Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
The sleek, slender Galaxy Tab offers great value,
by Daniel Rasmus
but needs more stability and features
I love writing reviews of hardware. There is always the anticipation of the new box experience. Sometimes I'm very disappointed. I open the box, and I have to really work to get the device out. Sometimes the device has been reviewed by others and it is just a jumble of USB cables and unceremoniously re-wrapped hardware. That was not the case with the Galaxy Tab 10.1. The box was pristine, and the experience was well designed. It didn't hurt that Samsung delivered a gorgeous piece of hardware, that from the screen facing outward, not only rivaled the iPad, but outdid by presenting a clear surface, interrupted only by the small dot of a camera lens.
Taking the Tab out of the box continued the very positive experience as I felt its 1.25 body float into my hands. At only .34 inches thick, it was pretty light when the weight is distributed over its widescreen body. This one is going to be fun.
Processor and Memory
Fast. Duel Core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processors. All applications, from the web browser to Angry Birds performed with pause free precision. When the Tab does hesitate, I don't think it is the processors that are over-burdened, but software that is confused.
Gorgeous. That is the only word I can use. The 1280x800 10.1 widescreen display produces sharp details and vivid colors while maintaining the haptic dexterity necessary to operate a device with one's fingers. The wide aspect screen does make a difference. The iPad appears a little cramped after running apps, and viewing media on the Tab.
I have to call out the camera, which is superior to the iPad 2 with 2.0 Megapixel forward facing, and a 3.0 megapixel rear facing camera that captures pretty decent 720p video with good lighting. The video is grainy in low light situations.
The networking is pretty standard: 2.4Ghz and 5GHz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1. When I compare the Tab's connection indicators to other devices, it looks like it has a weaker connection than others in the vicinity, but that hasn't affected its performance. Steaming video, including Flash, works well, within the limitation of the server/app configurations available online and through the browser.
The Galaxy Tab comes with small stereo speakers that do an adequate job for personal video viewing or gaming. They are tinny, as would be expected by their size, but if you are an audiophile looking to a portable device for good sound, then you aren't an audiophile. Hook up to external sound, and not only does the experience get better, but it can drive a Dolby 5.1 system - which is interesting because we are now talking about speaker systems bigger in most ways than the device that is driving them.
I've already mentioned the case, which is thin and light. That lightness comes from using plastic rather than metal on the back plate. Where the iPad is one continuous piece of metal, the Tab complements its very solid bezel frame with a plastic back. Unlike the HTC Flyer I just reviewed, there are no removal panels, so everything stays snuggly inside the unit. At that, the camera is embedded in the metal part of the device, not the plastic part. I didn't really mind the plastic back. It did creak a couple of times, but I think the tradeoff between weight and endurance was well played. If you are looking to a device this thin to also be rugged, then your specifications may not be weighted well.
Power comes in through YAPC (yet another proprietary connector) on the long-size of the unit. It works fine, doesn't seem to increase fragility, but introduces YATTP (yet another thing to pack).
I will reiterate here that the hardware is very well done. I guess these devices still need some external buttons to manage resets (the tab includes power and volume up and down)--and though they could get shorter, they probably couldn't get much more low-profile without being recessed.
At the core of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is Android 3.1, better known by its code name, Honeycomb. I found Android 3.1 better suited to the tablet than its predecessors, but it still has work to do. It is a bit of a hodgepodge of widgets and icons. Although iOS apps can vary greatly within the application, the iOS launch, navigation and maintenance experience is consistent. Not so with Android, which has some widgets in 3.1 that can be resized, and others that can't--and unlike the iPad, which creates row, upon consistent row of icons, Android leaves much of the experience not to the software designers, but to the end user. This control over the software is powerful for those seeking geek-level customization, but not everyone is looking to create a custom interface.
As for apps, Samsung recognizes that the Tab is going to be used for business, not just for recreation, so they included QuickOffice and Evernote on the device, out of the box. As an Evernote addict, I appreciated the rapid integration of my cloud-stored notes. For QuickOffice, I was not as happy, as I went with Dataviz's DocumentsToGo along with Apple Pages and Keynote on the iPad. I found QuickOffice adequate for basic tasks, but that it could not handle my level of PowerPoint use, often aborting immediately after, or during, the importation of a PowerPoint file (regardless of it being a PPT or PPTX format). Word documents fared better, but did not come across with full fidelity. Overall, good enough for basic editing and attachment reading.
