Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition – iPad 2 who?

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition
Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition

We were lucky enough to get our hands on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition from Google I/O and this second Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet won’t hit the market for nearly a month (June 8). I’ve used the WiFi version extensively for the last few days and felt it would be useful to give you a “preview review.”

How does the Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition stack up against the Xoom? Is this the tablet that finally overtakes the iPad 2? Read on to find out, friends.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition
Limited Edition available only to Google I/O attendees (or on eBay). Galaxy Tab 10.1 should hit retail stores June 8 for about $399 (unconfirmed)

Specifications (Specs)

    Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition 

  • 10.1-inch (1280×800) capacitive multitouch display
  • 1 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor
  • 32 GB of internal storage
  • 3-megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash
  • 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video calls
  • WiFi (B/G/N)
  • GPS
  • Accelerometer
  • Ambient light sensor
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Stereo speakers
  • Bluetooth
  • Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS

The Good

  • Amazingly light and slim
  • Dual-core processor performs well
  • Honeycomb has a learning curve but is worth it
  • Scrollable widgets

The Bad

  • The build material may feel cheap to some
  • Android 3.0 app ecosystem isn’t impressive
  • The cameras don’t provide high-quality shots
  • No 3G/4G connectivity on this mode – Will be available on the retail model
  • No expandable storage

Hardware

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited EditionThe Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition has the same general look as the Motorola Xoom or the iPad 2 in that it’s basically a big screen on the front with a little bit of a bezel. As the name indicates, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 rocks a beautiful 10.1-inch screen with a 1280×800 resolution. The multitouch-capable capacitive touchscreen is bright, clear and it makes watching movies a breeze.

The 10.1-inch screen takes up the majority of the face but there’s also a large black bezel surrounding. There’s also the 2-megapixel camera on the front and like the Motorola Xoom, it’s positioned in a way that makes you want to hold the tablet in a landscape orientation.

On the bottom, you have the proprietary connector and this is same that’s being used on the 7-inch version. Each side has a speaker on it and the top has the power/unlock button, a solid volume rocker made of a single piece and the standard headphone jack.

This version is missing 3G/4G connection and an expandable storage slot but those may land in future versions. The mobile data will definitely be there in future carrier-branded versions.

On the back is a 3-megapixel camera and a flash and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition has a cool white background filled with the Android logo (it’s official name is the “Bug droid”). That design will be exclusive for the Google I/O version.

Inside, you have a powerful Tegra 2 dual-core processor that makes this thing run splendidly. This also has WiFi (b/g/n), GPS, Bluetooth and 32 GB of internal storage.

Build Quality / Fit and Finish

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited EditionThe Samsung Galaxy Tab is incredibly light and slim. It’s only 8.6-millimeters thick and it is even a tad bit thinner than the iPad 2. It definitely makes the Motorola Xoom feel bloated.

The Samsung tablet is also incredibly light. The old iPad and Xoom weren’t stressing my biceps but it could grow tiresome if you’re trying to hold it with one hand or use it in bed like I do. That’s not even close to a problem with the latest Tab.

All of these design decisions come with tradeoffs though, as it has a plastic finish that may not be appealing to those who love the brushed aluminum feel of the iPad 2. It definitely feels like a premium, high-class device but there will inevitably be some who say it feels “cheap” because of the plastic.

I hate having another proprietary dock to have to worry about but these tablets need more power than microUSB cables can provide. Oh well. I’m also not in love with the dark grey trim around the device but it is a minor quibble.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition is a sleek and sexy device that doesn’t sacrifice power for its form factor.

Software

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited EditionThe Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited edition runs a relatively clean version of Android 3.0 Honeycomb. We wished this would have launched with the just-announced Android Honeycomb 3.1 but that should be coming in a few weeks with improved multitasking and the ability to use the tablet as a USB host. Too bad there’s no USB port on this.

If you haven’t checked out Android 3.0 Honeycomb, you should check out our breakdown for a better understanding. Overall, the software is a smart optimization of the platform for the larger screen but it is still a little rough around the edges.

