Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) Review
Have Samsung come up with a winner with their latest tablet?
Tablets are becoming increasingly popular these days, because as cool as smartphones are, the 7" - 10" screen size of most of the common tablets really hits the sweet spot. With the ability to quickly browse the net, watch a film, play games and do any other number of tasks makes you wonder how you ever did without one. Recent figures show that global tablet sales are increasing year on year and third quarter sales in 2012 reached 25 million, with Android tablets fast catching up on the still dominant iPad. In the last few years tablets running the Android operating system have come from nowhere to be a major competitor to the iPad. Sales figures have gone from the iPad outselling its competitors two to one to a more equitable split of 57% iPad and 41% Android (not sure what the other 2% are running).
We've reviewed several tablets here at AV Forums, Apple's New iPad (which is fast becoming the 'old' New iPad) and the Android based Asus Transformer TF300T. Both fighting it out for the higher end of the tablet market, at around £400 and above. Today we have another Android based tablet in for review, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1). With an SRP of £299.99 and current offers of under £200 if you shop around, this is firmly aimed at the buyer that wants a quality tablet but just can't justify the outlay on an iPad or other similarly priced tablet.
Offering a 10.1" screen, powerful 1 GHz Dual-Core Processor, 16GB storage and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) along with both a front and rear camera this tablet should, on paper, offer everything you need from a tablet in the £200-£300 price range. Competition is very tough in this price band, with the likes of Amazon's Kindle range to Google's Nexus, so a tablet needs to offer the right performance and specification at a price to compete. Let's see if the Samsung Galazy Tab 2 (10.1) has what it takes.
With the tablet market so crowded these days, Apple's once commanding position is being eroded by Android tablet manufacturers such as Google, Samsung and Asus. Whilst the iPad is still clearly the biggest seller, the options for those that prefer the Android operating system or perhaps don't have the budget for an iPad are increasing month by month. So for a tablet to create an advantage it must have something that prospective buyers find attractive. In the case of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) its the excellent price point which with current cashback offers means you can get one for as little as £188.00. This represents superb value for such a well performing tablet.
Samsung have used their experience with the relatively poor performing and pricey original Galaxy Tab 10.1 to come up with a very similarly specified tablet but at almost half the cost. Doing this they now no longer are competing directly with the iPad and other £400 tablets, but sit firmly in the middle between those and the bargain basement generic tablets. Compared to the original Galaxy Tab 10.1, the new Galaxy Tab 2 still has a 1Ghz dual-core processor, but this time it's made by Texas Instruments rather than the Nvidia Tegra 2. You get the same 1GB of DDR2 RAM, the same excellent 1280 x 800 WXGA 10.1" PLS display. and the same 3MP rear camera capable of 720p video at 30fps.
The differences are that the 3MP rear camera loses its auto focus and LED flash and is now just a 3MP fixed focus with no flash. The 2MP front camera in the original has been replaced with a basic VGA camera in the new Tab 2 and the 64GB storage option has been dropped. What you do get that the original didn't have is a microSD slot capable of taking cards up to 32GB in size. This is an excellent addition and actually makes it a far more cost effective option to get the 16GB Galaxy Tab 2 and fit a 32GB microSD card yourself for just £12 than it does to buy the 32GB version of the Galaxy Tab 2 which is upwards of £50 more than the 16GB version. The final differences are a slightly different shell design resulting in a marginal increase in thickness to 9.7mm from 8.6mm and an additional 16g of weight. Although even at that weight, it still represents one of the lightest we have reviewed so far here at AV Forums. Compare this for example to the iPad 4 at 652g, and after a long gaming session or watching a movie you will welcome that saving in weight.
At 149 ppi (pixels per inch) the display clearly isn't up to the iPad's retina display of 246 ppi but it's certainly better than the iPad 2 screen and for the money it offers excellent brightness levels that you will find more than enough. A side by side comparison of the Galaxy Tab 2 and the iPad 3 as seen in the review below clearly show the differences but we were very happy with the quality of the screen for the price. There are a few negatives though, the main one being the awful sound quality from the stereo speakers which are amongst the worst we have heard in a tablet device; although they are at least front facing so the sound is coming at you rather than from behind the tablet). The delay when changing orientation and the absence of any home or similar buttons on the front of the tablet are also nuisance. Although Samsung and their perpetual lawsuit with Apple may have played a factor here.
The Galaxy Tab 2 comes with the Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) OS and will shortly be receiving an over the air upgrade to the latest Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean). With this in mind, and weighing up all the other points, we are happy to award the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) our Recommended award as for the money there's very little to touch it at the moment.
Design and Build Quality
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is available in both a complete white option or a black and silver option. Our review sample is the black and silver version which gives you a sleek looking silver plastic shell with a black front. As soon as you take it out of the box you get that feeling that you have something worthy of it's price tag. The few buttons there are feel secure and it is very comfortable to hold. The tablet has a 16:10 ratio screen, which is something we definitely prefer over the 14:9 iPad. A thin black bezel surrounds the frame with the left and right speaker towards the top of each side of the screen and whilst it looks like most tablets do these days, the speaker placement and two tone design help it stand apart from generic crowd. During first use we immediately noticed how light it was, weighing in at just 588g it's a good deal lighter than the iPad or the Asus Transformer Pad, and this all helps with combating arm ache during those long Plants vs Zombie sessions!
