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Tablet deathmatch: Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs. iPad 2

Tablet deathmatch: Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs. iPad 2

Samsung's Android 3.1-based tablet is the first to give Apple's iPad a real run for its money -- most of the time

For a good year now, we've been hearing about devices that would give the iPad a real run for its money, only to find the claims hollow. The closest contender thus far has been the Motorola Xoom, but it suffered too many shortcomings to give Steve Jobs cause to sweat.

Now, however, the iPad has its first credible alternative: Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1, a stellar improvement over Samsung's first effort, the awkward Galaxy Tab 7.

Sure, if you're well entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, you'll go for the iPad 2; likewise, if you're happy in the Android camp, you'll go for the Galaxy Tab 10.1. But if you're open to tablet platforms, you have a real decision to make. Depending on your tablet needs, however, you may find your choice made for you, as both tablets have their share of strengths and shortcomings.

I put both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 through a series of tests to determine their respective strengths in areas such as email and calendar functionality, applications and app stores, and general performance, design, and usability. Overall, Android 3.0 coupled with Samsung's tablet design make for a strong competitor in terms of speed and browser capabilities, along with handy widgets to keep users abreast of incoming emails and other such notifications. Meanwhile, the iPad 2 is an admirable update to Apple's original groundbreaking tablet, showing more polish and better security than the Galaxy Tab 10.1, alongside having superior apps.

Deathmatch: Email, calendars, and contacts

For testing these essential business functions, I used personal accounts of IMAP, POP, and Gmail along with a work account of Exchange 2007. Both devices work directly with IMAP, Gmail, and POP; my email, email folders, calendars, and contacts all flowed effortlessly among the smartphones, my laptop, and the server.

Both devices try to autodetect your settings wherever possible, though the iPad is much better at handling non-vanilla settings. Setting up Exchange access on both devices was simple. Unlike with Android smartphones, the Android 3 "Honeycomb" OS in the Galaxy Tab supports on-device encryption (though setup is a pain, as I describe later), so it easily connected to our corporate server and passed its Exchange ActiveSync policies. I particularly liked how the Galaxy Tab let me know specifically what permissions I was granting IT over the device -- details the iPad does not provide.

But the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was unable to set up access to my IMAP email account, unlike the iPad 2 and most other Android devices I've tested. It doesn't support the authentication method for outgoing mail that my ISP uses, so it refused to set up access to the email even for getting messages. Unlike the iPad, the Galaxy Tab doesn't let you set up an incomplete or "incorrect" account, so it's all or nothing. I got nothing.

I had similar issues trying to set up a separate POP email account, with the outgoing server being the obstacle. In this case, the SMTP server uses common settings, unlike my IMAP ISP provider, so it should have worked. I suspect this is an Android 3.1 issue, as I was able to set up these accounts using Android 3.0 on a beta version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Google is checking into this issue but had no answers by press time; I'll update this review once the cause is clear.

The good news is that my Exchange email, contacts, and calendars flowed into the Galaxy Tab 10.1's apps, and its Email app allowed me to access and send my messages. I also was able to set up a Yahoo email address -- the Galaxy Tab even detected the settings automatically -- and use that for non-Exchange testing.

For Exchange, IMAP, and POP, the iPad 2 had no trouble at all setting up the email accounts. It all worked on the iPad.

Email messages. Working with emails is equivalent on the two tablets: Both use the large screen to provide common controls at all times, and when in landscape orientation, both let you see a selected email without opening it. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 displays mail as black text on a white background (as does the iPad 2), not as white text on a black background in the manner of Android smartphones. Thus, the messages are much more readable.

In both devices, you can reply, forward, mark as unread, delete, and move messages while reading them. You can also delete and move emails to folders from the message lists. On the iPad 2, you can easily delete individual messages from the email list: Swipe to the left or right and tap Delete. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, you long-tap (that is, tap and hold) the message to get a menu of options such as Delete and Open.

The iPad 2's email display keeps a folder or message list on the left and the message preview on the right, whereas the Galaxy Tab 10.1's display works more like Mac OS X's Columns view: If you tap an account, its folders appear at left, while the list of messages for the selected folder appear at right. If you select a message, the message list moves into the left column, and the right column becomes the message preview window. The iPad approach is more predictable, and the Galaxy Tab approach more flexible. For example, it allows you to drag a message from the list into a folder, which you can't do on an iPad because you can't see the folder and message lists simultaneously.

Test Center Scorecard

Web and Internet support

Business connectivity

Application support

Security and management

Usability

Hardware

Overall score

20%

20%

15%

20%

15%

10%

Apple iPad 2

9

8

9

7

9

9

8.4, very good

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

9

7

8

6

9

9

7.9, good

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 stumbles over not retaining the subfolder relationships in Exchange; instead, it displays all folders and subfolders in one big list. Well, not all -- some of my Exchange subfolders went missing. In IMAP accounts, you also get a big folders list, but at least the IMAP list displays the parent folder as part of the subfolder name -- such as InfoWorld/Newsletters and InfoWorld/Authors -- so that you have a clue to the original hierarchy. Also for IMAP accounts, the Galaxy Tab doesn't display your junk folders; you can't scan for misflagged emails as you would on the iPad.

