Samsung has so far had an interesting run with Android tablets PCs. In late 2010 they started selling the first Galaxy Tab (the 7” model). Some thought it was good while others considered it dead on arrival; but Samsung still managed to ship quite a number of devices.
Then, in early 2011, they started showing off the Galaxy Tab 10.1. It looked fairly impressive, but after the introduction of Apple’s iPad 2, Samsung decided the Tab 10.1 needed a redesign. The original Tab 10.1 was renamed to the Galaxy Tab 10.1v, and a new, lighter, thinner model was introduced as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
The latter device is what this review is all about. How does it stack up against the competition?
You won’t see much here, in terms of internals, that you haven’t seen before in other Android Honeycomb tablet PCs.
There’s an NVIDIA Tegra 2 System-on-Chip with a dual-core processor clocked at 1GHz, 1GB RAM and 32GB of storage space. Worth noting is that there is no external memory card slot of any kind, so 32GB of storage is your lot.
AnTuTu Benchmark gave it a score of 4782.6, placing it first among the Android tablet PCs reviewed so far – just under 20 points more than the ASUS Transformer running Android version 3.2.
The display is a 10.1-inch TFT LCD with a resolution of 1280×800.
To get connected, you have WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0 (according to the site), and HSPA+ up to 21Mbps.
For photos and videos, there’s a 3 megapixel rear-facing camera capable of 720p video recording and a 2 megapixel front-facing camera.
All of this fits into a slim package measuring 256.7 x 175.3 x 8.6mm and weighing a meagre 565 grams – slightly taller, narrower, 0.2mm thinner, and weighing about 36 grams less than the iPad 2.
Design and build quality
Most of the back is covered by a single piece of white plastic. The top part (in landscape orientation) which holds the single LED-flash camera, is a brushed metal and is a single piece that also makes up the sides of the Tab.
The left and right sides are bare except for the speakers at the top of either side.
On top you’ll find, from left to right, the power button, volume rocker, 3.5mm jack, and SIM slot covered by a flap.
The bottom holds the 30-pin connector for charging and data transfer, and the microphone.
Overall it’s a simple and elegant design. The back plastic does feel a little less premium than the rest, but if you do drop it, cracking the back is hardly going to be your first concern (shattering the front is). The loss of the micro-SD slot is the biggest blow here and might even be a deal breaker for some.
Screen and responsiveness
The screen supports up to 10 touch points and responded very well to swipes and touches. Browsing, typing e-mail, and gaming all yielded excellent results with very little to complain about.
Reading and watching videos were comfortable activities, in part because of the excellent screen, but also because the Tab is light enough to hold for a while, and easy enough keep a firm grip on even with one hand.
In direct sunlight it was fairly unusable, even with the brightness maxed out.
Sound quality through the the two tiny side-speakers was surprisingly good. While I wouldn’t recommend it as a replacement to your 5.1/7.1 home theatre system, the Tab 10.1’s sound was more than adequate for watching movies or series.
However, there were some distortion issues with higher-pitched sounds at loud volumes. These problems were not present when using the bundled earphones, which were excellent, especially when considering that most bundled earphones are usually quite average.
The rear-facing camera is capable of taking still shots at a resolution of 2048×1536 and records video at 720p.
Most tablet PCs take fairly average photos, and that’s okay; it’s not what they’re intended for anyway, but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 actually manages to take some decent photos.
Granted, it’s not as good as top-tier smartphones, but it manages to outdo other tablet PCs even with the lower resolution sensor. Low-light shots also turned out fairly good, lacking that grainy effect we’ve come to know and hate.
Video capture was also, surprisingly, good. Again, I wouldn’t recommend retiring the dedicated video camera just yet.
In day-to-day use, the battery life was excellent. I managed to get two days of frequent use out of the Tab 10.1, involving browsing, reading, and gaming, and there was still some juice left over.
In our video looping test, with brightness at 65% and WiFi on, the Tab 10.1 managed to get around 7 hours, putting it right at the top along with the ASUS Transformer. Switching WiFi off and turning down the brightness a little will obviously yield even better battery life.
Samsung has customised the standard Honeycomb interface quite a bit, and they’ve also decided to include quite a bit of software out of the box.
Which homescreen you’re on is marked by page dots at the top of screen, and this has also been extended to the app drawer where it’s placed at the bottom.
A small but useful addition is a dedicated screenshot button placed next to the usual array of Honeycomb system buttons at the bottom of the screen.
Another small addition that may go unnoticed, is in the cursor tab that pops up when you touch a text input field – it’s noticeably bigger than on standard Honeycomb. This makes it much easier to handle on a touch device.
Continuing with the system bar, Samsung has added a button that brings up six application shortcuts (Samsung calls it the Mini apps tray) that, when pressed, launch the application on top of the current one.
The apps available are: Task manager, Calendar, World clock, Pen memo, Calculator, and Music player. It’s a really nice feature, though it would be made even better if there were more app options for it.
All the way to the right of the system bar is the Quick panel where Samsung has added their toggles for WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. that have become so familiar with their phones. This is also a useful addition and it’s quite baffling why Google hasn’t added something like this to stock Android.
Samsung has also changed the colour scheme a little from the usual black and blue with white text, to different shades of grey and white with mostly black text. This is a change that some will like and some won’t. Personally, I don’t like it, especially considering that Samsung often uses Super AMOLED displays (though they didn’t in the case of the Tab 10.1) that handle blacks so well.
As mentioned before, there are quite a lot of pre-installed applications.
For users who want to create or edit documents, spreadsheets, and slide shows, there’s Polaris Office. In our ASUS Transformer review I mentioned that .doc files created by that version of Polaris Office crashed LibreOffice, and that tradition continues with the Polaris Office on the Tab 10.1. However, you can create .docx files instead which open just fine.
For note takers, there are two applications: Memo, and Pen memo. The latter is obviously intended for pen-style input, while the former just takes plain typed notes. Why these can’t be merged is not entirely clear. If you’re a serious note taker, then you probably would be better off just installing and using Evernote instead.
There’s also an eBook application that looks suspiciously like iBooks and doesn’t seem to be linked to any specific stores out the box – it’s just a way to manage your e-book collection that you’ll have to load onto the device.
Samsung have also included their Music- and Social Hub applications. Music Hub doesn’t support South Africa yet, so it’s really just a space waster.
Social Hub lets you link your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and e-mail accounts in one place, and it presents your feeds in a fairly good looking and concise manner. Unfortunately, Social Hub is not integrated with the Android “Share” menu, which means that you can’t share pages or articles easily from within your browser or reader – you have to switch back and forth between apps.
Finally, there’s the file manager (My files), which is one of the better designed default file managers of the Android tablets. It’s certainly much better than the ASUS Transformer’s, but not quite as powerful as the Toshiba AT100’s.
The ultimate question: how does it stack up against competitors?
Against other Android tablet PCs, I have no hesitation to call the Tab 10.1 the best. It’s thin, light, and packs some really great hardware and software.
Against the Apple iPad 2, it also fares very well. I’m not sure if I’d recommend one over the other without hesitating – they are stiff competitors. It boils down to whether you prefer the simplicity of iOS, or the customisability of Android. Some pundits will cite the number of apps in respective app stores to be an issue, but I have yet to have a problem with app selection for Honeycomb.
However, there is one problem with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: the price. The 32GB WiFi/3G model has an RRP of R7,499 – just R100 shy of the 64GB WiFi/3G iPad 2.
Still, if you’re looking for the best Android tablet (right now) and something to rival the iPad 2, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is it.