Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 offers little in the way of new or innovative features.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 offers little in the way of new or innovative features.

Design and display

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is a replacement for the original Galaxy Tab 10.1, which only released in Australia late in 2011 following a long and well publicised legal battle with Apple. Side by side, you'd be pretty hard pressed to tell the difference between these two models. Samsung has opted for a very similar look and feel with only a few minor changes.

The Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 feels like a well constructed device despite being manufactured from plastic. It's slightly thicker (9.7mm) than its predecessor (8.6mm) but the difference isn't enough to make a huge impact during day-to-day use. At 588g, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is thicker than the original Galaxy Tab 10.1, though it remains lighter than the new iPad. Its light weight is a positive but we aren't a fan of the glossy plastic on the back of the device. It makes the tablet slippery to hold and attracts way too many fingerprints.

The biggest change on the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is the speaker placement and silver bezel. In a forced move to make the device look less like the iPad following that lengthy legal battle, Samsung has added a silver bezel on the left and right of the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. The bezel makes the tablet slightly longer and doesn't look particularly attractive but it houses two speakers, one on either side of the screen. The speaker positioning is ideal as they aren't covered or muffled when you hold the tablet in its natural position.

On the top edge of the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 you'll find a power/lock button, a volume rocker, a headphone jack and a microSD card slot which wasn't included on the original Galaxy Tab 10.1. On the 3G model, you'll find a SIM card slot that's covered by a relatively sturdy plastic flap. The buttons fit in well with the rest of the tablets design: they feel sturdy, are well positioned and provide good tactility. The bottom of the device houses Samsung's proprietary dock connection. This connector looks remarkably similar to Apple's 30-pin connector port used on both the iPhone 4S and the new iPad.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has the same 10.1in PLS TFT screen as its predecessor. The standard resolution of 1280x800 gives it a pixels per inch rating of 149ppi, significantly less than the new iPad and far less than the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity and the Acer Iconia Tab A700, just to name two examples.

It's certainly not a bad screen by any means. Viewing angles are impressive, it displays bright and clear images and colour is vibrant without being oversaturated. However, we can't help but feel Samsung has missed a chance to fit a higher definition screen on the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. The higher resolution panels of some competitors immediately make them more appealing than the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, which can't display the same crisp, super smooth text.

Software and performance

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 runs the Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 version of Google's Android operating system and comes skinned with Samsung's TouchWIZ UI overlay on top. The latter doesn't tie into Google's holo ICS theme but adds plenty of new features, some of which are welcomed and others which we would rather do without.

We like the "quick panel" toggles in the notifications pop-up which adds toggles for Wi-Fi, GPS, sound, mobile data, screen rotation, Bluetooth, notifications and flight mode, making it very easy and direct to access these settings. Samsung has also added a screen capture button next to the standard back, home and recent apps keys: tapping this button will immediately capture a screenshot of the device.

Samsung includes a number of "mini apps" on the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, accessible by tapping a small up arrow at the bottom of the screen. The alarm, calculator, email, messaging, music player, phone and S-Planner apps can be opened as overlay on top of the screen, allowing you to continue using any other open applications. The concept is notable, but the mini app tray can't be customised and there's only a limited selection.

Samsung pre-loads the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 with a number of apps above and beyond what Google provides, but many of them are best removed and simply clutter the app drawer. We like the Allshare DLNA app, allowing you to beam content between the tablet and DLNA devices like TVs, while the file manager, Polaris Office and photo editor apps do add some value. However, the likes of ChatON, Game Hub and S-Suggest add little and are best removed. Australian models of the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 also come with the Channel Ten, Good Food Guide 2012, Magshop, Mathletics, Quickflix ReadingEggs and StoryCloud apps.

Unfortunately, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 feels sluggish in real world use, even when performing basic tasks. Transitions between screens and menus are often jerky and slow. We didn't experience any apps crashing or force closing but most apps we tested didn't open and close as quickly as we'd expect. There's also noticeable lag in 3D games, such as the excellent Dead Trigger. It's not enough to completely ruin the gameplay experience but it can often be jerky when trying to move around the screen.

In addition to these problems, most of Android's common issues are apparent on the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 as well. The browser lags when scrolling or zooming in on pages, especially image-heavy sites. The screen takes too long to rotate when you change the orientation. There aren't enough Android apps optimised for the larger, 10.1in screen size, too. A good example is the Spotify app, which ridiculously only works in portrait mode because it was designed to be used on a smartphone and not a tablet. Apps like Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox are other examples of smartphone apps simply blown up to fit the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1's larger screen and this has a negative impact on the overall user experience.

Camera and battery life

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has a 3.2-megapixel rear camera for still photos and video recording and a front-facing VGA camera for video calling. The camera is a downgrade from its predecessor since it lacks the LED flash of the original Galaxy Tab 10.1, so forget about taking photos in low light conditions.

The lack of flash isn't the biggest issue on the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, however. You can't touch the screen to focus like you can on most other tablet or smartphone cameras, so it's hard to choose what you want to be in focus. Almost all of the photos we captured with the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 were out of focus, plagued with image noise and lacking in detail.

The VGA camera is also poor, though it's at least useful for video call apps like Skype and Tango. Any photos or video captured with the camera can be stored on the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1's 16GB or 32GB of internal memory, depending on what model you choose, or the microSD card (not included).

Sadly, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 sold in Australia does not have an infrared port or a pre-loaded remote control app. Both are inclusions on variants of the device sold in the US and other markets.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has reasonable but not outstanding battery life. In our tests, it lasted for around eight hours before needing a recharge, a couple of hours less than the new iPad. How much juice you can squeeze out of the battery will depend on your usage patterns, but with around two hours of use per day we were charging the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 every second night, a fair but not outstanding result.

Samsung sells various models of the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 in Australia, some Wi-Fi only and others Wi-Fi and quad-band 3G. Optus is selling the 3G model, while retail outlets like Dick Smith, Officeworks and The Good Guys are selling one or more variants of the device.

The 16GB 3G version of the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is available through Optus stores and the Optus online store on a range of Optus data plans starting from $39.95 per month for 2GB of data. This same model can purchased for $629 outright, while the 16GB Wi-Fi only ($479), 32GB Wi-Fi only with added 32GB microSD card ($649) and 32GB 3G + Wi-Fi with added 32GB microSD card ($799) are other variants sold in Australia.

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