Featuring the latest version of Android Honeycomb 3.1 designed specifically for tablet devices, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a vast improvement on the original 7-inch Galaxy Tab for a number of reasons, and not just screen size.
Tablet computers are all the rage right now, especially because they suit people who just want to surf the internet, consume information, chat via social media, find things on maps, but ultimately, tablet computers are an information snacker’s paradise.
The first time I ever held a tablet computer would have been easily eight years ago. It was an HP device that came with a stylus and was powered by a Windows XP OS. Back then, tablets were pretty much full-on notebook PCs with a swivel screen. It’s hard to believe all these years later we’re still waiting on a slew of Windows-powered tablets to join the fray.
But in terms of the current generation of tablet devices, Apple can take the credit for re-starting the genre in a more slimmed down way with its iPad. Computing for the people, not the engineers.
Google’s entry into the fray with Android smartphones first and now tablet software will no doubt contribute to reducing Apple’s 80pc hold on the market, but that depends on what the manufacturers do with them.
When Samsung entered the battlefield late last year with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7-inch device with an Android OS, I liked its neatness but felt it had a bit of an identity crisis going on. It just felt like a big phone; a larger version of the Galaxy S smartphone. Also at that stage, you could feel there weren’t enough applications out there to download compared with Apple’s iPad. The reality is a year ago Android apps were optimised for smartphones, not for tablets.
Well, all of that has changed. Now you will find apps such as the New York Times and Mashable optimised for Android tablet devices.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for a device of its size (10.1-inch screen versus the iPad 2 with a 9.7-inch screen) is very, very light, weighing just 565g. That’s the first impression.
The second impression is Samsung has put a lot of work into making it feel like it is its own machine – not simply a computer loaded with standard Android OS software – as well as being a brighter and more colourful affair than most competitors. It has welcome embellishments, such as a Social Hub for gathering all your social networking activity in one place, as well as a Music Hub. This is good news, as my main criticism so far of Android devices is how little work some manufacturers put into designing the user interface in order to differentiate themselves from competitors.
On the Samsung Tab 10.1, the company has gone to the trouble of creating useful widgets for weather, Social Hub, news headlines and bookmarks and more.
The third impression I have found – and take it from me I’m already an avowed iPad fan – is just how viable these machines are as competitors to the iPad now. The litmus test is really what can you do without or what are you missing out on if you had to trade one for the other? The reality after just one short year or so is very little.
Robust and intuitive hardware
The Android 3.1 software for tablets is robust and intuitive. There really is no learning curve. Downloading apps from the Android Market is seamless and fast and many of today’s mainstream apps are optimised for both iPad and Android, and of course they will be joined soon by Metro apps for Windows 8-powered tablets.
The real differentiators will be user interface and hardware performance. I mentioned already how struck I was by how light the Samsung Tab 10.1 is, but it has neat little refinements, such as two nicely designed speakers at either end.
One of the secret weapons on Android 3.1 devices is Chrome. The browser works beautifully on these tablet devices. Another surprise for me was how well native Google apps, like YouTube, worked on the tablet – like it was built for this very experience. As I was finishing writing this review, a colleague came up and played the closing goal from yesterday’s All-Ireland that saw Dublin clinch the Sam Maguire Cup – by just tapping a little ‘HD’ button on the screen the video shifted from pixelated to high-definition in real-time. Very impressive.
Although the Galaxy Tab 10.1 Wi-Fi will soon be joined by a 3G version, I can see many of these Wi-Fi versions finding their way into Christmas stockings this year and don’t think anyone could be disappointed. While tablets are the ultimate in mobile computing and 3G enables access anywhere, many people who have tablet computers tend to keep them on the coffee table or in the bedroom because they are as much entertainment devices these days as the TV.
I checked out RTÉ’s catch-up TV service RTÉ Player via the Chrome browser and got through a lot of content I’d missed.
Another point worth mentioning is the camera. The main camera (at the rear) is a 3-megapixel camera while the camera to the front is a 2-megapixel camera. Somehow, I think this is where Samsung could certainly up the game, especially when you consider 8-megapixel cameras are becoming standard on smartphones and no doubt will find their way to tablets in the months ahead.
All-in-all, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a great achievement and would make a good rival to the iPad. You won’t be disappointed.
Pricing and availability
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 Wi-Fi will cost €479 to €499, including VAT in most computer stores. The Wi-Fi device will be followed into the market later this month by the Galaxy Tab 10.1 3G, which will be supported by operators including Vodafone.