Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 may look like an iPad, but in some cases it even out-performs the Apple tablet. However, SEAN BACHER finds that price is the one obstacle to it being a more formidable foe in the tablet wars.
Samsung claims the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the thinnest and lightest tablet on the market, but that claim has been overshadowed by a patent feud with Apple, which claims their iPad’s look and interface has been copied, along with various other challenges to the device.
For now, it may not be sold in markets like Australia and Germany. But it became available in South Africa in August, and is already a serious player, with Vodacom for example offering it on a contract at R329 a month and MTN at R399 a month on various data packages.
Will its customers be happy? We put it through the Gadget Ten Question Tablet Test to find out.
1. The sound of one-hand tapping (Can you comfortably hold it in one hand and operate it in the other?)
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 fits comfortably in your hands, whether you are on the move or sitting at a coffee shop. The emphasis is on thin and light. It is around 2mm thinner than the iPad 2, and about 36 grams lighter ‚ yet is solidly made. The dead-zones around the screen are the perfect size for handling the tablet without accidentally touching the active screen ‚ and make for a great place to plant your thumb to grip the device when holding it in one hand.
Even though it features a 10.1‚ screen, the company has made the device small enough to fit into a briefcase ‚ and it may even fit in some handbags.
The keyboard is clearly laid out, the buttons crisp and easily readable. And because of its weight ‚ or lack thereof ‚ holding the tablet at the right place (towards the middle bottom section) means you can ‚swivel‚ it from landscape to portrait modes without using two hands.
2. The Angry Birds test (How responsive is the device in interactive tasks?)
A range of applications were installed on the device. All ran perfectly. In Angry Birds, the birds landed exactly where I wanted them. I’ve had some practise by now, and was able to hit most targets perfectly. There was no freezing, lagging or jolting and the birds sailed across the screen with real-life fluidness.
The accelerometers also worked well. The Samsung 10.1 makes use of a four-way accelerometer and gyro (the iPad 2 uses a three-way accelerometer and gyro). This translated into games like Lane Splitter operating more accurately than on previous devices, allowing fine control of the bike as it was weaved left and right through traffic.
The Android 3.1 operating system running on this tablet, coupled with Samsung’s TouchWiz skin, also makes more use of the accelerometers. For instance, you can now zoom in and out of photos and webpages by placing two fingers on the tablet’s screen and tilting the device back and forth. A tilt towards you zooms in, a tilt away zooms out.
3. The tablet gender test (Can it multi-task? Hint: males can’t.)
The Galaxy tab offers two options: go to the applications by tapping on the ‚open windows‚ tab and then selecting the open application you want to use, or use the Samsung Task manager, which is apart of the TouchWiz skin and pops out of the bottom of the screen. Once open here, you have the options of ending all open applications immediately, ending certain ones by clicking on the ‚X‚ and even flushing the RAM with the RAM manager.
During testing, we didn’t need to access this option, as the 1GB of RAM, which has become the norm for many Android-based tablets, handled each new application as if were the first to be launched.
The RAM, combined with the dual-core 1GHz processor, meant the Tab handled multitasking perfectly. The addition of the Task Manager, which is ready to use in two taps, was a great touch, and comforting to know it was there should things start slowing down.
4. Testing by the book (Can it replace novels and textbooks?)
Samsung has included an e-book reader designed by epubbooks.com. The reader itself is very simple to use, and allows for the adjustment of font size and colour. Best of all, it lets you highlight, bookmark and scribble over text in the book. The e-book reader also has the ability to read the book to you ‚ converting your e-book into an audio book. Once an account has been created at epubbooks.com, e-books can be downloaded much the same as on Amazon.
Being an Android device, a Kindle reader is available for free download from the Android Marketplace, converting the Samsung into a suped-up Kindle.
Overall, e-books were handled well. They were easily downloaded, easily read and annotated, and the addition of having the books read back to you really was a great touch.
5. Live long and prosper (How’s the battery life?)
Samsung claims that the 6800 mAh battery will provide up to 10 hours of continuous video play on a single charge. The tablet did not disappoint in this department.
On a single charge the battery lasted over three days, while we regularly performed tasks like checking e-mail, following Twitter and, of course, playing various games. Even after a low battery alert was brought up on the screen, an additional 45 minutes of game time was squeezed out of the device by turning off the sound and vibration and dimming the screen’s brightness.
The Galaxy performed exceptionally well here and would have lasted substantially longer had we turned the screen down from the beginning.
