Why yes, that is a Galaxy Tab 10.1 in my pocket.

Knowing that we’re going to have to think about Android tablet development at some point, it was a matter of time before we picked one up. The perfect storm of frugality swooped in this week as Staples had a $100 off coupon for tablets, excluding the Nook, TouchPad, and one or two others. This coupon, plus a few rebate cards I’d been saving meant I was able to snag a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for about $227. Sweet deal.

So – the big question – how is it, really?

I think at this point I’ve established myself as a fan of electronics, not just those made by Apple, so I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say that while a cool piece of kit, the Tab 10.1 is not quite there for me. I didn’t buy this thing just to bash it – I bought it because I need to understand platforms before we can design for them – so understand right off the bat that I’m not complaining about a review unit and sending it back, or on the Cupertino payroll (or Kool-Aid, depending on how you like to think of those things).

The simple fact of the matter is that for many people – specifically consumers – there isn’t a case for tablet computing yet. There is, however, a case for small pieces of software that deliver compelling experiences. Unfortunately, Android is not delivering them, and iOS is.

Case in point: when I went to Staples, I asked the sales guy for the 10.1 and the first thing he said was “What are you buying it for?” When I replied, “development”, he said “Ok, because this thing isn’t going to replace a laptop for you”. No problem, I assured him, we’re app devs, and we know what we’re doing. Then, the manager came over to verify the coupon I had and asked the same question again. Again I replied “development” and he asked “Of what?” rather indignantly.

“Uh, Android apps?” I replied incredulously.

“Oh, ok, because we’re selling a lot of these things, and we get a LOT of them back. People buy them thinking they’re getting rid of a laptop, and they all come back returning them.”

That doesn’t seem to be happening with iPads, because I think people’s expectations are set accordingly when they buy them. These are not full computing devices; they’re not built to be – and yet when you watch the commercials, what do you hear? The “full” internet. Flash. Do it all. Why wouldn’t people be disappointed when they can’t actually replace a computer with a device that promised they could?

But anyway, on to the Tab itself.

Physically, the 10.1 is a great feeling device in the hand. Thinner and lighter than you expect it to be, with a gorgeous screen and all the requisite hardware checkboxes filled. I’m not sure how I feel about the 16:9 frame, though. No, scratch that, I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. I wasn’t sure that Apple was right about the iPad’s 4:3 ratio, but after having one as my only tablet for over a year and then spending a good deal of time with the 10.1, I’m pretty sure Steve was right. It feels too long horizontally, and way too tall vertically. Don’t get me wrong – I could get used to it, if I had to, but I’m kind of glad I don’t have to. Overall, it’s a very nicely built device, though. While still somewhat plastic-y, Samsung made it feel decent.

The Honeycomb OS is light years ahead of where Android started, and it really shows. It’s really quite nice, and my initial experience with the 10.1 was very different from the one I had when I handled my first G-1 at a party a few years ago. Both the UI design and the functionality have added a great deal of value to the device, and I’m really looking forward to seeing future Android devices as the system continues to mature. There’s an incredible amount of customization available on the platform, and that attracts both regular folks and tinkerers alike. I would have liked to see a little more in terms of basic stuff, like wallpapers (since some of what ships default with the 10.1 is like showing an overcaffeinated toddler the gradient tool in Photoshop), but hey, that’s what the internet is for. There are plenty of wallpaper apps in the Market. The attention to detail in small things like the bar at the bottom of the display that has a lot of useful controls baked into it shows that Google really is trying to make the entire interface less for engineers and more for real, actual users. And there’s cool stuff tucked away, like the recently viewed button, which upon tapping, brings a vertical ribbon of apps you’ve been to lately (along with a thumbnail of the activity) – a nice touch, and very useful. Credit where credit is due.

Where it falls apart for me (and likely for most people) is in the user experience surrounding software availability. I fully recognize that there isn’t a ton of software available to Android tablets right now, and that Honeycomb is still an OS that most people don’t have and aren’t developing for, based on market numbers. This is not a problem germane to the 10.1, or any other Android tablet in particular. However, for the amount of marketing and push that these tablets are getting, there should absolutely be not only a wide range of options, but a clearly delineated path with which to reach them. Android Market has neither. You can search for “tablet”, and you hit quite a few things, and you can search for “Honeycomb”, and reach some others, but you have things like themes and wallpapers for phones in the Honeycomb style that make their way into your search. Apple has two sides of the App Store – iPhone and iPad – and it’s completely obvious where the tablet apps are. I’m an experienced user, so I’m figuring things out, but I can’t imagine someone who isn’t comfortable with this stuff having much fun doing the same.