Android 3.0 Honeycomb removes the need for physical buttons, as the back, home and multitasking buttons are now software keys on the bottom left of the screen. A Google search bar (with voice input) is on the top left and the Apps and “+” buttons are on the top right. You get five home screens and there are neat transition animations when you scroll through.

You can hit the “+” button to zoom out to customize your home screens or you can just do a long press on any page. As you would expect, you can also add widgets, through in a live wallpaper and put multiple app shortcuts on the home screens.

The bottom right of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition will provide you with the time, WiFi connection and power management. This is also where all your notifications come up and it’s awesome to be able to see these and address or dismiss these without having to interrupt your work flow.

It’s not a completely clean Google experience though, as Samsung has its fingers in the software pie. One of the positive attributes of this is that there is now haptic feedback when you tap things. This is a cool way to augment your interactions and if you don’t like it, it’s easy to turn off in the settings.

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited EditionOn the downside, the standard keyboard was kind of wonky with its auto-correction and I missed the ability to double tap the space bar in order to automatically add a period. Additionally, it comes with the Samsung Kies software to sync multimedia content in an orderly way and this didn’t play nice with my PC. Once I downloaded a few drivers it was fine but it’s still a pain.

The foundation is very good but the problem with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition and all Android tablets is the app ecosystem is severely limited. As of the writing, the Featured Tablet App section of the Android Market only had 60 apps in it and that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of thousands of iPad-specific apps.

Many standard Android phone apps will scale well but a lot of programs don’t and you’ll be hit with ugly interfaces that are buggy. As we see more and more Android tablets hit the market, this should change. Google is also boosting tablet development by upping the app size limit to 4 GB, so the apps should only get bigger and better. It’s just not there yet.

Android 3.0 Honeycomb is also first generation and it shows. There are inconsistent user interface metaphors all around that can be confusing but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty powerful.

Much like Android on phones compared to iOS, Honeycomb is not as drop-dead simple as the iPad but it has the potential to provide a more customizable and deeper experience. We’ve played with the TouchWiz UX custom interface on the Tab 10.1 before but that’s lacking in this version. It should land on the retail version though, as I believe Google wanted its developers to have a clean-ish version to tool around with.

Benchmarks

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited EditionWe put the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition through the standard set of benchmarks and it proved to be quite powerful. We’re not very surprised because it’s rocking the Tegra 2 processor inside. We ran the test three times and then found the average. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the Neocore benchmark app to run properly.

Quadrant (System Benchmark)

Average: 2188

Neocore (Graphics Benchmark)

N/A

Linpack (Processor Benchmark)

Average: 35.364 MFLOPS

Web Browser

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Special EditionThe Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition uses a WebKit browser and it’s a solid way to experience the web. There are a few niggles which make it less than perfect, though.

First of all, I am over the moon with the ability to open up new tabs in the same window. The tablet’s standard browser looks very much like the Chrome browser on a computer with a darker styling and popping open a new tab just requires hitting a “+” button.

A neat thing I like is that if you hit a link that opens in a new tab, after you’re done reading that page and press back, the browser will close that tab and revert you back to the originating tab. You can also hit the setting button in the browser to pop open an Incognito browser and this is great if you don’t want others to know what you’ve been looking at. This is perfect for if you’re shopping for a gift for your sweetie and don’t want to spoil the surprise if they use the tablet. Also, porn.

The browser can also make use of Adobe Flash for Honeycomb and I’ve found this to be much more useful on a larger screen than on a phone. Sure, many sites have already succumbed to Apple’s will and are delivering its content in an iPhone-friendly HTML5 way (also compatible with Android) but there are still plenty of holdouts like restaurants, venues, video and casual gaming sites.

The Tegra 2 chip mixed with optimized Flash and content from creators lead to a cool experience. The Kongregate mobile site, for example, is filled with cool casual games which take advantage of Flash and have touchscreen integration. There is also pinch-to-zoom functionality on compatible sites and the auto-zoom works well and is fairly intelligent.

