It has only recently been formally introduced, but the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was almost a foregone conclusion. Even as more manageable 7-inch tablets have made headlines in the past months, including the first Galaxy Tab, manufacturers have had Apple's iPad in their sights. And to compete toe-to-toe with the 9.7-inch iPad, it was only a matter of when -- not if -- we'd see a flood of 10-inch class tablets. So many so that it's starting to get hard to tell them apart.
In this tablet gold rush, we can expect to see slightly different industrial designs. But let's face it -- these tablets will be dominated by their large-screen display, and everything beyond that is the wrapper and packaging. And there's only so much differentiation that can be made there. Is it plasticky, or does it have a metal chassis; are there ports and card slots, or is it all about smooth lines and no direct-attachements; does it weigh less or measure smaller than the competition? These are the kinds of details that will distinguish tablets, because at a distance, tablets are going to look remarkably alike.
The official specs on Galaxy Tab 10.1 make it highly competitive with other tablets announced thus far. Like other Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)-based models, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 packs an Nvidia dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 CPU, and front- and rear-facing cameras (2-megapixel and 8-megapixels, respectively).
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has two clear physical wins over the competition, though: Weight and size. The tablet comes in at 1.3 pounds, compared with 1.6 pounds for the HP TouchPad (with a 9.7-inch screen), 1.6 pounds for the Apple iPad (the comparable Wi-Fi + 3G version), and 1.6 pounds for the 10.1-inch Motorola Xoom.
That weight difference may not sound like much, but it's significant when you're holding the device in hand for any length of time. Ever notice how even Apple's own commercials and ads for iPad show someone leaning the device against something? That's because the iPad feels heavy, especially if you're going to hold it in one hand while reading. I've already held the Xoom and thought that it was too heavy and unwieldly at that weight -- in fact, I was disappointed that neither Motorola nor HP appeared able to shave anything off the iPad's weight specs, a year after the latter was introduced. That Samsung has made progress in this regard is encouraging, both for Android tablets as a whole and for the prospects of this Samsung Galaxy Tab competing against whatever new Apple tablet comes our way in the coming months.
The other spec that has held across announced tablets has been the depth. Universally, 7-inch and 10-inch class tablets alike have been consistently coming in at half-an-inch thick. Samsung bucks that trend as well, by shaving seven-hundreths of an inch off that depth, measuring 0.43 inch, compared to the iPad's (first-generation) and Xoom's 0.5 inch, and TouchPad's 0.54. That extra little bit isn't dramatic, but it's noticeable -- and it should help keep the Samsung model competitive with Apple's second-generation iPad (rumored to be slimmer than its predecessor as well).
Interestingly, Samsung did not include its TouchWiz interface on Galaxy Tab 10.1. Samsung called its tablet a "Google experience," but it's not clear whether Samsung did this by choice (which would be an odd break from the company's other Galaxy products), or whether Google is actively trying to minimize Android operating system fragmentation issues by nixing overlays and thereby enabling OS upgrades to roll out more smoothly across devices.
The reality is that Honeycomb has a far superior interface to Android 2.x, one that minimizes the need for overlays, so from that perspective, the lack of TouchWiz is not a bad thing. But that said, without TouchWiz -- or some other individualized and custom experience on the device -- it becomes even harder to tell these gadgets apart.
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So how else does Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 stack up? Fairly well, just by the numbers alone. You get a choice of 16GB or 32GB of storage, same as on HP TouchPad; Apple also offers 64GB, while Motorola Xoom does just one flavor, 32GB. But it lacks a memory card slot, and there's still no USB port -- both noteworthy and disappointing omissions given that Motorola's Xoom has both, and HP's TouchPad at least has a microUSB.
The 1280-by-800 resolution display matches that of the Xoom, and exceeds that of the iPad (first-generation) and the TouchPad. Interestingly, I've noticed that none of these companies outside of Apple are talking about the pixel depth of the display, a spec Apple brought to the fore with its iPhone 4 launch last year. The "retina display" on the iPhone 4 definitely spoils the eyes; the clarity and smoothness of lettering on the device, and the lack of visible pixels within the letters, makes it difficult to accept some of the displays we're seeing now. It's not clear when Apple will migrate its retina display to its tablet, but one can only hope it will happen eventually. Sooner rather than later. And, then, that Android tablet makers can step it up on the display side of the equation.
Samsung didn't announce carriers or U.S. availability plans for the Galaxy Tab 10.1, but it will hit Europe in March. If I were a betting a person, I'd bet we'll hear more about a U.S. launch of the 10.1-inch tablet at the upcoming CTIA Wireless show a little over a month from now in Orlando.