If you’ve ever experienced the anxiety of buying an Apple product while worrying that a new model will come out days later, Apple’s competitors feel your pain. Three months ago when the iPad 2 was announced, their existing tablets suddenly seemed chunky compared with the super-thin new iPad.
But this week I reviewed the first tablet that’s actually thinner than the iPad 2: the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Never mind that the difference in thinness between these competing tablets is two-tenths of a millimeter. Thinner is thinner.
The Tab 10.1 is also lighter than the iPad 2, though (again) not by much: 1.25 pounds versus 1.33 pounds. Starting Friday, the 16 gigabyte model with Wi-Fi, which I tested, will be available for $499 and the 32 gigabyte Wi-Fi model for $599—the same prices as Apple’s comparable iPad 2s.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a svelte 8.6 millimeters thick and 1.25 pounds.
So how do the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and iPad 2 really differ?
There are hundreds of thousands more apps available for the iPad 2’s iOS operating system. The Galaxy Tab’s front- and rear-facing cameras capture better-quality photos than the iPad 2. The Galaxy Tab’s 10.1-inch screen is formatted for widescreen viewing and is slightly longer than the iPad 2’s 9.7-inch screen.
But the most notable difference between these two tablets is in battery life: In my test with Wi-Fi on, screen brightness at about 75 percent and a continuous loop of video playing, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 lasted for just 5 hours and 38 minutes. This is only a bit more than half as long as the iPad 2, which lasted for 10 hours and nine minutes in the same test. (Both the Tab and iPad 2 batteries would last longer in more normal-use scenarios.)
I carried the Galaxy Tab 10.1 with me for everyday use, and it was light enough that I didn’t have to think twice about whether or not to bring it with me. It comes in white or black, though this color is only noticeable on the Tab’s back panel since its screen bezel is black regardless of which color you choose. (The white iPad has a matching screen bezel.) The plastic material on the back of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 feels a bit cheap compared with the brushed aluminum in Apple’s iPad, but its tapered edges give it a sexy look and feel.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1′s bright, high-definition touch screen was responsive to gestures and served as a beautiful showcase for HD videos. And Honeycomb, Google’s Android 3.1 operating system for tablets, has a cleaner user interface than other Android operating systems.
Looking for Charlie Rose
Nice as it looks, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is lacking some built-in features. Unlike the iPad, this tablet supports Flash, Adobe’s popular format for playing videos in the Web browser. But out of the box, it won’t play Flash videos unless people first download a free Adobe Flash Player app from the Android Market. I only discovered this by unsuccessfully attempting to play videos on CharlieRose.com. The videos played without a problem after I downloaded the Flash app, but some people may not know to do this.
A Samsung spokesman said a future software update will include Adobe Flash Player, but that won’t be pushed to devices until later this summer.
Likewise, Samsung Media Hub, a digital store where users can buy next-day TV shows and rent or buy movies, isn’t yet available on the Tab 10.1. Nor is TouchWiz, Samsung’s special layer of software that will add personal touches to the user interface like social-network feeds, saved websites and digital photos. Both Media Hub and TouchWiz will come to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 this summer via software updates.
The new Apple Inc. iPad 2
A Google spokeswoman wouldn’t say how many tablet-specific apps are available for the Honeycomb operating system that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 runs, but the overall Android Market offers over 200,000 apps. Apple’s iPad runs over 425,000 apps from the Apple App Store, some 90,000 of which are designed especially for the iPad.
I searched the Android Market for apps and downloaded two versions of Angry Birds onto my Galaxy Tab 10.1. I installed several social-networking apps including Pulse, Twitter, TweetDeck and Facebook. I set up my Gmail and three other email accounts. And I installed the Amazon Kindle app, which synced with the current page of the book I’m reading on my iPad. Two speakers on either side of the Galaxy Tab’s screen provided quality sound during games and movies.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1′s front- and rear-facing cameras captured good-looking photos. I used the rear-facing camera to snap still shots of friends, and turned on its automatic flash for darker environments. Apple won’t disclose the megapixels of the iPad 2′s cameras, but Samsung’s Tab 10.1 specs say its front- and rear-facing cameras offer 2 and 3 megapixels, respectively. The rear-facing camera also has auto-focus and a flash.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be available in models with Verizon Wireless’s 4G service next month. The prices for the 16- and 32-gigabyte versions will be $529 and $629, respectively. Three models of the iPad 2 with carrier service are already available from Verizon Wireless and AT&T for $629 (16 gigabytes), $729 (32 gigabytes) and $829 (64 gigabytes).
If you’re looking for a viable alternative to Apple’s iPad, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is great looking and its software feels responsive and fast. But its selection of fewer apps and weaker battery life put it at a disadvantage to the iPad 2, especially since the two tablets cost the same.
Watch a video with Katherine Boehret on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 at WSJ.com/PersonalTech. Write to her at email@example.com.