Is the large-size Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 a worthy iPad alternative? With its 10.1-inch screen, this is the Samsung tablet that competes most directly with Apple‘s flagship “post PC” product. And with a price $100 cheaper than the entry-level iPad (for the same 16GB of storage), the $400 Tab is certainly a temptress for tablet buyers.
In tablet society, though, Samsung and Android have a thinner pedigree than the iPad, and it shows in the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. While the tablet will certainly please anyone who just wants a decent screen for checking out Netflix videos, the tablet falls short in many key features — notably, the screen.
To be clear, the new Tab is a fine Android tablet. Running version 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” out of the box on a dual-core 1GHz processor and sporting a 1,280 x 800 display, Samsung’s latest toy has a lot to brag about. But when you’re talking tablets, you simply can’t ignore the iOS elephant in the room. Any tablet up for sale doesn’t just have to convince buyers it’s worthy of their cash — it has to show why it’s more worthy than the iPad.
It’s a fair argument to say, that since the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is priced at $400, it’s really competing with the repositioned iPad 2, which now costs the same. But even putting aside the Retina display, better camera and faster processor in the latest Apple tablet, the experience on the Tab 2 (and most Android tablets) is generally a poor substitute for what you get from an iPad.
First of all, the tablet is hampered by the classic Android problem of a lack of good tablet support for many apps. Even mainstream apps like Twitter and Facebook still have stretched-out user interfaces that are more suited to a smaller phone screen. Forget the extremely visual layouts in, say, the eBay app for iPad, and forget running Hulu Plus at all (it doesn’t yet offer support for Samsung’s latest tabs).
The issue isn’t limited to apps. Using the browser, many sites (including Mashable) took me straight to the mobile version, even though the Tab’s 10.1-inch screen is more than enough to take on full web pages.
All these “is it a phone or a tablet?” issues, of course, are a symptom of Android’s fragmentation problem. With so many devices out there — all with different screens, processors and software — few sites or apps are ready for every possible device. Still, that’s not the buyer’s problem.
Samsung has some tricks that help it stand out from the Android pack, though. Like its little 7-inch brother, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has an infrared blaster so you can use the tablet as a remote control. Paired with an pre-installed app called Peel, the tablet can configure itself to control your TV and other gear just by tapping a few virtual buttons.
At least in theory. In practice, the process is much less nimble, and Peel stumbled badly on the first “activity” I attempted to set up. After successfully turning my Pioneer receiver on and off, it then attempted to switch inputs on it, but couldn’t. Worse yet, the app offered no way to skip the step without contacting technical support. I abandoned the process at this point, something I expect the majority of customers would do, too.
Samsung also offers one-stop shopping for movies, music and games right from the home screen. Although when I say “offers,” I should really say “thrusts your face in front of.” The large Samsung storefront widgets that appear on the screen by default highlight exactly what’s wrong with Android, though at least they’re easily deleted.
On pure performance, the Galaxy Tab 2 is a trooper. It performed well in benchmarks, besting most of the phones we’ve reviewed lately and leaving the original iPad in the dust. Still, it didn’t quite beat the iPad 2, and the iPad 3 blew it away. In terms of real-world use, I found there was a slight lag after some finger taps and motion wasn’t quite as fluid as I’d like, but I’m now used to the iPad 3.
At the end of the day, if you’re in the market for a tablet, you could do a lot worse than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. It’s a solid performer, and the bright widescreen display is tailor-made for things like watching HD video. But until app developers rise to the challenge of fully supporting Android tablets — and Google gets its fragmentation problem under control — tablets such as the Tab 2 will never make enough noise to be heard over the stampede of customers trampling their way toward the nearest Apple Store.
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