Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review: It’s Out of This World

It may surprise you to learn that I’m a big tech nerd. I love my devices and I like to upgrade when I can. Back in October, I picked up an iPad (first gen), admittedly knowing it was probably poor timing. While it was the best on the market at the time, I figured that in 4-6 months time some new ones would hit the market. I used it for a while but wasn’t really impressed with it. Aside from some nice apps, it was pretty heavy, and generic as far as UI goes. I couldn’t find a great use for it. When the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was announced in May I knew that it was my next tablet. I went out and bought it last week and was excited to see how it would measure up compared to my personal hype.

There is a lot to like about this device: two cameras, Honeycomb, some super sweet accessories that are coming out for it, and more. My favorite part about it is the size and weight.

The Hardware

Clocking in at 1.31 lbs, it’s .2 pounds lighter than the iPad 1, and a hair lighter than the iPad 2. While you might not think that makes a difference, let me tell you: for a device you primarily hold in your hand, it makes a world of difference. It’s also got 3/4 inch less in width than the iPad 1 and about half an inch less in width than the iPad 2. This makes two-handed typing on the Galaxy Tab considerably better than on the iPad; I feel I’m doing a lot less pecking at the screen now. Finally, the display is .4 inches bigger on the Galaxy Tab. This gives you a bit more screen real estate to play with. Overall, the dimensions win out over both iPads, making for an overall better ergonomic experience.

The Cameras

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has has two cameras: a front-facing one and one on the back. This is a step up from the iPad 1 (which had none) and on par with the iPad 2 — so how do the cameras measure up, megapixel-wise? For the Galaxy Tab, the specs were easy to find: 3.0 MP on the back, 2.0MP on the front. (Apple doesn’t give an exact MP measurement, just “720p.”) While it touts HD video, it looks like people are putting still images somewhere between 0.70-0.94 MP for both cameras.

This part actually isn’t a huge deal for me as I can’t see myself taking too many photos with my Galaxy Tab, but I did want to add these numbers for completeness’s sake :)

Battery Life

Android has been criticized for having poor battery life. I can happily say that is not the case with the Galaxy Tab 10.1. After recently taking an 18 hour drive to Florida where I used the device heavily for music, games, and some clerical stuff, I found the batter was at a strong 65%. After using it a bit later that night (mostly to play WSOP — thanks James!), it was still over 50%. I’m incredibly happy with the battery life.

User Interface (UI)

I’ve been pretty vocal about my feelings on iOS’s UI design; I don’t think very highly of it. I feel it’s just a screen of icons. In recent updates you got multitasking and can double press the only button on the device to view a list of running apps. In upcoming updates you’ll get a notifications center that looks oh so familiar, but I feel there isn’t much of an “experience” besides rearranging your apps. With Honeycomb, however, there is quite an experience.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review

Honeycomb Home Screen

In each of the corners, you’ll find some piece of  important functionality. I think Honeycomb does a great job with these areas.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be getting Samsung’s TouchWiz UI some time this month, but at time of writing I haven’t received it. This is stock Honeycomb.

1.) Top Left: Google Text and Voice Search. Google’s most important asset, front and center (well, front and left).

2.) Top Right: Apps Drawer & Home Screen Customizations. I absolutely hate looking at a list of apps — especially ones I don’t use. It makes me feel like my phone is cluttered. My favorite feature of the Blackberry OS was the ability to hide apps. With Honeycomb’s app drawer in the top right, your apps list is easy to access, yet unobtrusive and usually hidden. The plus sign that allows you to add widgets, shortcuts, and new wallpapers is also a nice addition.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review

Homescreen Customizations

This is also accessible by long-pressing an empty area of one of your home screens.

