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Tablets

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 review

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The first-generation Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was the iPad's closest rival of the time, even if such rivalry amounted to it being a device with a similar hardware spec, on a less-polished software platform, at a higher price. Still, if for some reason you wanted to avoid the iPad, the original 10in Tab was a decent tablet.

The situation is rather more confused now: not only does Samsung have another 10in Android tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, but along with Apple's stunning third-generation iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has to contend with the inexpensive, game-changing Nexus 7, existing high-end Android tablets such as the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, as well as a host of less expensive Android tabs.

Oh, and in a month or two, the Microsoft Surface will be along to offer a proper Windows-based alternative. So where does the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 fit in? Well, at £299 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version we tried, the Tab 2 10.1 is now officially Samsung's bargain full-sized tablet, fully £100 cheaper than the Galaxy Note 10.1. Beyond that, it looks not dissimilar to its predecessor, specs wise.

Sporting a dual-core nVidia processor running at 1GHz (the Note is a quad-core device), the Tab 2 10.1 has a 10.1in, 1200x800-resolution capacitative multitouch display. Onboard storage is limited to 16GB this time around, whereas the original Tab 10.1 had 16GB and 32GB optons. But now there is an upgrade option to a 3G-enabled version that costs £419, but 16GB is the top of the pops, storage wise (although there is now an SD card slot that allows up to 32GB of storage in total).

You get a 3Mp front-facing camera, and a VGA webcam for video calls, although the main camera has lost its LED flash and you now get full HD 1080p video capture. And the Tab 2 10.1 has a 7000mAh lithium-ion battery, and GPS. There are some cosmetic changes from the original which we'll come to in a bit, but they are surprisingly similar devices. Indeed, the only major upgrade the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 can claim over the original Samsung 10in tablet is its operating system: where the Tab 10.1 was one of the first major players to run Android 3.1 Honeycomb, the second-gen Android tablet sports Androind 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It's a pretty big upgrade.

Build quality and screen

As I stated earlier, there are a few cosmetic differences between the first- and second-generation Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 devices. The most notable is that the Tab 2 10.1 is marginally thicker, and has a metallic finish to its back. We measured the Tab 2 10.1 at 9.7mm, which is a whole millimetre thicker than the orignal Tab 10.1. It's also a few grammes heavier than the original Tab. You'll notice it if you hold both Tabs side-by-side, but it's worth pointing out that the Tab 2 10.1 is still (just) thinner and (a decent amount) lighter than the iPad.

The black frame around the screen is slightly thinner, but the screen remains the same size. The now metallic grey (rather than white) bezel around the screen is slightly wider. Where before the speakers sat recessed in the side of the Tab, now they are front-facing, part of the bezel. As I mentioned above the Tab 2 10.1 now has an SD-card slot which can be found on the top, to the left of centre, just next to the power and volume switches, which remain in situ. To the right on the top is the 3.5mm jack.

Subjectively the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 feels like a better quality device than the Tab 10.1. The proprietary charging port remains recessed at the bottom, below the maker's name.

Samsung is, of course, the maker of screens for many other hardware brands, including Apple, so you'd expect it to be able to provide a decent display. That was one of the strong points of the original Galaxy Tab 10.1, and it remains so in the Tab 2. This is largely because in so far as we can tell it is the same colourful and bright, 1280x800 capacitative multitouch display. Viewing angles are pretty decent, too, although the screen is prone to finger smudges. Watching HD movie trailers was a pleasure, and we could definitely see ourselves enjoying a full HD 1080p movie on the Tab.

The Galaxy Tab 2 10.1's display is vibrant, then, but don't expect Apple-like levels of detail. The original Galaxy Tab 10.1 offered 149 pixels per inch and the Tab 2 remains the same. Stick it next to an iPad with a Retina display, and you'll notice the difference (around 120 pixels for every inch).

Performance

We're in the process of benchmarking the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, and will update this review when we do. In the mean time, here are some subjective thoughts.

As mentioned above, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has a similar dual-core processor to its predecessor, running at 1GHz. It carries 1GB RAM. This pales next to recently launched tablets such as Samsung's own Galaxy Note 10.1, and the Nexus 7, both of which are quad-core devices.

It's a zippy enough device, and we had no problems in terms of general browsing, web browsing and even HD video playback. But there is no doubt that the Nexus 7 is a much zippier device. Waking up from standby takes perceptively longer, as does opening and closing apps. It's not a problem, but it does illustrate that this is a bargain device (that happens to cost almost twice as much as Google's ludicrously inexpensive Nexus).

The Tab 2 10.1's 7000mAh battery held up well in our tests, comfortably dealing with a full working day of use 24 hours after being charged - which chimes with Samsung's claimed 9 hours of battery life. We're currently lab-testing the battery life, and will update this review when we are done.

Camera

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera with no flash. We're not sure how many of our readers use 10in tablets to take photos, but we're assuming it's not many. And that's probably just as well: the Tab's camera is perfectly adequate for the occasional snap, but it's never going to replace your dedicated camera or high-end smartphone. Images are grainy and flat.

However, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1's 1080p full HD video recording is worth having. It's not earth-shattering, but the level of detail is good and we found even video captured under the low strip-lighting of our office palatable (the quality, not the subject). Audio capture is half decent, too.

Software

The biggest update from the original Tab 10.1 is the move from Honeycomb to Ice Cream Sandwich. Android 4.0 ICS is a much more mature tablet operating system, offering a level of slickness previously absent from Android OSes. It's customisable, stable and consumer friendly. The interface looks neater, crisper and sleeker throughout.

Android 4.0 ICS offers new features including notifications that can be accessed from the lock screen, better text input with a spell-checker and enhanced email handling.

An extremely handy feature for those using the 3G version of the Tab 2 10.1 is the data usage control, found in Settings. This allows you to monitor the data you have used, ensuring you don't breach your mobile data limits. There's a dedicated screenshot button on every screen.

Typically, Samsung has laid over the top of ICS its TouchWiz UI. Honestly, we could live without Samsung's apps dominating our home screen, but that at least is customisable. And although Google Play Movies & TV is a better app than Samsung's Video Hub, the latter contains a lot more content, and the opportunity to buy, rather than simply rent movies.

Verdict

A year ago we liked the Tab 10.1, and for the second generation the hardware specs remain broadly the same, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has a much better operating system. All for £100 cheaper than it was. We love the bright screen, and adding SD support and 1080p video capture are both improvements. The problem is the competition: the Nexus 7 in particular has changed the game for Android tablets, and is a little more than half the price of the Tab (albeit with a smaller screen, half the storage and no front-facing camera). Meanwhile the iPad remains a cut above for £100 more than the Tab 2 10.1. If you absolutely require a 10in Android tablet, you could do a lot worse than the Tab - especially at this price. But also consider the Asus Transformer series of devices, and the Toshiba AT300 which at only £30 more than the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 offers a quad-core processor.



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