Review of the Galaxy Tab 10.1

I have now played enough with the Galaxy Tab to have a reasonably comprehensive opinion of it as a portable lightweight device that does, with varying success, what I want it to do. Obviously, others will have different takes, and it is not hard to find reviews online. This review just talks about my use of the Tab for my own purposes.

Hardware

The device is very thin and light. It is more elongated than the iPad. It seems that this choice was made to make it more pleasant to watch widescreen movies. The screen is bright and easy on the eyes. It is about the same quality as the one of the iPad, and it has a few more pixels in the longer dimension, but that is not a significant difference. Battery life is good; I can get a day’s pretty heavy use with one charge. It may be that the iPad has better battery life, but even on the iPad there are Apps that eat the battery fast, such as Crosswords, which is less energy-thirsty on the Tab. The Tab is very snappy, responding to user input fast enough for any purpose.

The Tab has a cable attachment with a USB end to it. Take that, iPhone and iPad! It is very handy to have this; Kindles have it, too.

The front camera is good for video calls (see below about Google Chat) and the back camera is pretty good. Both are better than the corresponding cameras on the iPad 2, from what I read online, but the back camera of the iPhone is better than all of these.

Operating System

The Tab runs Android version 3.1, aka the latest version of Honeycomb. The older Galaxy Tab, the one that was in stores about a year ago already, had a 7 inch screen and ran Android version 2.2, aka Froyo. I learned from a friend that the 7 inch Tab has serious issues with losing WiFi access; there are long forum discussions on this online. I have used my 10.1 inch Tab heavily since I received it on Monday and I think that it does not have this issue, given my pattern of use, but I am not sure. I am keeping an eye out for this problem.

When I first started using the Tab, I had a little difficulty with the interface, as I am so used to iOS. By “little” I mean it took me about five minutes of exploration to figure out all the important elements for navigating the device. Not bad! The OS excels in notifications, as I had read all over online. It is no surprise that Apple has decided to adopt its method of notifying you of incoming emails and other events. Notifications appear in the bottom right discretely and they can be ignored easily if you are doing something else that is more important. In contrast, when I wake up my iPhone 4, I must first manually deal with each one of the notifications that have accumulated since I put it to sleep, before I can do anything with it. As a result, I have throttled down almost all App notifications on the iPhone in Settings.

It is a reasonable guess that I find the Galaxy Tab’s OS easy to deal with because I have experience running various versions of the Linux OS on computers for more than seven years. But this only becomes relevant if I want to do things under the hood. For pretty much all regular user functions, geekery of this sort is not required. It is easy, for instance, to get on the Android Marketplace to find and download Apps, free or not.

The on-screen keyboard installed by default is Samsung’s own, although options are available, including an option to dictate to the Tab. Samsung’s keyboard works well, but it has too many additional screens with symbols (three in total, one of which is exclusively devoted to emoticons). I keep activating CAPS LOCK by accident, because of the difference between the Samsung keyboard and the iOS keyboard I am used to from my iPhone. I decided not to write this review on the tablet itself, as a real laptop keyboard is still significantly faster than Samsung’s keyboard, or any keyboard on a touchscreen (but I still intend to check out Swype).

App selection

The App selection on the Android Marketplace is decent; one can also look elsewhere for Apps, as opposed to the situation with iOS, which is locked down so that one can only get Apps that Apple has approved from Apple’s App store. The Apps I downloaded have various degrees of sophistication and polish. Many are still not optimized for a large screen, so they have microscopic fonts, which are not user-changeable. This category of Apps includes the Facebook and Posterous Apps. Other Apps are better suited for the large screen and offer user customization options, including font size; the official Twitter App is an example.

One of the best Apps I have seen so far is Feedly, which offers a superb interface for reading RSS feeds and synchronizes with Google Reader. In contrast, Google’s own Reader Web App uses a small font that is not user-changeable. A good Google App, native on Android instead of being a Web App, is on the Tab to handle Gmail. This also does not offer a user-changeable font, but the font it uses is quite readable.

The Evernote and Dropbox Apps are good, although not as good as their iOS equivalents. The WordPress App is as good as its iOS equivalent; I have already made two posts here using it, the last two posts. The Youtube App works well and has a pretty interface. Instapaper does not have an Android App, but Everpaper is a good client for Instapaper. For reading and annotating PDFs, one of my primary uses for the Tab, RepliGo Read is good enough. The Kindle App is fast and beautiful. It makes me thing that I will be using the Kindle DX I bought in January only in situations of reading outside in strong sunlight, which are going to be quite rare.

The Tab comes with some preinstalled Apps, notably QuickOffice and Pulse. The first allows editing of Microsoft Office files. I have tested it a little, and it seems good at what it does. Pulse is a visual RSS reader. I found it inferior to Feedly; since it is preinstalled, it also is impossible for me to find how to update it. I can update Apps I installed myself easily. This is a deficiency of App management on the Tab.

The chat App is called Talk and it works very well with Google Chat for video calls. I looked at the Skype App on the Android Marketplace but the reviews there said it does not do video (which the iPhone Skype App does well) so I did not bother installing Skype.

Reading

Kindle and RepliGo Read are good for books and PDFs, respectively. Feedly is superb for RSS feeds (it is also superb on the iPhone and pretty good as a browser extension on computers, although there I discovered some syncing issues and the occasional crash on Chrome).

Online

The browser is very good. It offers native browsing and Apps plug in to it so that, for instance, it is easy to send a link on Twitter from the browser or to send a page link via Email or the whole page to Instapaper via Everpaper.

Music

I am surprised that the Music App that came preinstalled does not offer links to either Google Music or Amazon’s music store. All it offers is a suggestion to connect the tab via USB to a computer so you can copy music to the Tab. For Windows and Linux this requires no software on the PC side, the instructions claim; for Mac OS X, they offer a link to download an application to handle the USB side of things. I have not tried this yet.

Games

I am not much of a gamer. But Angry Birds and Angry Birds Seasons work fine on the Tab, use the large screen well, and are free. Nuff said.

Movies

Youtube clips play beautifully. I have not tried to access Netflix or Hulu yet, or to download movie files. I am also not planning to try out the HDMI cable capability, although I suspect it will work well with our TV, which is also made by Samsung.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

This gizmo, my latest imdulgence, arrived today. So far, I have been busy settimg up email and social media accounts, Dropbox, Evernote, the Posterous app, and the WordPress app, on which I am composimg this. So far, so excellent. I will post a longer review later.