It may be a bit difficult to pay attention to the spate of Honeycomb tablets that seem to be popping up left, right and center -- you know, now that Ice Cream Sandwich has been officially promised -- but what's not easy to overlook is an 8.6mm slate. Checking in at a sliver of a pinch thinner than the illustrious iPad 2, Samsung's rethought-out, redesigned and definitely-not-renamed Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the first Android tablet to date that seriously goes toe-to-toe with Apple in both specifications and design. Granted, the consumer models aren't slated to ship out until June 8th, but given that Google handed us one last week during its annual I/O conference, we figured we'd spend the following weekend wisely. You know, photographing, benchmarking and testing this thing to the hilt. (Of note, the unit tested here was the Limited Edition model, devoid of TouchWiz, 3G and a microSD card slot, but is otherwise identical to shipping units aside from the design on the rear.)
The Tab 10.1 -- not to be confused with the older, since-relabeled Tab 10.1v -- weighs just 1.31 pounds (marginally besting the iPad 2's 1.33 pound chassis), and if looks could kill, few people would've made it out of Moscone West with all organs functional. But as you well know, style only gets you in the door -- it's the guts, the software, and the marriage of it all that makes or breaks the tablet experience. Hop on past the jump to find out why we think Samsung truly delivered on the promise of a Google-powered tablet, and why you should all seriously consider socking away funds as early June approaches.
Hardware and design
Zoinks! Jumpin' Jehosaphat! Go on and pick your exclamation of choice -- so long as it entails shock, awe, and pure jubilation, it'll fit the bill here. We'll just come right out and say it: the overall chassis of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is on par with that of the iPad 2, and from a handling standpoint, outclasses Apple's offering. Make no mistake, this marks the first time that we've been able to say that (without reservation) about any non-iOS tablet, and Samsung deserves a whole heaping of laud for doing what no one else seems to be capable of.
Allow us to explain. The 0.33-inch thick slate is a hair thinner than the newest edition of the iPad, and while that's all fine, well and good, it's the other aspects that truly push it ahead. Samsung uses a slightly larger 10.1-inch display (compared to the iPad 2's 9.7-inch IPS panel), yet manages to craft a slimmer / taller product that actually weighs less than its primary rival. The Tab 10.1 still comes out feeling astoundingly rigid, and while you could chalk it up to being a personal preference, we're a fan of the aspect ratio here. It's just easier to handle with a single hand, and the extra real estate proves even nicer once you have a gander at the 1280 x 800 screen resolution.
Our 32GB WiFi model sports an understated motif, and it's an appreciated step back from the gaudy accents that have flanked a few of those other tablets. The front panel is smothered in gloss, with the LCD flanked by a deep black bezel that -- unfortunately -- serves no other purpose than to give your fingers a spot to rest. Call us crazy, but we'd love if those touch-sensitive edges on the BlackBerry PlayBook were adorning this guy, too. The top bezel is dotted with a 2 megapixel camera, while the edges are surrounded by a matte silver finish. Flipping it on the rear, you'll get an 3 megapixel camera (capable of shooting 720p video), an LED flash and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The top left edge is home to a pronounced power / sleep button and a volume rocker, while the left and right edges are free of oddities outside of a small speaker grille on each side. The rear edge houses a microphone hole as well as Samsung's own dock connector input.
We're hearing that the 3G version will have a microSD card slot as well as a SIM slot, and of course, the rear will be a far more subtle black instead of the vanilla Android army populating our review unit. Unlike the G-Slate, the Tab 10.1 remains a bit too wide to actually wrap your hands around (Shaq notwithstanding), but it's balanced enough to handle in one hand and type with the other.
The plastic back on the Tab 10.1 is the only real design aspect that's somewhat less premium than on the iPad 2, but if that's what shaved the weight, we guess we can't kvetch too loudly. Still, our backplate remained in tact throughout a gauntlet of TSA inspections, and we've no concerns whatsoever about the build quality there.
