- In A Nutshell [Do Not Skip This Section]
- The Good
- The Not So Good
- Limited Edition
- Build Quality and Hardware
- Performance and Battery Life
- Video Samples
- Daytime sample
- Nighttime sample (Jane's Addiction concert at Google I/O, lots of noise)
- Photo Samples
- What Else Is Missing?
For the past 3 weeks, I've been rigorously testing Samsung's latest Android tablet - the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and I am happy to report that my verdict is now out. I hope you will forgive such a long review timeline, but I wanted to really dig in deep and get the full experience, all while comparing it to that of the Motorola XOOM.
I know a lot of you will jump to the Conclusion right away, but I urge you to read all the interesting sections as well - In A Nutshell, The Good, and The Not So Good at a minimum.
If you've been following Android news at all this year, you're probably already aware of the history of Samsung tablets, culminating in the release of the super-slim Galaxy Tabs 10.1 and 8.9. Before I move on, let me briefly recap it for those not as caught up:
- The first Samsung Android tablet was the original 7" Galaxy Tab, which was launched with Froyo and recently updated to Gingerbread (in some countries). It was thick and relatively heavy, and lacked Google's Honeycomb tablet OS, essentially making it a giant Android phone (and in the U.S., without even a phone app). Its pocketable size was great for reading and carrying around, but it left much to be desired.
- Samsung's 2nd tablet was the Galaxy Tab 10.1v, which was designed before the iPad 2. It was also thick and kind of bulky - an improvement over the 7" tab, but still nothing that special.
- Samsung's latest tablet duo, the Galaxy Tabs 10.1 and 8.9, announced at CTIA Wireless earlier this year, was meant to be the company's first really competitive answer to the iPad 2 and all other Android tablets on the market. The limited I/O edition 10.1" model is exactly what we're dealing with today in this review.
Earlier this year, I bought a 4G Motorola XOOM - the first device ever to run Android 3.0 "Honeycomb." It was kind of heavy, kind of thick, and kind of buggy, but it was the first real Android tablet, and I had to get my hands on it. 2 months later, Google gifted all I/O conference attendees limited edition Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1s, giving me a chance to run both of them side-by-side for a few weeks before the public release.
Let's dig in.
In A Nutshell [Do Not Skip This Section]
The Galaxy Tab 10.1's 2 most valuable qualities are first and foremost its size and weight. The Tab 10.1 is both the slimmest and the lightest Android tablet to date in its size category, and while it achieves it with some sacrifices, listen to me when I say that these two factors make ALL the difference in the world.
Let me put it this way - I own the XOOM and the Tab 10.1, and 100% of the time, I prefer to use the Tab 10.1 to the XOOM. I've given them to friends to compare, and every single one prefers the Tab by a long margin.
The reason? The Tab 10.1 weighs considerably less, even though in reality the difference is only 165 grams (or 0.36 lb). It is almost half the XOOM's thickness as well (8.6 mm vs 13 mm), and these two qualities combined completely transform the experience of using what is meant to be a portable product.
Compromises needed to be made by Samsung, and it chose to deliberately replace HDMI and USB ports with a single 30-pin connector, as well as omit a MicroSD port altogether. In return, they've managed to slim down the tablet to the point that I do not feel the strain in my hands anymore. I go through the day without thinking how heavy or thick it is, and time and time again it proves to be the most important part of the tablet experience. If you've played around with the newest MacBook Airs, it's kind of like going from the thick and heavy HP clunker to the Air, which you can hold easily in one hand. Try that with the XOOM, and your hand will get fatigued really fast.
After further digging into the 30-pin connector situation, it no longer feels like Samsung really made many compromises after all - as it turns out, if you really need that HDMI capability, you can actually gain it by buying a converter cable. A replacement 30-pin <-> USB cable can also be purchased, but who really needs one outside of charging when pretty much all the syncing can be easily done in the cloud or over-the-air? The MicroSD situation is really not an issue at all in my opinion - the 32GB version should be enough for most people, especially considering that both music and movies are steadily heading to the cloud as well.
With the Tab 10.1, you pay a certain premium in accessories and give up certain features in exchange for its incredible thinness and portability - if it's something you're not willing to live with and you just need that MicroSD slot, perhaps this tablet is not for you (perhaps what you're really looking for is a netbook). You could say I'm a fairly techy guy, but even with all my needs, not once did I feel like I was missing something important while using the Tab.
