Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 review

Introduction:

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is Android’s most viable answer to Apple’s iPad 2. Samsung actually tweaked the design after the initial announcement in order to make the thing just a hair thinner than iPad 2. The design is beautiful, the Honeycomb software is sleek and the 10.1-inch display makes for a spacious playground when specialized tablet apps are used. The cons are the lack of an SD card slot, the necessity of a dock for accessing the unit as a USB mass storage device, and the 3MP cam that replaced the 8MP cam during redesign. Still, the Tab 10.1 is fun and has potential for some cool applications.

Specs/Design:

The Tab 10.1 is a sexy device. There is no doubt about that. The back is hefty, white plastic, and the front is all black. Attention is drawn directly to the 1200 X 800 TFT display. Under the hood sits a 1GHz, dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, and it doesn’t disappoint. The Tab I’m sitting next to is a 16GB WiFi model, which goes for $500. The 32GB WiFi goes for $600. LTE versions are to run $30 more, respectively.

If you’re wondering why on earth you might want or need a 10.1-inch tablet, you probably don’t need one. But if you’ve got a hankering for more real estate when utilizing certain apps, the Tab 10.1 should satisfy. Google Maps, YouTube, the bundled video editor and a constantly growing selection of tablet-specific apps in the Android Market turn the form factor into a vast sandbox, as can be seen in the screenshot below, which has been scaled down from 1280 X 800.

The body of the Tab 10.1 feels very solid and doesn’t come off as plasticky or cheap. I mention this for those of you that don’t like the light feeling of some of Samsung’s Android phones. The tablet isn’t too heavy, but has some meat on its bones, so to speak. When using it for shooting video, I found the design to be particularly appropriate, which was a surprise. Holding it out in front of me with a hand on either side, and looking at that giant display made me feel like making a real movie. So I would say that the design of the Tab 10.1 is inspiring beyond the pleasing aesthetics.

Software:

(All screenshots scaled down from 1280 x 800)

Android 3.1 looks great on a larger tablet, and with 360-degree UI rotation, you’ll rarely find yourself in an awkward position for viewing. A bit of adaptation will be required for those who have never used an Android tablet, but those of you familiar with Android phones will find familiar settings without much trouble.

The Tab is great for reading books, watching videos and accessing music, and where it really excels is in tablet specific apps. YouTube and the bundled video editor are primary examples of what that extra room affords the user. Gmail also features an expanded UI, and the giant keyboard is very comfortable. The Tab 10.1 typing experience is as close as I’ve ever come (with a tablet) to typing the same way I do on a laptop. I still have to look, and I don’t rest my hands on the keys, but I can type pretty fast in landscape mode. Beats the pants off of typing long strings of text on my phone.

Camera:

As mentioned in the introduction, Samsung adjusted the Tab 10.1 to better compete with the iPad 2. The problem with the change is that Sammy downgraded the camera while squeezing the body, so you’ll find a 3MP shooter on back instead of the original 8MP. The video is 720p (be sure to select the top resolution from YouTube’s menu), but a better sensor would have been a nice treat and would make the bundled video editing app a bit more appealing. Still, photos and video turn out well with adequate lighting. I complain about the camera in the sample videos, but now that I’ve seen them posted, I’m not so critical. However, because I continually encountered upload errors from YouTube (could have been the site or my connection), and because the Tab doesn’t allow access via USB without a dock, I had to transfer the videos to my computer via Bluetooth and then upload. A minor complaint, but just a bit disappointing.

Overall, I’ve found the Tab 10.1 form factor to be very nice for shooting, particularly video.

Stills (Scaled down from 2048 X 1536)

Video (with some redundant narration, but it gives you a sense of the audio recording):

Daily Use:

The Tab packs a 6,860mAh battery, which gets me through the day. But I’m using a cell phone for a lot of my mobile computing. I use the Tab to watch videos at night, for exploring Google Maps and for a bit of gameplay. If you take this thing everywhere you go and constantly access it, especially with a lot of video watching, you’ll probably be able to kill it before bedtime. But I’m not sure that scenario represents the average user.

The UI experience is great, and I have few complaints about the software. When I received this device, I wasn’t sure what I would use it for, but Google has done wonders for the form factor and made the Android tablet experience unique and gratifying. Browsing YouTube, for example, on my phone now feels quite cramped.

Conclusion:

Tablets haven’t yet become “must-have” devices. But Google and Samsung have made significant developments that have a way of turning my “want” dial. I don’t need a tablet, but, if I had the spare dough, a Tab 10.1 would be tempting to consider. At $500, the 16GB WiFi version I tested isn’t cheap. Like all tablets, it is a luxury item, but it does deliver. There will always be room for improvement and I would love to see tablets geared more towards filmmaking. Before testing, I had no idea how well-suited a large tablet is for the task. In fact, I think shooting movies was my favorite activity when testing the tab. For whatever reason, holding that giant display in front of your face makes video capture feel like important business. With 1080p capabilities and a more advanced on-board editor, I think the appeal for film students would be irresistible.

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