Samsung’s original Galaxy Tab was one of the first Android tablets that really made people stop and think of Android as more than just a phone operating system. With a speedy processor and Flash support, it was also one of the first that – despite its smaller size – could go up against the original iPad.
Since then, Samsung has gone wild with the Galaxy Tab branding, unleashing a large variety of different Galaxy Tab models. The one you see above is the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 for Sprint. I’ve been using the 10-inch tablet for nearly one month now, and I am now ready to give my final review on the device. So is the tablet worth its $549.99 off-contract price, or even its $449.99 on-contract price? Read on to find out!
The Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is not, unfortunately, a marvelous combination of high-quality components. The large, 10.1-inch screen has a resolution of only 1280 x 800, meaning that while it’s crisper than some laptop displays, it pales in comparison to newer iPads and other tablets. The lack of dense pixels is really noticeable while using the tablet, to the point that I would sometimes just have to give my eyes a break and look at another, denser screen.
Underneath the screen is a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and a dismal 8GB of internal storage. Thankfully, the tablet has a micro SD slot that will support cards with storage capacities of up to 64GB. In addition to the core components of the tablet, there are also 3G and LTE radios for Sprint connectivity, as well as WiFi and Bluetooth for more local connections.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is preinstalled, as is Samsung’s horrible TouchWiz interface, along with a number of useless apps from the manufacturer and Sprint. As with most skins and preinstalled apps, these can’t be uninstalled without root access – which is certainly easy enough if you follow one of the many guides that are out there, but it’s a waste of time, nonetheless.
I published an unboxing post when I received the device, so I’ll make this brief. The packaging for the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is a typical Samsung affair: tablet on top, accessories and booklets underneath. The box is nothing to write home about, but it gets the job of shipping the tablet from the factory into your hands done.
Samsung, in my opinion, makes some of the worst devices on the market in terms of hardware and build quality. That trend continues with the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, which – save for the front panel of Gorilla Glass – is clad entirely in a hard, matte plastic. Unfortunately, it’s not hard enough to prevent slight indentations if you press a little too hard. It doesn’t feel particularly fantastic in-hand, but the use of cheaper materials always seems to give a device a better chance of living through a number of drops, bumps, and scrapes.
The device’s two speakers are on either side of the screen. Even for tablet speakers, they are pretty bad. They aren’t loud, nor should you want them to be: there is no bass in these speakers, and if you pump them up to try and get even the tiniest bit of bass, they crackle and pop. If you’re wanting to buy this tablet for listening to music or watching movies, make sure you’ve got some earbuds or earphones next to you.
Here’s the back of the tablet. You can see the 3MP shooter up top, as well as the Samsung and Sprint logos underneath it. Samsung threw in a proprietary dock connector at the bottom, making this a useless device for a number of docks and accessories. Even worse is the fact that Samsung doesn’t include an adapter for the port, which means you’ll have to use the one included cable for all of your charging, syncing, and connecting.
The top of the Galaxy Tab is home to all of the buttons and most of the ports. From left to right, there is the power butotn, the volume rocker, the micro SD card slot, the IR blaster (for Samsung’s Smart Remote software), and the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Surprisingly, unlike the rest of the device, the buttons are made very well. There is no “mushy” feeling when you press them down; instead, they give a satisfying click every time, which is very nice considering how awfully the rest of the device is made.
I’ve used a number of screens throughout my time reviewing devices, and I can say without a doubt that this isn’t a very good one. Colors are decent, but the screen doesn’t get ultra bright and the incredibly low resolution for a tablet this size and this new is simply jarring.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, viewing angles are horrible, too. It’s a TFT LCD screen, which means that viewing angles aren’t very big. If you look at it at an angle, chances are something will look even worse than it does when you look at it straight on. In fact, the slightest move of either your head or the tablet’s position will likely throw the colors off-balance and make you rearrange yourself so the screen looks somewhat decent.
If there’s one silver lining to the dull, grey cloud that is the Galaxy Tab’s screen, it’s that touch responsiveness is very good. It’s not as good as an iPad’s screen, but the overwhelming majority of touches do register, which makes for a pleasurable experience when you’re doing tasks that the tablet can handle.
As I said at the beginning of this review, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. This was the first version of Android that was designed to run across a wide array of screen sizes and resolutions. Specifically, Google wanted a way to tie together phones and tablets so it was a bit easier for developers to make apps for both, thereby increasing Android’s rather dismal selection of tablet-optimized apps.
Unfortunately, Android is already on 4.2 Jelly Bean, and still, the Play Store’s tablet-optimized selection is not good. Compared to Apple’s selection of 275,000 iPad-optimized apps, Android may only have a few thousand, if that.
I used to give Google a bit of leeway on its lack of Android tablet apps. Before Honeycomb, Google never officially said that tablets were a part of Android’s future. Then, as we know, Honeycomb and the Motorola XOOM hit the market, and that’s when Google really stepped up its game in terms of pushing Android on tablets.
The release of Honeycomb was in February of 2011, about 22 months ago. There’s no excuse, then, for a nearly two-year-old platform to have such a small selection of software. If you can remember when the iPad was launched, the App Store had already crossed the 2,000 iPad-optimized app mark. And Windows 8, the operating system some people thought would be a total flop, already has more than 20,000 apps in the Windows Store.