In a stupendous omission, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has no facility for searching emails. In fact, there's no systemwide Search button on the Galaxy Tab as there are on all Android smartphones such as Motorola's own Atrix. By contrast, the iPad 2 displays the search box at the top of the message list and lets you constrain your search to the To, From, or Subject fields.

Getting to the top of your email list isn't so obvious on the iPad 2, though it is easy: Tap the top of the screen. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, there is no fast-jump capability, although you can find it on Android smartphones such as the Atrix.

In general, Android devices favor small text that is hard to read for my middle-aged eyes, and there are few controls to ameliorate their youth-oriented design. The iPad 2 lets you specify very readable sizes for the text in its Settings app. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 provides zoom controls at the bottom of your email window, but they appear only if you begin scrolling through the message. However, the zoom settings are retained for your other emails, except -- and unlike the iPad -- where the email's HTML formatting specifies a fixed size, which overrules your preferences.

Email management. Both devices support multiple accounts and universal inboxes. I prefer the way the Galaxy Tab 10.1 navigates among email accounts: Tap the account name at the top left of the Email app to summon a pull-down menu listing each account and the Combined Account, which shows a universal inbox. The iPad 2 also has a universal inbox, as well as an inbox for each active account. Below the inboxes are a list of accounts that, when opened, show all the folders for that account in a nice hierarchical display. I don't think the iPad needs the two lists; the universal inbox followed by the individual accounts would be just as easy and less cluttered. This is a case where the Galaxy Tab 10.1's UI surpasses that of the iPad 2.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 separates Google email into the separate Gmail app -- a longtime Android OS behavior imposed by Google. Although you must have a Google account to use the Galaxy Tab, you don't have to work with Gmail if you don't want to.

The iPad 2 has a message-threading capability, which organizes your emails based on subject; you click an icon to the left of a message header to see the related messages. That adds more clicks to go through messages, but at least finding the messages is substantially easier. (The iPad's iOS 4 lets you disable threading.) The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has no equivalent. Instead, it lets you flag emails, then see all flagged emails via the virtual Starred folder.

Using the basic version of Quickoffice included with the tablet, you can open images on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, as well as PDF and Office files; after tapping the Attachments link, you get a list of attachments and an option to view or save each one. The iPad 2's native Quick Look viewer handles a nice range of formats, and it opens attachments with one tap (downloading them if needed at the same time). Of course, on either device, to edit those files you'll need an office app such as Quickoffice Mobile Connect Suite or Documents to Go Premium. The iPad 2 -- still! -- doesn't open Zip files without the aid of a third-party app such as the $1 ZipThat. For that matter, neither does the Galaxy Tab 10.1, though opening Zip files is a standard capability on Android OS 2.x-based smartphones.

Both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 remember the email addresses of senders you reply to, adding them to a database of contacts that's automatically scanned as you tap characters into the To and Cc fields. Both devices let you add email addresses to your contacts list, either by tapping them (on the iPad) or long-tapping them (on the Galaxy Tab).

Contacts and calendars. Both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 offer three of the same calendar views: day, week, and month. But only the iPad 2 supports the list (agenda) view. Moving among months is easy on both, as is shifting between weeks on the Galaxy Tab, and both can display multiple calendars simultaneously. The iPad 2 makes it slightly easier to switch through week or month views, thanks to on-screen buttons and sliders, but this is a minor advantage. The two devices also have comparable recurring-event capabilities.

Both the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad 2 can send invitations to others as you add appointments. But whereas the iPad invitations are sent immediately, the Galaxy Tab invitations take tens of minutes to show up. On the iPad 2, your invitations for Exchange accounts show up in your calendar as a pop-up; you can accept them there within the full context of your other appointments. For both Exchange and other email accounts, you can open the .ics invitation files in Mail, then add them to the calendar of your choice. On the Galaxy Tab, the Calendar app automatically adds Exchange invitations to your calendar with Maybe status, which is not apparent until you open the appointment. You can open Exchange invitations in the Email app, as well as accept or decline the invitation. But you can't open .ics invitations sent to POP or IMAP accounts.

Both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 have capable Contacts apps, but navigating through entries on the iPad is easier. You can jump to names by tapping a letter, such as "t," to get to people whose last names begin with "t," or search quickly for someone in the Search field by tapping part of the name. On the Galaxy Tab, a blue box appears to the side of the contacts list as you begin scrolling, and if you drag it, you can scroll through the letters of the alphabet to find the contact you seek. It's not as simple as the iPad approach, and its "secret handshake" nature means many users won't know it exists.

On the iPad 2, to search your contacts, drag up above the first contact to reveal the Search box. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, you can do the same by clicking the Search button. You can also designate users as favorites, to put them in a shorter Favorites list. The iPad 2 doesn't have a similar capability.