Features and Specification
The Galaxy Tab 2 comes with a 1Ghz Dual Core processor (similar to the Galaxy Tab 1) and 16GB internal storage. The review sample was the Wi-Fi model, but a 32GB version and a 3G version are also available. Whilst not the highest specification tablet we have tested it ran everything we threw at it without any major issues. Although occasional stuttering was noticed when in YouTube browsing through videos and scrolling through available apps in the Play Store, it appeared as if we were trying to scroll too fast for the tablet to keep up with and this did occur quite often. But playback of videos, gaming and other applications all ran without issue.
During testing, going from home screen to fully loading the AVForums website took 8 seconds which is the same as the new iPad. Conversely, Angry Birds took just 10.1 seconds to get to the start menu, compared to 11.5 seconds on the iPad 3 and 9.6 seconds on the Asus Transformer TF300T. You won't be disappointed with the specification for general use, it's only perhaps when using more intensive applications that the specification may come into question. Using the Six Guns free game it took 35 seconds to load compared to just 21 on the iPad 3. Also during busy parts of the game the Galaxy Tab 2 was just about keeping up with it and a few frame rate issues were apparent, whereas the iPad 3 suffered no issues at all. But as you can currently get the Galaxy Tab 2 for less than £200, compared to £399 for the iPad or even the new 10" Google Nexus at £320, it's not really a fair comparison.
The rear camera is one of the lowest mega pixel ratings we've seen on a tablet for a while, so at just 3MP and with no flash you really do need full light conditions to take a decent photo. But given the price point, compromises on specification obviously have had to be made somewhere and the camera is one of those places. Although the rear camera is capable of recording HD 720P video, again it requires good light conditions but performed well enough in the few random test recordings we did. You do also get a front facing camera for video calling, which is just a standard VGA rating (down from the 2MP front camera in the Galaxy Tab 1). With the majority of people having phones with decent cameras these days we can't quite understand why you would want to use your tablet to take photos, but if you do then unless you are David Bailey, the 3MP rear camera should suffice.
The Wi-Fi is the standard 802.11 b/g/n @ 2.4 GHz only, a 5 Ghz option would have been a nice addition but is omitted here. A side by side test with our iPad 3 on the Speedtest.net app showed a download speed of 17.6Mbps on the Galaxy Tab 2 compared to 18.1Mbps on the iPad. These speedtest apps are notoriously unreliable and should only be used as a rough guide but downloading of programs such as the free 817Mb Six Guns game was as fast we were expecting on our broadband connection, taking just under 8 minutes to download. As to the Wi-Fi signal quality, it was consistent with other Wi-Fi devices we have tested in this review location, only losing signal in the same areas as other devices normally do. Our review sample is Wi-Fi only, but a 3G version is available.
The 10.1” PLS TFT multi touch capable panel in the Galaxy Tab 2 offers WXGA 1280 x 800 resolution. With a pixel density of 149 ppi this puts it just above the iPad2 (132ppi) but considerably behind devices such as the New iPad (264 ppi) and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD 8.9" (254 ppi). But again, considering the Galaxy Tab 2 is half the price of the New iPad then this disparity in specification should come as no surprise. We found the display to be more than bright enough for our use. The usable screen size measures 217mm x 127mm.
The photo above shows an identical page of a well-known website, with the Galaxy Tab 2 on the left and the New iPad on the right. You can see the wider screen format of the Galaxy and the white screen colour compared to the New iPad. Looking at the display subjectively, the differences in the quality of the image were not huge and we were impressed with the quality of text for browsing.
Home Screen, Interface and Pre-installed Apps
The Galaxy Tab 2 comes with the Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' OS and although the new tasty sounding Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean' OS has been released, it is not yet officially available for this device. The home screen, as shown in the picture below, presents you with a row of program icons along the bottom of each page, which can be positioned anywhere you like along with Samsung's Games, Video and Music Hub (which is basically quick access to parts of the Samsung store). Along the very bottom left you have the back button, the home screen button, a button for the current apps you have open and a screenshot button. The bottom right shows you any apps currently updating or apps with notifications, the time, your battery life and any Wi-Fi information.
As with the previous Asus Transformer tablet I reviewed that was also running Ice Cream Sandwich I am again struck by the ease of updating. Once you have said yes to automatic updates, any apps you have will update themselves automatically (although the odd one or two require manually updating for some reason). I much prefer this approach compared to the iPad, where you have to go into the app store and then enter your password every time an app gets an update (although under iOS 6 you no longer need to enter a password, but you still do have to manually update them). This also applies to free apps, where a click on the accept button will download and install the app straight away without having to enter a password.