More importantly, by this point in the iPad’s life cycle, there was a huge number of apps available for the platform, and I just don’t feel that happening for Android tablets. Is it because there’s just too much disparity in the sizes and specs? Possibly, but I think it has a lot to do with what I mentioned earlier. If consumers are returning tablets, why develop for them at all? Stick to the phones. Hence, people simply aren’t finding the kind of software they expect to find when they try to download, and it’s causing disappointment. I’m not talking about the geeks, rooting and playing. I’m talking about regular people for whom “unlocked bootloader” might as well be a foreign language.

Honeycomb, as I said, is fantastic. Unfortunately, run an app that’s built for a phone on it, and suddenly it’s not so pretty anymore. It doesn’t scale proportionately the way the iPad does (even if the pixel doubling does look like crap), but instead stretches everything so there’s a ton of wasted space everywhere. And while I’m perfectly content to dig around in settings and adjust fonts and scaling to make it look halfway decent, why would any normal person even think to do that? It should just look good when you open it.

But very little does. Even apps built for tablets might be built for smaller tablets, and behave similarly, and the apps I tried that were built for this size were sorely lacking in design. I know we all kind of assume Android apps don’t look as great as iOS apps, but some of the stuff I saw that touted “built from the ground up for Honeycomb tablets” looks like they didn’t get past the foundation. If your flagship app looks like a development test with some gradients thrown on, you’re doing something wrong.

I guess I’m really most saddened by the fact that I still don’t see a contender in this market. I love Apple stuff, but I want so badly to be able to have something else that’s as good, if only for a change of pace from iOS. I’m a demanding geek, and that’s not going to change. As of right now, Apple’s still the only company giving in to those demands.

28 thoughts on “Why yes, that is a Galaxy Tab 10.1 in my pocket.

  1. melgross

    Zulu, what he meant was that 4:3 felt better, even though he used the Tab for a good amount of time.I've tried 16:9 tablets, and they feel clunky. Good for video, but not for much else.

  2. Seth

    Perhaps it does, indeed.Perhaps it simply explains why these things can't get a foothold. Let's not read into it. Heh.

  3. John C. Bland II

    Just a quick note. In the latest Honeycomb you can choose your scale. It stretches apps [wasted space] or zooms them up. I prefer the stretch cuz it looks crappy when zoomed.I'm interested in hearing your thoughts when TouchWiz hits it next month.Good review.

  4. Seth

    Thanks for the tip. In what version number (or where) does that setting appear? I kind of liked TouchWiz, but haven't spent a great deal of time with it. Curious to see how it scales.

  5. Rex

    Android Honeycomb 3.2 includes the stretch/zoom feature for apps built for a phone. The extremely necessary distinction between tablet and phone apps in the Android Market will be revealed with Android Ice Cream Sandwich. Better late than never I guess. I fully agree with this article: Honeycomb is very nice software in need of very nice apps. Google has the pull and resources to get popular devs to create apps for the platform in time for Ice Cream Sandwich's launch. If they're smart, they will.

  6. Nave

    I in the same boat as you, Seth. Almost all of my gadgets are Apple related, but I want to like Android (have a Nook Color to play with Android). But there seems to be too many issues that hinder me from getting an Android tablet. A new obstacle is while the iPad can do a common VPN protocol of my work out of the box, Honeycomb cannot. These little things are what keeps hindering Android tablets in the marketplace for enterprise and consumers.

  7. Webtech

    Great review from an unbiased developer like myself. Enjoy hearing you on the different podcasts Seth. I had a similar experience when I went to best buy to check out the Sammy. They too had a rep there and the first thing he said to me when I picked it up was "You know it has full Adobe Flash"! So ,I like a smartass, asked him what is Flash. And he proceeded to explain all the sites designed using Flash video. So then I stumped him when I said that flash based websites aren't built for touch screen tablets and websites are catching up to the new HTML 5 standard and converting flash videos to h.264. Should have seen the look on his face. He didn't know how to respond. Overall I too like the feel and look of the Sammy tablet. They also had the HP Touchpad there as well. Nice OS but the tablet is built like crap! And I don't know what the Playbook is supposed to be. But it has Flash!! :0)

  8. Seth

    Nave, you have until 7/30 – check it out if you're in the market for a tablet (but no Nook, TouchPad)http://www.androidcentral.com/staples-giving-100-select-tablets-what-will-you-be-buying?