The iPad 2 supports email groups, but you can't create them on the device; they must be synced from your computer's contacts application. Also, you can't pick a group in the iPad 2's Mail address fields. Instead, you select a group, then open it up to select just one member, repeating this step to add more names. It's a really dumb approach to groups. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 both supports groups and lets you create them, though the process is unintuitive: When you add or edit a contact, there's a field in which you can select or create a group. You can't start by creating a group and then adding contacts to it; instead you have to go to each contact in turn. Also, the groups capability is not available for Exchange-based contacts. And you can't send email to groups, so this feature has little value.

The winner: The iPad 2 triumphs, due to its more capable email and calendar capabilities. The Galaxy Tab 10.1's (actually, Android 3.1's) lack of email search and awkward folder handling are surprising flaws that should not exist. The uneven support of IMAP and POP accounts is inexcusable.

Deathmatch: Applications

The native apps are comparable on the two devices, providing email, camera, contacts, calendar, maps and navigation, browser, media playback, YouTube playback, and SMS. The iPad 2 also provides a notes app, whereas the Galaxy Tab 10.1 provides a calculator, IM, and a limited version of the Quickoffice office editing suite that seems slower and jerkier than its iPad version. The Galaxy Tab's (still beta) Android Navigation app speaks directions as you navigate, as well as provides an on-screen live map and written step-by-step directions. The iPad 2's Maps app has comparable on-screen navigation capabilities but does not speak them as you drive. The Galaxy Tab's Android 3.1 OS also comes with the Movie Maker app for video editing; for the iPad 2, Apple's better-designed equivalent, iMovie, costs $5.

One of the Galaxy Tab 10.1's claims to fame is that it comes with Adobe's Flash Player 10.3, which the iPad does not and will not support. I found that the player did well with videos and basic Flash animations, such as those that let you rotate views, open content via hotspots, and the like. Flash games worked sometimes. Other Android devices using earlier versions of Flash Player and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook have had trouble running Flash content, but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks like it may break that string of Flash failure.

However, not all tablet-specific Android apps take advantage of the Galaxy Tab 10.1's larger screen; for example, the USA Today tablet app sort of does, but not nearly as well as it does on the iPad. More typically, "tablet" apps remain stretched renditions of the smartphone version. Amazon.com's Kindle app, for example, displays one too-wide-to-read page when in landscape orientation, rather than two facing pages as on the iPad 2. The Twitter app, likewise, stretches columns. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn't display such legacy apps in a smartphone-sized window, as the iPad 2 does, to clue you in. Additionally, I haven't found Android apps that auto-adjust their display and capabilities depending on whether they're running on a smartphone or tablet -- a feature that has quickly become very common in the iOS world.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 and other Android tablets need a better stable of apps to foster the addiction that iPad users exhibit with their tablets. The growing selection does show some of the promise of the tablet form factor, but none is exceptional. It's a matter of both quantity and quality -- or lack thereof.

App stores and app installation. There are tens of thousands of apps for the iPad 2's iOS, from games to scientific visualization tools. Sure, there's a lot of junk, but you'll find many useful apps as well. Android doesn't have anywhere near the same library of apps as iOS, but its smartphone-oriented apps portfolio is now in the thousands and growing, with many relevant apps such as Quickoffice, for which the Galaxy Tab 10.1 includes a basic version with limited creation and editing capabilities. I often find that iOS apps are more capable than their Android equivalents (such as the Kindle app) -- but not always (Angry Birds, for example).

Both the Apple App Store and Google Android Market separate tablet apps from smartphone apps, simplifying the search for appropriate titles. The Apple store also indicates which apps auto-adjust for the iPhone and iPad, so you know they can be run on both devices and appear native on each.

Unlike Apple's App Store, the Android Market is not curated; developers will have an easier time getting their apps listed, but the market also lets cyber thieves create phishing apps that masquerade as banking programs, games, or other apps and steal user information. Apple's App Store seems to be less at risk to such Trojans. The Android Market is also not as easy to navigate within the app details, though it is extremely clear about what permissions each app needs to run. The Android Market does have one highly useful feature that the iOS App Store does not: an option for each app to enable auto-updating.

You don't have to use the Android Market to get apps onto the Galaxy Tab 10.1, of course -- unlike the case with a non-jailbroken iPad. If you want to get down and dirty, you can configure the Android OS's application settings to install ("side-load") software from other sources.

Installation of apps is similar on both platforms: After selecting an app, you confirm your store account information and wait for the app to download and install. Both mobile OSes let you know if updates are available. On the iPad 2, the App Store indicates the number of available updates. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, with those apps for which you've not enabled auto-updating, available updates are displayed in the notifications pop-up at the bottom left of the screen.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 uses the Android Market to remember your paid apps (though not your free ones) and a separate sync utility for handling media files transferred from your PC, but in this regard it's no match for the iPad 2. Thanks to the iPad's reliance on iTunes as its command center for corralling media, apps, and documents, the iPad makes it much easier to manage your device's content. If you get a new phone, it's a snap on iTunes to get it up and running with the same assets as before. There's no such easy way to transfer the assets to a Galaxy Tab from a previous device.