One of the major reasons that people seem to favour devices with the Android operating system (apart from those who have a hatred of all things Apple) is the customisability of it. You can create folders by dragging apps or shortcuts onto each other and you can also have interactive widgets on the home page to give live information on emails, weather and social media, for example. There are also a vast array of apps you can download from the Google Play Store, allowing you to customise the tablet to pretty much whatever you desire. We found the app selection to be very similar to the range available on the iPad but most appear to be priced rather more reasonably than their Apple equivalents. Some are even free, such as Angry Birds, although you do have to suffer adverts to get this popular app gratis. Along with the Google Play Store you also have Samsung's own App store which basically offers the same apps as on the Play Store, but with the occasional price difference or special offer, so it's always worth checking both of these before making a purchase. One app we picked at random was £3.85 on the Google Play Store but was currently on offer on Samsung's store for £1.50. One negative we do have with both the Google Play Store and Samsung's App store is that unlike Apple's App Store, you are unable to see if the app you are downloading is optimised for a tablet or a phone.
The Galaxy Tab 2 comes pre-installed with the usual apps such as a browser, a camera and YouTube; there's also Gmail, multimedia players, Google Maps and a book reader. Along with a few Samsung apps such as ChatOn which is basically an enhanced text messaging service, a movie maker app and the video, music and game hubs. As with all these kind of devices, it's all about the apps and there are many thousands to choose from via the Google Play and Samsung app store.
This tablet comes fitted with a 7000 mAh Li-ion battery. Samsung appear to be very cagey in giving battery life times with the Galaxy Tab 2, none of their information provides estimated times for some reason, but seeing as the battery is the same as in the Galaxy Tab 1, we can go by those figures as a rough guide which suggests up to 9 hours for video and 72 hours for music. From completely flat to fully charged it took about 4 hours.
During gaming testing, the battery life dropped by 15% after 30 minutes constant use which would suggest you could possibly see over 3 hours of use from fully charged. This was worse case scenario as the display was set to maximum brightness and by dropping a few levels you could see the battery life increase even further. Over 3 hours of use between charge for gaming is a level we are quite happy with. The fact that Samsung seem so reluctant to give out the estimated battery life for the Galaxy Tab 2 would suggest they aren't too confident in it but it stands up well here. We would love to get 3 hours gaming on our New iPad, that's for sure!
As with most tablets it appears to be assumed by manufacturers that many people will prefer to use headphones so why bother including a decent quality pair of stereo speakers, when the costs saved could go bolstering other parts of the tablet or just reducing the price point. A lot of time speakers look to be an afterthought and squeezed into the tablet design wherever they can find a space. Samsung bucks that trend in the case of the Galaxy Tab 2 as the speakers fit in with the overall design, but sadly it ends there as the quality of the stereo speakers is extremely poor. It's amongst the worst we have heard on a tablet and as an example is below the quality of even the single iPhone 4 speaker. Given the cost of this tablet, perhaps this again is no surprise, but we would definitely recommend headphones here.
As with the iPad and its App Store, there are also plenty of apps available from the Google Play store and the Samsung App store and the following apps are of particular relevance to your home cinema and media centre. One of our favourites is ‘Mobile Mouse’ which turns the tablet into a wireless remote and mouse for your PC.
Should you have a current generation TV, you will not feel hard done by from most of the major manufacturers. Samsung, LG and Sony for example all have free apps to control their TVs and in Sony's and Samsung's case, you can control their Blu-ray players too. Apps are also available for other devices such as Logitech's Squeezebox and AV amplifiers such as Onko, Denon and Marantz. A bonus here from the Android store is that you will find most of these are free when the same on the Apple store incurs a fee.
Coming from an iPad user background I was impressed by the large number of apps available on an Android device. I was particularly impressed that a lot more seemed to be free or cheaper than their Apple equivalents. You can even get an Android app to remotely control iTunes, although why you would want the restrictive iTunes when you don’t have an Apple device is another matter entirely. There are also interesting apps for purchase, such as the £5.64 ‘Splashtop Remote Desktop HD’ which its makers claim to be the only remote desktop app that streams the whole PC or Mac screen to the tablet with smooth high-res video and audio. A particularly useful addition if you want to get that new game you have just bought on sale from Steam downloaded and installed before you get home from work.
The review sample was the 16GB version, but this gave a usable space of just 11.87GB. This should be enough for a few games, photos and video but not much more. Although this is where these tablets have the edge on Apple's iPad because if you run out of space on the Galaxy Tab 2, just pop an SD card in and Robert's your mother's brother. It's even worth considering the costs of the different versions because the difference between the 16GB and 32GB version is anything from £50 upwards, whereas for very little outlay you can buy an SD card and instantly increase capacity. From the settings menu you can easily see apps that are running, using up memory and what space they are taking up and another positive is that all apps can be closed with one button, as opposed to closing them individually on the iPad.
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Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1)
Suggested price: £300
Reviewed 9th December, 2012 by Greg Hook
To get the best out of your TV or projector, consider getting it calibrated.