Announced at the same time as their extraordinary second-generation seven-inch model, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 followed three weeks later, and it too has been a fascinating device to tinker with. Providing much the same functionality as the 7.0 but now in a larger form factor, the 10.1 is Samsung's latest Android 4.0-powered tablet, taking tremendous advantage of the deep, rich "Ice Cream Sandwich" operating system and its myriad entertainment/productivity prowess. To this the hardware manufacturer has added the custom TouchWIZ interface to further distinguish the user experience with its own special gestures and unique apps.
Based on the placement of the silver logo, this 10.1-inch model seems intended to be a horizontal device specifically, and as such it looks remarkably like a handheld Samsung flatscreen! Indeed, folks familiar with the company's latest Smart TVs will recognize the preloaded Samsung Media Hub to access paid movie/television content, wirelessly, in addition to the premium Game Hub and the extremely inviting Samsung Apps portal, through which an ever-growing array of free content can pass. It also serves as a robust eReader, with support for the vast Google Play Store as well.
This is another zippy 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi tablet, also supporting Wi-Fi Direct which enables connection to other such enabled devices, including printers and displays, without the need to first join a network. Signing up for the requisite complement of Google features was fast and simple, as it was on the seven-inch Tab 2. I was immediately struck by the rich, inviting layout of YouTube on the larger horizontal screen, and I would guess that I spent even more time browsing and viewing videos as a result, which is no doubt part of Google's master plan.
Getting started on the 10.1 seemed to take a little longer than expected, so I decided to perform a series of side-by-side comparisons with the Tab 2 7.0, which actually boots from powered off to the home screen almost three seconds faster than the 10.1. But a common app like Angry Birds launches about a second faster here than on the 7.0, and the 10.1 opens to the Featured page of YouTube approximately two seconds faster than the seven-inch Tab 2.
But this was only half of my answer. Either by design or by some wacky coincidence, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 bears more than a passing resemblance to the venerable iPad, the third generation of which debuted two months prior. I've spent quite a bit of time with the new iPad during my review, and I decided to do a few match-ups here as well. The 10.1 is virtually identical in thickness to the iPad--which packs a 9.7-inch screen--but a little shorter and a little wider, if both devices are held horizontally. (This larger Tab 2 is actually thinner than the 7.0, go figure.) The new iPad is also just shy of three ounces heavier than the 10.1, which might enhance the perceived quality of the Apple tablet, but it also makes it, y'know, heavier. In point of fact, the new iPad boots a good ten seconds faster than the 10.1, while Angry Birds launches about as fast on both, although YouTube opened two seconds sooner on the iPad.
Copyright Laws Can Be a Cruel Mistress
Bigger screens like that on the Tab fairly beg to play movies, so I wasted no time loading her up. Instead of utilizing Samsung's hefty 16 gigabytes of embedded storage, I popped open the barely-there port in the top edge and inserted a microSD card containing my personal videos, photos and MP3s, and the tablet played said contents immediately. I had also transferred three DRM-protected Fox Home Entertainment feature films to this card at the time of my 7.0 review (Fox Digital Copy specifically supports Android devices, which is very cool of them), and at first the three files were not acknowledged by the tablet at all, until I downloaded the studio's free app. That task completed, I then received repeated error messages each time I tried to play them. However, one simple reboot later, and all three played perfectly, and I was even able to add another, Chronicle, alongside the others, transferred via the Digital Copy disc included with the Blu-ray.
The ability to access all the goodies on this card across multiple devices is a pretty terrific feat in the modern world of locked-down content, but the Android approach is not perfect, either. All four of my movies are widescreen, and since we now have so much LCD real estate, with 1,280x800 resolution at our disposal, I welcome the familiar option to zoom in and out, to work around the letterboxing if so desired. However, and I believe that this glitch is specific to this early version of the Fox app, when we tap the zoom button, the movie image doesn't change at all, only the app interface--the list of titles, the virtual controls--grows larger or smaller. When we're zoomed in, the oversized graphics look terrible, and when we toggle between the two options ("Stretch to fill screen"/"Zoom to fill screen"), I'm invited to Resume where I left off, but this doesn't work either, I just return to the very beginning.
So the only way I know of to use Fox Digital Copy titles is to install their dedicated software player, and the only thing this app does is play Fox Digital Copies. This will likely seem odd to the iTunes crowd, as all purchased video content compatible with Apple hardware will play through the same standard interface. And the image can be zoomed in or out to effectively remove/restore the black bars with a single tap, without interrupting the movie. Frankly, I miss this elegance.
Timing is Everything
As a result of the arrival of the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and Apple's latest this same spring, these comparisons are going to be inevitable, and the new iPad's greatest strength unfortunately shows up its similarly-sized rival. There's nothing really wrong with the 720p, WXGA screen of the Tab 2 10.1, until we spend any serious time with the new iPad and its better-than-1080p Retina display, and then every other portable device just looks soft. Well, it least it trumps the 7.0's WSVGA screen.
One Samsung feature that the other guys simply don't offer is an IR emitter, which once again works in service to the Peel Smart Remote. I needed to update the preinstalled version of Peel, and I was given the choice of doing so via the internet or Google Play, and the former was confusing and unsuccessful but latter was quick and easy and I was done. Here is a case where bigger really is better, as the lush graphics and controls of the touchscreen remote interface are that much more impressive spread out over a larger area. All of my gear and all of the available programming on my satellite package was spread out right there for the taking. I hardly knew what to watch first.
And in a head-to-head battle with that other tablet, the Galaxy Tab 2.0 comes out way ahead in one other category: the speakers. There are two of them flanking the screen for true onboard stereo, they're big (well, rather thin but a couple of inches high) and they fire right at us, with enough power that we can actually feel it in our hands. This is a very different design esthetic and a great innovation, reminiscent of the slender wall-mounted speakers many folks are using to enhance their wall-mounted flatscreens. One more perk of this hardware configuration: When we're holding the Tab 2 10.1 on either side, our mitts don't block out the sound.
Is my repeatedly-thrown gauntlet between new iPad and the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 a fair challenge? They feature roughly the same dimensions and both are available in 16GB capacity, with this entry-level (Wi-Fi-only) Apple option coming in at a nice neat $100 above the one and only Samsung choice, so for sheer value Samsung is the winner, although those craving the summit of slickness and a head-turning screen might have a harder time deciding.
What in the Box?
Manufacturer's Contact InformationSamsung U.S.A. 85 Challenger Road Ridgefield Park, New Jersey 07660
ph: 800-SAMSUNG (726-7864)
on the Web: www.samsung.com
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