On January 27, 2010 Apple boss Steve Jobs introduced the world to a little something called the iPad, and suddenly tablet became something other than what you take when ill. A flotilla of other tablets, mostly Android, followed but failed to crash Apple's party. Samsung, with its original Galaxy Tab starring a 7- inch display and Android Froyo, led the charge but to no avail. A year later, here are the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9, both are running Google's tablet OS, Honeycomb. But are they any different from the slew of Honeycomb tablets already flooding the market?
Packaging and Content
Our jaws dropped when we first saw the packaging - a humongous cube like box. Clearly, size does matter to Samsung. The box could probably fit two full frame DSLR cameras. But we are not complaining! The outsized packaging makes the device supremely secure - so secure, it would probably survive even if thrown out of a moving vehicle. Overall, the packaging was very similar to that of the Galaxy S II, except larger.
As far as content went, all the standard amenities such as the power adaptor, the proprietary USB connection cable and the tablet itself were present. Nothing revolutionary here!
Hardware and Styling
Samsung has adopted a widescreen design with the Galaxy 10.1. It is an interesting decision. While other tablet manufactures like Acer too have adopted similar form-factors, the implementation on the Galaxy Tab is superior thanks to its being ultra light at 565 grams making it more comfortable for over extended periods of use. And yes, it is lighter than the iPad 2 - by a minute 36 grams, but there it is. The comparisons with iPad 2 don't stop here as the svelte Galaxy Tab 10.1 snatches the tag of the world's thinnest tablet from the iPad 2 by 0.2-mm. 8.6-mm vs 8.8-mm may seem negligible but it matters a lot when it comes to heavy usage.
Obviously, in designing the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Samsung has borrowed design cues from the their own product portfolio. Be it LED TVs or smartphones, we see a bit of everything in the Galaxy Tab.
Originally, when Samsung had announced the Galaxy Tab, it was thicker but Samsung decided to totally redesign the device in the wake of the iPad 2. We must say that it is a very commendable effort. Samsung has of late made a conscious decision to make super-light products and this design philosophy is also seen in the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Like in the Galaxy S II, Samsung has used an ultra light plastic in the construction of the device, especially the glossy white back finish. This felt a tad flimsy as we could actually depress it if we held the device firmly. The 3-megapixel camera is also housed in the rear which is, as usual, more of a formality.
Samsung claims that it has added an aluminum element in the construction, which tapers down the sides of the device and extends up to the rear, covering the area surrounding the camera. This is problematic, as it certainly did not feel like aluminum. It felt more like painted plastic but we do not have any evidence to prove this. What ever may be the case, the fact is that it just does not have the solidity of aluminum.
We get the impression that Galaxy Tab tries to mimic the look of a Samsung LCD, but we felt that they could have saved more space as the bezel measured 0.75-inches. Samsung has produced thinner bezels - their Smart TVs measure 0.50-inch. Such small details could have helped make the Galaxy Tab 10.1 a more svelte product as its still feels a tad larger than the iPad in spite of all the weight and profile reduction attempts made. We mention this as, in our opinion, if there is a company capable of out-foxing Apple in design, it is Samsung. That hasn't yet happened, but Samsung has done a pretty good job of out-maneuvering Sony in the LCD market and let's not forget Sony are also known for their elegant products.
Apart from all the design niceties of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, we get a front facing camera for video chat. The standard volume rockers, micro-SD card slot, 3.5 mm and power button are all housed on the top of the device.
Interestingly, the bottom side of the devices houses an Apple-esque proprietary connector for USB and HDMI. Unfortunately, the HDMI adaptor will be sold separately alongside a micro USB dongle. In all likelihood Samsung had to abandon the inbuilt USB and HDMI ports in their quest for slenderness, which we do not mind, but we do mind them charging us extra for additional dongles, which should have been included in the package.