App management. The iPad 2 has a simpler app management process than the Galaxy Tab 10.1. For example, it's easy to arrange your home screens to cluster applications both on your iPad and on your desktop via iTunes; you can also put them in your own folders. Just tap and hold any app to invoke the "shaking apps" status, in which you can drag apps wherever you want, or tap the X icon to delete them (press the Home button when done to exit that mode). You can also arrange and delete apps using iTunes on your desktop.

Like the Android smartphones and other Android tablets, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 lets you drag apps to any of its home screens, which appear in preview mode below the apps matrix. (Unlike with Android smartphones, you cannot long-tap an app to move it to the current home screen.) The full list of programs is available in the apps page, which you access by tapping the Apps button at the upper right of any home screen. But the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has no groups capability for presenting apps, and you can't rearrange the roster in the apps page -- just in the home screens.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 supports the Android OS's widgets feature. Widgets are mini apps that you can place on the home screens, and they can be very helpful, showing the latest email message or Facebook update or the current time in a large clock. Thus, you can see at a glance the current status of whatever you want to easily track -- one of Android's superior UI capabilities. The Galaxy Tab, like other Android devices, also has pop-up notifications that make it easy to see if you have new email or other alerts, whatever you happen to be doing. Alerts appear in the lower right of your screen, not at the top as in Android smartphones. Again, the iPad 2 has no equivalent, though Apple has promised that iOS 5 will offer a similar Notification Center feature this fall.

Multitasking. The iPad 2's iOS 4.3 supports multitasking if enabled in the apps themselves; Apple has made specific background services available for multitasking, rather than let each app run full-on in parallel, as on a PC. As you switch among iOS apps, they suspend, except for their multitasking-enabled services, which conserves memory and aids performance. By contrast, Android supports full multitasking, whereby default apps continue to run in the background when you take care of other duties. From a usage point of view, these differences aren't apparent; on both devices, apps appear to multitask the same.

The major difference related to multitasking is the UI for switching among apps. On the iPad 2, a double-click on the Home button pulls up a list of active apps, and it's easy to see what's running and switch among them. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, a persistent menu icon provides access to all running apps at any time, and it even shows a preview window of what the apps are currently doing (as with Mac OS X and Windows 7 in their taskbars).

The winner: The iPad 2 comes out on top again, mainly because there are still few tablet apps available for the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and Android app quality remains generally inferior. But for the underlying apps management capabilities, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has the edge, thanks to the widgets and notifications capabilities of the Android OS; you feel their omission on an iPad 2 after you've used an Android device for a while. Plus, the Galaxy Tab's ability to show all running apps and what they're doing is an impressive feature the iPad 2 doesn't match.

Deathmatch: Web and Internet

Both Apple and Google are strong forces behind HTML5 and other modern browser technologies, so it's no surprise that the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 both offer capable Web browsers. Although neither is as HTML5-savvy as their desktop versions, the iPad 2 has nearly closed the gap with Mac OS X. Based on the HTML5 Test site's scores, the iPad 2's mobile Safari scored 206 versus 228 for desktop Safari (Version 5.05), versus the iPad 1's score of 196. (If you upgrade the iPad 1 to iOS 4.3, its score rises to 206.) But the iPad 2 remains behind the Galaxy Tab 10.1's mobile Chrome, which racked up 218 out of 300 points (better than Android 2.2 smartphones' 176 points), and way behind desktop Chrome (Version 12.0.742), which scored 291.

I didn't notice a qualitative difference between the two tablets' browsers other than greater font support on the iPad 2 in my admittedly subjective browsing. However, an associate who tested the devices had screen redraw issues when using Facebook on the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

For HTML and JavaScript performance, based on the Futuremark Peacekeeper benchmarks, the iPad 2 scored 808 versus 508 for the iOS 4.3 iPad 1, and 430 for the iOS 4.2 iPad 1. By contrast, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 scored 985 -- 22 percent faster than the iPad 2. By comparison, desktop Safari on my 2011-edition MacBook Pro scored 2,812, while the Firefox browser in the Motorola Atrix smartphone scored just 360 in Lapdock and Multimedia Dock use. Peacekeeper stresses media and JavaScript processing, so the indicated speed differences aren't apparent in more text-and-graphics-heavy sites.

I also found in subjective usage that the iPad 2's browser felt nearly as snappy as the Galaxy Tab 10.1's browser, despite the 22 percent speed advantage indicated by the Peacekeeper benchmarks. I suspect that narrower perceived difference is due to the iPad 2's faster page downloads, which on many sites compensate for the Galaxy Tab 10.1's faster page rendering.

Otherwise, the main differences between the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 browsers are cosmetic. Both browsers have persistent buttons or fields for Back, Forward, Bookmarks, Refresh, and navigating tabbed panes. The Galaxy Tab 10.1's browser shows a row of tabs at the top for each open browser window, whereas the iPad 2 displays a button showing how many windows are open -- tapping it opens a screen that previews all open windows. The Galaxy Tab automatically opens a (cached) Google search page when you bring up a new tab. The iPad 2 opens a blank window instead.