To summarize, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is currently my top Android tablet recommendation due to its incredible size and weight. Comparatively, the XOOM, while only 2 months older, feels like a previous generation rattletrap. The Tab 10.1 also sports a superior, more vibrant screen which makes the XOOM look pale in comparison (literally). Even with the Transformers and Padfones of the world, I would still go with the Tab in the foreseeable future.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 currently comes in 2 flavors - $599.99 32GB version and the $499 16GB version. The Limited Edition Tab 10.1 from I/O is the former of the two.
Here are the Tab 10.1's specs:
- Dual-core 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 T20 processor
- 10.1" WXGA 1280x800 TFT (PLS) screen (PLS confirmed by official specs)
- 1GB RAM
- 32GB or 16GB on-board storage
- 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
- 7000 mAh battery
- 3MP rear camera with LED flash and 720p video recording
- 2MP front-facing camera
- video codecs: 720p/1080p Mpeg4, H.264, H.263, H263Sorenson, Divx/XviD, VC-1, WMV7/8
- audio codecs: MP3, OGG, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-, NB, AMR-WB, WMA, WAV, MID, AC3, IMY, AAC(Mono), AMR_NB
- unlocked bootloader (this likely won't be present in the final version)
- proprietary 30-pin connector
- 3.5mm audio jack
- dimensions: 175.3 x 256.7 x 8.6 mm (for comparison, the XOOM is 170 x 250 x 13 mm)
- weight: 565 grams (for comparison, the XOOM is 730 grams)
- the tablet has none of these: SD (MicroSD, SD), HDMI, USB (MicroUSB, MiniUSB, full-size USB), SIM slot (although a 4G version will be coming later this year)
- optional docks (sold separately): vehicle, keyboard, desktop
- The Tab 10.1 is very light - only 565 grams.
- Thinness - 8.6 mm is thinner than the iPad 2.
In my opinion, combined, the 2 bullet points above outweigh all potential negatives.
- Brighter, crisper, more color-rich screen compared to the XOOM. I have no problems with the screen whatsoever outside of glare. It also doesn't seem to have those weird rhombus-like textures that the XOOM does upon close examination.
- Easy root, fully unlocked bootloader and /system that allow for a custom ClockworkMod recovery (this probably won't stay in the final version).
- The Tab is plenty fast. Not as fast as the upcoming quad-cores, but its stock Tegra 2 performs very well.
- The glossy feel of the back (surprisingly) - it feels like it's covered by a protective layer and to me feels better than the XOOM's matte surface.
- Very clean look, with no logos polluting the front. Little Androids on the back are a nice touch (though the latter is a limited edition only feature).
- A large 7000 mAh battery that delivers enough juice to last several days in moderate to heavy usage scenarios. My own light usage resulted in 11 days of battery life without a recharge (!).
- Stereo speakers.
- Power button on the top rather than on the back (wtf, XOOM?).
- A 2MP front-facing camera - this is the one that matters.
- Update 6/2/11: According to the press release Samsung just put out, DLNA capabilities will be actually present on the Tab after a future software update.
The Not So Good
- The Tab 10.1 is a bit on the expensive side, at $599.99 for the 32GB version and $499.99 for the 16GB. The Transformer has more features and costs $100 less, for example, but can't even touch the Tab 10.1's slimness. Everything will depend on what you value more - size or peripherals.
- Low-resolution 3MP rear camera with poor picture quality and color reproduction; but frankly, you should care about the front-facing camera more, as that's the one you'll be probably primarily using.
- No USB, HDMI, or SD slots of any kind.
- Proprietary Samsung PDMI-like connector, which should in theory provide HDMI, USB 2.0 and 3.0, high output power, etc. However, Samsung modified it sufficiently that it is no longer PDMI-compatible, according to Wikipedia.
- There is still considerable UI lag, even though hardware acceleration is in effect. It's nowhere near the iPad's buttery smoothness in certain areas, like bring up the Apps menu or scrolling between app list screens. To be fair, a lot of areas are also really smooth, so it's a hit or miss that is more of a Honeycomb problem in general at the moment, surely fixable with future software tweaks.
- The speakers are pathetic - they're only a tad louder than my EVO 4G and produce tinny, quiet sound.
- Update: DLNA capabilities are missing at launch but will be available in the future (see above).
The limited edition Google I/O edition differs from the final consumer release in the following ways:
- Box says Google I/O.
- Fully unlocked and extremely easy to root.
- The back is full of little Androids rather than a solid and boring white.
