There is a good reason why Samsung is involved in at least 20 lawsuits in 10 countries over its Galaxy phones and tablets. In order to compete with the iPhone and iPad, Samsung drew inspiration from Apple’s mobile products (or copied them outright, depending on who you ask), and produced some impressive hardware.
I was thrilled to get my hands on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. While I love my iPad 2, I am also firmly embedded in the “Google Operating System,” and would love to have smoother integration with Google on my tablet, like I already do on my Android phone.
Is the Galaxy Tab 10.1 Android’s answer to the iPad? Read on to find out.
Samsung sent me a Galaxy Tab 10.1 to play with for three weeks, which was plenty of time to take the measure of what is probably the best Android tablet on the market today (the Kindle Fire may be Android-based, but since it subtracts the Google stuff, I think it deserves a different category).
So far, tablets are still very much in the optional category when it comes to law practice technology. But tablets are really nice to have, and many lawyers who have them, swear by them. I use my iPad all the time, whether for taking notes and looking up court records at client meetings or referring to the client file during a court hearing. A tablet may be optional, but I will be using one in my practice for the foreseeable future.
If you are looking at tablets, that means you have already considered an iPad, and are wondering whether you ought to be considering something else, instead. Well, if you are considering an Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is probably the one you should be considering, so here is the lowdown.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is really thin and light. In fact, it is thinner and lighter than my iPad 2, which I really didn’t expect it to be. While the Tab is a bit more flexible because it lacks the iPad’s all-aluminum frame, it isn’t likely to bother you.
As the numbers in its name suggest, the Tab’s screen is 10.1 inches (the iPad’s screen is 9.7). It is a bit narrower and more elongated than the iPad, which means you will have less vertical real estate when using the tablet in landscape orientation. This makes the Tab great for watching movies on Netflix, and the keyboard is a bit roomier, but in the usual landscape orientation, it also means you have less space to see what you are typing. If, like me, you do a fair amount of writing on your tablet, you’ll miss the extra vertical real estate in landscape mode. I prefer the aspect ratio on the iPad, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means. The screen itself is bright and beautiful, with great viewing angles. Again, great for watching movies.
Battery life is excellent. I got enough juice that I would expect to have to charge the Tab only every two or three days. Samsung says to expect about 9 hours, and that sounds about right That is plenty of juice for most users.
Overall, the Tab feels a hair slower than the iPad 2. It’s just enough that you notice, but if you’ve never used an iPad 2, you probably wouldn’t notice the difference. It didn’t stutter or halt, it just took a teensy bit longer to complete tasks like launching an app than I expected. Without more to go on, I think this is probably due to Samsung’s awful TouchWiz interface that is pasted on top of Android (see below for more on TouchWiz).
Going on hardware alone, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a seriously good machine. However, we’re not going on hardware alone; the software is what makes a tablet sink or swim.
There are two aspects to a tablet’s software: the operating system and the apps. In the Tab’s case, though, the operating system has been tweaked by Samsung, so there’s more to comment on than just Android. I tried to take each in turn.
Android and TouchWiz
While iOS has evolved from a smartphone operating system into a robust tablet operating system, Android is still a phone operating system that has just begun to support the tablet form factor. That will all change in a couple of weeks, when Google launches the next version of Android (Ice Cream Sandwich). But for now, it feels like Honeycomb is still a beta version of Android. For example, a lot of screen real estate is taken up with the task bar. The browser wastes a good quarter inch of precious vertical screen real estate with blank space above the tabs, and for no apparent reason. Together, you lose maybe a half inch (about 10%) of the screen, with nothing gained. It just doesn’t really feel all that well thought out.
Despite that, Honeycomb is a good first draft of a tablet operating system. And with Ice Cream Sandwich around the corner, you’ll probably get the final draft in a few weeks.
Samsung attempts to add polish to Android with its TouchWiz interface—basically a cosmetic layer on top of Android. TouchWiz is really excellent at slowing down the interface and making it more confusing. In short, it sucks. Fortunately, you can confine most of TouchWiz to the background in a few minutes by removing the default widgets from the home screen (switch to the default Android keyboard, while you are at it), but much of it will remain, despite your best efforts. The annoying “Mini Apps” bar at the bottom will inevitably pop up when it is least welcome, for example.
If Android Honeycomb is a good first draft, TouchWiz is a coffee stain that soaked through the entire brief, obscuring some of your best arguments.
As I mentioned in my Android Buyers Guide post, tablet apps on Android are pretty sparse. You basically get Gmail and Evernote, and that’s it. Just about everything else is a blown-up version of the phone app, which means a pretty poor user experience compared to iOS.
This isn’t Samsung’s fault, of course, but it’s something you put up with—for now—if you want to use an Android tablet.
All that said, the few tablet apps that do exist do Android proud. Gmail, for example, is way better in Android, and its no exception on the Tab. It makes the email app in iOS look clumsy by comparison. Which it is, after all. The trick with Gmail, obviously, is representing labels as labels, instead of trying to shoehorn them into the folder paradigm. Gmail for tablets does a great job of putting the Gmail experience on display.
Of course, if you don’t actually use (and like) Gmail, this isn’t a big selling point. But if you don’t use and like Gmail, you’re crazy.
You’ll get similar results from the other built-in Google apps. However, besides the built in email, calendar, and contacts apps, the only tablet-optimized app I found with any use for a lawyer was Evernote. Which, by the way, is beautiful on Android. It’s at least as good as the iOS version, and probably better.
Apart from this sparse sampling of apps, though, I don’t have a lot to go on.
If you are in the market for an Android tablet, get the Galaxy Tab 10.1. You won’t be disappointed.
However, if you are in the market for a tablet, and aren’t wedded to Android, get the iPad. It’s running a more robust operating system—which will be updated tomorrow, as a matter of fact—and comes with a huge catalog of apps.
It’s a shame, really. Samsung has built a beautiful piece of hardware, but was forced to install an operating system that really wasn’t ready for prime time. And, for some reason, couldn’t stop itself from installing TouchWiz.