6. It’s all about You(Tube) (How well does it handle online video sites?)
Tap the browser app and your web sites appear much the same as other Android tablets display them. The included YouTube application is exactly the same as any other YouTube browser found on Android devices, letting you search for online video directly from the app instead of first navigating to the web site. If you have a YouTube account and have entered your Google credentials when setting the deice up, you will automatically be logged into your YouTube account, displaying the videos you have uploaded, along with your most recent searches.
Watching video is also great. The 10‚ capacitive TFT screen shows ripped DVDs in near DVD quality ‚ although you will battle to pinpoint the drop in quality.
The Samsung browser supports Flash, unlike the iPads, but you first have to download a Flash player before you can view Flash-enabled sites. A simple process that requires you to click on a link or download a Flash player from the Market Place.
Overall, we were not blown away by the Samsung’s video playing functionality, which was much the same as any Android device, and the built-in video library controls were pretty much stock standard.
7. The retro test (Can it replace your radio? TuneIn Radio reveals all.)
TuneIn radio installs and runs smoothly. Sourcing local radio content was a breeze and something that can be set up in a matter of minutes. Sending the radio station to play in the background also posed no problems.
The included MusicHub application, which is part of Samsung’s TouchWiz skin, did add a bit of excitement. However, it will only connect once a SIM card is installed: then only can you set up an account and start downloading and paying for MP3s.
The Android Market Place offers a free application called MP3 Music Download Pro. Through this application, any MP3 can be downloaded for free onto your device. The creators of the app claim it is a legal app that gathers songs from public search engines and web sites.
The dual side-mounted speakers work wonders. The sound and bass was better than on any of the other devices we’ve tested, to the point where the sound could be turned up full-blast without any distortion or rattling of the screen.
Overall, the Samsung performed much the same as other tablets, but its great speaker did impress us.
8. On target (Is the on/off switch easy to find and use in the dark?)
First time users will need to locate the power button at the top left of the device when holding it in landscape mode. However, after that there will be no problem. The button is somewhat oversized and, combined with the low amount of pressure needed to push it, makes it great to find and operate in the dark. It is located near the volume control buttons, but Samsung has still left enough space between the buttons to allow your fingers to feel where one button ends and the other begins.
This basic control was well thought out.
9. Keep control (How effective are the control buttons ‚ hardware and software?)
Apart from the power and the volume control buttons, there are no other hardware buttons, but four software buttons: the standard Home, Back and Open windows buttons and one extra ‚ a Screen-grab button.
The TouchWiz skin provided by Samsung adds an entirely new look to the device. You get five home screens, which you can populate with your favourite apps. However, when you first power up the device, things get confusing. Firstly, widgets are pre-set to appear on certain screens, which is annoying. On the main home screen for example, you get one huge widget displaying the time and weather. Meanwhile, your e-mail and Twitter feeds are mere tiny icons that you have to open before you can access them. This means there will be a lot of customisation required. For instance, you may find that your e-mail widget is more important than a clock or weather widget. You would therefore have to remove the weather widget, add your e-mail widget, and drag it to the size you want.
When you boot up the device, Samsung should offer the option of going with the standard ‚Samsung widget layout‚ or being able to customise your layout as you go along.
Secondly, when the device is first booted up, it attempts to download your previously installed applications. This is a problem many people faced when migrating from one Android device to another. Read our “Switching Androids? Here’s how‚ article. Problem is, only some applications were downloaded. Furthermore, only some of the app shortcuts were placed on the home screen, while others were place under the apps menu.
This was confusing, especially when it came to working out which applications were installed and which weren’t.
The TouchWiz skin does bring some unique features to the device, but the fact that you are forced into Samsung’s layout in the beginning ‚ without much guidance on how to change it ‚ is a drawback.
10. The iPrice Test (Is it competitively priced? And we all know which device we’re comparing.)
Samsung performs exceptionally well throughout the Tablet Test, but things fall apart when you get to the heart of the matter The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 retails in the region of R7 500, (R7 199 at TabletWorld) making it one of the most expensive tablets in South Africa.
Unfortunately that price is totally unjustified in a market where the leader, the iPad 2, starts at R4399. Samsung can’t simply relay on the mobile network contracts to get them past this one. With luck and insight, the Amazon tablet strategy (click here to read more) will persuade them to re-think their pricing.
Thenprice faux pas is slightly offset by the free, included suite of office apps,nPolaris. It gives the Tab the productivity edge over the iPad.
The bottom line
Apart from the price, the Samsung perfoms superbly. It’s well-designed, has an excellent batttery life and is bursting with features and functions. It definitely is a tablet on which Apple needs to keep a close eye. You could easily even mistake it for an iPad should you not see the Samsung logo at the bottom of the screen, but the buttons, interface, and price will tell you otherwise.
Overall score: 80/100 (the first Android device to score 80)
* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher
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