Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 £399
15th Jun 2011 | 09:35
It's slimmer and lighter than the iPad 2, and it's the best Android tablet yet
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Overview
Welcome to the top spot, Samsung.
The outstanding Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Honeycomb tablet is lighter and a hair thinner than the Apple iPad 2, and has a smaller footprint than either the Motorola Xoom or the Acer Iconia Tab A500, which are heavier and bulkier than most tablets.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a major contender.
We reviewed the short-lived Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1V already, but that thicker and heavier device has since been discontinued (It looked as if Vodafone might pick up the 10.1V tab but it is now waiting to release the newer 10.1 model).The only other important players in the tablet market, are the brilliant 10.1-inch Asus Eee Pad Transformer as well as the BlackBerry PlayBook and the HTC Flyer, which are both so-so 7-inch models.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is currently slated to go on sale in the UK at the end of July/beginning of August.
So what sets the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 apart? For starters, this is one light and thin tablet. At just 8.6mm, it is 0.2mm thinner than the iPad 2. And you know what? At 565g it's also 36g lighter.
It's as though someone at Samsung sat down and demanded that the 10.1 have world-beating raw system specs.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a marvel of engineering, given its size. Holding one in your hand, you might mistake it for a truncated version of a Samsung LED HDTV, which are also market leaders. There's a slight edge around the screen that is not touch enabled, a silver edge, and an all-white back.
The device just feels right. Unlike the Acer Iconia A500 and the Motorola Xoom, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 finds that ideal balance between a pick-up-and go e-book reader such as the Amazon Kindle 3 and a 10-inch tablet that's perfect for watching movies on a long car trip.
By including Android Honeycomb (version 3.1 to be exact) Samsung has also one-upped the competition (though 3.1 has also already landed on the Transformer). The point release includes a few new additions. You can resize widgets and scroll through open apps in the pop-up thumbnails for the "recent apps" list.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn't have a USB port, so it doesn't take advantage of the new Android 3.1 feature to support USB-connected peripherals which is a shame, but that's not the direction Samsung is going with this tablet. This is all about pick-up-and-go functionality and portability.
Samsung actually downgraded the built-in camera on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 compared to the Galaxy Tab 10.1V, which had an 8MP rear camera. Still, the new model has a 3MP rear camera, which is three times higher than the Apple iPad 2's camera. There's also a front-facing 2MP camera.
There are quite a few interesting perks and additions on this tablet. Some may seem underwhelming at first, but as a whole they give Apple a good run for the prize.
One subtle change is that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a 7000mAh battery for all-day tablet use. In our tests, it lasted about nine hours for everyday tasks. The Apple iPad 2 battery is 6600mAh.
The 10.1 also has a four-way accelerometer and gyro (the Apple iPad 2 uses a three-way accelerometer and gyro - starting to see a pattern here?). That may seem like a minor upgrade, but most of the games we tested on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 responded faster to quick turns and screen rotations, and generally worked better for controlling games. It also has great side speakers for playing music and movie audio, and plays smooth 1080p video.
And of course, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 matches the features of other Android tabs: built-in GPS, support for Adobe Flash in the browser (you still have to download it on your own), 1290 x 800 screen resolution, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor and Android tablet app.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a smart buy for anyone who wants a light and portable Android tablet. Google still has a ways to go on apps for Android – there are only a few dozen that are seriously worth downloading, compared to thousands of worthy iOS apps.
The ecosystem for media is a bit underdeveloped on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 as well. Sure, you can watch movies stream on the web, but for downloads you're mostly on your own.
August 5 2011: Samsung has now released a software update for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (the kernel says 126.96.36.199 but the Android OS version is still 3.1).
The 10.1 now comes with Samsung's TouchWiz software overlay which is designed to add some more features to Android by building on the foundations that Google laid down.
There is now a small arrow in the middle of the taskbar at the bottom of the screen. You press that, and can open the new Task Manager (to close and open apps), a Calendar (which uses Google Cal), a World Clock, a Pen Memo widget (for adding notes and drawing), a Calculator, and a Music Player. Each of these works reliably and adds to the value of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 beyond the usual Android 3.1 release on other tabs. Widgets stay up on the screen at all times, even when you open other apps.
Samsung also (finally) released the Music Hub, Media Hub, and Social Hub apps. There is also a new app called eBook which lets you read books you have downloaded from other book stores like Kobo, or that you have obtained by other means – such as download a free ePub file. As you might guess, the eBook app is not tied into the Kindle store, and so that means a separate app. You can add stores which are just links that take you to those Web sites to buy more books.
