Samsung’s first Galaxy Tab boasted a 7in screen and, like the Blackberry PlayBook and HTC Flyer, could just about fit in your pocket. The Tab 10.1 however is a different kettle of bits, with a full-size screen that has more in common with the Motorola Xoom or Apple’s iPad 2.
In fact, Apple thinks it has so much in common that it’s trying to prevent its release in Europe. But while the writs and counter-writs fly, the main question for us is – is it any good?
Design and build
The Tab 10.1 is both slimmer and lighter than its Apple rival, measuring 257x175x9mm and 565g and if it’s not actually better looking, its brushed aluminium trim and minimalist design mean it’s certainly on a par.
Something the Tab 10.1 certainly has in common with the iPad is a proprietary power/sync port, which is fine as far as it goes, but means you can’t make use of another microUSB cable if you forget to bring your cable with you.
The 10.1in capacitive touch screen (see what they’ve done there?) offers a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, just a little more than the 1,024x768 of the iPad 2. It’s terrifically sharp and clear, as well as being very responsive to the touch. It seems to have a very wide viewing angle too, which is useful if more than one of you is watching.
Interface and OS
The Tab 10.1 runs on the Android 3.1 Honeycomb operating system, which is designed specifically for tablets. Last seen on the Motorola Xoom, it’s not a radical departure from the versions you’ll see on mobile phones, but it does make better use of the extra screen space – email for instance offers an Outlook-style viewing pane for your messages, so you don’t have to open each one individually to read them.
There are five home screens that can be filled with all sorts of shortcuts and widgets, including email, calendar, a beautifully animated weather app and Samsung’s Social Hub, which brings together your social networking updates and flags up the latest from your favourite contacts. You can resize the icons to give them the emphasis you think each needs.
The four standard Android keys aren’t laid out in a row, as they usually are on phones, but scattered to the corners of the Tab’s display, with search at top left, back and home at bottom left (along with a screen grab feature), and menu and widgets at top right.
Notifications as well as battery and signal info are at bottom right and you can access key apps by dragging up a toolbar from the bottom of the screen.
The onscreen QWERTY keyboard is big enough to use in standard ten-finger touch-type mode, and sensitive enough to make it worth your while. The four lines of keys also include some useful symbols like @ and .com – shouldn’t all mobile keyboards have these up front?
The 3 megapixel camera may not be at the cutting edge, but it does a reasonable job nonetheless. It has a maximum resolution of 2084x1536 pixels (1280x720) for video and includes LED flash, autofocus, smile shot, plus panorama and macro close-up modes.
The 720p HD video recording still passes muster when blown up to full size on your TV screen, though there’s no HDMI connection which would allow you to transfer it directly. There’s also a 2 megapixel camera on the front for video calls.
Apps and browser
At first glance the Android Market via Honeycomb doesn’t seem as well stocked as the mobile phone version. That’s because it only shows those apps which have been optimised for the bigger screen. While this can be frustrating, it also ensures that you don’t have to put up with apps that are squished into a corner.
Polaris Office comes as standard, allowing you to create and view Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents and you can back them up to the cloud too, though you’ll need a Box.net account to do so.
Media and connectivity
Fast internet access comes via Wi-Fi and while there’s no 3G connection yet, Samsung says there’s a version on the way. The browser includes a cool motion-sensitive zooming trick – by touching the screen at two points with your thumbs you can tip it forward or back to zoom in or out.
There’s no Flash support, and pages don’t always render as well as they might with the Android browser, though you can download the superior Opera browser from the Android Market for free.
You can watch 1080p full HD films and they look terrific on screen. While Samsung’s Media Hub isn’t available on the Tab 10.1 yet, it’s due to be added as an update, and will allow you to download films over the air like HTC’s Watch service. Samsung’s Music Hub is on board though, offering tracks for 99p each and albums for £5.
Performance and battery life
The processor is a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 backed up by 1GB of RAM and for the most part it does a good job, keeping multiple balls in the air without too much strain. There are occasional signs of lag when switching between apps, which can be a little frustrating, though it’s certainly not slow enough to be a disaster.
The Tab 10.1 is available in either 16GB, 32GB or 64GB versions and you’ll need to decide which is best for you, since there’s no opportunity to add more memory via microSD card.
The large 7000mAh battery put in a good performance, delivering well over a day of heavy use. There are options to stretch the battery life too, like the automatic brightness level of the screen, which only gives you as much illumination as you need, and some handy time-out functions, like switching off the camera when it’s not in use.
- Slim, stylish design
- Sharp, responsive 10.1in touchscreen
- Android 3.1 Honeycomb
- Some lag
- No HDMI port
- Proprietary Samsung charge/sync port
Verdict: Apple seems to be worried about the Tab 10.1 eating into the iPad market and so it should. For a full-size tablet design it offers pretty much the best of Android in a sleek, stylish package and leaps to the top of the non-Apple tablet heap.
More info: Samsung Galaxy 10.1 spec
Price: £400 (16GB, Wi-Fi only)