But there is no denying the fact the Galaxy Tab is the most portable and comfortable tablet to carry around in the market today and, dare we say it, more so than the iPad 2, which is an astonishing achievement by Samsung considering they totally redesigned the product in the wake of the iPad 2. Take a bow.
With the launch of the Motorola Xoom and Acer Iconia A500, Google has established a solid Honeycomb presence in India. Many people ask us how are they different from each other, and our answer is the form factor and the full USB port offered in the Acer Iconia. The standard reply is in the region of 'That's it!' and all we can do is nod along as the internals and the OS are identical. So our question to Samsung: how would they differentiate the Galaxy Tab from their Android competitors in India on the basis of User Experience? They fired back with an answer. It was TouchWiz UX, the Android skin implemented on the Galaxy Tab.
We have seen TouchWiz before on Samsung smartphones but this is the first time it makes an appearance on a Honeycomb device. As always, Android skinning is a double-edged sword with minor performance blips caused by the extra eye-candy, but this should not be a major problem.
With TouchWiz UX, Samsung adds Live Panels to the Honeycomb homescreen, which includes a multitude of Samsung widgets such as AccuWeather, Samsung Mail and Calendar. Samsung has also re-designed the iconography of Honeycomb with their trademark cartoonish icons, which we hate! They look like cheap rip-offs of iOS icons and this is one area where Samsung gets nothing but minus points.
A nifty addition to the UI is the inclusion of a screenshot button right inside the UI, which is placed next to the 'open apps scroller' option. Besides this, we get another option in the bottom task bar, which opens up a dock of some handy apps. This dock can be opened from any app as it is well ingrained into the UI.
Samsung has become a devout supporter of gyroscope based gesture controls as seen in the Galaxy S II. The same holds true for the Galaxy tab 10.1. We get the same gesture based Tilt Zoom functionalities. With the gesture controls we could even flip widget placement. While we don't know how many people will use this party trick, it is a handy addition and,more importantly, exclusive to the Galaxy Tab for right now.
We also see numerous Android 3.1 upgrades of which most are 'under the hood' relating to the operating system stability, but one has to mention the resizable widgets. Now we can resize the widgets on the home screen according to our own whims and fancies. Pretty cool! Where is the like button, if we may ask?
Samsung has even added SWYPE capabilities in the stock keyboard. We were never big fans of SWYPE when we first saw it on smartphones, but on the larger tablet display it is a revelation. Even the keyboard itself felt well laid out, and though we still prefer the iPad's slick auto-correction skills, it is a very good keyboard indeed.
Besides the UI tweaks, we have found many new applications, which make the Galaxy Tab a more complete device. More on these apps in the Essential Apps section of the review.
As a rule, the tablet form-factor specializes in multimedia consumption and the Galaxy Tab is no exception to this rule. It is an absolute multimedia leviathan.
But the process of adding media to the device can become a tearful experience if you happen to own Apple hardware as in its current state the Android File Manager utility for Mac OS X does not support the Galaxy Tab. Google, you better rectify this, you are torpedoing Samsung's chances.
In this case we were left with the 'Kies Air' Wi-Fi sync app, but, come on, how can a device miss out on USB connectivity even if it's the Mac OS, which has a market share as large as a bacteria.
Fortunately, we faced no such problems on our Windows machine.
With Honeycomb, Google finally managed to re-design the stock Android MP3 player, and it was beautiful. It featured a beautiful, carousel-like, album-art flipping interface. But please note the use of the past tense - it 'was' a beautiful MP3 player because with the Galaxy Tab, Samsung had the urge to skin it. So what we have here is an MP3 player, sans the beautiful stock interface. Why, Samsung? Why would you strip an application of its natural beauty?
Apart from this folly, the app is actually quite handy as the songs are divided in a well-organized way and also we get multiple equalizer modes, which help modulate the sound frequencies according to the users preferences.
Interestingly, we can even launch the MP3 player from the Samsung dock, which opens a small widget like window and can be blown to its full size just with a tap. This is handy as one can start the MP3 from within any app without needing to switch to the menu screen.
