Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi edition – Thin is in

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi
Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi edition has just hit the streets in certain markets and we thought it would be fun to go over it, even though we’ve already reviewed the device that was given out at Google’s I/O conference. The hardware is almost exactly the same, so don’t expect much different there but this does come preloaded with Android Honeycomb 3.1, which does make a significant different.

Is this new software enough to make this slim and elegant tablet a credible competitor to the iPad 2 and the slate of other tablets coming out? Read on to find out, friends.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition
Available now from limited Best Buy stores, general availability coming shortly, 16 GB for $499 and 32 GB for $599

Specifications (Specs)

    Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi  

  • 10.1-inch (1280×800) capacitive multitouch display
  • 1 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor
  • 16 GB or 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 3.1 Honeycomb OS

The Good

  • Amazingly light and slim
  • Dual-core processor performs well
  • Honeycomb has a learning curve but is worth it
  • Samsung tweaks to camera software make for a better experience

The Bad

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

Hardware

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 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 but we know for sure that an LTE Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be out for Verizon very soon.

On the back is a 3-megapixel camera and a flash and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a solid white background. I do miss the backing that was filled with the Android logo that was given out to Google I/O attendees but the clean white finish isn’t too bad. 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 16 GB of internal storage.

Build Quality / Fit and Finish

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

Software

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 comes loaded with Android 3.1 Honeycomb and this is quite a nice little update from the 3.0 version. If you haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, go ahead and check out this video for a rundown of the features in it.

Android 3.1 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 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.

The Android 3.1 software means you get smoother overall experiences when you’re scrolling through homescreens or switching through apps. This also includes nifty things like being able to turn on a new browser navigation mode, as well as opens up the possibility to do USB hosting. Unfortunately, the proprietary dock connector defeats a lot of the purpose of the USB hosting because you’ll have to get some funky adapters.

On 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. The foundation is very good but the problem with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and all Android tablets is the app ecosystem is severely limited. The Featured Tablet App section of the Android Market has some programs which take advantage of the screen space but you don’t have many choices and nothing really blew me away.

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 3.1 Honeycomb fixes some of the problems I had with 3.0 but there are still some inconsistent user interface metaphors 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. The TouchWiz UX custom interface should be coming to the Tab 10.1 as a downloadable update in the not-too-distant future and it will be interesting to see how that plays out. As it is, the Honeycomb 3.1 platform is quite a fun platform to use once you get over the learning curve.

Benchmarks

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi We 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 WiFi The 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.

When I reviewed the Limited Edition version, I found the browser became extremely buggy after about a week of usage. I believe that Android 3.1 has fixed those issues but I’m going to keep an eye on this.

Camera

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited EditionThe Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 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.

[Note: Samples are from Limited Edition but it's the same quality]

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 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.

The Android 3.1 update means you can access the movie rental service from the Android Market. I’ve found this to be a good experience but the selection could use some beefing up. That big screen is also crying out for the Netflix Android app but it’s not currently available.

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: The best tablet out there?

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is an incredibly powerful and sleek-looking tablet that has an eye-catching design. The Android 3.1 software means a lot of the little, annoying bugs found on 3.0 are finally gone and it just produces a better overall user experience than other Android tablets.

Unfortunately, the app ecosystem is still not growing as quickly as that of the iPad and apps make a tablet. I’m confident that this will improve in the near future, so if you want to dive in a little bit early with a platform that has more flexibility than the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a great choice.

  • KW

    “Available now from select Best Buy stores”?? I thought only the 1 NYC store had it for now? June 17th is when everyone else will have it?

    • Anonymous

      You’re right. Sorry about that. Will update 

  • Anonymous

    how does it compare to Asus Eee Pad Transformer?

  • http://twitter.com/SParKlngCyaNide SparklingCyanide

    just read this review on my Google iO Galaxy tab 10.1, freshly updated to Honeycomb 3.1 minutes ago. – D

  • Pdecell

    Why can’t tablet makers put better quality cameras in their devices? My little Eris Droid takes better pictures. Aside from that I will be very interested to see the 10.1 Tab, though personally I like the 7″ form of the smaller Tab.

  • thk

    Wonder if it is A-GPS or GPS (can use even no internet connection). Thanks.

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