Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi Edition

Posted on Jun 30 2011 - 5:56pm by Brian

“Gentleman we can rebuild it, we have the technology… better than it was before: better, stronger, faster.” And so they did. Ladies and gentlemen, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1:

We got our first glimpse of the Tab 10.1 in February during the 2011 Mobile World Congress. One month later the iPad 2 came out and Samsung decided to reassess their goals: they didn’t want to make the best Android tablet, they wanted to make the best tablet period. Fast forward to today; I have in my hands a tablet that is both thinner (8.6mm vs. 8.8mm) and lighter (1.31 lbs vs. 1.33 lbs) than the iPad 2 and also runs Android 3.1 Honeycomb on a beautiful 1280 x 800 Super PLS display.

The skinny: it’s skinny

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 is today’s premium, flagship Android tablet as evidenced by the 5000 that were given away to attendees of this year’s Google’s own I/O developer conference. The commercial version available now is essentially the same piece, devoid of Samsung’s TouchWiz UX but upgraded to Android 3.1; a clean Google experience… for now. There is a planned (optional) update for the Tab 10.1 which should bring TouchWiz to the device, but for the time being I will be giving you guys a good look at Google’s unadulterated Honeycomb tablet experience.

Lighter than a cup of coffee

I have divided the review into five main sections of which some are further divided to cover all aspects of the device. Let’s see if I can make this review as insightful for you as it was delightful for me; without further ado, the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

Hardware


Mythbusted: I do NOT have X-Ray vision

As of late, Samsung has been at the forefront of creating thin, lightweight, polymer-based chassis for their mobile devices. Much like we saw on the Galaxy S II and Infuse 4G, Samsung’s design philosophy is again apparent on the Tab 10.1. Of course looks alone do not do this tablet justice; let’s take a look at what’s inside:

Specifications

  • Processor: NVIDIA Tegra 2, 1GHz dual-core
  • Memory: 1GB RAM, 16GB ROM
  • OS: Android 3.1 Honeycomb
  • Display: 10.1 inch 1280 x 800 Super PLS capacitive touch screen
  • Connectivity: WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Camera: 3MP rear-facing camera w/LED flash and auto-focus, 2MP front-facing camera
  • Video: 720p recording, 1080p @ 30fps playback
  • Flash Support: Adobe Flash Player 10.3
  • Battery: 6800mAh
  • Weight: 565g
  • Dimensions: 256.7 x 175.3 x 8.6mm

An impressive list indeed, but there are a couple omissions you should consider. Unlike the Asus Eee Pad, the Tab 10.1 doesn’t include microSD, HDMI or USB ports. The svelte Galaxy Tab 10.1 foregoes these options, instead delivering a self-contained, content consumption-centric, tablet experience.

Still want microSD, HDMI and USB connectivity? No problem: Samsung has a suite of accessories ranging from USB, microSD and HDMI dongles to keyboard docks and desktop stands; take a look at them at our accessory overview.

Design

Some words that come to mind when holding the Tab 10.1 in your hands: clean, chic and simple.

The front bezel is interrupted only by front facing camera and light sensor; there aren’t any hardware buttons or even a home key as these are built in to the Honeycomb UI.

Tasteful use of silver trim and the white backing give the Tab 10.1 character without being gaudy while the convex edges make it easy to hold.

Power button, volume rocker, left speaker, charging port, camera/flash and 3.5mm jack

Display

Samsung is well known for their Super AMOLED phone displays, but they are also industry leaders in tablet displays as well. While competing models (read: iPad2 and Transformer) use IPS panels, Samsung uses its own proprietary IPS technology called Super PLS (plane line switching), which boasts increased viewing angles while maintaining display brightness.

IPS(I) vs. IPS(S) vs Super PLS

Usually you would either have the viewing angles of S-IPS or the brightness of I-IPS, but super PLS gives you the best of both worlds. I’ll defer to Anandtech’s brightness and contrast charts to demonstrate the point:

The Tab 10.1 scores significantly higher than the Eee Pad or XOOM

Science aside, you won’t be disappointed by the Tab’s display; even outdoors in the sun it was more than adequate. One thing to note though: the display’s glass has an undying love for fingerprints. Although it doesn’t affect usage at all, it is a bit of an eyesore when the screen is off.