Google hasn’t ever officially released the number of tablet-optimized apps that are on the Play Store, likely because it would be too small to even bother with. Because of this, I can’t recommend any Android tablet, even if it was the fastest, most well-designed thing the world has ever seen. Without apps, what’s the point of speed?
Aside from Android 4.0, this Galaxy Tab is also running the latest version of Samsung’s TouchWiz skin, peppered with a number of preinstalled Sprint apps. The combination of TouchWiz and Sprint’s apps, along with not a whole lot of tablet apps on the Play Store, make the software experience fairly unfortunate for a tablet of this price.
Still, there are some fairly cool things in TouchWiz, despite my negative feelings towards the majority of it. For example, there are mini apps that you can run on top of other apps. Unfortunately, there aren’t many of them, but it’s certainly a cool concept. Considering that Samsung has done the same thing with some of its other products, I think it’s safe to say that as time goes on the company will improve the feature so its tablets can be true multitaskers.
Regardless, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is a rather slow piece of hardware, anyway. There is noticeable lag when you swipe from homescreen to homescreen, and apps take a while to launch. Despite how fast Sprint and Samsung claim the 1.5GHz dual-core processor to be, there are some things that it just can’t do very speedily. Ice Cream Sandwich by itself, of course, was very smooth; I’m blaming the lag on TouchWiz and Sprint’s preinstalled apps.
Games, on the other hand, ran very well on the tablet. That’s likely due to the low-resolution display, but games are always really fun to play on large tablets, regardless of the resolution – especially when the touch response is quick and accurate. Other small tasks like web browsing and video watching were fast enough for daily use, too.
Benchmarks aren’t always a great way to measure real-life performance, but some people really like to see how one device stacks up against others. As as Pocketables’ typical way, here are four popular Android benchmarks:
Linpack Single thread
Linkpack Multi thread
In addition to 802.11b/g/n connectivity and Bluetooth, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is also capable of connecting to Sprint’s 3G and “4G” LTE networks. Typically, cellular connectivity would be considered a good thing to have, but this is Sprint we’re talking about. It’s no secret that Sprint’s network is one of the worst in the United States. Speeds are rather dismal for 3G and LTE is hard to find, making this cellularly-connected tablet almost the complete opposite.
It should also be mentioned that Sprint doesn’t offer unlimited data for tablets. Instead, the carrier offers tiered data plans for its tablet customers: 3GB, 6GB, and 12GB for $34.99, $49.99, and $79.99, respectively. Considering that the network is quite bad, it’s probably not worth spending the money each month to get just a fraction of what you’re paying for.
However, even though its cellular connectivity doesn’t work very well, WiFi and Bluetooth do. I was able to connect to my car’s Bluetooth to listen to some music, as well as my home WiFi network without any troubles.
The front-facing camera shoots at a VGA (640 x 480) resolution, which makes it useful for very little. Video chats are fine, but you shouldn’t use it to take pictures that you plan to frame. Around the back, there is a measly 3MP camera which, honestly, doesn’t do much better at taking videos or pictures. Samsung says that the rear-facing camera is capable of shooting 720p HD, but it’s not a very good 720p. After all, it’s still a 3MP camera.
I’m not really a fan of putting rear-facing cameras on tablets anyway, but if a company is going through the trouble of adding one, I believe it should be worth using. Samsung hasn’t followed my belief with this tablet, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to take lots of pictures with your next tablet
You can view the gallery below for the rear-facing camera, and the gallery below the first one to see pictures taken with the front-facing camera.
If I had to pick my favorite part of this Galaxy Tab, it would be its battery life. Inside, Samsung threw in a 7000 mAh ion lithium battery that the company says is capable of 14 hours of active use time. Thankfully, that’s spot on – I used the device on 3G and LTE on a trip this past week and didn’t even think twice about saving any battery for later. My third-generation iPad doesn’t even come close to the Galaxy Tab’s battery, and my iPad isn’t even connected to its cellular service anymore! I was very impressed with how long the Galaxy Tab was able to keep a charge day in and day out – I just wish I could be impressed with the rest of it, too.
Even with its stellar battery life and good gaming performance, this is not a good tablet. I don’t think I’d go so far as to say it’s the worst tablet on the market, but you will certainly notice its shortcomings should you buy this device.
And then there’s the price. At $449.99 with a two-year contract with one of the worst carriers in the United States, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is a particularly hard pill to swallow. And if you don’t want to sign a two-year contract with Sprint, it’ll cost you an extra $100 to get it into your hands. At that price, you could get an iPad mini with cellular connectivity, a Nexus 7 with cellular connectivity, or any one of a number of other tablets, too.
Because of everything that is wrong with this tablet, I can’t recommend that you buy it. If you’re in need of a cellular-connected tablet, look somewhere else – there are plenty of usable options from other manufacturers and carriers that you’d be much happier with.
If you would still like to try one out for yourself, you can get one through Sprint’s website for $449.99 on-contract, or $549.99 off.