While the pixel density lags just a bit behind the G-Slate, the 1280 x 800 resolution mates well with the 10.1-inch panel. It's glossy, sure, but what Honeycomb tablet isn't? Despite the shine, this is most certainly one of the nicer mobile displays that we've seen, with colors popping and viewing angles impressing all eight of our friends who gathered around to watch an admittedly bizarre Star Wars - Harry Potter mashup clip. You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone unsatisfied with the display, to be honest, and that's just the start.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is just one of the crowd when it comes to processing power; NVIDIA's Tegra 2 silicon is powering things, with a dual-core 1GHz clock speed keeping things on the up and up. It's worth noting that our Limited Edition unit has 32GB of internal storage capacity... and that's it. There's no microSD card slot, and we're anticipating that all WiFi-only models will ship as such. Sammy's yet to clarify, of course, but those requiring a way to add additional storage should probably keep an eye out for the Tab 10.1 3G.
Samsung's media connector is chock full of possibilities. The package ships with a simple USB adapter, but there's always the possibilities of enabling video out, audio out, etc. through optional dongles in the future. As for connectivity? Our unit was equipped with Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.11b/g/n WiFi radios, and we're still playing a wait-and-see game when it comes to 3G.
Performance and battery life
The 1GHz CPU found here may be ever-so-slightly dated compared to the speed demons found within superphones like the Galaxy S II, but it still runs circles around most everything within Android 3.0. A cold boot took under 20 seconds, and once the lock screen popped up, we were into the camera application and shooting 720p video in under three seconds. Anyone with a mid-range Android phone will attest to the presumed impossibility of that feat, but we swear it happened. Thrice.
The capacitive touchpanel was abundantly responsive, with both swiping and pinch-to-zoom actions being recognized immediately and accurately. As far as tablet touch experiences go, the Tab 10.1 delivers one that's world class. We struggled to find ways to slow this guy down, and despite a full day of multitasking, swiping through applications felt as brisk as it did after a fresh reboot.
Looking for hard numbers? We've got 'em. We tested the Tab 10.1 using the standard Quadrant benchmark that was also used in our G-Slate and Xoom review, and using an average of six runs, we landed at 1,970. That's a bit more than our in-house Xoom (1,801) and G-Slate (1,879), but somewhat less than the Iconia Tab A500 (2,228).
It's worth noting, however, that the Tab 10.1 did indeed soar beyond the 2,300 mark a time or two, leading us to believe that these guys are all performing right around the same, at least from a real-world, noticeability standpoint.
As for longevity, it's worth pointing out that the newly trimmed Tab 10.1 packs a 7,000mAh battery, which actually trumps the 6,860mAh battery found in the (now) Tab 10.1v. A slimmer shell with a more capacious battery? Sold! As with most of the Android slates out there, we had no issues getting through a full day of usage, with a healthy mix of TweetDeck checking, email sending, multimedia viewing and digging through the archives of Fail Blog and I Can Has Cheezburger.
When we sat down to our video loop test, with WiFi on and display brightness at about 65 percent, we scored just under ten hours. That's second only to the iPad 2, and by merely half an hour. Jack that brightness down a bit, and you could probably squeeze 11 hours out.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Apple iPad 2
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook
Samsung Galaxy Tab
Dell Streak 7
While inbuilt speakers -- particularly on tablets -- are rarely ever worth writing home about, we had to give these guys a shot. The Tab 10.1 has a single speaker on both the left and right edges, and while they were more than sufficient for emitting the standard array of bleeps and bloops necessary to alert of us what's going on, they're hardly headphone replacements. Using 'em to emit audio for a voice-driven movie is more sensible than using 'em for audio, but there's a reason Samsung tosses a set of earbuds in with the package -- they're the preferred method of listening.
