As hardware, the Tab is very competitive with either of the iPads. There are two things to consider: the Honeycomb Google Android 3.1 operating system and the applications offered in the Android Market.
Honeycomb has some features I prefer over iOS when it comes to text entry.
The soft keyboard generates a buzz when you hit a letter, which I preferred over the audible response from the iPad. The soft keyboard felt better proportioned, with that little bit of extra width that the Tab enjoys over the iPad.
A humble but vital improvement is the presence of a cursor. iPhones and iPads make it hard to insert text in text. You have to hold your finger against the screen until a magnifying glass with a cursor in it appears and then try to move it to the place you want. Lots can go wrong and it?s time consuming. On the Tab, once you have typed something and you touch the text area, generally a green arrow appears at the point of last typing and you can move that and otherwise manipulate it to select text.
You can turn on Android?s XT9 predictive text feature, which offers you choices for word completion or corrections as you type. I generally hate this sort of feature, but Android is better than either iOS or Microsoft Office here and XT9 might actually be useful in the long run.
Android also makes it easy to organize your screens. Moving apps around on a screen or from one screen to another is easier, and so is removing them. I couldn?t find any mention of a folders concept for apps, though, which would have been useful. There are folders for data files, however.
Organizing the iPad sometimes requires the use of iTunes. Android has no such external program, and that?s generally a plus. The Tab shows up in Windows, at least, as an external drive (with XP you?ll need to download a driver to do that) and you can just copy files to it. The included Download app seems to be the equivalent of Windows Explorer, but I couldn?t find all the files I had downloaded. I suspect that if you load up files that are not supported by any of your apps, you may have difficulties. That seems like a non-issue – what would you do with them anyway? But knowing exactly what file formats are supported by all your apps isn?t all that simple, and this just adds to the confusion.
I do like that the Tab accepts more file formats for audio and video than Apple devices. For example, although they?re not officially supported, I was able to play .flac audio files on the Tab as well as Windows Media files.
So, at the operating system level, Android is a winner by at least a nose.
At the application level, it?s a different story. Samsung does a good job of packaging the basics on the Tab. You get calendar, contacts, email, browser, QuickOffice and various media players. They all work well enough. Connecting to an Exchange server or your personal email works well, with some parts of that process easier and others harder than with iOS devices. So call that a draw.
But when it comes to apps, no contest. Apple wins hands down. Google needs to do a better job of getting more high-quality apps into their Market.
The Android Market has some of everyone’s favorite apps; Evernote, Facebook, Kindle and so on. But it doesn?t have Flipboard, Hulu, Comcast Xfinity and many more. One of my favorite airplane apps, the commercial Scrabble game, is also not in the Android Market. Some of the ones it does have are really phone apps, like TV.com, which shows postage stamp videos on the tablet.
In fact, streaming video is the big loser on the Tab, ironic considering it has such an excellent screen. Despite its Flash support, your streaming choices are largely limited to YouTube and movie rentals through the online Andriod Market (at launch, the Wi-Fi Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn’t support movie rentals in the Android Market application). You?ll likely find that trying to stream full screen, full-res video over the Wi-Fi link is only enjoyable when you have the highest quality connection. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn?t do 3G or 4G, so we couldn?t evaluate whether video was more reliable on 4G.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 battery lasted 4 hours and 39 minutes while streaming video with Wi-Fi on and the screen set to maximum brightness. These are near the most demanding conditions one could apply to a tablet, and the Galaxy Tab display is exceptionally bright. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 should easily survive the day with average use and the screen brightness toned down.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 falls toward the top of the pack in terms of browser performance tested against other recently released tablets, though all perform well overall. General performance is measured as being the weakest when compared with other Honeycomb/Gingerbread tablets (the HTC Flyer runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread with an HTC custom skin), but it still far surpasses general Android smartphone performance. On the whole, we found the Galaxy Tab 10.1 to offer a smooth and snappy experience, the Wi-Fi issues alluded to earlier aside.