When it comes to video, we can safely say that the Galaxy Tab offers the best video experience on a tablet device, iPad 2 included. We say this, as the on-board 1280x800 LCD display is the best yet to grace a tablet. It features sublime contrast ratios, impressive brightness levels and best in class viewing angles. This is not surprising as Samsung is the leading manufacturer of LCD displays in the world and they also supply the display panel for the iPad but it's clear they reserved the best one for their own tablet.
Even the Video app has received the TouchWiz Skinning treatment, but luckily most of the changes only improve the navigation of the app. We managed to play multitude of video formats without glitches including 720p HD video. Formats like .MKV, .AVI and. Xvid all worked seamlessly.
The 3-Megapixel camera is just about passable. It produces grainy pictures but thankfully we get many options such as white balance, focus modes, Scene Mode, effects and Geo tagging. The camera is par for the course as the even Motorola and Acer have employed poor cameras on their devices while the iPad's camera is not even worth mentioning.
The 720p HD video was also a tad jittery, again we believe the tablet form factor is not ideal for any kind of photography so, and mostly consumers don't care about the back camera. They only care about the front facing camera, which can enable video-chat.
Apart from this, the device comes with 16GB of memory, which will be ample. But if it's not enough, then one can always add up-to 32GB in the memory card slot.
PC Sync and Market
As always with Android devices syncing is probably amongst the easiest things to do. You only need to login to your Gmail account and you are good to go. The same can be done on the Galaxy Tab, but Samsung has stepped up the game with the 'Kies Air' Wi-Fi sync application. We have seen this app before on the Galaxy S II smartphone and it's very handy indeed. All one has to do is connect to a Wi-Fi network (the same one as your PC/MAC) and connect. The app will reproduce an IP address, which we need to type in our browser, and voila! We have access to all the data. We can drag and drop files, save messages and much more.
Adding more to the synchronization carnival, Samsung brings its Social Hub, which basically aggregates all information from one's E-mails, Facebook and Twitter.
Handy, but we'd rather use the dedicated Facebook and Twitter apps. Whoops, they are not available on Honeycomb. So, for the time being, we are stuck with the Social Hub. Luckily though, the web-browser opens a full version of Facebook with chat support unlike the iPad.
As far as Android Market goes we all know that Honeycomb is struggling with a dearth of apps hampering the growth of the platform. We only have 200 odd Honeycomb optimized apps, which is shockingly low - even the webOS powered HP TouchPad launched with more than a 1000 webOS apps recently.
Samsung provides their own apps store, but it's nothing special and we only get a handful of apps, most of which are available on Android Market.
Apart from the standard Google apps, The Galaxy Tab 10.1 brings in much more utility thanks to TouchWiz UX.
So some of the more important apps include the following:
1. Samsung Hubs
2. Samsung Mail
4. Kobo eBooks
5. Pen memo
6. Photo Editor
7. World Clock
8. Polaris Office
The most major update that TouchWiz UX brings in relates to the Samsung Hubs - namely Social Hub (discussed above), and the Music Hub.
Currently, the Music Hub is not functional in India, but Samsung tells us it is powered by 7-digital and hopes to offer an online hub where consumers can purchase music similar to iTunes.
Skinning is the name of the game so Samsung added their Email app, which, surprisingly, has issues with Gmail. This is not new - we encountered it earlier in our Samsung Smart TV review and also with the Galaxy S II. Apart from this, it handles Microsoft Exchange accounts pretty well, but we see no utility for it as Android already offers us a robust Email app.
As far as our Gmail troubles went, we chucked the Samsung Email app and logged into the fantastic stock Android Gmail app. It is clearly the best way of accessing one's Gmail account. The app is neatly divided into two separate panes reminding us of Mail from the iPad. Thanks to the Android 3.1 update we now have resizable widgets, which means our Gmail widget looks cooler than ever.
