Apple has blocked it from going on sale in Australia, and Samsung postponed the launch event, but we did some probing and were lucky enough to get our hands on the hotly-anticipated Galaxy Tab 10.1 Android tablet before its official release in Australia. Thinner and lighter than Apple's iPad 2, and equipped with a slightly larger screen, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a superb piece of industrial design and so far, the only real credible alternative to the iPad. The Google Android platform remains less polished compared with iOS, and the lack of native tablet applications is an issue, but these faults lie with Google and not with Samsung: the latter has done a fine job of producing a credible tablet that isn't emblazoned with an Apple logo.
Note: The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 unit we are reviewing here is a European 3G model (GT-P7500) supplied by online store MobiCity. It is NOT an Australian version. A Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for the Australian market will be released in the near future, but no timeframe has been provided.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Design and display
From the moment you pick up the Galaxy Tab 10.1, it's clear that this is a very different beast from the wealth of Android tablets already on the market. It shares a similar screen size (10.1in) and many of the same specifications as its competitors, but the build quality and design of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is simply superb — something we can't say about most of its competitors.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 immediately stands out amongst the pack for all the right reasons. First of all, at just 8.6 millimetres thick, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is thin enough to be described by Samsung as "the world's thinnest mobile tablet". That is ever so slightly thinner than the 8.8mm thick iPad 2. Although a mere 0.2mm doesn't seem like a deal breaker if you're comparing it directly to the iPad 2, the Galaxy Tab 10.1's weight of just 565g is a big deal. The lightweight design makes it easy to use single-handedly, and very comfortable to hold for long periods. The overall design makes the Galaxy Tab 10.1 look much smaller than it really is — it really does not look or feel like a 10.1in tablet.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Android tablet is constructed largely from plastic, but still manages to feel extremely well built. The materials used are of a high quality, right from the glossy black bezel surrounding the display, to the soft feeling, rubber-style plastic that adorns the rear, and the stylish, curved edges. The finish on the rear may not look as flashy as the glossy front of the tablet, but the soft feel makes the Galaxy Tab 10.1 easier to grip, particularly if you're holding it with one hand. We like how the rear-facing camera and LED flash is built into an attractive silver strip towards the top, while both the left and right side houses a speaker, both covered by glossy silver mesh that adds to the overall quality feel of the tablet.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1's svelte frame definitely made it tough for Samsung to include extra ports, but the tablet covers most of the basics. On the top edge of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 you'll find a headphone jack, volume buttons and a power/screen lock key. On the 3G model, you'll also find a SIM card slot that's covered by a relatively sturdy plastic flap. The buttons fit in well with the rest of the tablet's excellent design: they feel sturdy, are well placed 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 and iPad.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a 10.1in, capacitive, PLS TFT touchscreen display (yes, that's a mouthful). Samsung says that the inclusion of PLS (Plane-line-switching) technology gives the Galaxy Tab 10.1 better viewing angles and increased brightness compared with regular IPS screens. For most part that's true, as the Galaxy Tab 10.1's screen is bright and crisp, and can be clearly seen from even the most obscure angles. Sadly, the screen can't escape a common issue with most tablets, including the market leading iPad 2: it quickly becomes a grubby mess after use, and has poor sunlight legibility. The glare also affects use in an office environment under fluorescent lighting.