Both browsers can share pages via email, but the operation is faster on the iPad 2, which also lets you print the page to a wireless printer, either to an AirPrint-compatible printer or to a local wireless printer connected via one of the many printing apps available for the iPad. But the iPad 2's separate Search and URL boxes are less convenient than the Galaxy Tab 10.1's unified URL and Search box; you have to be sure to tap the right box on the iPad. The Galaxy Tab also has a separate search control, if you prefer.

Unlike Android smartphones, the Galaxy Tab 10.1's touch keyboard offers a .com button -- like the iPad and iPhone -- when entering URLs, which is a significant timesaver. Both devices pop up a list of alternative domains, such as .edu and .org, when you tap and hold that .com button.

Both browsers let you select text and graphics on Web pages, but only the iPad 2 lets you copy graphics. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 can save graphics to the tablet's local storage. The iPad 2 can save images to its Photos app.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1's browser supports the TinyMCE WYSIWYG JavaScript editor widely used in Web forms to allow rich text editing. Mobile Safari's lack of support for the editor frustrates me every day, as InfoWorld.com's content management system uses it. But on the Galaxy Tab, I experienced display problems, such as the rich text window not always refreshing its contents after scrolling. Text selection didn't always work either. Other JavaScript windows had display problems, as well as significant typing and scrolling lags -- in some cases, the scrolling gesture wouldn't work. At the end of the day, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is unusably reliable with such AJAX tools, whereas the iPad 2 makes me work with raw HTML -- which at least always works.

Both browsers offer settings to control pop-up windows, search engines, JavaScript, cookies, history, cache, form data, passwords, image loading, autofill, fraud warnings, and debugging. Note that many websites won't know about the Galaxy Tab 10.1's unique identifier or the subtle difference in how Android tablets in general self-report versus how Android smartphones do; they will treat the Galaxy Tab or other Android tablet as if it were an Android smartphone. That'll cause some full-sized sites such as InfoWorld.com to redirect the Galaxy Tab to mobile-oriented sites rather than present their desktop- and tablet-friendly site. The iPad's browser ID is better known to Web developers, so this redirect issue is less likely to occur for that device. (If you're developing mobile-savvy websites, you can use InfoWorld's User Agent Check tool to read the IDs of the various devices and, thus, optimize how your site works with them. Tip: Android 3 in the user agent string means a tablet.)

Using the cloud-based Google Docs on either device is not a pleasant experience. It's barely possible to edit a spreadsheet; the most you can do is select and add rows, as well as edit the contents of individual cells. You can edit a text document -- awkwardly. Partly, that's because Google hasn't figured out an effective mobile interface for these Web apps; the Safari and Chrome browsers are simply dealing with what Google presents, rather than working through a mobile-friendly front end. It's also because the mobile Safari and Chrome browsers don't support all the same capabilities as their desktop counterparts. But things are improving on the Google Docs front. For example, you can create, edit, and navigate appointments in Google Calendar in all four of its views (day, week, month, and agenda) pretty much as you can on a desktop browser.

The winner: This contest ends in a tie, with the iPad 2's advantage being able to copy and print Web images balanced by the Galaxy Tab 10.1's faster, more HTML5-savvy browser.

Deathmatch: Location support

Both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 can triangulate your location based on Wi-Fi signals and GPS. The beta Navigation app that comes with Android is a much better navigation app than the Maps app that comes with the iPad 2. On the iPad, you'll want a real navigation app such as the $45 Navigon MobileNavigator, whereas on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, you could stick with the free one -- as long as you don't need the map display itself to be updated while you drive (that would require 3G connectivity).

Although both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 ask for permission to work with your location information, the Galaxy Tab does not provide controllable settings for location use by the device or individual applications, as the iPad 2 does.

The winner: The Galaxy Tab 10.1 wins this round, thanks to its superior navigation app.

Deathmatch: User interface

It's often a throwaway comment that Apple's UIs are better than everyone else's, though it's not always true, as evidenced by the soon-to-disappear MobileMe service. But the iPad 2's iOS 4 is in fact a better-designed UI in many respects, allowing easier and faster access to the device's capabilities and information. Where the Galaxy Tab 10.1's Android 3.1 OS outshines the iPad 2 in terms of UI is through its widgets and notification capabilities, as previously mentioned.

Android smartphone users will find the Android 3 UI in the Galaxy Tab 10.1 both familiar and strange. Gone are two standard buttons at the bottom of all Android smartphones: Search and Menu. They now appear at the discretion of each application in the upper right of the screen. The standard Home and Back buttons remain at the bottom of the Galaxy Tab screen, though they use entirely different -- and ugly -- icons. These two on-screen buttons and the notification widget take up the entire bottom of the screen, shrinking the available viewing area. (On Android smartphones, these buttons are in the device rather than on-screen, and the notification widgets appear only on the home screens.) This loss of screen real estate especially matters on the Galaxy Tab in landscape orientation, where the widescreen layout already shortens its display area uncomfortably compared to the iPad 2.

