Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) Review by Rico Ruthers
Samsung now has a follow-on model to their popular Galaxy Tab tablet, the Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1). The figure in the name (correctly) suggests the size – 10.1 inches – making it a head-to-head competitor with the iPad. How does it measure up on its own? Read on…
As Samsung did with a portion of their smartphone line, so they did in tablets – copied the basic look and feel of the iPad. It’s a good copy. The major differences are in the display and software. Before we get to that, let’s look at the specs.
At 10.1 inches long by 6.9 inches wide (257mm x 175mm) the Tab 2 (10.1) is a bit longer and a bit narrower than the iPad. It’s 0.38″/9.7 mm thick. Whether that size is good or bad is more a matter of taste than anything else. Suffice to say it feels good in the hand. It feels even better thanks to a relatively low weight of 1.3 lbs. (581g, Wi-Fi only; 583g 3G.)
The 1 GHz, TI OMAP 4430 processor is a decent performer. Benchmark tests show it’s slower than the Tegra 3 (used in some other non-Apple tablets) but most users, unless they’re active gamers, won’t be disappointed in the overall speed.
On the upside, it’s terrific that the Tab 2 offers a microSD slot. As an iPad owner I’ve always seen its lack of one as a very unfortunate absence, a mistake in Apple’s design philosophy.
Sometimes you just don’t want to depend on a Cloud to retrieve or store content. Also, the default 3-5 GB you get from Dropbox or other sites can often get used up in short order. And, the ability to easily take your stuff with you in a secure and robust physical form gives a comfort level the web can’t presently match.
The ability to support (up to) a 32 GB card is particularly appreciated. The Tab 2 comes with 16 GB but sometimes that’s just not enough space.
As with any tablet, the major action is in the display. It’s not just where you see content but also where you manipulate it. Here, the Tab 2 10.1 is (again) decent but not stellar.
The additional screen real estate is appreciated (10.1″ vs 9.7″ for the iPad). The Tab 2 dimensions appear a little better to anyone used to 16:9 movie watching, though at this size the comparison is almost apples to oranges. Film buffs won’t see a tablet as their major entertainment device anyway.
More importantly, the resolution, color, and contrast are good but only that.
The Tab 2 offers a fine 1280 x 800 PLS display. But, at 149 ppi it’s only fine, not outstanding. Just as important, the contrast – which affects both the perceived depth of blacks as well as the perception of colors – is again just alright.
For web surfing, email, and a very large number of applications it’s perfectly acceptable. For anyone who gets a tablet hoping to have a rich visual experience, this is not the model to buy. Color saturation on photos and video is good but far from dazzling. Text is crisp but not ultra sharp.
Most of the time that doesn’t matter too much; most people won’t see a significant difference unless they compare the image simultaneously to something better. However, there are a large number of iPhone users around who might think twice, even if they’re not Apple fanatics.
That said, color reproduction is accurate and the screen is plenty bright enough at the highest setting. No one is likely to complain about the viewing angle, especially since a tablet is typically used almost exclusively by one person at a time.
With a tablet the other aspect of the display – taps, pinch or zoom, swipes, et al – is at least as important as the view. Here, the Galaxy Tab 2 does a respectable job.
Like any tablet there are the occasional difficulties with tapping the correct on-screen item. Scrolling is still sometimes onerous if you have to move down a long page or list. But that’s more a (current) limitation of software than basic hardware or OS design.
Most users aren’t likely to miss some of the more ‘sophisticated’ multi-finger gestures offered by the iPad. Four-finger up/down/left/right isn’t used by everyone who owns Apple’s product either. Still, if this is important to you the Tab 2 might be a bit of a disappointment, at least until Android catches up.
The Tab 2′s cameras are another aspect where the operative word is “adequate”. Few are going to use their tablet as a primary digital camera or camcorder, so it’s not surprising that vendors choose not to offer high-end features in this area.
Even so, the rear-facing 3-megapixel camera on this model is a bit of a disappointment. By the standards of five years ago this would be decent, but things have advanced quite a lot since then.
Worse still, Samsung chose to downgrade the front-facing camera from an already low 2-megapixels to VGA resolution. I suppose they thought that, since this was all the iPad offered, they could afford to cut corners here. The Facetime/chat unit on that tablet is barely usable. So Samsung had a chance to outdo Apple in at least one area. It’s regrettable they elected not to.
Equally regrettable, Samsung chose to remove the LED flash unit from the former Tab model. Clearly, they’re doing everything they can to cut costs. Maybe their market research suggested it was rarely used. So be it.
Complaints now out of the way, the quality of the snapshots and video is not bad, even in low light. The video recorder supports only up to 720p (not Full HD at 1080p), though it does play 1080p material. Still, few will notice the difference. Much of that material will wind up being displayed on YouTube, so the issue usually isn’t key.
