It may surprise you to learn that I’m a big tech nerd. I love my devices and I like to upgrade when I can. Back in October, I picked up an iPad (first gen), admittedly knowing it was probably poor timing. While it was the best on the market at the time, I figured that in 4-6 months time some new ones would hit the market. I used it for a while but wasn’t really impressed with it. Aside from some nice apps, it was pretty heavy, and generic as far as UI goes. I couldn’t find a great use for it. When the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was announced in May I knew that it was my next tablet. I went out and bought it last week and was excited to see how it would measure up compared to my personal hype.
There is a lot to like about this device: two cameras, Honeycomb, some super sweet accessories that are coming out for it, and more. My favorite part about it is the size and weight.
Clocking in at 1.31 lbs, it’s .2 pounds lighter than the iPad 1, and a hair lighter than the iPad 2. While you might not think that makes a difference, let me tell you: for a device you primarily hold in your hand, it makes a world of difference. It’s also got 3/4 inch less in width than the iPad 1 and about half an inch less in width than the iPad 2. This makes two-handed typing on the Galaxy Tab considerably better than on the iPad; I feel I’m doing a lot less pecking at the screen now. Finally, the display is .4 inches bigger on the Galaxy Tab. This gives you a bit more screen real estate to play with. Overall, the dimensions win out over both iPads, making for an overall better ergonomic experience.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has has two cameras: a front-facing one and one on the back. This is a step up from the iPad 1 (which had none) and on par with the iPad 2 — so how do the cameras measure up, megapixel-wise? For the Galaxy Tab, the specs were easy to find: 3.0 MP on the back, 2.0MP on the front. (Apple doesn’t give an exact MP measurement, just “720p.”) While it touts HD video, it looks like people are putting still images somewhere between 0.70-0.94 MP for both cameras.
This part actually isn’t a huge deal for me as I can’t see myself taking too many photos with my Galaxy Tab, but I did want to add these numbers for completeness’s sake
Android has been criticized for having poor battery life. I can happily say that is not the case with the Galaxy Tab 10.1. After recently taking an 18 hour drive to Florida where I used the device heavily for music, games, and some clerical stuff, I found the batter was at a strong 65%. After using it a bit later that night (mostly to play WSOP — thanks James!), it was still over 50%. I’m incredibly happy with the battery life.
User Interface (UI)
I’ve been pretty vocal about my feelings on iOS’s UI design; I don’t think very highly of it. I feel it’s just a screen of icons. In recent updates you got multitasking and can double press the only button on the device to view a list of running apps. In upcoming updates you’ll get a notifications center that looks oh so familiar, but I feel there isn’t much of an “experience” besides rearranging your apps. With Honeycomb, however, there is quite an experience.
Honeycomb Home Screen
In each of the corners, you’ll find some piece of important functionality. I think Honeycomb does a great job with these areas.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be getting Samsung’s TouchWiz UI some time this month, but at time of writing I haven’t received it. This is stock Honeycomb.
1.) Top Left: Google Text and Voice Search. Google’s most important asset, front and center (well, front and left).
2.) Top Right: Apps Drawer & Home Screen Customizations. I absolutely hate looking at a list of apps — especially ones I don’t use. It makes me feel like my phone is cluttered. My favorite feature of the Blackberry OS was the ability to hide apps. With Honeycomb’s app drawer in the top right, your apps list is easy to access, yet unobtrusive and usually hidden. The plus sign that allows you to add widgets, shortcuts, and new wallpapers is also a nice addition.
This is also accessible by long-pressing an empty area of one of your home screens.
3.) Bottom Right: Notifications Area. What you see initially is the time, your battery status, and whether you’re connected to a network. What you see as you actually use it is Honeycomb’s rock-solid implementation of notifications. You’ll see a list of icons to view each notification one by one; you can also press the time to view a list of all of your notifications. When a new one comes in, it shows up in the bottom right for a second or two, then goes away. Again: easy to access, but without intruding on your overall experience.