In the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Samsung complements Android 3's already nice ability to see thumbnails of active applications with a custom UI element called live panels, which are widgets you can place on a home screen that show the current status of, say, your email inbox or the weather. One aspect of the Android user interface I admire is the at-a-glance indicators showing what is going on in the tablet (system info, battery life, and so on) or in the outside world (such as news and weather); the iPad 2 is more single-minded in that you have to switch to whatever app or website you want to see with that -- and only that -- information.

Operational UI. The Galaxy Tab 10.1's Android 3 tablet OS doesn't suffer the excessive reliance on the Menu button as Android smartphones do. The Galaxy Tab instead uses its larger display area to make relevant controls easily accessible on-screen, as the iPad and iPhone always have.

The Android OS's Settings app can be disorienting, and the white-on-black text is nearly impossible to view in bright daylight. For example, there are two Wi-Fi options: Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Settings. Tapping Wi-Fi turns off Wi-Fi -- not what I expected. To find a Wi-Fi network, you tap Wi-Fi Settings. After a while I learned the difference, but it was an unnecessary exercise. (Bluetooth is handled in the same awkward manner.) The iPad 2's iOS doesn't let you confuse turning Wi-Fi on or off with selecting a network, thanks to a single location with clearly designated controls.

The good news is that pinching and zooming, as well as autorotation as you turn the device, work equivalently on the Galaxy Tab 10.1's Android OS and iPad 2's iOS. For text entry, I find the iPad 2's on-screen keyboard to be slightly easier to work with than the Galaxy Tab's, with clearer keys and better contextual use of extra keys, such as in the Mail application. Although I appreciate the intent behind the Galaxy Tab's use of Tab and other keys not found on the iPad 2, the result is that the keyboard is not quite full size in landscape orientation (the iPad 2's is) and, thus, a tad difficult for touch-typing. I'm sure I'll eventually get used to it, but it remains an annoying UI decision.

Text selection and copying. The Galaxy Tab 10.1's Android OS improves text selection versus that in the Motorola Mobility Xoom's original Android 3.0 and the various smartphone versions of Android. When you tap on text, a slider now appears so that you can reposition the text cursor easily. It's thus easier to work with text than before. (As before, a long-tap selects all the text and provides the selection tabs.) This text-selection method isn't universal, though it needs to be. The demo version of Quickoffice that's included, for example, doesn't support it.

On the iPad 2, text selection also works via handles, which appear more quickly than they do on the Galaxy Tab 10.1. To insert the pointer in a precise location, you tap and hold where you want to insert the text cursor (sort of like using a mouse), and a magnifier appears to help you move exactly to where you want to go. This is still easier than Android 3.1's welcome new insertion slider, and it works in every app, unlike the new Android slider. You then add and delete text at that location. Plus, the controls for text selection appear, so you can use those and not worry about a screen-filling menu getting in the way.

The winner: We have another tie here, although iPad fans may find the Android OS too loosey-goosey and its ever-present alerts annoying. That said, Android fans may find the iPad too rigid and disconnected from what's going on. To each his own; both work.

Deathmatch: Security and management

A long-standing strike against the Android OS is its poor security. The standard smartphone Android OS doesn't support on-device encryption, and it supports only the most basic of Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) security policies. By contrast, with the enhancements made in iOS 4, the iPad has become one of the most securable mobile devices available, second only to the RIM BlackBerry.

On the iPad, encryption is enables, straight out of the box, and it can't be turned off. Google, having recognized Android's security deficiency, has added on-device encryption to Android 3 OS for tablets, but you have to enable it manually. Not only does encrypting the tablet take an hour, but the battery has to be fully charged before you can begin, even if you are plugged into a wall socket. (The rationale is that the battery needs to be fully charged in case the power goes out or the power cord is disconnected.) It can take several hours before your Galaxy Tab is finally encrypted and ready for use. Fortunately, it's a one-time activity.

Also thanks to the changes in Android 3, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 comes close to matching iOS 4's support of EAS policies (unlike Android smartphones), allowing for complex passwords, password expiration, and password history restrictions. iOS 4 has more security capabilities overall, but Android tablets are much more securable than Android smartphones.

Both the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad 2 offer remote wipe, SSL message encryption, and timeout locks. If your Galaxy Tab is lost or stolen, you can lock or wipe it via your Google account or via Exchange. Apple supports remote lock and wipe both through Exchange and via the free Find My iPad service that tracks your iPad 2's location from a Web browser, iPhone, iPod Touch, or other iPad.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1's Android OS can back up contact, calendar, and email data wirelessly to Gmail, as well as system settings and application data to Google's servers. Syncing the iPad 2 to your computer's iTunes backs up -- and encrypts, if you desire -- the data on it. iTunes backs up everything: your media, your apps, their settings, their data, and most of your preferences. (iTunes can be configured for use in the enterprise, though most companies don't know that.)

