Galaxy Tab with box

As we begin the dreaded time of back-to-school shopping season there is sure to be a lot of interest in tablets. As we wrote last year, we find tablets to be great for use in school, and over the last few weeks we’ve been testing one of the more recently released tablets that if you’re looking for tablet you should definitely consider: Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1. We have to say, out of all the Android tablets we’ve seen recently this is one that gives the iPad 2 a real strong run for your money.

What are you waiting for? Read on for our full Teen Review of the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

Design and Screen

Galaxy Tab SI

Yes it’s about as thin as a magazine– and it looks just as sharp too!

When it comes to design the Galaxy Tab has one of the best we’ve seen. It’s ridiculously thin and light but at the same time its sturdy plastic back gives it a great feel in your hands, like your holding something sturdy and worth the $500 you spent on it. You should have no problem putting this in your bag and taking it around school all day.

Galaxy Tab Google Books

It’s this clear even in the sun!

We were equally impressed with the Galaxy Tab’s screen. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from Samsung and that’s a great thing. Not only was everything on it sharp and crystal clear, but it was also very easy to use in bright sunlight. The big problem with a lot of tablets today– especially the iPad– is that using them to read in bright sunlight is incredibly frustrating. We found no such problem with the Galaxy Tab’s 10.1 inch HD screen, and we were more than able to read books, emails, or browse the web even in that bright summer sun. It’s not as sharp outside as the Kindle’s grey and black E-Ink screen, but for tablets its one of the best we’ve used yet.

Audio

Galaxy Tab side speaker

Another area the Galaxy Tab shines in is its stereo speakers. On each side of the Galaxy Tab is a little speaker, but trust us, the sound we heard was anything but little. Music, YouTube, movies and games all sounded loud and clear. And while it wasn’t the loudest we’ve heard on a tablet, it’s still very good.

Cameras

Galaxy Tab back camera

Like the iPad 2, BlackBerry PlayBook, Motorola Xoom and most other new tablets, the Galaxy Tab has two cameras– a 2 megapixel one on the front for video chat and a second 3.2 megapixel one on the back for taking pictures or 720p HD video. We found both cameras to be very good with the picture and video quality on both being more than enough for video chatting or picture taking (though when you have a cell phone in your pocket why you would want to take a picture with a giant 10 inch tablet we still don’t understand. But hey, at least you can if you want to).

Here are a few sample shots we took with the back camera (click to enlarge):

galaxy tab back camera 1 galaxy tab back camera pic 2 galaxy tab back camera pic 3

Software

Galaxy Tab vs iPad multitasking

Multitasking on the iPad vs the Galaxy Tab

The Galaxy Tab runs the tablet version of Android, version 3.1 Honeycomb, and it runs it very well. The dual-core 1 GHZ processor does it’s job and apps and games opened and ran generally without any slow downs. Multitasking was also great, with switching between apps and opening new ones going very quickly even with several apps already running in the background.

galaxy tab live panel

Live Panel widgets on the Galaxy Tab

While the Galaxy Tab today comes with the same unchanged version of Honeycomb that is available on the Motorola Xoom and most other Android tablets, Samsung does have some pretty big updates in store that look to separate it from the pack. Like it’s Android phones, an upcoming update for the Galaxy Tab will bring a tablet version of Samsung’s TouchWiz UI with special features like Social Hub (a one-stop shop for keeping all your emails, IMs and Facebook messages and friends’ statuses in order), Live Panel (or better homescreen widgets), a tablet version of the famous Swype keyboard, Media Hub (Samsung’s version of iTunes for buying/renting movies and TV shows), and a Mini Apps Tray.

The Mini Apps tray is something that is really interesting to us as it allows you to pull up apps– like a calendar, task manager (for quickly killing apps– something that really comes handy if you notice things getting a little slow), calculator, memo pad, media player etc.– right on top of what you’re doing. This should make multitasking even better and easier than it already is, and is something we really look forward to seeing soon (we unfortunately couldn’t get an exact date for when this will come out of Samsung, but we’ll of course keep you posted).

For more info on this update see Samsung’s site here.

Galaxy Tab QuickofficeQuickoffice HD on the Galaxy Tab (click to enlarge)

Now here’s the biggest problem we found with the Galaxy Tab and all non-iPad tablets in general: the lack of good tablet apps. While there are a lot of tablet optimized apps available now for Android Honeycomb tablets– much more than those available for the HP TouchPad and BlackBerry PlayBook– they are still nowhere near the amount of apps available for the iPad. This is even more noticeable when you’re looking for good, free apps. Thankfully you can still run all the Android phone apps on here and they for the most part run perfectly fine (and will only get better in an upcoming Android 3.2 update), and the Galaxy Tab even comes pre-loaded with some of the apps you’d usually buy separately like Quickoffice HD (for taking notes in a Microsoft Word-like app, or viewing PowerPoints and Excel documents).

We expect there to be better Android tablet apps available in the future, but at least for now this is a big thing going against all Android tablets when compared to the iPad (for example there’s still no Android tablet versions of popular apps like Skype and Netflix).

Galaxy on Fire 2 Tab

Gaming on the Galaxy Tab with Galaxy on Fire 2– one of the good, free Android tablet apps we could find

And yes, it’s an Android tablet which means that unlike the iPad it can play Flash websites– which worked fine on here as well.

Battery Life

 galaxy tab battery

If there is one thing we were blown away with here it is the battery life. All the other tablets we’ve seen haven’t really been able to come near the iPad’s incredible battery life of 10 hours of constant use and seemingly weeks worth of battery life when used on and off (meaning not used for hours straight but a few minutes here or there). Well, like pretty much everything else here the Galaxy Tab goes tablet to tablet with the iPad here as well, providing the same great 10 hours of battery life in constant use (lots of browsing, email, games, YouTube watching and music playing) and seemingly weeks long battery in on/off use (using it for a few minutes a day to do the above tasks but not doing them all at the same time for hours on end).

Basically, it should be more than fine for lasting all day in school as your laptop replacement (though like the iPad, if you are using it to replace your laptop in school we recommend you charge every night just to make sure it will last the whole day).

Wrap Up– Is it better than the iPad 2?

Galaxy Tab browser

Put simply, we think the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the best tablet available now not named the iPad 2. It’s fast, great looking, has excellent battery life, and does pretty much everything you could want in a tablet. And it’s so similar to the iPad 2 that when your friends see it for the first time they’ll probably ask if it’s an iPad (seriously, even the USB cables are pretty much the same, though no, you can’t use iPad accessories or docks with the Galaxy Tab as the plug won’t fit).

iPad vs Galaxy Tab USB

That being said, for the same $500 is it better than the iPad 2? Right now we’d have to say the answer to that is no. The amount of apps, and tablet-optimized apps, available for the iPad 2 right now is so far ahead of anything out there for Android tablets that we’d still have to recommend the iPad 2. But if this was say $50-$100 cheaper than the iPad, or if you don’t plan on using a lot of apps and just want something that has all the great looks and features of the iPad but with a better, full Flash ready browser then we definitely recommend you check this out (particularly once it gets that TouchWiz update with the Mini Apps).

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is available now for $499 for 16 GB WiFi only or $599 for 32 GB WiFi only.