a plastic Apple logo. The edges of the back are curved, which makes it easy to grip on the sides, while exuding a level of quality. The SIM card slot (on the Wi-Fi and 3G versions) is flush with the metal curvature, so it doesn’t interrupt the look or feel of the design much.

Design preferences are very personal things when it comes to phones and tablets. But though the ab 10.1 certainly doesn’t feel cheap, we feel that it’s featherweight plastic stylings aren’t quite in the same league as the iPad 2’s denser, metallic minimalism.

Storage and connections

The devices are more or less identical here. Both the iPad 2 and the Tab 10.1 feature a proprietary connection for data transfer and charging. Both tablets come with a USB wire that allows you to connect to a desktop/laptop as well as the supplied mains adapter.

Aside from a 3.5mm jack for headphones, neither device offers much else in the way of connections. No micro SD, no USB or anything else.

Again, both devices are available with 16GB, 32GB and 64GB of external memory (all for the same equivalent prices) so the storage options are identical.


Screen

There’s really not a huge amount in it here. As you might be able to tell from its name, the Tab 10.1 features a 10.1-inch touchscreen. This pips Apple’s iPad 2 (9.7-inches) ever so slightly.

Similarly, the Tab 10.1 boats a higher pixel count and higher ppi: 1280 x 800 and 149 pixels per inch compared to the iPad 2’s 1024 x 768 resolution and 132 ppi. So on paper, its the Galaxy Tab 10.1 that has the better screen.

In our real-life tests we found that there wasn’t much difference and, in some cases, the iPad 2’s screen was the better of the two.

Both screens are LCDs, so the Tab 10.1 doesn’t have the high contrast factor of the Super AMOLEDs seen on other devices like the Galaxy S2. While the iPad 2 doesn’t boast the scintillating level of detail that the iPhone 4’s Retina Display offers, the 9.7-inch screen features the same IPS (in-plane switching) technology.

This provides great viewing angles as well as a slightly higher contrast (to our eyes) than the Tab 10.1. Colours on the Tab 10.1 didn’t perform so well at extreme angles either.

We found that the Tab 10.1’s screen reflected more light than that of the iPad 2’s. This gave the Apple tab a legibility edge in direct sunlight. We’ve also heard talk of some Tab 10.1’s being affected by an oily moisture mark appearing underneath the screen’s cover. We’ve seen this ourselves on certain models but can say its not a problem that affects all devices.

Despite this, Tab 10.1 wins the gold in the detail stakes; text and colour images (particularly text) look sharper. Comparatively on the iPad 2, the edges of certain letters (particularly if the font has serifs), look slightly pixellated. This is only noticeable if you’re looking really close mind you.


Interface

Both iOS and Honeycomb have a similar looking ‘tray of app icons’ set up that float above multiple homescreens.

Swiping left from the main homescreen on the iPad 2 takes you to a search function, which allows you to search for a specific contact, app or game. A tap of the iconic ciruclar home key at the bottom of the iPad 2 always jumps you back to the main homescreen, wherever you are or whatever app you’re running.

Four app icons permanently sit at the bottom of the iPad 2’s screen. These are shortcuts to the Safari browser, Mail email, the Photos gallery and the iPod music player app.

These shortcuts give you quick access to the iPad 2’s main features, but you can change these for quick links to other things if you like. You can have up to six shortcuts sitting at the bottom of the iPad 2’s homescreens.

Double-clicking on the home key also loads up a bar showing off the most recently used apps, allowing you to force shut down a process or jump between applications.


Running on Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the Tab 10.1 easily offers a greater degree of customisation and allows you to access certain settings and features with greater ease. Samsung has also added a couple of touches with its TouchWiz UX interface as well.

While this doesn’t drastically differ from stock Honeycomb, it adds a couple of nice touches, such as a printscreen/screengrab feature that lets you take pictures of what’s on your Tab 10.1’s screen. A useful feature that we’re seeing more and more of on Android devices.

Unlike with iOS, where the app icons are auto-aligned to a grid, you can pin app shortcuts more or less where you like. There’s still a grid system of sorts, to prevent app icons from overlapping, but you’ve got greater freedom as to how your homepages are set up.

You’ve also the ability to add widgets, like the large Calendar and Social Hub widgets that come pre-installed. A taskbar runs across the bottom of the Tab 10.1’s main screen, which is crammed with shortcuts to useful features including a control panel. From here you can toggle options like Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth, without having to dive in and out of the Settings menu.

As with the iPad 2 you’ve got the option to call up a list of the most recently used apps and jump between programs. You can’t remotley kill any apps from this list, although there is a separate widget called ‘Program Monitor’ which allows you to do just that.

So in short, the iPad 2’s interface is perhaps more streamlined, more unified but is also a little restrictive because of it. The Tab 10.1 gives you greater freedom but perhaps takes more time getting to know.


Keyboard

The Tab 10.1’s keyboard is the easier of the two to use, but due to the wider screen of the Samsung tablet, its less easy to type on in landscape than the iPad 2. By the same token, the narrower shape of the Tab 10.1 makes it easier to type when held in portrait.

Both of the default keyboards are pretty similar, but the Tab 10.1 also comes with Swype 3.0 included. This whizzy next-gen keyboard allows you to type by connecting letters together, join-the-dots style, and can be shrunk and move around the Tab 10.1’s screen, meaning that typing in landscape with Swype become less of a problem.


Apps

It should perhaps go without saying but the Tab 10.1 simply can’t compete with the iPad 2 in terms of apps. That’s not to say there aren’t any decent Honeycomb apps out there, there are a few.

But with no official Facebook app (still) and no games that are on the same level as Sword and Sworcery, the Tab 10.1 is pretty lacking.