The winner: The iPad 2 ekes out a slight victory here. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has brought in a key business security capability (encryption) but isn't quite as far along in EAS support as the iPad.

Deathmatch: Hardware

Although the real value of a tablet comes from its OS and apps, you can't get to them without the hardware they run on. The iPad 2 sports a dual-core 1GHz A5 CPU chip, matching at the spec level the Galaxy Tab's dual-core Nvidia 1GHz Tegra 2 processor; both are based on the ARM chip architecture. Both tablets offer front and rear cameras (supporting videoconferencing and motion video capture), and they're capable of display mirroring through video-out connector. The iPad comes in both Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi-plus-3G models (which supports 3G tethering), whereas the Galaxy Tab comes only in a Wi-Fi model.

Performance. The iPad 2's A5 processor makes quick work of app loading and is generally responsive, such as when panning in Google Earth or parsing documents in iWork Pages. The Galaxy Tab is no slouch, either, with similarly snappy reaction time. I had significantly fewer Android apps with which to test the Galaxy Tab's speed, however, so I can't fully assess app performance across the two tablets. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 does start up from powered-off mode noticeably faster than the iPad 2: 25 seconds versus 35 seconds. (By comparison, my 2011-edition MacBook Pro takes 127 seconds.) In either case, if you're looking for instant-on, let the tablet go to sleep rather than power it down.

The iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 performed similarly in their network usage over Wi-Fi. I did find that the Galaxy Tab usually received emails and updated its calendar slightly more slowly than the iPad 2, even though both were connected to the same Wi-Fi network and pulling from the same Exchange server.

For battery performance, I found that the iPad 2 lasted longer than the Galaxy Tab 10.1 -- 9 or 10 hours versus the Galaxy Tab's 7 or 8 -- in regular use with Wi-Fi enabled. In light use, their work time stretched another hour. Note that the Galaxy Tab starts chewing through battery power the more you use Wi-Fi, whereas the iPad 2 seems better able to handle sustained Wi-Fi connections without draining the battery. Also, the iPad 2 charges much more quickly than the Galaxy Tab -- two or three times as fast, depending on whether the devices are powered down.

Device hardware. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 as a device is very much like the iPad 2: the same thinness, with roughly the same dimensions; due to its widescreen display, it's wider but shorter than the iPad 2. But the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is 12 percent lighter, shaving 2.5 ounces off the iPad's 2's 21.5 ounces; you can really feel the difference when you hold one in each hand. The iPad 2's aluminum back can feel dangerously slippery, whereas the plastic (your choice of white or gray) of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a little more grippable.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1's bezel is simple and clean, like the iPad 2's, with just the hardware features you need: well-positioned power and volume controls at the top, front and rear cameras placed unobtrusively (with better image resolution and quality than the iPad 2's), an audio jack at the top, small speaker notches on the sides, and dock/charging connector at the bottom.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1's power button also doubles as a battery indicator switch: Press it quickly when the device is powered down to see the battery status on screen; press and hold it a few seconds to turn the device on. The iPad 2 has no such battery indication while it is powered down. But the iPad 2 wakes itself automatically if its (optional) Smart Cover is opened -- nice. It also has the rotation lock button that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 does not.

The iPad 2's optional magnetic Smart Cover is smartly designed. It snaps into place quickly, folds out of the way easily, helps clean fingerprints on the screen, and remained snuggly attached in my backpack tests. The cover ($40 for polyurethane and $80 for leather) does not protect the iPad 2's aluminum back, which may concern some users fearful of scratches, but there are plenty of cases, skins, and portfolios for such folks. I was disappointed that the Smart Cover doesn't affix magnetically to the back of the iPad 2; it only does so to the front. There are a few cases, skins, and portfolios for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 should you be concerned about damaging its screen or plastic case, but none have the imagination of Apple's Smart Cover.

Neither the iPad 2 nor Galaxy Tab 10.1 have ports in addition to the 30-pin dock/charging connector; the Galaxy Tab is much more minimalist than the Motorola Xoom, which boasts both a MicroUSB port and a Mini HDMI port. Both devices require USB adapters to connect to USB devices; the $29 iPad Camera Connection Kit's USB connectivity is limited to cameras and SD cards, whereas the Galaxy Tab 10.1's $20 USB adapter connects to storage devices, cameras, and input peripherals. The iPad 2 can mirror its display to VGA or HDMI using a $39 dock-to-HDMI cable or $29 VGA connector that other iOS devices also support. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 can connect only to HDMI using a $40 adapter cable. If you do a lot of typing, you can use Apple's $70 Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad 2; Samsung sells an $80 keyboard dock for the same purpose, though some Bluetooth keyboards also work with it. Note that the Samsung peripherals were unavailable for review, so I could not test them; the Apple peripherals all worked fine.

I found the iPad 2's screen easier to read -- both in sunlight and in office lighting -- than the Galaxy Tab's screen, which suffers from excessive reflectivity. I disliked the Galaxy Tab's widescreen (16:9) display, because Web pages and other content appear too squished in landscape mode. The iPad 2's old-fashioned 4:3 ratio is more comfortable for most apps; only when I'm watching HD movies do I wish the iPad 2 were widescreen.