In the box Samsung includes a charger, USB cable and earbuds, but no case or docking stand.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has been price-matched with the Apple iPad 2, which means that devices with the same amount of memory costs the same. So the starting price will be about £399.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Features
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 uses a brilliant, portable form-factor that beats every other tablet on the market. It's smaller and lighter, easy to grasp and not as bulky as a few of the other Android 3.0 tablets.
On the top, the power and volume controls are easy to find. On the top-right you'll find the 3.4mm headphone jack. There are no buttons on the side; instead, Samsung put the speakers on the side for good, clear audio. On the bottom, there's just a 30-pin connector for the USB cable.
There's no slot for adding more memory or a 3G card on the version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 we tested, which has 16GB of RAM. There's also no USB port like there is on the A500 Or Transformer for using an external keyboard.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has an incredibly bright and clear screen, too. That's where our comparison to a Samsung HDTV comes in – this is the first tablet we've tested where a movie actually looked as bright as what you might enjoy in the living room.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn't offer the same sound fidelity of the Acer Iconia Tab, though, which benefits from Dolby technology in improving audio clarity. Instead, it uses side speakers (as opposed to putting them on the back) so the tablet is actually a better audio device if you skip the earbuds.
We're not going to say the speakers are so good you can watch a movie from across your desk; for that, you'll want to use real powered speakers. Yet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 beats other Android tabs for good, clear sound.
With the four-way motion sensors, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 responded faster and more accurately when we tested several games, including the brand new Nvidia app Pinball HD and the flying game Archipelago.
Unlike the Apple iPad 2, which tends to be a bit fussy about screen rotations, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 would stay in position when we turned it into landscape mode without trying to clip back and forth.
Eventually, Samsung will add a media streaming service called Allshare that will let you stream content to and from supported DLNA devices such as an HDTV, set-top box and digital cameras. We weren't able to test this as it hasn't launched, but the DLNA option will be a welcome addition.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Interface
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 uses more or less the same interface as the other Android 3.0 tablets.
There's a Home button on the lower-left, app icons fill the centre of the screen and alerts and settings are on the lower-left.
That may be an adjustment for those used to the pull-down menu on Android smartphones, but the Android 3.0 interface provides intuitive control over the device that rivals and in some ways surpasses the Apple iPad 2.
That said, we still prefer the BlackBerry PlayBook UI over Android 3.1 in terms of swiping quickly through open apps. And, from early demos of the HP TouchPad, the card interface for Palm webOS 3.0 may be worth the wait since cards can be grouped together even when one is from an email and another is from a web page.
We like the way the TouchPad and PlayBook move well past the iPad paradigm of selecting an app icon and not really having a good way to glide easily between open apps.
Most of the interface enhancements on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 have to do with Android 3.1, although none of them are radical improvements over Android 3.0. When you drop a widget onto a home screen, you can now grab a handle and resize it.
A pop-up menu on the lower left of the screen next to the Home button shows all open apps. You can now scroll up and down to view them and pick the one you want, which is more helpful than having just a few open apps.
Samsung released the TouchWhiz UI add-on in August 2011, which essentially adds widgets below the main screen. You click an arrow in the center bottom menu, and can then add widgets for a Calculator, a notepad, and a music player. These additions help add value to the device beyond the basic Android 3.1 release, but they might not change how you use the device that much, and did not influence our overall score too much because they should have been available from the start.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Market and apps
For now, Samsung is following the cookie-cutter approach to apps and relying mostly on the Android Market.
There is a Samsung app store on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 but the apps mostly repeat what you will find in the Android Market. Which is to say: not that many apps that are optimised for Android 3.0. Even though the Motorola Xoom was first out of the gate in early March, the app selection is still not brilliant - it is improving all the time though.
You can install many of the Android apps designed for phones, but many of them won't make the best use of that 10.1-inch screen. And one good thing here is that if your device is just plain incompatible with a certain app, it won't let you install it.
You will find a few new additions in the 'specially designed for Honeycomb- app selection, though: a Twitter client called TweetComb, a few new games including Pinball HD, the new Google Music app that adds cloud storage for your audio files and a few extra newsreader and news aggregator apps.
That makes the app selection for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 slim now, with the possibility of being slightly better in the future. However, Android tablet apps are few and far between compared to the wide selection of Apple iPad apps.