Voice is tightly integrated into the tab, with Google enabled voice search right on the main page, as an uneditable feature (along with the "Apps" button). Voice is much better on recognizing the names of things and places than the last names of people. My own name also comes out as "restless." For those old enough to remember the Apple Newton handwriting recognition game, perhaps Android users can start a reinvented version of "What will it do to my name" by speaking your name and then handing off the device to the person next to you so they can use the result in a sentence.
I think the app store still needs work, from better search to a better GUI (not to mention better selection), but one feature, the automatic update of apps, is well done (just remember to turn it on).
Of the Android devices I have reviewed, formally and informally, the Galaxy Tab is the device that offers the most value. It is priced comparably to the Apple iPad, but comes in thinner and lighter that Apple's current offering. It is designed with the latest version of the Android operating system, which will create an ever more tablet-centric experience vs. those tablets stuck using a blown-up Android phone OS. Performance is solid, the design is outstanding, and if it runs the apps you need and connects to the things you need to connect to, then it is a worthy competitor to the iPad 2. If you need enterprise support or printing, or a more integrated media experience, then this may not be the device for you, at least not yet, as the software in this case, lags the hardware. If you like the Tab, wait for its new firmware update for more iOS comparable features. But from what I can tell, if music and media are your things, they may play on Android, but the management of the files and the overall experience will not catch iOS any time soon.
As much as I admire the Galaxy Tab 10.1, I am not without concerns, most of them involve the device freezing in one way or another. I have had the unit, when plugged in, not awaken on more than one occasion. I have looked on the Web and found a few others who have reported this issue, and in one case, created a video to document it. I have also had times when applications, including Angry Birds, freeze, causing me to turn off the Tab, and then turn it back on, to get the touch-screen to respond. If the Apple iPad exhibited these issues, it would be front page news , as we saw with the pre-iOS 4.3 WiFi connection issues. But the smaller market share for the Galaxy probably also means fewer people to discover the issue, and even fewer to squawk about it.
Just as I was concluding this review a firmware update arrived, which I hoped would solve these issues. After a few more freezes, now the Tab seems to have stabilized. I never understand how a software update takes time to settle in, but I'll go with it. It appears that in the firmware update the Tab broke some of the relationship between widgets and their data, so tapping on say, the Gmail widget resulted in freezing. After unfreezing the machine, I went to the Gmail app first, and then the widget seemed to work. Same deal with Tweetdeck. In both cases the Tab froze completely, or hesitated for a very long time before responding. Not the kind of performance one expects with the kind of horsepower the Tab has under its hood. Make sure you download the latest firmware and be patient.
I do have to add that receiving the firmware update over the air and having it install flawlessly was a real pleasure. As I have said about Android before, it is clearly an OS meant to live untethered and independent from PCs, and this kind of PC-independent behavior proves it.
Overall, I really like the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Samsung has created an amazing hardware platform that will be even more amazing when they deliver both more stability and more features. I'm usually not a features speculator, but Samsung has announced a new update for the Tab that will had a number of positive enhancements, from various Hubs (social, music, etc.), mobile printing, new input methods and new standard apps like the Kindle and the Amazon Music Cloud Player, along with enterprise security features.
If I go back to Steve Job's purported inspiration for the tablet, the Star Trek PADD. The iPad still wins the day because it offers a more integrated and consistent experience, like the design found on PADD's across the Star Trek TNG universe. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 would be just as at home on the Enterprise D, but Android still needs some refinement. I think that is the difference between the iPad and all of the other tablets running Android or Windows: Apple has a compelling vision that it uses to drive its design choices. It is clear that Google and Microsoft don't have a guiding light against which they test their tablet implementations. That said, someone on the Samsung team does have a guiding light, and if that is Star Trek, Apple (as the recent law suit suggests,) or some other source, they have done a fine job of delivering on this reviewer's expectation of what good tablet hardware should look like. We are finally in the realm of reality meeting the expectations of imagination.
Daniel W. Rasmus is an independent analyst and strategy consultant. He is a former Vice President at the Giga Information Group and Forrester Research. Dan is the author of five books, including Management by Design (Wiley, 2010) and Listening to the Future (Wiley 2008). He blogs regularly at http://danielwrasmus.wordpress.com. Additional information can be found at http://danielwrasmus.com.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Specs:
||Nvidia Tegra 2, 1.0GHz
||10.1" 1280 x 800 pixel 16:10 wide-format LCD
||Gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, ambient light sensor
||6.9" x 10.1" x 0.34"
||1.25 pounds incl. battery
||7,000mAH Li-Polymer ("4 hours")
||802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1, 3G, GPS/AGPS
||Rear (3MP) and Front (2MP)
||30-pin dock connector, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
||MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, RA
||starting at US$499