Notifications & Settings Area
4.) Bottom Left: Honeycomb Navigation. When I’m not hanging out on the home screen, I’m usually viewing an app or website. Luckily, Honeycomb makes it easy to navigate to the home screen and other apps, or even the app you’re currently viewing, with the navigation area. There are three icons:
The first icon (from the left) is the Back button of the entire OS. You’ll go back not only through the current app you’re viewing, but the entire breadcrumb trail that got you there, ending at the home screen.
Next is the Home button. It will take you to the home screen.
Finally, there is the app browser. It will bring up a film strip style UI that will allow you to view the last apps you were looking at, as well as a screen shot of what you last saw. This is incredibly cool.
Recent Apps Strip
The apps aren’t necessarily currently running; it’s just a list of the apps you were running.
Home Screen Widgets
I’ll come right out and say it: Widgets were made for Tablets. It’s amazing how great the widgets on my Galaxy Tab look. Most of the time I don’t need to leave my home screen to get the information I’m looking for: Calendar, weather, time, email, to do list, notes, news, and more. This is where I feel the Galaxy Tab has the greatest edge over the iPad. Your tablet is your tablet — not everyone else’s.
My favorite part is that certain widgets (ones that I’m assuming were optimized for Honeycomb) can be resized on the fly. Just long-press the widget and look for the blue border. You can then resize the widget to take up as much or as little of the particular screen as you’d like. This is a really, really nice touch. I honestly feel that the combination of nice (big) display and widgets, alone, is worth getting the Galaxy Tab 10.1 for.
I know, I know; based on what you’ve read so far, it’s hard to imagine I’d have some complaints about a device I’ve given a glowing review to. However, there are a few areas I’ve noticed could use some improvement.
The first is connecting the Galaxy Tab 10.1 to my Mac (I have not tested this on a PC; if anyone has, please let me know what you found in the comments). The setup with my iPad was that I kept it in a dock, hooked up to my computer, where it could serve as both a third monitor and a secondary computer. I would have liked to do the same thing for the Galaxy Tab, but the device does not charge while hooked up to a computer; it simply holds its current charge (that means if you hook it up to a computer while it has a charge of 62%, it will stay at 62%).
I like to charge my devices using USB because I save on outlet space, and I can keep them hooked up to my computer in case I was to transfer something. While it seems like a small grievance, I did like the setup I had with my iPad. Plus, since I’m currently traveling, I also needed to remember to pack not only the USB cord, but the plug too, since I can’t charge it using my laptop.
The USB cord is another (small) issue. One thing I love about Android phones is that any one of them can charge using the same cord. It could be because the tablet is not a phone, but Samsung has added their own custom USB cord that you need to use. While it’s a small annoyance, it’s still another thing I need to remember to bring with me on trips.
As for hooking the device up to my Mac to treat is as an external drive, I couldn’t get that to work at all, even after downloading the necessary software. This isn’t so much as a problem for transferring files, as with Android I showed you that you don’t need wires. However, if I want to load an app I’m working on or take a screenshot, I can’t.
Apps are definitely a huge part of the tablet experience, and I think Apple has worked out a good way of getting previously existing iPhone apps onto the iPad. You don’t get integration like this with Honeycomb (all the time). In the Market on the Galaxy Tab, you can only search tablet-compatible apps. On the web-based market, it’s hit or miss with which ones will be compatible, when in theory, they all should be. Sometimes even the ones that are for other versions of Android but claim to work on Honeycomb look a little janky on the Galaxy Tab. While the tablet apps look amazing (especially Evernote and Gmail), I’m missing some functionality I have on my Incredible, such as Mobile Mint and a native Facebook app (I know, right?).
Even with the list of grievances, I am incredibly happy with my Galaxy Tab 10.1. It’s a very well designed piece of hardware with a beautiful display and a pretty solid tablet version of Android in the form of Honeycomb. When it was first announced I had high expectations, and it lives up to most of them. I highly recommend it if you’re looking to buy a tablet.