Screen off—Yuck

Screen on—Yum

Speakers

They aren’t going to replace a dedicated sound system or make music sound great but for watching your favorite TV shows and YouTube clips they are the bees knees; loud without being blown out and clear without being tinny. If you still want good sound out of the box, Samsung does include a surprisingly comfortable set of adjustable ear buds which can be seen below.

Accessories

Upon further inspection of the Tab’s white box you will find the AC adapter, USB cable, headphones and manual. For those of you (read: men, a.k.a. everyone reading this article) who don’t bother looking at instructions, don’t make the same mistake I did and leave the earbuds tucked away underneath the user manual!

Software


Honeycomb 3.1 + Samsung

The Tab 10.1 is the first tablet to ship with Android’s latest tablet OS iteration, Honeycomb 3.1. The latest version brings us a slew of improvements that brings a level of refinement to the tablet platform that Honeycomb 3.0 sorely lacked. Most apparent of these changes may be the fix to image rendering; 3.0 had a problem rendering image files resulting in ‘fuzzy and washed out’ images. Now although I have many opinions about Honeycomb itself, for this review I will limit myself to the augmentations that Samsung has made to the stock OS, the first of which is the keyboard:

The biggest difference between the stock and Samsung keyboard is the color scheme, which (in terms of contrast) is highly superior. The photograph does not do justice to how dark the Android keyboard is; although the picture makes the keys look blue they are actually dark grey. Aside from the emoticon shortcut, the keyboards are functionally the same.

They keyboard as a function is actually fairly touch typable; I found that the layout close mimicked a physical keyboard but my tapping strength across all my fingers must apparently not be uniform because sometimes it will miss letters. Other times the keyboard experiences lag, i.e. I can type a few words out but they won’t be displayed immediately rather bursting all at once into a sentence.

Samsung has also changed the camera interface into one that is reminiscent of their TouchWiz camera layout:

Stock interface on the left, Samsung’s on the right

Although I can’t make a direct comparison, from my experience with Samsung’s phone based TouchWiz camera interface, I would say that the functionality is pretty much the same but with the ergonomics changed around. Samsung’s camera interface places the shutter button, still/video toggle and gallery on the right and options/settings on the left. Honeycomb’s stock interface is assymetrical and places everything on a large bar on the right.

Performance


From the get go the Tab 10.1 impressed me with its speed, specifically its boot time. The Tab managed to go from completely off, all the way to the unlock screen in a scant 35 seconds and fully operational (widgets loaded, interface running smoothly) at the sub 60 second mark. On the other hand, it took the Infuse 4G—no slouch itself—65 seconds to get to the lock screen and it was still pretty laggy; it took till the century mark before everything was fully loaded.

Once everything gets going the performance is still very good. Even running at the large 1280×800 resolution, graphics intensive apps and games loaded very quickly and ran smoothly. I should however note that the system is not optimized (or can’t handle?) live wallpapers very well; even activating the default ones resulted in greatly reduced framerates and choppiness when swiping around the homescreens.

Benchmarks

All of the current-gen Honeycomb tablets share the same NVIDIA Tegra 2 SoCs with 1GB of RAM outputting 1280×800 pixels, so it certainly isn’t surprising that their synthetic performance marks are fairly similar. If you aren’t a fan of benchmarks and would like to the Tab 10.1 in action, skip down to the web browsing and gaming performance below.