You won't find many video chat services (other than Google Talk), a Skype client, a wide selection of games beyond the dozen that are currently available or anything like a slideshow or page layout app. There's no music recording apps, few notetaking or journaling apps and only one Twitter client.
There is an HD version of Angry Birds, a good flight tracking app, an RSS aggregator called Pulse and a Dropbox client. This is apart from the standard Google apps for Gmail, calendars and some funky additions such as Google Body (search for body parts), Google Sky Map and Google Earth.
Samsung recently released the Social Hub app for the Galaxy Tab that was not available when we tested the device originally. The app lets you view feeds from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In the feeds view, the Tab added status updates quickly and showed posts from all service sin one long thread.
There is also a Messages section, and all of our Twitter direct messages, and all Facebook and LinkedIn messages, appeared here according to the day of the week (today, yesterday, and then previous dates). This made the Social Hub exceptionally useful for a quick peak at social activities. You can also post a status update for one service at a time (but not multiple at one time). The app has no reporting features and no way to schedule posts, so it is not exactly a HootSuite competitor.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Usability and screen
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is easier to use than any other tablet except the iPad 2. We had no trouble finding the power button on the top left. (With the Motorola Xoom, the power button is located behind the device, which is OK but not where you'd expect to find it.)
Volume buttons on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 were also easy to find. Samsung went the Apple route of "less is more" in offering only three buttons. There is no hardware switch to lock screen rotation and no other buttons.
This means all of the usability of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 rests on Android 3.1. In general, this means the tablet isn't that different from other Android models. It's easy to select icons, swipe left and right on the home screen, access the Home button and the button to access open apps and to find settings.
Android 3.1 was supposed to include an enhancement to the browser app where you can use a pop-up menu wheel to go forward and back, bookmark sites and control other options. Samsung may have hidden this feature, at least on our Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 model, because it wasn't available.
Importantly, the Android 3.1 release is also intended to address delays in swiping between home screens – it's supposed to run faster. However, other than the motion sensor working better for games, we didn't notice any major differences in swiping between the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and other Android tablets.
Cranked up to the highest brightness level, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 outshines every other tablet. It is exceptionally bright and clear, especially for movies we loaded onto the device.
The screen resolution runs at 1280 x 800 WXGA, which provides a few more pixels than the Apple iPad 2, at 1024 x 768. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1's screen runs at 149 pixels per inch and is highly viewable from a side angle. In several tests – games, checking Twitter feeds and browsing the web – the screen refreshed quickly.
Like every other tablet except the Apple iPad and iPad 2, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tends to accumulate fingerprints and grime faster than a glass door at a kindergarten classroom. The bright screen offsets this problem somewhat because you might not even notice the grime in daily use, but dark movies and photos will show the grime more than brightly coloured images.
The side bezel also collects dust and grime, but no worse or better than any other Android tablet. Give us a tablet that has the same grime-reducing agents as the iPad without any bezel (as with the rumoured iPad 3) and we'll be much happier.
One complaint with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is that the touchscreen tends to chug a bit at times. We noticed this when typing emails but even more so in the browser, especially when visiting content-rich sites.
In several cases, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 would cause delays between what we typed and what appeared on screen. Also, when we tried to position the cursor by pressing the screen to make an edit, the cursor icon would appear in the wrong part of a sentence.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Media
In some ways, Samsung shot its own foot off by not including the Media Hub on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and stating that this app will be available in a future update.
The app was one of the differentiators on the original Galaxy Tab because you could download TV shows and movies and watch them when you were offline.
The main way to watch movies and shows is through the browser, which supports Adobe Flash. We were quite impressed with how often a website would work for both music and movies, though.
You can also plug the Tab into your computer using the bundled USB cable and transfer the usual file types and most will play - Xvid, DivX etc are all compatible with the Android 3.0 OS.
We tested one music streaming service from the SubPop record label and it worked smoothly in the browser, playing audio clips without any stuttering or errors. YouTube also worked flawlessly. As expected, Hulu didn't work, just as it hasn't worked on other Android tablets.
Using the Google Music service and playing songs from the cloud, playback was consistent without any stuttering. The side speakers are better than any other Android Tab we've tested, mostly because of where they're located on the side instead of the back.
Playback using Ultimate Ears earbuds on the 3.5mm headphone jack sounded just as good as any other Android phone or tablet. Only the Acer Iconia A500 gets a slight advantage, using Dolby technology for sound clarity.
The Music Hub is the least interesting addition in Samsung's TouchWiz overlay. The app is really just a repeat of the Amazon MP3 app you will find on most Android phones, but presents yet another login interface where you have to enter a credit card number.