The Kobo eBooks app is reminiscent of iBooks on the iPad, with its bookshelf like home-screen. The app includes the standard page turning niceties that come with eBook apps. With Kobo powering the app, we have access to a vast library of books, but it's a bummer that Google's own Books app is not available in India as it has a larger library of books and will soon incorporate a newsstand for newspapers and magazines.
The Pen Memo is a note-taking application and it even allows one to scribble with our fingers, but the whole experience was very laggy reminding us of a time when the Symbian powered Sony Ericsson P900 was the pinnacle of mobile OS technology.
The Photo-Editor app works exactly as advertised. We could crop images, do minor touch-ups, apply effects, change various color properties. This one is aimed at Photoshop junkies.
Samsung felt that the Android clock was not good enough; they saw fit to install a world clock. In theory, this could come in handy for frequent travellers. The app welcomes us with globe, which can be manipulated using pinch zoom but it does not do much.
Polaris Office handles the office duties on the Galaxy Tab. It can handle the standard Microsoft Office formats such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. It also includes Box.Net integration, which is immensely handy if one seeks cloud integration.
Apart from all these apps we have access to all the Google apps, such as Maps, Places and Latitude, which makes the Android experience very robust and cohesive.
While Samsung has gone to great lengths to add functionality to the already robust Honeycomb OS, none of these apps have an effect on the consumer's choice. The one app that could have is the Music Hub and that's sadly unavailable to us in India.
When a 1GHz NVidia Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM power a device, we expect it to be a speed demon. But TouchWiz UX skin has a tardy effect on the device and we found it to be a tad slow in comparison to the Motorola Xoom, which also runs Android Honeycomb 3.1. The major problem we faced was that whenever we activated a Live wallpaper the device slowed down considerably. Even after multiple Factory Resets the problem persisted and it only went away when we installed the standard static wallpaper. This could be a problem with our review unit but, if not, should be easy enough to rectify through a software update. Anyway, most people don't use Live Wallpapers so Samsung can probably breathe easy. Nonetheless, the effects of skinning were evident.
Apart from this flaw, the device was very smooth and the performance was comparable to the other Android Honeycomb based tablets. Even the benchmark tests agree with our assessment.
On the Quadrant Benchmark, the Galaxy Tab scored an impressive 2378, which is more or less par for the course. In comparison, the Motorola Xoom scored 1916, but once we had updated it to Honeycomb 3.1 the performance deficit increased as the Xoom only managed 1572.
On the Linpack Pro test, the Galaxy Tab scored 54.129 MFLOPs in 3.12 seconds while the updated Xoom scored 59.875 in 2.82 seconds.
In the Benchmark Pi test, the Galaxy Tab calculated Pi in 563 milliseconds, and the Xoom beat the Galaxy Tab by a minute 1 millisecond.
Even on the Browsermark test, the stalemate continued as the Galaxy Tab scored 83672 and the Xoom closely followed with 81574. The Honeycomb web-browser generally has been very impressive with its Flash support and the same holds true for the Galaxy Tab.
Another impressive facet of the Galaxy tab was its battery life as it lasted 8 hours and 26 minutes with incessant Wi-Fi and 3G use. Video and browser usage did not hamper it much and only the iPad managed to beat it in terms of battery life, which was pretty impressive.
At present, we can safely say that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the best of the rest. It is the closest thing to an iPad competitor - if such a thing exists. It boasts of a sublime slim form factor making it the most portable tablet in the market and also has an impressive OS, which is only shot down by the lack of apps.
While all this is nice, we do have issues, which TouchWiz UX as it slows down the general performance of the tablet. In spite of all the good things we have to say about it, we still cannot recommend it over the iPad - at least not till the apps situation drastically improves for Honeycomb.
Compact form factor
Tilt Motion controls
TouchWiz UX is a double-edged sword
No USB and HDMI dongles in package
Poor Mac OSX support
· Performance: 3.5
· Price: 3.5
· Ease of Setup: 4.5
· Ergonomics: 4.5
· Wow Factor: 4.5
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