June 21, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
Software…a work in progress
How does one review something that doesn’t exist? That’s the conundrum of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which currently runs a stock version of Android 3.1 that will eventually be replaced by the Samsung UX first seen at CTIA. We can’t be for or against something without extended use, and it’s hard to praise a device in its current state when we know things will change when Samsung updates the Tab 10.1 later this year. Still, the device as we currently know it is praiseworthy.
Android 3.1 is a much smoother and more stable experience than the first iteration of Honeycomb. Crashes are less likely to happen and Google has made major strides in fine-tuning its tablet OS. A paltry set of apps are still a major flaw comparing Android tablets to the competition, but the overall experience is favorable. Animations and transitions are smoother than they were in Android 3.0, and there are subtle features that users will grow to love (like the ability to set a different wallpaper for the lock screen).
Samsung did well to release the Tab 10.1 with a pre-loaded copy of the excellent document-creation app QuickOffice HD, but it missed the boat on other important features. The Browser Labs feature that enables Quick Settings is not included, and neither is the Market setting necessary for Google Movies rentals. These are small annoyances, but given that there are already so few entertainment options available to Honeycomb devices, and that companies like Hulu and Netflix actively ignore the entire segment of users, small annoyances can easily add up to big problems. All of the shortcomings of Galaxy Tab 10.1 will sadly have to be addressed via third-party solutions.
Any tablet released since Apple unveiled the iPad has had to endure the inescapable question: how does it compare to Apple’s tablet? I won’t waste time with that comparison because it’s already been done to death and the truth is that this is a battle no Android tablet can win at the moment. The iPad has a built-in advantage because developers – major and independent – have clearly chosen to support it with great apps. Honeycomb simply does not have the arsenal of apps to stand tow-to-tow with the iPad in a side-by-side comparison (read our article about the best Honeycomb apps).
What’s more relevant is how the Galaxy Tab 10.1 compares to other Android Honeycomb tablets. The Tab is the closest any Android tablet comes to being a design rival for the iPad, but it curiously doesn’t have the features that make other Honeycomb tabs more appealing. The lack of USB ports means that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn’t have easy access to connecting a peripheral in host mode like someone can do with the Motorola Xoom (you’ll have to purchase and carry an adapter instead). There’s no microSD card for easy file transferring of your photos, nor is there as good a keyboard dock as someone could find in an ASUS Transformer. Heck, even the wonky 3D option of the T-Mobile G-Slate has something that sets it apart from others. There’s currently nothing that makes the Tab10.1 standout other than its svelte casing.
No one should bother asking if the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 bests the iPad 2. They should ask is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 better than the Motorola Xoom or ASUS Transformer? I find it hard to say yes. The Tab gets major points over the Xoom because it is much lighter and more portable, but the lack of ports is a sour note that may overshadow those hardware advantages. The Transformer is not as pretty, and Samsung has plans to introduce its own keyboard kit for the Tab10.1, but there’s nothing about the Tab that clearly makes it a better option than any other Honeycomb tablet on the market.
The Bottom Line
The one thing that may “save” the Galaxy Tab is likely going to be the thing that Android purists hate the most – a customized user experience. Androinica readers have not been enthusiastic about Samsung customizing Android Honeycomb, but that may eventually be the only trump card that Samsung has over its competition. The company sacrificed too much to get the world’s slimmest tablet, and having the world’s most unique Honeycomb experience may be the only way to make up for it.
The new widgets, apps, and Mini-Tray slated to arrive with the TouchWiz UX for tablets might be more intrusive than intuitive. But it might improve the software enough that the average user prefers Samsung’s take on Honeycomb than it does ASUS or Motorola’s hands-off, stock experiences.
Samsung should be commended for producing a tablet that is prettier than anything on the market, but it’s not as powerful. Anyone who buys a Galaxy Tab 10.1 now must be someone who doesn’t need all the bells and whistle alternatives of other Honeycomb tablets. That person must be someone who plans to spend hours on great Tegra 2 games, read Amazon Kindle books, use one of the best browsers available for a mobile device, and be enamored by its portability more than its spec sheet. If you fit that description and are prepared to embrace TouchWiz UX, you will not be disappointed in your purchase. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is not the best Android Honeycomb tablet, but it’s still a darn good tablet to put in your bag and go about your day.