This review has been a long time coming. Partly because of recent life changes, but mainly because I’ve been reluctant to let go of this device. This will be my last review for a few months, while I take a hiatus to work on other projects. Hope to resume again in the Fall.
Introducing the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 – the tablet that’s so much like the Apple iPad, the courts have granted an injunction preventing you from buying a new one (for now)!
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, released early last year, is a recent iteration in the procession of Android Tablet devices. The specs on paper (or screen, as it were), the tablet looks impressive:
- Front- (2MP) & Back-facing (720p / 3MP) cameras
- 10.1″ widescreen display (1280×800 res, 149ppi)
- 4G LTE support + 802.11 a/b/g/n wifi
- 1GB RAM, 1GHz dual-core Tegra2 Processor
- Android Honeycomb (Ice Cream Sandwich should be here by July)
- External SIM card slot
Before getting to the details, (SPOILER ALERT) the tablet is really impressive. Many of the reservations I had about the Xoom tablet have been dissolved, partly due to the maturing Apps marketplace and partly just because the hardware is better.
More deets after the jump:
The Tactile Experience
Like the Xoom tablet, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was a very quick set-up. The 4G SIM card connected quickly and, after providing my Google Account information, started up quickly.
The tablet feels significantly lighter than the Xoom, comparable in weight to the iPad (I did not have a scale to measure the weight difference, but it is definitely close). The brushed metal texture on the back feels nice on the fingers, and gives it a refined look.
The power button is in an easy to find location, just above the volume control. The 3.5mm headphone jack is in an odd location — at the top of the device, which was puzzling: either you deal with a shortened cord by running it down the back and then up from the bottom, or you flip the whole tablet 180 degrees (most apps will rotate with no problem) so that the headphone plug is at the bottom (though then the volume control is inverted).
The display is beautiful; very colorful and the image is very sharp. The quality of the display is what you would expect, and the fact that it’s easy to forget about speaks to its quality, rather than deficiency.
The speakers are acceptable, and are at least stereo. They are largely oriented to mid-range frequencies, so watching a video that involves talking or dialogue (also: Skype) is easy to understand; listening to music or audio that requires a more dynamic range may find its speakers wanting. But like I said, they are what one would expect from the current level of technology.
Battery life is reasonable, depending on how much you use full-screen display + wireless communication. A Skype video call or Netflix movie will last about 1.5 hrs before needing to be plugged in; general persistent usage would increase that to about 3 hours or so. Passive, intermittent, usage (the screen is off, but it’s still polling for E-mail, updates, etc.) it can last all day.
The User Experience
The Android tablet OS on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is generally similar to how the Xoom tablet was: the desktop panels appear the same, there are widgets, there is a “master view” that lets you easily add stuff to the panels without doing a lot of scrolling. This all felt very familiar. Navigating the device was natural and very rarely frustrating.
This device features the ability to take screenshots – an icon showing two superimposed squares sits right next to the “Back”, “Home”, and “Task Manager” icons; I have taken many screenshots by accident, thinking that the icon meant “full screen” (it strongly resembles the Youtube “full screen” icon).
Tapping the clock area brings up a very useful dashboard of settings, allowing you to turn Wi-fi / Wireless on or off, see calendar information, and other system details. Tapping the “Task Manager” icon, as on the Xoom, superimposes a verticle column of all tasks running, allowing for easy switching.
The cameras are impressive. While using one of the cameras, there is an icon (showing a camera sitting atop a circular arrow) that allows you to switch from Front to Back, and vice-versa. This means that while video conferencing, for example, you can easily flip the camera around to display what you see around you. Both cameras shoot good quality photos, though I used them far more often for video conferencing.
Really, though, you aren’t going to do a whole lot of photography, I mean, it’s a tablet, right? Shooting video is nice, but overall, the rear-camera got FAR less use than the front camera. Newer tablets (such as the Google Nexus 7) seem to be including only front-facing cameras now, anyways.
Thanks to the new “Screenshot” feature of Android OS, I can include better screen caps!
One feature that I found incredibly useful, time and time again, is the Skype application. I think the only negative thing I could say about this is that if you don’t manually exit it, it will drain your battery life a little bit faster than if it isn’t running.
Being able to video conference from a tablet is so much more convenient than using a computer, and really, having a tablet for expressly this purpose (over Wi-Fi) is almost worth the price alone. There were a few occasions where I was in town, and Skyped with my kids over the local 4G LTE connection; It feels really awesome, technologically, to be able to video chat with a device that is thinner and lighter than a textbook, completely untethered from any walls.