Build Quality and Hardware
The overall build of the Tab 10.1 is very good - the tablet feels absolutely great in my hands and on my lap. It's also more flat, without any weird bulges, creating a good seal between the back and whatever surface it's laying on, unlike the XOOM. You can actually spin the XOOM pretty easily on its back due to its curved shape, which I absolutely hate (bump it accidentally, and it suddenly rotates 45 degrees).
The tablet feels a little plasticky compared to other tablets, such as the XOOM, but after using it for 3 weeks, I have to admit that I prefer the glossy, plasticky feel of the back to the rugged, matte feel of the XOOM. For one, I feel like the back is not going to get easily smudged or damaged, because the plastic gives the tablet an added layer of scratch protection.
As for the external port and button configuration, the Tab has a single 30-pin charging/data port on the bottom, 2 speakers on each side, and a 3.5mm audio jack together with the Power button and the volume rocker on the top. On the front, we have a 2MP front-facing camera, while the back houses a measly 3MP camera/flash combo. As with all other Honeycomb tablets, the Tab has no physical contextual and menu buttons - instead, they're omnipresent on the bottom left of the screen.
Even though my Tab 10.1 still physically looks brand new, some users appear to not be as lucky, with reports of defective screens coming out of their housing have started showing up on the web. I'm not sure if only a few units are affected or eventually all Tabs start bulging out, but considering Samsung's warranty is in effect, I'm not too worried. I just hope they fix the problem before it's too late.
Overall, at this point I am happy with build quality.
- 10.1" 1280x800 WXGA TFT (PLS) screen with the same dimensions and resolution as the XOOM.
- The screen is not AMOLED or SLCD and at first looked similar to the XOOM's. However, upon closer inspection, I found it to be definitely brighter, crisper, and more vibrant. Just look at the comparison screenshots below. Update: I was able to confirm the screen is indeed using PLS technology instead of IPS, which explains the better picture quality.
Left: Samsung Tab 10.1, Right: Motorola XOOM
Left: Samsung Tab 10.1, Right: Motorola XOOM
- I can't complain about the Tab's screen's viewing angles - they're great. I never feel like I need to angle it a certain way to see the picture better, and that's what matters to me.
- Nevertheless, the screen is still pretty glossy, just like the XOOM, making reading anything but my reflection in bright sunlight very hard.
Overall, I'm happy with the screen, though its reflective properties could definitely allow me to replace a few mirrors in my house.
Performance and Battery Life
- Plenty fast for pretty much anything you throw at it.
- Sometimes gets slightly sluggish in the UI.
- Wi-Fi is almost an order of magnitude faster than what we're used to on phones - the downloads finish a lot faster.
- Disk performance is also much better than on phones - I could be installing multiple apps at the same time without noticing any lag.
- Upon initial setup, 40 apps were simultaneously downloaded and installed in about 7 minutes. I was impressed - this would have taken ages on my phone.
- Great battery life, definitely better than XOOM's. The wife charges her XOOM every 2-3 days, while my Tab usually goes on for 4-5 no problem. Update 6/10/11: I have been using the tablet a lot more casually in the last week or so, and it lasted 11 days before I got the low battery notification. Not bad. At all.
- Quadrant scores were jumping between 1894 and 2157, while SmartBench 2011 scored 2807.
The Tab 10.1 currently runs pure Honeycomb - at the moment 3.0.1, but 3.1 is planned for the release version. Update: The 3.1 upgrade has been released.
No bloat whatsoever, just like on the XOOM, although I did notice Pulse was pre-installed (I ended up kind of liking it).
- Samsung's custom white keyboard is installed in addition to the one that comes stock with Honeycomb. It offers no benefit whatsoever compared to the stock one, so I immediately replaced it with Thumb Keyboard - the best tablet keyboard on the Market right now.
- Some of the programs (including Gmail and Maps) crashed, but I blame it fully on software developers in charge of those apps (see more software bugs in the Bugs section below).
- There is an app called Samsung Apps, presumably Samsung's own version of the Market, but it's currently filled with test apps and is completely useless (see more in the Bugs section).
- The Samsung Music Hub (I didn't find a Movie or Book Hubs here) seems to be fully operational, offering music for purchase and sampling.
- The rest of the tablet is pretty much stock; I won't go into details - if you want to read up more on the pure Honeycomb experience, visit our Honeycomb walkthrough.
The speakers are small and produce very tinny sound, only a tad louder than my EVO. I think this was a deliberate trade-off made to achieve slimness, but it's disappointing nonetheless.
