It’s got to be tough to be a tablet these days, unless you’re an iPad. HP’s recent eviction of its tablet business after barely giving it a go had to cause some consternation in the board rooms of any other tablet manufacturer.
But that ship certainly hasn’t sunk yet. While Apple may have eaten up all the MP3 player competition like the Blob ate teenagers (including promising devices from Samsung and Microsoft), the smart phone market is another monster movie entirely. Android phones are doing quite well against the iPhone, and there are lots of good reasons the same thing will develop with the tablet market.
The Samsung Galaxy 10.1 is one of those reasons.
For this review, I used the 16 GB Galaxy 10.1 with Wi-Fi. A 4G LTE version is also available through Verizon.
First, if the iPad2 is the bar to meet, this Samsung does that. It performs some tasks differently and some the iPad doesn’t do, so shoppers will need to decide which matches their use style more.
Look and Feel
The Samsung Galaxy 10.1 looks very similar to the iPad2. It sports a 16:9 screen shape, while the iPad2 is a bit more boxy. In fact, at a casual glance, it’s easy to get the two units confused. The Samsung is a hair thinner and lighter, and the back is white while the iPad2’s back is metallic gray. Both have front and back cameras, though the Samsung’s is a higher resolution at 2 MP on the front cam and 3 MP on the back with an LED flash (nice touch). The wake up button on the Samsung is on the side, which means that if you flush mount it in a wall (for home control uses), that important button will be covered.
The real differences between this unit and the iPad2 are in the functions of the operating systems and the apps. If you’re familiar with the iOS world, then an iPad2 will feel completely natural. It functions essentially like an overgrown iPhone or iTouch.
The Samsung, on the other hand, uses the latest Android 3.1 OS, called Honeycomb, which was designed from the ground up for tablets (rather than a smartphone OS ported over to a tablet), and as such it’s got a few unique features built in.
Among the things Honeycomb adds is improved navigation and a high level of personalization the iPad2 doesn’t offer.
For instance, at the bottom left of the screen you get a System bar that includes Back, Home and Menu buttons making it easy to get around quickly. Opposite those buttons are notifications for things like emails, updates and alerts. A Recent Apps button takes you to, obviously, the most recently used apps, so you can easily jump back and forth for multitasking. Other options will appear in the system bar depending on the application you’re in. For instance, when in the Huffington Post app, a button in the system bar adds tools for comments, Facebook sharing, saving and adjusting the font size.
A firmware update added more features to the System bar including a button that brings up a task manager, calendar, world clock, memo pad, calculator and music player. There’s also a button that takes an instant screen shot.
At the top of the screen is an Action bar, which also changes depending on the app you’re in. Apps optimized for the OS will get more out of this than others. When in the Sonos music player app, the Action bar essentially disappears. When in Gmail or YouTube, additional options show up.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.