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Why get a Galaxy Tab instead of an iPad 2

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 gets a lot of flack for arriving in its newly svelte body late to the tablet game with a 3.1 update.  But it is undoubtedly the best Honeycomb tablet out there.  Immediately, it was my favorite tablet to use, even with its buggy 3.0 software at Google I/O.  With the much improved 3.1 update, The Tab is now a complete system that will only get better.

Rather than do a review, I’m going to answer a bigger question: Why get a Galaxy Tab instead of an iPad 2.  And I’m not going to give reasons like “You are a geek and love the Google ecosystem”.  Here we go:

1. Form: Samsung’s hardware is simply better.  Marginally thinner and lighter than the iPad 2 with softer edges that are easier to hold and a landscape camera on the front (why not chat in landscape?).  The back is a firm plastic (think iPhone 3G or 3GS) with sturdy aluminum rim.  There is also less frame around the edges of the screen, making the screen to device size ratio greater on the Tab.  Joanna Stern from ThisIsMyNext agrees, saying, “the Tab 10.1 feels pretty great in hand, and I actually prefer the curved edges of the Tab to the iPad’s sharper sides. The tablet’s white plastic back isn’t actually all that plasticy…”

2. Web browsing (the thing I do most on a tablet) is better for me on the Tab.  When it comes to brass tacks, the Tab’s screen spits out more lovely pixels than the iPad 2 with a higher PPI.  The 1280×800 resolution isn’t “Retina” but it certainly puts the 1024×768 pixels in the iPad 2 to shame.  Also tabbed browsing is lovely –  iPad 2 owners will have to wait a few months for this.  Cloud bookmark synching works great now with your Chrome bookmarks. The Tab also has double the RAM which might not mean much to the average consumer, but it means I get more tabs open at a time in the browser without it having to reload a page every time.

Sure, Flash is still not perfect and many will consider browsing without it on the Tab (I do by default – in a Click-to-Flash type of default setup), but Flash does work and the millions of sites with Flash are now working fairly well on the Tab.  Dealbreaker?  No.  Nice to have? Yes.

3. Camera(s).  The Galaxy Tab has a 3 megapixel rear autofocus camera that takes decent stills and even has an LED Flash for low light situations.  Sure, it is silly to take stills with a tablet but in the two weeks I’ve been with this thing I have on numerous occasions.  While you are only going to get a decent cameraphone image here, it certainly beats a 1 megapixel iPad 2 fixed focus camera.

The front camera is almost as bad on the Tab as it is on the iPad 2.  Both make the grade for video conferencing but not much else.

4 . Watching movies: the Tab’s 1280×800 pixel screen is perfect for native 720P movie watching with minimal letterboxing.  The iPad 2 has a 1024×768 screen which has fat letterboxing bars when watching movies.  iPad 2’s videos also must be scaled down to 1024 pixels wide.  Both devices have lovely glass screens with wide viewing angles but the Tab’s is also physically significantly (bout an inch) wider.  The Apple ecosystem currently has more options for video (Netflix+iTunes vs. YouTube and BeSpoke) but if you have a nice movie in hand, the experience on the Tab is simply better (and Netflix is coming to the Tab).

Also to the Tab’s advantage, it plays all of those AVI and DIVX files the iPad doesn’t support natively (but does support with 3rd party apps). The Tab also has a solid battery life.  I didn’t do any formal testing but as others have found out it runs with the iPad 2 for a full day and then some.

5. Sound: The Tab’s speakers are on either side of the device in landscape mode whereas the iPad 2 has on speaker grill on the bottom/back in landscape .  The sound on the Tab is richer (though definitely far from perfect), cleaner and stereo actually sounds like stereo with the space between the speakers.  This is important not only for videos but also gaming and adds to the complete experience.

6. Phone apps look great on Honeycomb.  Android tablets don’t have nearly as many apps specifically written for tablets as iPads (have you heard?).  Luckily, the Android platform has been dealing with multiple resolutions for awhile and almost all Android apps scale nicely to Tablet size (that’s why the original Galaxy Tab built on a phone OS could work).  iPhone apps look grainy on the iPad because they are simply pixel doubled.

7. Widgets. Sure you will be able to place widgets on Apple’s Android-inspired Notifications pull down menu in the next iOS iteration, due sometime in the Fall.  On Honeycomb, however, you can place nice little Gmail, Facebook, Feeds, Weather, Twitter or any other Widgets right on your homescreen or any of the side-swiped secondary screens.

8. Maps and GPS.  Apple uses Google’s Maps engine for their Maps app and they’ve done a decent job in making a great application.  However, if you really want to see some amazing 3D vector graphics, Honeycomb’s Maps is a sight to behold.  Also, Samsung’s Wifi only Tablet has real GPS whereas Apple’s iPad doesn’t, making navigation better.  Google seems to be updating and adding features to its Maps application almost weekly, whereas you are lucky to get an update every year from Apple.

9. Voice Integration:  Want to talk to your tablet?  Google’s Voice navigation works famously well in Honeycomb for Mapping or searching the web.  Apple is rumored to be integrating Voice functions in an upcoming update.  We’ll see.

10. Video conferencing: Sure, third party apps exist for both platforms but the built-in product for Google works over Wifi or 3G/4G to any PC or Mac.  Apple’s “Open Source” Facetime only works with Macs and only over Wifi.  Facetime also connects to Apple’s latest iPhone 4 and iPod touch and Google’s works with Gingerbread phones and tablets with the latest versions of Google Talk installed.

So let’s get this straight.  It may not be for everyone (my two year old kid prefers the iPad hands down), but the Galaxy Tab is, in my opinion, the first 10-inch tablet to offer a real challenge to the iPad.  There are plenty of reasons to go Tab.

Specs as reviewed:

  • OS: Android Honeycomb 3.1
  • Processor: Nvidia Tegra 2, 1GHz dual-core
  • Memory: 1GB RAM; 16GB storage
  • Display: 10.1-inch, 1280×800; 149 pixels per inch
  • Video: 1080p playback (30 fps); Codecs supported: WMV7, WMV8, WMV9, H.264, MPEG4, Xvid, DivX, H.263, VP8
  • Cameras: front- 2MP; rear- 3MP, auto-focus, flash, 720p video recording
  • Ports: proprietary dock port (charging), 3.5mm audio
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n dual band (2.4GHz, 5GHz), Bluetooth 3.0
  • Battery: 7000mAH
  • Dimensions: 256.7 x 175.3 x 8.6mm (10.1 x 6.9 x 0.39 inches)
  • Weight: 565g (1.24 lbs.)

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