The rear camera's resolution is 3MP - cameras with resolution this low nowadays can only be found in low-end devices. It's pretty embarrassing really, and not just because of the resolution. Unless shot in perfect conditions, photos come grainy, complete with poor color reproduction and lack of vibrancy. Add a flash and you get a horrible whitish/bluish glow. Add darkness, and the artifacts fill up the whole frame, making it look like sand paper.
The one redeeming quality of the rear camera is its video recording capability - 720p videos come out surprisingly smooth for a mobile device, most likely benefitting from a powerful processor and lower resolution, resulting in recording fewer pixels. Even then, video lacks the same color richness that I mentioned above.
Judge for yourself - 2 video samples and a variety of photo samples await you below.
Considering that the Tab 10.1v had an 8MP shooter, it's safe to say a sizable compromise has been made to achieve the slim factor in the Tab 10.1. Personally, I am never going to use the rear camera anyway, so I won't feel too heartbroken about its poor quality.
As for the front-facing camera, I didn't get to test it much, but video you can expect is really nothing to write home about. Still, compared to most other mobile front-facing cameras, both the XOOM and the Tab 10.1 come out ahead at 2 megapixels.
Nighttime sample (Jane's Addiction concert at Google I/O, lots of noise)
- Rooting Explained + Top 5 Benefits Of Rooting
- Top Android Apps Every Rooted User Should Know About: Part 1 (Apps 1-8), Part 2 (Apps 9-16), Part 3 (Apps 17-25)
- Custom ROMs Explained And Why You Want Them
- How To Fully Back Up And Restore Your Android Phone Using Nandroid Backup
- How To Flash A Custom ROM To Your Android Phone With ROM Manager + Full Backup & Restore
- So You Want To Know About Bootloaders, Encryption, Signing, And Locking?
The limited edition Tab 10.1 comes completely unlocked and can be rooted in minutes. ClockworkMod recovery can be easily installed from here. Needless to say, I was ecstatic and managed to claim the Tab as "my" tablet around the house, citing rooting and openness as supporting evidence (also known as gibberish, according to the wife).
Here are the bugs I found during the first 3 weeks of using the Tab 10.1 with the stock 3.0.1 Android OS. None of them are show-stoppers, maybe with the exception of the charging bug, but I think all software issues will be fixed with an over-the-air update.
- [software] The Volume Up/Down buttons do not reverse when you switch from holding the tablet 90 degrees to 270 degrees, so depending on which way it's facing in portrait mode, the Volume Up may actually be Volume Down.
- [software] No United States in the country selection when you try to check for OTA updates.
- [software] Completely nonoperational Samsung Apps app with a bunch of test apps - this is probably reserved for the official launch and will start working then.
- [software] Sometimes the tablet no longer turns on after 100% charge and requires a soft reset - I even thought it was completely dead the first time. Holding the power and volume buttons seems to revive it.
- [software] Occasional crashes in Maps, Music hub, browser, gmail, other apps (nothing to do with this particular Tab though) - this should be fixed with app and OS updates.
- [software] Randomly after a few days of running fine, browsers relying on WebViews (stock Browser, Dolphin, etc.) suddenly refuse to scroll and behave very weird. Only a reboot fixes this behavior.
- [software] All scrolling in WebViews (stock Browser, Dolphin, in-app browsers) on the Tab 10.1 seems to be lacking proper momentum and has too much friction. For example, on the XOOM, it takes me a single strong fling to scroll through a long webpage, while on the Tab 10.1, it takes 3-4. It's really annoying and takes away from the otherwise mostly butter-smooth experience.
- [hardware] Some users reported physical issues with their Tabs' screens coming out of their housing. This issue makes me quite nervous about using the tablet on the go, and we've yet to hear Samsung chime in.
What Else Is Missing?
So what else is missing from the Tab besides SD/USB/HDMI?
- TouchWiz 4.0 or any custom UI at all - this was missing on both the Limited Edition and production Tabs showcased before I/O. Most of you will probably consider this a good thing, although the word on the street is TouchWiz 4 is not dead, scheduled to arrive OTA sometime in the future.
- No word on the stick type BT headset that we heard about at the CTIA announcement.
- 30-pin <-> HDMI cable - the only cable in the box is 30-pin <-> USB. More accessories are planned.
- Samsung Hubs (other than Music and Apps), although Books are already present from Google, and
Movies should be coming with Android 3.1. Update: Movies didn't come with 3.1 :(.
Ha, I knew you'd jump here right away (kudos if you read the whole review first!). Rather than repeat myself, I'll send you straight back to the In A Nutshell section, which provides a great summary of my thoughts on this tablet.