While thousands of people lined up last Friday to pick up the latest Apple tablet, I sat back, put my feet up and spent my weekend testing out the first real competitor to the iPad in Australia, the Samsung Galaxy 10.1v.
It’s all about Honeycomb
I wanted to like Samsung’s initial attempt at a mobile tablet device. On paper, the first Samsung Galaxy device offered so many of the features I found lacking from the original iPad – cameras for video calling, the ability to make phone calls, multitasking… but in practice, the 7-inch tablet was let down by one fatal flaw – it was running software designed for a phone, not a tablet. While Froyo was (and still is) a robust operating system for smartphones, it didn’t scale up to the 7-inch experience.
Which brings us to Samsung’s Galaxy Tab sequel. The 10.1v is running Honeycomb, the version of Android specifically designed for use on tablets. And oh how it sings! Easy on the eye with five customisable home screens, the 10.1v is a radical change from the 7-inch tablet Samsung released six months ago. Where previously there was frustration about slow app launches and the inability to fit multiple widgets on a screen properly, Honeycomb has taken many of those issues and stricken them down with a single heavy-handed blow.
There are a couple of significant differences between the 7-inch Galaxy Tab and the 10.1v. Namely, the larger tablet is a landscape-based device. From the design of the contours on the tablet’s back, to the way apps like Gmail work when in portrait mode to the location of the charging base, everything about the 10.1v is designed with landscape use in mind. This makes it slightly more awkward to carry, but the design boffins managed to work around many of the kinks with an ergonomic and easy to grip plastic back. While this may make the tablet feel cheap in comparison to the iPad 2, it certainly doesn’t effect the overall design of performance of the device.
The included cameras are never going to take on a DSLR or even a compact in terms of image quality, but that’s not what they’re there for. Battery life is respectable – I got a couple of days of rare-intermittent use before needing to recharge.
As you would expect, Google’s own apps excel on the device. The YouTube app in particular is a fantastic demonstration of the device’s power, showing a wall of videos in real time that you can scroll through at leisure, like a 21st century Ozymandias Antarctican lair. But that leads to the first major failing of the device – third party apps. It’s not a major issue – remembering when the iPad launched, there was a dearth of quality iPad-optimised apps as well. But in some regards, the launch of the Galaxy Tab, plus the cheap Android tablets like the T-Touch Tab and the Optus MyTab, actually held the Android tablet space back.
The bonus is that everything works. There’s no issues with Flash – the browser handles it all wonderfully, although the navigation options aren’t as polished as Apple’s. Of the dozen-or-so apps I downloaded to test out, there were no issues at all, and they all jumped to my command like a North Korean soldier.
Wherefore Art Thou, Vodafone
The second major issue with the device is it’s carrier partner. While Samsung made an explicit point of telling us that the software wasn’t quite final, the only problems we had were when we were trying to use the embedded Vodafone SIM card. The network performance was slow or non-existant… In the end it was easier to use the personal hotspot feature of my NextG iPhone 4 to connect the device to the net. But seeing as how the tablet isn’t locked to Vodafone, this too is a minor issue.
So here’s where we stand: Honeycomb is a superb operating system with plenty of great things to make using a tablet enjoyable. The price of the 10.1v is bang on, equivalent to the corresponding iPad and including 3GB of mobile data as well. But this is just the start. As Buchanan said in his review of the Motorola Xoom, things are only going to get better from here for Android tablets now that Honeycomb is out there. I’ve only been playing with the device for a weekend, but already I can see its potential growing.
Then again, I haven’t played with the iPad 2 yet…