If you intend to view images/video recorded on the tablet you might care more, but that is (I suspect) a smaller percentage of the time for most users. If you’re in that smaller group, the Tab 2 will likely disappoint you. The focus algorithms are poor. Close-ups of flowers may, for example, have the foliage sharp but the petals fuzzy. There’s no tap-to-focus feature, either.
The speakers on the Tab 2 have been moved from the earlier incarnation. Now residing on the sides rather than the bottom, the sound is no longer muffled when you lay the tablet on your lap. However, no one should look (yet) to tablet speakers to deliver decent sound.
Instead, to get audio that makes even a non-audiophile smile will require a good pair of ear buds or headphones. The Tab 2 sports a standard 3.5 mm jack for that purpose. Even this method won’t produce music to thrill the average iPod user but it’s listenable.
The Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) sports a 7000 mAh battery. But that number means less to most people than the life, which here reaches a respectable 8.5 hours on average, though 10 hours is possible. Naturally, the actual number in practice will depend heavily on how you use the tablet. Movies eat up battery life very quickly while reading a novel chews up very little.
The Tab 2 houses Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n and Wi-Fi Direct) as well as (optionally) 3G (GSM 850/900/2800/1900 and HSPA+ 21 Mbs 850/1900/2100).
Personally, I don’t find 3G a big attraction in a tablet. I had a Wi-Fi+3G iPad 2 and never even bothered to get a wireless plan for it. Even in my relatively remote location Wi-Fi is just about everywhere I go. If that’s important to you, however, it’s nice that it’s an option.
The Tab 2 also houses Bluetooth support (v 3.0). So, if you want to connect a wireless keyboard that’s an option. For anyone planning to create documents often (or do a lot of emailing) it’s a near must. The virtual keyboard, like the one on the iPad, is dreadful. Samsung makes a keyboard/dock, available as an accessory.
The Android operating system installed on the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. It’s the central difference between this Samsung model and its major competitor, the iPad.
Fortunately, Android has seen a lot of improvement over the past year. Many of the annoying weaknesses in Honeycomb (3.2) have been overcome in Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0). Honeycomb was a big improvement over its predecessor but it still suffered from occasional stuttering, laggy performance, and other issues. That’s all gone now.
Whether Android is preferable to iOS is, in my view, more a matter of personal taste than objective factors. The iPad is definitely smooth and easy to use, but I have no trouble with Ice Cream Sandwich, either. Other factors, like whether Touchwiz is superior, strike me as purely subjective. Let your taste be your guide.
No vendor can yet match the number, variety, and ease-of-access of Apple’s online store(s). However, for a great many tablet users that difference isn’t as significant as it’s sometimes suggested. Not everyone devours apps at a huge rate.
Apple touts over 250,000 apps available but few users are going to explore even a small percentage of those. So, what really matters is whether you can find what you want and that’s usually the case.
Samsung’s own store is somewhat limited but for less than $2 (as of this writing) you can access Tablified Market. It offers a list of Android apps, with reviews, that currently numbers over 1500 in 27 categories. That doesn’t sound like much compared to Apple’s number, but when you winnow down the Apple Store offerings to what you might actually use the difference tends to disappear.
True, it would be great if accessing an online store – whether Amazon’s, Apple’s, Google’s, or other – were as easy as downloading off an ordinary website. For whatever reasons, the other guys are not there yet. Currently, things are good enough to satisfy the average user. The number of apps most people will want to buy/install is already larger than you’re likely to use.
There’s room for improvement but this area doesn’t strike me as make-or-break for a purchasing decision. Opinions on this score can, of course, reasonably differ.
What strikes me as a little more important is the one app that virtually every tablet user will use often: the browser. With the release of a usable Chrome version things have improved a lot. But for anyone who makes a comparison between the tablet version and the Mac or PC flavor, they’re likely to come away disappointed.
It’s unfortunate (and somewhat mysterious to someone who, while technically savvy, doesn’t write browser software) that tablet browsers are nowhere near as functional as their laptop counterparts. It’s not like one expects the limitation just because it’s a tablet.
If anyone, the ability to manipulate elements is likely MORE desired on a tablet where you have multi-finger gestures rather than just a mouse click. Fairness dictates acknowledging that Safari on the iPad is no great shakes, either.
That caveat stated, the speed is fine given the current (relatively) slow hardware (compared to a high-performance laptop). Scrolling is only rarely jerky. Pages load moderately quickly and with only occasional mishap.
At the current price, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) is not a terrific deal, imho. The hardware is adequate; the OS is usable. The available apps are good enough to satisfy the needs of most everyone. But, even ignoring the new iPad, it’s debatable whether it’s the best option even among those looking for alternatives to iOS.