Most iPhone apps will also work on the iPad 2 as well, with the only main difference being that the app will occupy a small portion of the screen, equivalent to the size of an iPhone’s screen. You can enlarge them with the 2x zoom function; they look a bit pixellated and crappy but at least they work.

The same can’t be said of Android phone apps on tablets – some of them either don’t look right, or simply don’t work on Honeycomb tablets.


Browser

We preferred the look and feel of the Honeycomb browser on the Tab 10.1 compared to Safari on the iPad 2.

We liked that it was easy to add new tabs on the (ahem) Tab 10.1 and liked Google’s incognito mode that allows you to browse without infomation being saved to the cache. The Quick Controls also give you another way to browse if you’re feeling experimental.

Safari on the iPad 2 is still pretty decent; it’s easy to navigate, easy to add new tabs/open new windows and access your bookmarks from the simple toolbar.

For browsing the web, the Tab 10.1 feels faster. Flash-heavy pages can be munched through in no time at all, with the iPad 2 loading pages at a similar rate. The iPad 2, of course, doens’t do Flash. So its pretty impressive that the Tab 10.1 can match it in page loading speeds, even when its loading Flash bits and bobs. You can also turn plug-in off in the Tab 10.1’s settings, making the page load times even faster.


Cameras

The iPad 2’s main camera is a 0.7-megapixel shooter while the Tab 10.1’s camera has a bigger 3-megapixel sensor. The Tab 10.1 also has a number of adjustable settings for things like white balance, smile and action shots and an exposure control.

For the purposes of these two comparison shots however, we set everything on the Tab 10.1’s camera app to auto.

Both camera apps had a tap to focus option which we used to focus on the BT Tower in the centre of the shot.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1:

Apple iPad 2:

The iPad 2 provided more natural colours and didn’t struggle with natural light in a way that the Tab 10.1 did; the blues of the sky in the Tab 10.1 look unnatural and it doesn’t pick out the detail in the clouds like the iPad 2 did.

However, we got a lot of detail in the foreground with the Tab 10.1 as well, whereas the of the iPad 2’s shot is really dark and hard to make out.

The Tab 10.1 fared better for recording video; the colours again appeared a little unnatural and saturated, but the level of detail was much higher than what the iPad 2’s camera was able to capture.

 

 


Music and sound

The Tab 10.1 comes with Samsung’s Music Hub app pre-installed, an MP3 shop that’s powered by 7digital. This gives you access to a healthy range of music from a variety of spectrums, but it doesn’t have some of the more high-profile, obvious names that you can get on iTunes – no Beatles, no Led Zeppelin and no Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations.

The Tab 10.1 has two external speakers which provides a better audio experience than the iPad 2’s single speaker. Although we phone that the iPad 2 was better for listening to music on through headphones; songs were louder and clearer through the Sennhesier CX281’s that we used.

The music players of the devices were both pretty similar. Though the iPod app boasts a cleaner layout that’s easier on the eye, in terms of functionality, the music player on the Tab 10.1 is similar.

In terms of file format support, both tablets play MP3s, as you’d expect. The Tab 10.1 plays WMA files, which will be a plus for people who’ve ripped a lot of music to Windows Media Player in the past. The iPad 2, unsurprisingly, doesn’t play WMAs. Both devices play AAC files, the standard iTunes file format.

The Tab 10.1’s official specs say that it doesn’t play FLAC files, but we were able to do this, even though officially, they’re not supported. The iPad 2 also plays Apple Lossless and AIFF files for those who like to get their lossless kicks.

The (official) supported format lists are as follows:

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1:

MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC, WMA, RA

Apple iPad 2:

HE-AAC (V1 and V2), AAC, Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV


Performance

Both devices come equipped with a 1GHz dual core chip, the smartphone/tablet spec to bee seen with this summer. The Tab 10.1’s runs with Nvidia’s Tegra 2 chip, while the iPad 2 has Apple’s own A5 CPU.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 also packs 1GB of RAM, more than the 512MB that the iPad 2 comes with. But again, as with the screens, even though the Tab 10.1 is more powerful on paper, the performance of both devices is pretty similar.

Actually, we’d go as far to say that the iPad 2 is better overall. Though the Tab 10.1 was faster at loading web pages and launching apps, its slower in other areas. Swiping between homescreens is nowhere near as smooth as it is on the iPad 2.

The screen auto-rotate on the iPad 2 is similarly much slicker. We noticed the big widgets on the Tab 10.1 ‘ghosting’ in and out of view when flipping from portrait to landscape and vice versa. A minor quibble perhaps, but it detracts from the otherwise slick appearance.

When you’ve got multiple tasks running, the Tab 10.1 also locked up and froze occasionally, something we didn’t experience as often with the iPad 2 when we threw a lot of tasks at it.

Honeycomb 3.1 is a lot more stable that 3.0, but we still get the occasional force close and screen freeze when the Tab 10.1 struggles to juggle things. This will improve with future updates. Android 3.2 is out now, but has yet to arrive on the Tab 10.1. For now, Honeycomb on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 just doesn’t feel as stable as iOS 4.5.3 on the iPad 2 does.


Verdict

With both tablets so similar in many respects (least of all price) choosing a winner ultimately comes down to so some pretty fine points.

Overall we have to say that the iPad 2 offers a more polished and more stable user experience. There’s also much more choice going in the iTunes App Store in terms of apps and games compared to what’s available for tablets in the Android Market. We feel that most users would be happier parting with their hard earned cash for an iPad 2.

However, the Tab 10.1’s more customisable nature will appeal to those who want an experience outside of Apple’s walled garden. If you’re after a tablet to properly tinker with then the Tab 10.1 is easily the more appealing choice.

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