Quadrant Standard: 1464

AnTuTu: 3625

Smartbench 2011: PI 2625, GI 2301

Web Browsing

The web browsing on the Tab 10.1 was very good, especially for a non-PC device. The combination of Google’s browser optimization and the Tegra 2 processor gives us the ability to browse desktop versions of website with ease. The Tab easily keeps up with the competition in SunSpider’s JavaScript performance benchmark and leads the way in BrowserMark scoring:

Y-axis represents total milliseconds to complete the operations

Images courtesy of UberGizmo

Gaming

Personally my favorite games are simple and mindless and can be started/ended quickly. The Tab 10.1 has enough processing power and then some to fulfill all my casual gaming needs but I did run into a few resolution compatibility issues.  In order to test the Tab’s full gaming/graphics potential, I headed over to NVIDIA’s Tegra Zone and downloaded Galaxy on Fire 2. Maybe this is just me, but I was thoroughly impressed, let me tell you why.

Many years ago I bought this sweet F22 Raptor (a super next-gen [now  a current-gen] fighter jet for you non military geeks) flight simulator and the same developers bundled a space combat simulation game alongside it. As soon as I fired up GOF2 I started having flashbacks!

Galaxy on Fire vs. Tachyon: The Fringe

Now the reason I’m freakin’ out a little is not because of the two games’ uncanny similarity, but rather the monumental dissimilarity between the two platforms from which they are played. I played Tachyon on my $2000+ (no monitor) Alienware computer which was a 50lb beast of a gaming computer… in 2004. Now in 2011, Galaxy on Fire has arguably better graphics and is being run off a piece of hardware that is about the size and weight of just the motherboard of that old computer. Moore’s law never fails to impress me.

Camera


Our most recently reviewed devices, the Samsung Infuse 4G and Droid Charge had excellent 8MP shooters. How do the Tab’s 3MP rear and 2MP front-facing camera fare? Take a look:

On the left: 3MP rear-facing, on the right: 2MP front-facing; click to zoom

White balance is different for each, likely due to the use of the front camera for self portraiture

Lighting on the 3MP camera was a bit dim but the resolution and detail was good. The front facing camera was adequate for its purposes as well; don’t expect a Pulitzer, but it will work fine for video chat. Speaking of which, video shot from the front facing camera actually looked better than with the rear camera, which suffered from a large amount of noise. Check out the sample below:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKHyqw6oIQA&feature=youtube_gdata

Battery Life


After using it for the better part of a week, I was impressed by the Tab’s longevity. I’m not sure it’s even possible to realistically drain the battery in a single day unless you don’t have a job. As long as you get an overnight charging session in you should be good to go for a 10 hour Angry Birds marathon:

Courtesy of AnandTech

Average use should get you 2-3 days of usage before charging, but I wouldn’t recommend draining the battery to zero because it takes a while to charge a 7000mAh battery to its max charge.

Verdict


Guilty on all counts. Of being a great—if not greatest—Honeycomb tablet available today. The breathtaking engineering that has gone into the Tab 10.1’s form factor is unmatched by any other competing Android tablet and is rivaled only by the iPad 2, which ironically inspired the Tab’s redesign. One might assume that making the thinnest and lightest tablet in its class would require some sacrifices in performance but this isn’t true for the Tab.

If money is no object and you are in the market for a Honeycomb tablet, I can confidently recommend the Galaxy Tab 10.1 as the go-to choice. However most of us have a limited budget, varying tastes in operating systems, and are speculative of future tablets overshadowing current purchasing decisions. Even as a dedicated Android lover, I can’t say that I’m sold on the Honeycomb platform. I realized this as soon as I opened the box in our unboxing video and couldn’t figure out how to find the ‘About’ settings.

Lack of uniformity across Android platforms aside, it simply takes too many keystrokes to do anything I want. This is remedied on Android phones using launchers and apps, but Honeycomb is still too young to have this compatibility. Essentially I am echoing what everybody already says and knows: Android needs more tablet development. Maturity only comes with time (duh), so the choice for the consumer is between becoming an early adopter or a holdout.

Now with that said, I’m still extremely excited about the potential of not only Honeycomb, but also the Tab 10.1. Even with the likelihood of tablet hardware doubling in computing power in the next 6 months, it hardly spells obsolescence for current products. As Honeycomb continues to mature, the Tab will continue to reap those benefits.

Still not sure what to do? Keep an eye out for an Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs. iPad 2 showdown!

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