The Netflix app is finally available on Android devices (and has been for a little over a year). Navigating through the available movies via the touch screen can be a little frustrating; I still haven’t figured out how to gesture to indicate I want to go “up and down” rather than pan “left and right” through the rows of movies. (The gestures are what you would expect, but the application doesn’t always correctly interpret them).
There is a Hulu Plus app now, though it does not support this version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab. (The Tab 2, its successor, is supported, in both 7″ and 10″ flavors) Hulu Plus is the $7.99/month paid subscription service to Hulu, which offers more shows and movies, but unfortunately still has advertisements.
The official Twitter app doesn’t seem to have a very good support for tablet-sized devices; Tweetdeck was an acceptable substitute.
The tides are changing for games on Android tablets — where the Xoom showed some future promise with games like Cordy, the reality of good-quality (and fun!) games on the Android Tablet is here.
I shelled out $4.95 for a copy of “Elder Signs Omens“, a dice-based puzzler themed in the H.P. Lovecraft “Cthulu” world. The graphics, sound, and gameplay are all top-notch (if you play it, you will want to watch the tutorial first, otherwise the game can be a little confusing). (Find it in the Play Store)
Early this year, Humble Bundle packaged a set of games just for Android called the “Humble Bundle for Android“, a followup was released in June 2012. I paid a few bucks for the former one, and was very pleased with the quality of the games.
- Osmos (HD) – a game where you play as a single-celled organism and must eat other things smaller (to grow) while avoiding things larger; this game was very intuitive with the touch-screen interface.
- Anomaly (HD) – A tower defense game in reverse — you assemble the load (a series of tanks) and choose your path through a precarious array of towers, controlled by the AI.
- EDGE – a puzzle game that feels like a mix between Q*Bert and Marble Madness; the touch screen controls were a little frustrating, but offered some versatility with how you interact.
- Tokitori – A puzzle game where your character (an anthropomorphic bird) must recover all the eggs from a multi-tiered platform, avoiding porcupines and other hazards.
- World of Goo – the famous Indie-game, popularized a few years ago, is available on Android and performs beautifully. This is also a puzzle game, where you assemble structures out of balls of connective goo, circumventing hazards to reach a destination point on each level.
Most of the games also included their soundtracks, and purchasing the bundle allows you free access to download it for a variety of platforms, including Windows, Mac and Linux, and occasionally Steam as well.
Pictured: Angry Birds, Angry Birds:Space, and Fruit Ninja
While the Android Tablets still lack some games (a better Settlers of Catan app, for starters), the offerings are much more robust (and in the end, still very fun), and finally showcase the power of the tablet’s hardware.
If you’re so inclined, you can also occasionally find some Emulator apps (they pop up on the Play store occasionally, or you can also find some APKs as well) that can play ROMs. (How you acquire the ROMs is completely up to you to figure out). This is something that is substantially harder to get on iOS (though not impossible, it seems).
I am excited to see what other games become available for Android in the upcoming year. While I am doubtful this device will support Jellybean (the very latest version of Android; and I only say that because of Android’s history for device support with regard to their newer OS releases), I have heard that the UI has improved dramatically, particularly the framerate for UI animations. It may not seem like a big deal, but there’s a significant bias in perception that occurs where we judge a device based on its ability to handle things like UI animations. (Presumably because “this is just a simple screen change, and it looks choppy, I guess that means the graphics hardeware is crap.”)
The Cost Issue
With the Xoom, I had expressed some reservations about the quality of the product with regard to its cost.
However with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, I feel fewer reservations about its cost/benefit. The outright price ($699) is within $100 of a comparable iPad model ($629) (assumes 4G LTE, 16GB for both) but with the subsidized cost of only $429 (with 2 year contract), this is a very attractive option.
If you are needing a solid tablet and are not specifically loyal to the iOS store, this is a really great device and I was not disappointed. Based on the current court ruling, mentioned in the beginning, you may not be able to acquire one of these, though they are still being listed on Verizon’s website. The Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1, native ICS onboard) will hopefully be offered on Verizon’s site soon, as well.
This is a really great device, shows dramatic improvement over the first generation Motorola Xoom tablet, and will be dearly missed.
Verdict: Thumbs up!
Disclosure notice: Reviewed tech hardware provided indirectly by Verizon; however, I am not compensated and my participation in this program is not affected / determined by the views expressed in my reviews.