“The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the Android tablet most likely to challenge the iPad 2, but it doesn’t take the opportunity to embrace the openness that Apple eschews”
Home screens are easy to customise
Out of the biggest smartphone manufacturers that ain’t Apple, the task of producing an iPad 2 challenger seems to have fallen to Samsung for the time being.
HTC’s Flyer and Jetstream tablets have not made much of splash since launch, while RIM is struggling to keep hold of its share of the smartphone market, let alone makes its BlackBerry PlayBook a contender.
Samsung has not ducked the challenge - the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is lighter and thinner than the iPad 2, has a higher resolution screen and just as powerful a processor.
The speed of switching it on to getting online cannot be faulted, while the quality of video playback is as good as we’ve seen on a mobile device.
The touchscreen is so finely tuned that you glide around the menus like Torvill and Dean on a joss stick bender, and Samsung have also proved that mobile speakers needn’t make all music sound like a symphony of biscuit tin drumming.
However, the Tab 10.1 fails to prey on Apple’s obsession with trapping you in its iWorld, as it does not incorporate the likes of a standard mini or micro-USB port, a memory card slot or a decent selection of third-party apps.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks and feels very much like an iPad 2, or like a supersized version of the Samsung Galaxy S II smartphone.
It looks and feels expensive, which starting from £399 it should do. As this is the Wi-Fi-only model you’d have to splash out for it upfront, but if you opt for the 3G version you can get it subsidised through a mobile network as you would a mobile phone.
The screen gets greasy easily, making the Tab 10.1 occasionally difficult to keep a grip of - the rubberised back cover doesn’t seem to improve things much, but it is also easy to clean.
There are only two physical buttons - the power switch and volume rocker, which are understated and sturdy yet also irritatingly easy to unintentionally press, making for plenty of unexpected rises in volume that can leave you a little dazed if you’re holding the tablet close to your face.
The lack of mini or micro-USB ports or memory card slots feels like a major opportunity missed when it comes to capitalising on Apple’s obsession with keeping third-party technology locked out of its devices.
The fact that the Tab 10.1’s cable uses a non-standard connector is the icing on a very annoying cake, especially when the majority of mobile manufacturers have agreed to use mini-USB chargers as standard from next year.
Looks expensive, and so it should
The original idea behind tablets as a platform was that they would provide almost instant internet. While your desktop or laptop computer might take minutes to fire up and get online, the tablet should have you looking at Google and ready to go almost immediately.
On this point the Tab 10.1 excels - from pressing the power button to getting online takes about 30 seconds without any security settings in place. Processing power can sometimes be difficult to gauge, but this speed is testament to the Tab 10.1’s dual-core processor.
There is no noticeable lag from swishing between the five customisable homescreen’s and the various menus either, and with the Tab 10.1 using “Honeycomb” - the specialised tablet version of Google’s mobile operating system - these should be familiar to those who have used Android before.
Despite this, the user interface isn’t as intuitive as it could be - apart from the “home” button, it takes a while to remember what the other two buttons - constants in the bottom left corner of the screen - do due to the symbols they use.
Navigation is also a bit of a puzzler -how to get to major menus like the apps page from certain areas can be something of a challenge - while the settings aren’t as accessible as they could be.
Samsung hasn’t been shy when it comes to sound on the Tab 10.1, banging a stereo speaker into each end of the tablet.
Not only do these deliver a very decent volume - loud enough for you to hear, say, talking on the radio while in the shower - without the sound being so high end it feels like its perforating your ear drums.
The screen, at 10.1in - how did you guess? - is over half an inch bigger than that of the iPad 2 and also has a higher resolution.
This makes video playback pretty damn awesome - streaming the video of Azealia Banks’ 212 (erm - don’t look it up if you’re not a fan of profanities) from YouTube made it feel as if she was in the room. If only.
One aspect of the Tab 10.1 that doesn’t measure up to the iPad 2 is the camera - Apple’s device packs a respectable five-megapixel model, while Samsung’s can only manage a comparatively weedy 3Mp.
Despite this, the results ain’t bad at all - vivid and well-defined, even in poor lighting conditions. There is no zoom function, but this is a plus point if anything, as the zoom on most mobile devices dramatically reduces picture quality.
The video recorder, which doesn’t have zoom either, turns out similarly nifty results, while there is also a front-facing camera for checking out what your tonsils look like and such.
Screen greases up easily, but is easy to clean
The Tab 10.1 comes preloaded with all the apps you’d need to perform the basic functions anyone would want to use a tablet for - search, maps and a pad to doodle on with your finger all feature.
While there is nothing particularly new about the social network aggregation app Social Hub, it is very easy to set-up and use, while most of the widgets available to scatter about the homescreens as you please are also very handy.
However, it seems top heavy in Samsung apps which can’t be uninstalled - such as the possibly purposeless Music Hub - which again seems a missed opportunity to show up Apple’s opposition to openness.
This is particularly frustrating when you consider that the very operating system the Tab 10.1 uses is based on open standards- where software is publicly available and comes with various rights of use.
While there should be an Android tablet that can challenge the dominance of the iPad, it doesn’t need to emulate it - maybe if Samsung considers that it’ll be a little more open-minded next time round...