(Editor's Note, June 2011: This is a closer look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 announced at Mobile World Congress earlier in the year. Prior to the official launch, Samsung redesigned to the Galaxy Tab 10.1, ultimately releasing a thinner device. Please, see our full review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 available to consumers.)
Samsung stole the show at this year’s MWC in Barcelona when it unveiled its Galaxy Tab follow-up device, the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
The tablet Samsung showed off had a diagonal display measurement slightly bigger than 10 inches (as its name implies) and was running Android OS 3.0 (Honeycomb), making it, according to the specifications and my initial impressions from my hands-on time in Barcelona, a worthy rival to Motorola’s Xoom, as well as the original Apple iPad.
This was especially evident due to its exceptionally elegant dimensions (it was .42 inches thick) and light mass (1.3 lbs, compared to 1.7 for the first iPad and 1.9 for Motorola’s Xoom).
In the meantime, Apple launched the iPad 2, which is only .34 inches thick and so sleek that Samsung just had to upgrade its Galaxy Tab 10.1. So Samsung presented the renewed Galaxy Tab 10.1 at the CTIA Wireless trade show, held in Orlando not long after the launch of iPad 2 with identical hardware to the one from the MWC, a tweaked version of Honeycomb and Samsung’s newly upgraded user interface called "TouchWiz".
I have attained the first edition of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (without TouchWiz), that several European carriers will be offering, but my general impressions should apply to both versions.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the most convincingly crafted 10-inch tablet, regardless of the fact that it is made almost entirely out of plastic materials. While the front only includes the display, a thin black rim surrounding it and a front-facing 3-megapixel camera (there are no physical keys, which is characteristic of Honeycomb devices), the rear sports an 8-megapixel camera with flash included, and a slightly convex and textured back, that gives the device a good grip. Although it is thicker than the iPad 2, Galaxy Tab 10.1 (which weighs almost the same as the iPad 2) feels more natural in hand.
It comes with either 16 or 32GB of internal storage, which is plenty of room for installing loads of applications. It is a shame, however, that you're unable to expand the memory further with a microSD card since this device can be used as an excellent multimedia file player.
The tablet’s upper rim includes the volume control keys and a microphone, while the lower has the proprietary slot for the integrated battery charger. The right side also includes a SIM card slot, while the left comes with a headset jack and the power button and has speakers that reside on both sides.
I am surprised by the lack of a reset switch, which should be present since the tablet does not have a changeable battery (what do we do if there is a serious software error, Samsung?). The tablet also lacks USB and HDMI ports, which many Honeycomb models have.
Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a 1280 x 800-pixel capacitive screen, which is slightly more than the iPad (1024 x 768). Given that the iPad has a slightly smaller diagonal (9.7 inches), pixel density of the Samsung and Apple tablets is practically identical. Still, there are differences in imaging. It is evidently sharper on the iPad, but colors are vivacious and more pronounced on the Galaxy Tab 10.1. This is probably due to the different type of display glass – it is significantly less reflective on the Samsung device.
When exposed to direct sunlight, the large Galaxy Tab loses considerable contrast, but not to such an extent that it cannot be used. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is exceptionally precise and fast in response to finger movements and, in this regard, has one of the best 10-inch touchscreen displays I’ve tested.
Samsung’s biggest tablet comes with a 1GHz dual core Tegra 2 processor, which is excellently optimized for this version of Google’s operating system, and which handles even the most complex of tasks brilliantly. The software did not glitch a bit at any moment, nor did it during multimedia file playback (including HD films) or zooming in and scrolling web sites.
This version of the Galaxy Tab does not include installed Flash support in the web browser (the newer version with TouchWiz does). However, the Flash player is available freely via download on the Android Market.
Overall, Flash-heavy sites somewhat slow down the device, but since web sites with many Flash elements are rare, it’s not a major knock against the Galaxy Tab 10.1. This is a tablet of exceptionally powerful and modern performance, equal to the Motorola Xoom.
The SIM card slot is definitely important for this tablet for two reasons. The first being that it can only be attained through mobile carriers (the newer TouchWiz version will be available on the open market though), and it will be cheaper if it comes in a package with a data plan. The other is that the Wi-Fi connectivity on the device is rather touch and go.
My Galaxy Tab 10.1 did not manage to connect to several Wi-Fi routers, regardless of which 802.11 connection standard was used (a/b/g/n) and which type of encryption was used (WEP, WPA, WPA2). I tried with two different Galaxy Tabs, and the problem persisted. Internet forums include more users who have come across the same problem.
The connection realized through the mobile carriers’ network functioned immaculately, and it is noteworthy that the 3G Galaxy Tab 10.1 supports HSPA+ technology.
Camera and Battery Life
The back-facing camera takes images that are above average and compare favorably to cell phone pics. The external flash is also a nice touch as it is missing on other devices. The tablet can record Full HD videos (with a 1080-pixel resolution) and the quality of these clips is also above average. When it comes to the sharpness and the reality of colors, it can hold its ground against pocket camcorders.
The 6860 mAh battery is highly endurable and enables nearly ten hours of ceaseless usage. With regular everyday performance and 3G antenna usage for data transfer, the Samsung tablet will have to be charged every third or fourth day.
As the tablet is relatively light, it is clear that Samsung has found the optimal ratio of capacity and battery mass, which is one of its finer features.
First Look Conclusion
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 is definitely one of the most serious competitors of iPad 2. This is mostly due to its convincing performance and up-to-date operating system (and it should get better with the TouchWiz UI). Still, several unfinished details regarding Wi-Fi connectivity and the lack of certain slots (USB, HDMI, microSD) could be a problem for some buyers.
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