3.) Bottom Right: Notifications Area. What you see initially is the time, your battery status, and whether you’re connected to a network. What you see as you actually use it is Honeycomb’s rock-solid implementation of notifications. You’ll see a list of icons to view each notification one by one; you can also press the time to view a list of all of your notifications. When a new one comes in, it shows up in the bottom right for a second or two, then goes away. Again: easy to access, but without intruding on your overall experience.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review

Notifications & Settings Area

4.) Bottom Left: Honeycomb Navigation. When I’m not hanging out on the home screen, I’m usually viewing an app or website. Luckily, Honeycomb makes it easy to navigate to the home screen and other apps, or even the app you’re currently viewing, with the navigation area. There are three icons:

  • The first icon (from the left) is the Back button of the entire OS. You’ll go back not only through the current app you’re viewing, but the entire breadcrumb trail that got you there, ending at the home screen.
  • Next is the Home button. It will take you to the home screen.
  • Finally, there is the app browser. It will bring up a film strip style UI that will allow you to view the last apps you were looking at, as well as a screen shot of what you last saw. This is incredibly cool.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review

Recent Apps Strip

The apps aren’t necessarily currently running; it’s just a list of the apps you were running.

Home Screen Widgets

I’ll come right out and say it: Widgets were made for Tablets. It’s amazing how great the widgets on my Galaxy Tab look. Most of the time I don’t need to leave my home screen to get the information I’m looking for: Calendar, weather, time, email, to do list, notes, news, and more. This is where I feel the Galaxy Tab has the greatest edge over the iPad. Your tablet is your tablet — not everyone else’s.

My favorite part is that certain widgets (ones that I’m assuming were optimized for Honeycomb) can be resized on the fly. Just long-press the widget and look for the blue border. You can then resize the widget to take up as much or as little of the particular screen as you’d like. This is a really, really nice touch. I honestly feel that the combination of nice (big) display and widgets, alone, is worth getting the Galaxy Tab 10.1 for.

Some Complaints

I know, I know; based on what you’ve read so far, it’s hard to imagine I’d have some complaints about a device I’ve given a glowing review to. However, there are a few areas I’ve noticed could use some improvement.

Computer Connectivity

The first is connecting the Galaxy Tab 10.1 to my Mac (I have not tested this on a PC; if anyone has, please let me know what you found in the comments). The setup with my iPad was that I kept it in a dock, hooked up to my computer, where it could serve as both a third monitor and a secondary computer. I would have liked to do the same thing for the Galaxy Tab, but the device does not charge while hooked up to a computer; it simply holds its current charge (that means if you hook it up to a computer while it has a charge of 62%, it will stay at 62%).

I like to charge my devices using USB because I save on outlet space, and I can keep them hooked up to my computer in case I was to transfer something. While it seems like a small grievance, I did like the setup I had with my iPad. Plus, since I’m currently traveling, I also needed to remember to pack not only the USB cord, but the plug too, since I can’t charge it using my laptop.

The USB cord is another (small) issue. One thing I love about Android phones is that any one of them can charge using the same cord. It could be because the tablet is not a phone, but Samsung has added their own custom USB cord that you need to use. While it’s a small annoyance, it’s still another thing I need to remember to bring with me on trips.

As for hooking the device up to my Mac to treat is as an external drive, I couldn’t get that to work at all, even after downloading the necessary software. This isn’t so much as a problem for transferring files, as with Android I showed you that you don’t need wires. However, if I want to load an app I’m working on or take a screenshot, I can’t.

App Confusion

Apps are definitely a huge part of the tablet experience, and I think Apple has worked out a good way of getting previously existing iPhone apps onto the iPad. You don’t get integration like this with Honeycomb (all the time). In the Market on the Galaxy Tab, you can only search tablet-compatible apps. On the web-based market, it’s hit or miss with which ones will be compatible, when in theory, they all should be. Sometimes even the ones that are for other versions of Android but claim to work on Honeycomb look a little janky on the Galaxy Tab. While the tablet apps look amazing (especially Evernote and Gmail), I’m missing some functionality I have on my Incredible, such as Mobile Mint and a native Facebook app (I know, right?).