My only beefs with the browser is that scrolling and rendering can be a bit slow sometimes. I guess that’s what you have to expect when you have multiple tabs open.

Camera

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited EditionThe Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition has a 3-megapixel camera in the back with a flash and 2-megapixel front-facing camera. Both are adequate but won’t knock your socks off with picture quality.

The picture interface is a bit different than on the Xoom, as this is essentially the camera UI we’ve seen in the Galaxy S lineup: your shutter button is on the right and the options are on the left. There’s touch-to-focus, as well as multiple effect and options but the pictures don’t come out fantastic. Most aren’t as crisp as I would have liked and it’s awkward holding a 10-inch tablet in landscape mode to shoot pictures. The shutter speed is surprisingly quick, though.

The 2-megapixel front-facing camera doesn’t provide exceptional shots but it is fine. The neat thing is that it will tie in to Google Talk for video chatting right out of the box and I’ve found that this is comparable quality to Apple’s FaceTime.

The video recording is nothing special but at least it’s there and you can easily share clips to social networks or e-mail these around.

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition

Standard setting with the flash, low light

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition

Standard settings, medium lighting, front-facing camera

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition

Standard settings, good lighting, no flash

 

Multimedia

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition For nearly every Android review we do, it’s almost the same script in the multimedia section: the baked in stuff is solid and apps can help augment it but the multimedia capabilities are just not quite on par with the iPhone or iOS. That’s still true to a certain degree on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition but the gap is quickly closing.

The standard music and media players look good and can handle most files that you can throw at it. This tablet really starts to get interesting when you throw in some of the recently-announced services from Google. The Google Music Beta is ready to rock and roll on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and this gives you streaming access to up to 20,000 songs that you’ve previously uploaded to the cloud.

The songs will play back at up to 320 Kbps and the streaming is well done. There’s also the option to download of “Pin” tracks to your device for offline access.

You can also now rent movies from the Android Market and I’m sure this would look awesome on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited edition but it’s not compatible yet. That should come with the 3.1 update and I can’t wait to test it out.

There are still holes though, as there’s no easy way to purchase tracks or movies. Yes, you can use apps like Amazon to buy music and other apps provide movie purchasing but it’s easier for end users to have some solution baked in.

Check out a quick video of the Google Music Beta in action on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition.

Battery Life,

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition has some excellent battery life but it doesn’t quite match the insane battery life of the iPad 2. With heavy, heavy usage, the Tab will die after about 6 hours while the iPad can power through at least 8.

In practical terms though, the 10.1 Tab has good battery life that will be more than enough for its standard use cases. I would have no worries taking this on a plane for a coast-to-coast flight for my entertainment needs but it’s not going to last all day as your primary computing device.

The Final Take: Better than the iPad 2?

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition is a special version that most of you probably won’t get your hands on but a very similar product should be landing in retail stores in just a few weeks. The hardware is top-notch, as it is incredibly attractive, thin, light and it doesn’t skimp on the horsepower.

The cameras could be much better but it should be adequate for tablet photography needs. The fundamental software is really good even if it’s a bit rough around the edges.

Because Honeycomb is made by Google, the integration with Google services is second to none. The Gmail experience on that Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Special Edition blows away the iPad.

The problem is that tablets are only as good as the apps that are available and the Android Market is still a ghost town for tablet-optimized programs. That should change within a few months but the competition is already miles ahead.

The pricing is also another factor, as this unit was free to all Google I/O attendees but the retail model could land for as low as $399 for a 16 GB model. That’s $100 cheaper than a comparable iPad and you won’t be sacrificing much for that discount.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition is every bit the equal to the iPad 2 in terms of hardware and fundamental software but the apps are still a crucial weak spot. If you’re willing to wait for the upcoming wave of Android Honeycomb apps, then the 10.1 version of the Galaxy Tab may be the tablet for you.

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