We mentioned earlier that we had a tough time getting this guy to stutter, and we're giving at least some credit to the stock v3.0.1 build of Android that's thrown on here. Not that we've got anything against TouchWiz UX, per se, but we've always been big fans of Google's untainted Android experience. If you'll recall, we heard back at CTIA that Sammy would be yanking TouchWiz "in select regions" -- we've a hard time believing that the US is included there, but at least on our LE model, there's only a few instances where Samsung's fingerprints are shown on the software.
Outside of the standard applications, we found a copy of QuickOffice HD, Amazon MP3, Amazon Kindle for Android, Movie Studio, Music Hub (a bit pointless given the introduction of Music Beta), Pulse (a feed reader / news gatherer with a rather impressive design layout) and Samsung Apps.
While this is most definitely cleared by Google for Android Market access, Samsung Apps is yet another venue for fetching programs for use on the Tab 10.1. It's highly probable that it's simply unpopulated due to us having this tablet a solid month before its general release, but either way, calling what we saw here "underwhelming" is quite the understatement.
Beyond that, it's the same Honeycomb we've grown to know and appreciate, at least for a few more weeks. Android 3.1 is already making itself comfortable on Motorola's Xoom, and we're told that this particular slate should see the same update "in the coming weeks." If you're wondering what kind of niceties that'll bring, we'd invite you to have a look at our video hands-on right here.
The stock keyboard, as we've mentioned before, is fairly spartan. We'd recommend swapping in SwiftKey as soon as humanly possible, but overall, Honeycomb's basic typing tools are still superior to those found in Froyo and Gingerbread. Of course, the dedicated Gmail app is nothing short of outstanding, and it remains one of the major reasons for heavy Gmail users to stick with Android over any other tablet OS.
As with the G-Slate, the camera performance on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 leaves a bit to be desired, but based on what we saw, we'd say it's a slight improvement. Colors didn't wash out as easily, and indoor performance is predictably marred by unhealthy levels of noise. The built-in flash aids in that to an extent, but let's not kid ourselves -- you aren't going to be proud of any of the photos you take on the Tab 10.1, you'll just be somewhat pleased that you captured a moment you may have otherwise missed. Have a look at the gallery below -- we'd say the results are on-par with a lower-level point-and-shoot camera, but actually snapping shots with a giant tablet isn't nearly as easy.
The 720p movie mode is markedly better, as proven in the video embedded above. Despite having reasonably nice results here, shooting video (and even still images) on a tablet still feels like a fool's game. We were constantly stared at while attempting to capture this footage as discretely as possible, and felt as if we were doing something inherently wrong all the while. Maybe we're just overly worried about our image -- but maybe, just maybe, you shouldn't be using a 10.1-inch slate to take photographs and shoot video.
We know, we know -- it's starting to sound like a broken record around here, but would we really be making progress if it didn't? Without qualification, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the best Honeycomb tablet to date, and this time, it's by a country mile. There's simply not another Android 3.0 tablet on the market today that matches the Tab 10.1's style, placing it a lap ahead of the other, more cumbersome Tegra 2-powered alternatives.
It's quick, nimble, and easy to hold, and it's both thinner and lighter than the heralded iPad 2. There's no question that we prefer the handling of the Tab 10.1 over Apple's alternative, and with the improvements coming with Android 3.1 (and in time, Ice Cream Sandwich), it's going to be mighty hard to overlook this device come June 8th. The 16GB WiFi model will hit for $499 -- exactly in line with the iPad -- while the 32GB variant will demand $100 more (we're still awaiting word on 3G prices).
There's just no other way to say it: the iPad 2 finally has a real competitor. If Samsung could somehow undercut Apple by even $25 here, the choice would be obvious, but it's going to have a whale of a time convincing the masses that a Samsung device is superior to one Designed in California when prices are equal. That said, we'd still recommend the Tab 10.1 over the iPad 2 for heavy Gmail users and all-around fans of Android. And hey, at least this thing can take advantage of Music Beta, if you're into it.
Psst... Since this is a developer unit, not available for puchase, we chose not to give this a score.