Conclusion

Even with the list of grievances, I am incredibly happy with my Galaxy Tab 10.1. It’s a very well designed piece of hardware with a beautiful display and a pretty solid tablet version of Android in the form of Honeycomb. When it was first announced I had high expectations, and it lives up to most of them. I highly recommend it if you’re looking to buy a tablet.


Summary

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is part of the latest crop of Android Tablets. Some of the specs include a 10.1 display, two cameras, and Android Honeycomb.

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  • http://www.brandonmartinez.com/ Brandon Martinez

    Just so you know, you don’t have to compare it to the iPad 1 anymore ;)

    • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

      I think it’s a fair comparison. I don’t know anyone with an iPad 2 personally, so comparisons with that mean little to me.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescull James Cull

        I have one!

  • http://www.echoleaf.com Arp

    Wow – you ‘couldn’t find a great use for’ the iPad in spite of the plethora of apps available? Your favorite things about the Tab are ‘size and weight’?!

    And somehow a smaller interface (width of device) = a ‘considerably better’ better typing experience? You realize you’re covering an industry where a ‘full size keyboard’ is considered to be a great asset in an ultraportable device, right?

    I wish I could get paid for writing such pap – nice gig you have, Joe.

    • Aleix

      true!

    • http://www.casabona.org Joe Casabona

      Hey Arp,

      Have you used the iPad 1? The tablet is so heavy that it’s unenjoyable, so yes, the size is a big deal for me. Holding it in one hand comfortably is important for a device used primarily for reading stuff.

      It’s not a smaller interface. There is more screen real estate on the Tab, which I think I said.

      And thanks! I call it like I see it. I bought the iPad because it was the best available when I got it. That’s no longer the case.

  • Jose Perez

    While I agree with most of your review, you didn’t mention the lag that the Galaxy Tab. I noticed lag when you scroll from one screen to the other. And embedded videos while you are using the browser. You can see how the videos loses frames and sometimes when you scroll the display has to redraw the website. I really like the tab but this issues make the tablet feel unfinished compared to the iPad.

  • Leonick

    Meh… Maybe the device it self is nice but I just have no love for honeycomb, no feelings at all even… Sure it looks pretty good but I just don’t like it, mostly because when using it it just feels like an early alpha of an OS…

    I’d much rather use a 7″ tablet running gingerbread.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescull James Cull

    No problemo for the WSOP tip. It’s a great game.

    • http://www.casabona.org Joe Casabona

      Yeah it is! And it’s free. It was $5 for the iPad.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescull James Cull

        Funny. I’ve just bought it for the iPad and it was $0.00 :) – maybe the deal is across all platforms.

        • http://android.appstorm.net/author/josephcasabona/ Joe Casabona

          Nice! Maybe $5 was a bit steep for most users!

  • http://dribbble.com/danielkeller Daniel Keller

    seriously? the UI is horribly ugly, it has no structure at all, these widgets make everything look busy, it’s like you can put everything you want everywhere, you can fill the whole home with weather, latest videos and blablabla…… I’m a PC, not a Mac fanboy, but there’s still no better Tablet than the iPad, simply because of the elegant UI and the excellent Apps, you can even buy a card in every store to load up money

    what about Android? you need a credit card, how dumb…. that’s probably the main reason why nobody does proffesional and great looking apps for Android, because nobody would buy them! Amen

    • http://www.casabona.org Joe Casabona

      I needed a credit card to make iTunes work when I had the iPad.

      And with widgets, that’s the whole point. You can have nothing on your home screen or everything. That’s certainly better than a list of apps that are forced to be there.

