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Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review

by Phil Hornshaw

It’s impossible not to compare the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 to the iPad. For one, all tablets are stacked up against Apple’s juggernaut and the question, “Will this be the tablet that beats the iPad?” inevitably gets asked. And the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which launched across the country on June 17, has been redesigned specifically to take on the iPad 2, and came out thinner and slightly lighter than Apple’s offering.

A few ounces of weight and fractions of an inch in thickness – physical specs on which the Galaxy Tab beats the iPad 2 –  aren’t really all that impressive at the end of the day, but the Galaxy Tab is a nicely designed device. It feels good in your hands, with a solid 3-megapixel, HD video rear camera and a 2-megapixel one in the front. The Galaxy Tab carries more RAM than the iPad 2 – a full gigabyte – as well as a dual-core 1GHz Tegra processor (great for gaming), a battery capable of delivering about nine hours of video viewing, and full capability to use Adobe Flash.

From a hardware standpoint, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 stacks up pretty well against the iPad 2, and just as well against many other Android tablets on the market. It’s software that makes the difference, though; and when it comes to available apps, the Galaxy Tab starts to lose ground.

How well does it work?

In terms of user experience, the Galaxy Tab also has a lot to offer. When it was first launched alongside Google’s Android 3.0 Honeycomb for tablets, many reviewers found the Motorola Xoom’s user experience and operating system a little unstable. For the Galaxy Tab, Samsung has tweaked Honeycomb, and it works pretty well. There aren’t any issues with stability and for standard things – email, calendars, contacts and lots of other common mobile and tablet functions – the Galaxy Tab works exceedingly well.

In fact, I enjoyed my time demoing the Galaxy Tab 10.1 during the past two weeks or so; for reading and browsing things like my Google Reader subscriptions, the Galaxy is great. I like the tab enough to feel bad that I struggle to recommend it, because when it comes to apps that you can actually use on the thing, they’re few and far between.

Android in general is lacking in support for tablets, which means that most of the apps available in the Android Market and other stores like the Amazon Appstore are scaled up, slightly pixelated versions of apps designed to be used on smartphones. And that’s if they work at all – at least when it comes to games, most of the high quality premium titles on the platform such as Gameloft’s and Electronic Arts’ offerings aren’t compatible with the Galaxy Tab just yet. Finding games that could really push the hardware was difficult, to say the least.

What about functionality?

And when you compare the functionality of the tab with the iPad 2, you unfortunately run into a situation in which the number of things the Galaxy can’t do starts to exceed the things it can. Yes, it’s capable of running Flash videos from the Internet, which was great for accessing South Park Studios and watching full episodes of the show on the device. But there’s no native apps for services such as Netflix and Hulu (and they don’t work in the Galaxy’s web browser), and while there’s a subscription-based workaround (it’s called PlayOn, and it streams video through a networked PC to the tab), it’s a serious lack of functionality on a device that would be otherwise be great for playing videos and movies. Meanwhile, the iPad has apps for both these popular services and more.

So while the Galaxy Tab is a nice device and shows some promise in its UX, there simply isn’t much you can do with it – perhaps a fault more of Android right now than Samsung’s tab – but the end result is that finding apps for the device is difficult, and it leaves it lacking in activities.

There is a division of people who will enjoy the Galaxy Tab: namely, Android fans and people who are adamantly against Apple’s iOS platform. It seems to me that the Galaxy Tab is a great alternative to the iPad 2 if you’re really not interested in getting an iPad 2 for whatever reason: it’s powerful and works just as well as the iPad for a lot of functions. But don’t pick it up without knowing that, at least for now, there’s just not a lot the device is capable of doing, and buying a Galaxy Tab expecting it to be a functional alternative to the iPad will leave users disappointed.