The app uses the 7digital music store. In general, we found the albums we wanted to download, including a new one by Handsome Furs that is relatively obscure. Otherwise, most popular albums are available.
However, the Media Hub is a major new addition. This would make the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 even better – if the app worked reliably. In two movie downloads -- one for Rio and one for Rango -- the movies would not play at all. We added a new account, and we could rent and download them. After several restarts, the movies still did not play – despite the fact that the movies worked at the Samsung demo just two days ago. We'll keep you posted when Samsung resolves the issue.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Camera
As we've said before, a tablet is not a great camera device.
The 3MP rear-facing camera on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 does provide some handy extra features, but overall the quality of the pictures looked a bit washed out and, in some cases, overly blurry.
That's partly due to the fact that the tablet is hard to hold steady and is not meant to be a camera replacement by any means.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has some basic effects such as black-and-white and sepia for photos.
You can adjust white balance for certain lighting conditions, and set a timer. There's a way to raise or lower exposure for lighter or darker pictures, and you can add GPS coordinates. None of these features really go beyond the basic Android offering for taking pictures. You can also shoot 720p videos with the rear camera.
The front camera is designed for video chats, and we tested both Adobe Mobile Connect (which supports video chat) and Google Talk to test the video quality.
As expected, the 2MP camera beats the Apple iPad 2 in terms of video quality, but is still more like what you'd expect in an instant messaging session than anything close to the quality of a real videoconferencing app or even Skype.
The rear camera is superior, and has an auto focus and a flash. However, the focus took a second or two to work. Like the A500, we had a hard time positioning the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for a shot, because we had to wait for the focus.
Often we'd press the button to snap a photo, but the tab would focus and then click. That makes it hard to take good photos – you want to focus on your subject and then get the result.
There are very few effects for shooting video. You can add an effect such as sepia or black-and-white, change the resolution and adjust exposure, but that's about it. The gallery app does offer a few options for sharing photos and video including email, YouTube and Dropbox.
The slideshow for photos uses a cool zoom effect to liven up what you see. Samsung does offer an HDMI cable for connecting your Galaxy Tab 10.1 to an HDTV but we didn't receive a test cable in time to see how it works.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Benchmarks
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
How it rates against the rest - higher is better
How we test
TechRadar aims to produce the most helpful tablet reviews on the web, so that you are able to make a more informed buying decision.
Part of this testing process includes benchmarking. It's a good way of measuring the overall performance of a product's internal hardware components.
We use Antutu System Benchmark to test tablets. It's a comprehensive Android benchmarking app and produces consistent results.
Antutu measures an Android device's CPU performance, 2D and 3D graphics performance, memory speed and internal and external storage read/write speeds. It combines the results for each test and gives the device a final score.
We test each device three times and take an average.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Verdict
In the final analysis, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the best Android tablet yet.
While the brilliant Asus Eee Pad Transformer offers something equally compelling, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a tablet in it's purest sense and it's brilliant.
In just about every way, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is just as capable as the Apple iPad 2. It's smaller, thinner and lighter. It runs just as fast for games (if you can find them) and works better for motion control. The screen rotates faster and more accurately than the iPad 2. And, the screen is just as bright and a bit clearer.
This is the lightest and thinnest tablet on the market. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is perfect for quick e-reading sessions using Amazon Kindle or Google Books apps.
You can load the device with plenty of movies using the Dropbox app, and they'll look crisp and colourful. Battery life was excellent at about nine hours, and that even includes movie-watching and playing games.
Android is still well behind the iPad 2 in terms of apps, the eco-system for movies and TV shows, and has only promised at some first-party apps including the upcoming Media Hub and Social Hub. Samsung has also promised a new UI enhancement that really should have been ready at launch.
A few minor issues also influenced our rating: the screen collects grime quickly, there's no syncing app available, and no way to stream to the device using DLNA... yet.
We also had a few typing problems on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 when there was a delay from pressing a key and text appearing on the screen.
There is still one question remaining - how much is this tablet going to cost? If Samsung is sensible and price-matches the likes of the iPad 2 and Eee Pad Transformer, then this tablet will fly off the shelves.
When that UK price emerges, we'll update the review. But until then, we've awarded the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 a high mark: it sits beside the Apple iPad 2, and beats every other Android tablet on the market.
If you're not into the locked down app store mentality of Apple, where only the saintly apps are approved, or just prefer the Android OS to anything out of Cupertino, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is your best choice in an increasingly crowded market.