  • KC

    If you’re interested in getting Mint.com’s app onto your Android tablet, as so many on the web are complaining about… here’s the solution I’ve found, that totally works. This irons out some of that ‘app confusion’ ;)

    I have an ASUS Transformer, and very frustrated at the removal of the Mint.com app from the market for Android 3.1+, I did a little research and discovered that you really can just use the Mint.com APK gathered from your cellphone. For those that don’t know what that means, basically, you can take the Mint.com app on your cellphone and copy it over to your tablet manually. It takes less than 5 minutes, and IT WILL WORK PERFECTLY. There are other ways to do this, but here’s the easiest way I found to do it, using the ASTRO File Manager app:

    1. On your cellphone, open ASTRO File Manager, and click your phone’s MENU button
    2. Select TOOLS
    3. Select “Application Manager/Backup”
    4. (ASTRO will load all your applications on your phone) Scroll down and check the checkbox next to the Mint app
    5. Click on “Backup” — ASTRO File Manager will then create a COPY (the APK) of the Mint app and store it in the “Backup” folder on your phone
    6. Connect your phone to your computer and navigate to the “Backup” folder
    7. Locate and Copy the Mint APK file (which will look like this: “com.mint-1.apk”) to your computer
    8. Then Copy the “com.mint-1.apk” file to a usb thumbdrive (*or microsd)
    9. Plug the thumbdrive into your ASUS Transformer keyboard (*or the microsd card into your Android tablet), use a file manager (I used File Manager HD) to navigate to the tablet’s folder entitled “Removable”
    10. Open the folder locate the “com.mint-1.apk” file (it will be indicated by the green Android icon)
    11. Open the file and then select INSTALL (*Note: before you do this, you must first have gone into your tablet’s SETTINGS –> APPLICATIONS and checked the box next to “Unknown sources”)
    12. After you install the app, you will find the Mint app icon listed among your other apps in your apps list. (*To clarify, there is no difference between doing these steps and installing an app from the Android market. You’re simply doing it manually.)

    That’s it! You’ve now copied the Mint app from your phone to your Android tablet! It looks great, and it WORKS JUUUUUUUST FINE! It’s a lot of steps, but it seriously takes less than 3-5 minutes to accomplish. Now all you need to do is open Mint, login, and ENJOY! :)

    • KC

      *Note: If you don’t have a smart phone, I would ask to borrow a friend’s for 5 min. and use their phone to generate the APK and transfer to your tablet. (remember you’ll need their data cable as well, to connect to a computer). Your other option would be to download the file I created from my latest copy of Mint yesterday, and pick up at step #8. You can do that from here: http://www.mediafire.com/?wpawyxvwe1o

      **As Mint updates the program for its mobile market, the APK I created yesterday (August 21, 2011) will gradually become outdated. However, it will continue to function just fine. If you want the Mint updates (which usually are just small changes), you’ll need to find a phone and repeat the steps above. Good luck :)

  • http://www.twitter.com/guntherfurlong guntherfurlong

    What was the internal memory size that u were reviewing? 16GB? Is that honestly sufficient this present day? I heard there is 32Gb as well as 64Gb….

    • http://android.appstorm.net/author/josephcasabona/ Joe Casabona

      16GB. Most of my stuff is in the cloud anyway, so 16GB on a tablet is fine for me. Music would be my biggest concern and I have Amazon Cloud Player for that (and maybe Spotify Premium soon…)

    • Tanu

      You can buy a usb connection kit that allow you to connect your thumb drive content to your tab. Also for picture you can connect memory card

  • John

    I have to agree with this review, I’m owner of iPad 2 and… well I can’t say I hate it, but I regret waiting for better Android tablet. I’m going to sell my iPad and wait what will come out after release of Ice Cream Sandwich.

    I’d like to see what HTC does with Honeycomb.

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  • Tanu

    There is a accesory you can buy that allows you to charge your tab with your laptop…it is a small usb extension . I bought it. It works fine

  • Mohib Haddad

    The battery life is not as good as mentioned. My wife uses Ipad2 and her battery lasts more than TWICE than that of the Galaxy tab 10.1. This is the biggest complain.
    Also the screen touch is not as responsive as the Ipad2. Other than that its ok.

  • pmlxuser

    if you switch the tab off you can charge using the usb.. I got to know that by chance..

  • http://www.aeronaves.org Aeronaves

    will come out after release of Ice Cream Sandwich.

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