Although the iPad 2 offers a front-facing camera for videoconferencing and a rear one for taking pictures and capturing video, the quality of still photos and movies taken from the machine are not that good: The camera seems to be the same, poorly regarded model used in the latest iPod Touch. The iPad 2's camera also lacks a flash and support for high-definition range, both of which the iPhone 4's camera does support but the iPod Touch's does not. Apple hasn't released the camera's megapixel rating, but my photo-editing software pinned it as a measly 0.7 megapixel; by contrast, the iPhone 4's camera is 5 megapixels. The iPad 2's camera does perform better for motion video, taking decent 720p, 0.9-megapixel video -- fine for casual videos but no more.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1's camera quality is little better than the iPad 2's, despite its 2-megapixel front camera and 3-megapixel rear camera. The Galaxy Tab does have a flash, a wider-angle lens, and adjustment controls lacking in the iPad 2 to help improve image quality through manual overrides. But it has, bizarrely, no zoom, whereas the iPad 2 does. For motion video, the Galaxy Tab's 720p, 2-megapixel video capture results in better video quality than the iPad 2, especially in low-light conditions, where you get lots of pixelation. (The iPad 2's video quality is about the same as the iPhone 4's, despite the higher resolution of the iPhone 4's video file.)

For still photography, both tablets are clearly aimed at Web-oriented images, such as for posting on Facebook and Flickr. You're not at all likely to keep any for your family albums, project portfolios, or client sales presentations; you'll want a real digital camera for those. For videography, both tablets are fine for casual video -- don't buy into either Apple's or Samsung's HD video hype -- though the Galaxy Tab clearly bests the iPad 2.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad 2 are equivalent in quality when it comes to audio output, despite the fact the iPad 2 has a single speaker and the Galaxy Tab has two. To get stereo-quality audio, connect either tablet to a stereo.

The winner: Again, we have a tie. I personally prefer the iPad 2 because its screen dimensions make browser and text windows easier to use, and the greater battery consumption and slow recharge of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 bother me. But the truth is the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a faster performer, and its other hardware capabilities are essentially equal to those of the iPad 2.

The overall winner is ...

The differences between the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 are real, but as often as not to be based on legitimate differences in design decisions. The Galaxy Tab is a faster device, and it beats the iPad in areas such as browser capability and notifications. The iPad 2 wins slightly on the security front and more decisively on the applications and power-handling fronts. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 and its Android 3.1 OS also show their seams more than the iPad 2 and its iOS do.

If it were not for the flaw in Android 3.1 that prevented me from setting up IMAP and POP email -- which I'm sure is a bug, as the issue did not surface on pre-3.1 Android tablets -- the two tablets would be very close in terms of their business connectivity capabilities.

Ironically, that email issue puts the Galaxy Tab 10.1's InfoWorld Test Center score (7.9) slightly lower than the Motorola Xoom tablet's score (8.0), which also benefits from having more hardware capabilities for those who like their tablet to have PC-style ports. But the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is an overall better tablet than the Xoom, which the score would reflect once that email issue has been addressed (it would rise to 8.1).

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is also within striking distance of tying with the iPad 2, both in terms of score calculations (the iPad 2 hits 8.4) and my own sense of what feels right from using them. The iPad 2 is clearly better and more polished, but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has closed most of the previous Android tablets' gaping holes. Apple's iOS 5 this fall and Google's Android OS 4 by year's end will no doubt up the ante for both platforms. And they'll both have strong hardware platforms on which to showcase their new strengths, especially if Samsung adds 3G models to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 lineup. It's a real competition now.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs. Apple iPad 2

Price

Supported U.S. networks

Bottom Line

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

$600 (32GB); $500 (16GB)

None (Wi-Fi only)

The first 10-inch Android tablet to use the tablet-optimized Android 3.1 OS, the Galaxy Tab packs the hardware capabilities that many users want. The Galaxy Tab's use of widgets and notifications keeps users more easily up-to-date. On the downside, the widescreen display results in awkward visual cramping, and email setup is iffy.

Apple iPad 2

iPad 2 with Wi-Fi: $500 (16GB), $600 (32GB), $700 (64GB); iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 3G: $630 (16GB), $730 (32GB), $830 (64GB)

For 3G models: AT&T, with no-commitment data plans of $15 for 250MB and $25 for 2GB; Verizon Wireless, with no-commitment data plans of $20 for 1GB, $35 for 3GB, $50 for 5GB, and $80 for 10GB. For both carriers, the use of tethering adds $20.

The revamped model of the device that created the tablet phenomenon is even moreso the best tablet available, with a cohesive, elegant UI; lots and lots of apps; and a solid, well-designed enclosure. Its new inclusion of cameras and ability to mirror its display to an external monitor erase the major deficits of the original iPad. But note the camera produces mediocre still images and merely adequate video.


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Tags Applehardware systemstablet PCslaptopsSamsung Electronics

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