Tablet deathmatch: Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs. iPad 2

Samsung's Android 3.1-based tablet is the first to give Apple's iPad a real run for its money -- most of the time

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The iPad 2's optional magnetic Smart Cover is smartly designed. It snaps into place quickly, folds out of the way easily, helps clean fingerprints on the screen, and remained snuggly attached in my backpack tests. The cover ($40 for polyurethane and $80 for leather) does not protect the iPad 2's aluminum back, which may concern some users fearful of scratches, but there are plenty of cases, skins, and portfolios for such folks. I was disappointed that the Smart Cover doesn't affix magnetically to the back of the iPad 2; it only does so to the front. There are a few cases, skins, and portfolios for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 should you be concerned about damaging its screen or plastic case, but none have the imagination of Apple's Smart Cover.

Neither the iPad 2 nor Galaxy Tab 10.1 have ports in addition to the 30-pin dock/charging connector; the Galaxy Tab is much more minimalist than the Motorola Xoom, which boasts both a MicroUSB port and a Mini HDMI port. Both devices require USB adapters to connect to USB devices; the $29 iPad Camera Connection Kit's USB connectivity is limited to cameras and SD cards, whereas the Galaxy Tab 10.1's $20 USB adapter connects to storage devices, cameras, and input peripherals. The iPad 2 can mirror its display to VGA or HDMI using a $39 dock-to-HDMI cable or $29 VGA connector that other iOS devices also support. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 can connect only to HDMI using a $40 adapter cable. If you do a lot of typing, you can use Apple's $70 Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad 2; Samsung sells an $80 keyboard dock for the same purpose, though some Bluetooth keyboards also work with it. Note that the Samsung peripherals were unavailable for review, so I could not test them; the Apple peripherals all worked fine.

I found the iPad 2's screen easier to read -- both in sunlight and in office lighting -- than the Galaxy Tab's screen, which suffers from excessive reflectivity. I disliked the Galaxy Tab's widescreen (16:9) display, because Web pages and other content appear too squished in landscape mode. The iPad 2's old-fashioned 4:3 ratio is more comfortable for most apps; only when I'm watching HD movies do I wish the iPad 2 were widescreen.

Although the iPad 2 offers a front-facing camera for videoconferencing and a rear one for taking pictures and capturing video, the quality of still photos and movies taken from the machine are not that good: The camera seems to be the same, poorly regarded model used in the latest iPod Touch. The iPad 2's camera also lacks a flash and support for high-definition range, both of which the iPhone 4's camera does support but the iPod Touch's does not. Apple hasn't released the camera's megapixel rating, but my photo-editing software pinned it as a measly 0.7 megapixel; by contrast, the iPhone 4's camera is 5 megapixels. The iPad 2's camera does perform better for motion video, taking decent 720p, 0.9-megapixel video -- fine for casual videos but no more.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1's camera quality is little better than the iPad 2's, despite its 2-megapixel front camera and 3-megapixel rear camera. The Galaxy Tab does have a flash, a wider-angle lens, and adjustment controls lacking in the iPad 2 to help improve image quality through manual overrides. But it has, bizarrely, no zoom, whereas the iPad 2 does. For motion video, the Galaxy Tab's 720p, 2-megapixel video capture results in better video quality than the iPad 2, especially in low-light conditions, where you get lots of pixelation. (The iPad 2's video quality is about the same as the iPhone 4's, despite the higher resolution of the iPhone 4's video file.)

For still photography, both tablets are clearly aimed at Web-oriented images, such as for posting on Facebook and Flickr. You're not at all likely to keep any for your family albums, project portfolios, or client sales presentations; you'll want a real digital camera for those. For videography, both tablets are fine for casual video -- don't buy into either Apple's or Samsung's HD video hype -- though the Galaxy Tab clearly bests the iPad 2.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad 2 are equivalent in quality when it comes to audio output, despite the fact the iPad 2 has a single speaker and the Galaxy Tab has two. To get stereo-quality audio, connect either tablet to a stereo.

The winner: Again, we have a tie. I personally prefer the iPad 2 because its screen dimensions make browser and text windows easier to use, and the greater battery consumption and slow recharge of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 bother me. But the truth is the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a faster performer, and its other hardware capabilities are essentially equal to those of the iPad 2.

The overall winner is ...

The differences between the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 are real, but as often as not to be based on legitimate differences in design decisions. The Galaxy Tab is a faster device, and it beats the iPad in areas such as browser capability and notifications. The iPad 2 wins slightly on the security front and more decisively on the applications and power-handling fronts. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 and its Android 3.1 OS also show their seams more than the iPad 2 and its iOS do.

If it were not for the flaw in Android 3.1 that prevented me from setting up IMAP and POP email -- which I'm sure is a bug, as the issue did not surface on pre-3.1 Android tablets -- the two tablets would be very close in terms of their business connectivity capabilities.

Ironically, that email issue puts the Galaxy Tab 10.1's InfoWorld Test Center score (7.9) slightly lower than the Motorola Xoom tablet's score (8.0), which also benefits from having more hardware capabilities for those who like their tablet to have PC-style ports. But the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is an overall better tablet than the Xoom, which the score would reflect once that email issue has been addressed (it would rise to 8.1).

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is also within striking distance of tying with the iPad 2, both in terms of score calculations (the iPad 2 hits 8.4) and my own sense of what feels right from using them. The iPad 2 is clearly better and more polished, but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has closed most of the previous Android tablets' gaping holes. Apple's iOS 5 this fall and Google's Android OS 4 by year's end will no doubt up the ante for both platforms. And they'll both have strong hardware platforms on which to showcase their new strengths, especially if Samsung adds 3G models to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 lineup. It's a real competition now.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs. Apple iPad 2


Supported U.S. networks

Bottom Line

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

$600 (32GB); $500 (16GB)

None (Wi-Fi only)

The first 10-inch Android tablet to use the tablet-optimized Android 3.1 OS, the Galaxy Tab packs the hardware capabilities that many users want. The Galaxy Tab's use of widgets and notifications keeps users more easily up-to-date. On the downside, the widescreen display results in awkward visual cramping, and email setup is iffy.

Apple iPad 2

iPad 2 with Wi-Fi: $500 (16GB), $600 (32GB), $700 (64GB); iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 3G: $630 (16GB), $730 (32GB), $830 (64GB)

For 3G models: AT&T, with no-commitment data plans of $15 for 250MB and $25 for 2GB; Verizon Wireless, with no-commitment data plans of $20 for 1GB, $35 for 3GB, $50 for 5GB, and $80 for 10GB. For both carriers, the use of tethering adds $20.

The revamped model of the device that created the tablet phenomenon is even moreso the best tablet available, with a cohesive, elegant UI; lots and lots of apps; and a solid, well-designed enclosure. Its new inclusion of cameras and ability to mirror its display to an external monitor erase the major deficits of the original iPad. But note the camera produces mediocre still images and merely adequate video.

This story, "Tablet deathmatch: Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs. iPad 2" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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