Review – Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Tablet computers used to be just computers with styluses. They weren't very fast, and weren't very intuitive to use. Fast forward to 2010, and Apple revolutionized the industry (again) with the introduction of the iPad, a tablet that uses a smartphone OS instead of a full-fledged operating system. Suddenly, every tech company is following suit, most notably Google, who have just released a version of their popular Android system for use exclusively on tablets, code named "Honeycomb." Leading the pack to develop for Honeycomb is Samsung, whose new Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a direct competitor to Cupertino's own slate.

This small computer is a nimble little machine. It features a beautiful display and screen, dual cameras (a front-facing 2 megapixel and a rear-facing 3 megapixel), 16 GB of memory, and a fast dual-core 1 GHz NVIDIA processor. It also boasts a thickness of a very slim 8.6 mm and weights 1.25 pounds, which is .2 mm thinner and 20% lighter than the iPad 2. Throw Google’s ever-growing Android OS to the mix, and you’ve got yourself one helluva tablet.

The casing has an precision feel to it. Its back and edges are rounded off, and the rear case is plastic that has the feel of brushed metal. Its slim body may lead you to believe it lacks in hardware, but its impressive specs allow it to rank all the way up in the Android pantheon with the Motorola Xoom, which is the flagship device for Honeycomb.

While Samsung opted to originally ship the Galaxy without its trademark TouchWiz UI, its fingerprints can be felt all over the interface. Some default Google apps have been swapped with Samsung’s own little applications, and in the transition they can create an inconsistent feel. For example, Samsung’s digital keyboard replaces Google’s, OpenOffice is the default productivity suite instead of Google Docs, and Samsung’s camera app is prominent in the interface. In my opinion, Samsung’s modifications take away from the general user experience, and are less friendly to use than Google’s own apps. Luckily, you can revert back to the originals, and the problem is quickly taken care of by going into the Settings and selecting them as defaults.

 The screen is absolutely gorgeous and displays colors more vibrantly than any other I can think of. Samsung has become famous for their AMOLED screens, and we think they are even better then Apple’s screens.

We started working with the Tab since it came out in June. At first though, we found it having a bit of the All-Dressed-Up-and-Nowhere-To-Go syndrome. Samsung hasn’t been asleep at the wheel, in fact quite the opposite. Since the unit first shipped Samsung made available a free firmware update in August that installed the TouchWiz UX which quickly created a more unified feel and user experience. TouchWiz updated the graphics, icons, and a dock at the bottom of the tablet. The update added multi-tasking for mini-applications, Live Panel, an updated Clipboard, a Photo Editor, Swype typing, and updated it’s Kies for file sharing on Macs and Windows machines. It also introduced a dock called the Mini Mode Tray, which operates much like you would expect. Media Hub is Samsung’s answer to iTunes, and now allows access to the Amazon Music Store, among other content providers. In other words, the Tab 10.1 is quickly growing into the capabilities promised by its hardware and specs. Keep the software coming Samsung!

The form factor also differentiates the Tab 10.1 from the iPad. A bit longer and more rectangular, it has dimensions more akin to a cellphone than an iPad, and we found it was great for viewing movies. One issue is that it has a docking connector, but it is unique to the Tab, which means that any of your iPad, iPhone, or iPod accessories won’t work via the dock, unless they have Bluetooth which is platform agnostic. Always have at least one spare cable on hand, because these little rascals are hard to come by now. And although it’s taken a while, we are starting to finally see cases and other accessories designed for the Tab. At the Consumer Electronics Association preview in New York, Speck introduced a new case for the series, and Logitech showcased its line of keyboards that work with the Tab. A larger issue is the non-stop legal wrangling between Apple and Samsung, with Apple prevailing in convincing courts to issue injunctions against the sale of the Tab in certain markets. How this will turn out is anyone’s guess, but with the recent loss of the HP TouchPad, and slow sales for the BlackBerry PlayBook, we feel confident that tablets like the Samsung Tab will grow for folks who seek an alternative to the iPad.

We plan to continue to test the Tab as the ecosystem for Android Honeycomb (and in the near future, Ice Cream Sandwich) systems expand their reach and feature set. One example of this is that applications are available for the platform now that weren’t even a couple of months ago. One example is Facebook, which didn’t have an actual app for the unit, although it functions fairly normally in the browser. Another is the app to access the new Seagate Satellite Bluetooth hard drive. When we first started to test that unit (it is a superb match for any tablet and we will cover in a separate review) we accessed it via the browser, but not anymore, just launch the Seagate and there are the contents of the drive. We used it to play videos, music, and access images, leaving free room on the tablet. Our review unit didn’t include the 4G cell access, so we can’t comment on that aspect, but in terms of holding and locking on to wireless it was stable and robust.

Samsung seems to have bested itself with its latest tablet. It improves over its predecessor from last winter in almost every area. It’s faster, more powerful, runs a better version of Android, and has more memory.

If you are looking for a fast, powerful, well-made tablet, with a gorgeous screen and seeking a more open platform then Apple provides, then we urge you consider the Samsung Tab 10.1. It is not only a worthy competitor to Cupertino’s offering, in many way it bests it.

The Tab 10.1 is a Mac Edition Radio Holiday Pick!

Thomas Fogel, with additional reporting by Harris Fogel, Posted 10/30/2011

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