  9. Menno

    Seth, Great overview. As a Tab owner myself I have to agree with almost every one of your points.The lack of apps can be frustrating at times, I agree. I use mine primarily as a Browser/game device so it's not as bad as it could be. On my phone, I've purchased and downloaded a lot of apps, but at any given time, I'm only using a half dozen or so. (plus native apps) But there are a few apps I would LOVE to have on this device that just arn't here yet.That being said, I have to disagree with you about the pixel doubling Vs stretched. I know this is largely a personal preference, but for me, I find it more "pleasing" (though still not ideal) to have more whitespace in an app over having the icons doubled to fill more of the space. My uncle has an ipad, and I could never get used to the pixel doubling when I was setting it up for him. That being said, Tablet optimized applications>compatibility mode. Most of my favorite apps are tablet optimized, thankfully. Plume (Twitter), Springpad, and QuickOffice being the main ones. Read it Later isn't tablet optimized (yet) but once you get past the article list and into an article itself, the text takes up the whole screen and it looks great.But great overview. Thanks for writing it up, and I look forward to seeing what you develop for the platform.

  10. Daniel

    Like you I prefer an iPad but do enjoy technology so it's good to see other tablets coming.Personally I think that if the iPad wasn't an option for whatever reason, that the HP TouchPad would be the next best choice.Perhaps look into developing for that.

  11. Greg

    Am I the only one that does not like the soft control bar at the bottom that never goes away? If I'm playing a full screen game I'd rather get the whole screen and have a button (or gesture I guess) to pull me out. The wasted space at the bottom of the screen annoys the heck out of me.

  12. jsp

    Interesting, well-written post — with the exception of your use of "germane." In context it seems like you really wanted to say "limited", or "confined" or "restricted"… or am I misreading it?

  13. James Katt

    The iPad's revenue alone is worth more than all of Google's revenue.That tells you that the iPad is amazing!When it comes to tablets, there is NO Tablet Market. There is only an iPad Market. Any other Tablet manufacturer is wasting its time. No one has convinced the consumer of the need for a tablet. No one.Apple has convinced the consumer of the need for an iPad. And only the iPad. Apple has not convinced the consumer of the need for a tablet either. Only for the iPad.

  14. tim

    apple's stock is 392 a share while googles is 607 a share.Your point is? Look up "market cap" and get back to us.

  15. Dave Jonas

    Heh, pretty funy how you can't even buy an Android device before you get asked a ton of questions about why you're spending money on it. It just goes to show how unsuccessful Android tablets are and how people dislike them and feel they have to return them.PS: And you think you can make your development investment back through Android???

  16. sdsaf

    I guess it just needs a little time before getting to the ipad level. I have a Tab 10.1, although there aren't that many apps, I feel that the webbrowser, the gmail client and the youtube app are better than the ipad version.

  17. John C. Randolph

    I got my hands on a Samsung tablet today for the first time, and I could see from the home page that they just don't get it. Busy, busy, busy. Frankly, it looks like it was designed by whoever was designing smartphone UIs before the iPhone came out.-jcr

  18. zulu

    "I have used a 4:3 ipad a year and got used to it""I dont like 16:9 because i'm used to 4:3 but I could get used to it""16:9 therefore suck"Find whats wrong with that logic.

  19. Seth

    Yes, jsp, you read it correctly. Upon further examination of the post, I award you 1 grammar point. Good catch.

  20. Seth

    Dave, the kind of work we do for clients obviates the need to worry about development investments on hardware. Plus, I did get a pretty sweet deal on it, so even if it remains a curiosity, I'm ok with it.

  21. John Bates

    I had a similar experience — with the recent TouchPad price drop, I stopped by Staples with the vague notion of picking one up for development.I have never before had a sales person tell me not to buy a product. He told me, though, that he couldn't keep it from crashing long enough to run a full demo, and that I should really go to a different store and get an iPad if I wanted a tablet.That was with a floor full of various Androids, too.

  22. Lee

    My experience with the Tab hasn't been so favorable. We purchased one as a test device.As with every Android device I've used, animations are generally jerky. I agree with others who have said that if the Tab was the first tablet you had ever seen, you'd be impressed, but after using the iPad, the animation problems on the Tab stand out. It takes just a bit too long to rotate from landscape to portrait. Long enough that I kept wondering if something was wrong.I expected the browsing experience to be better than on the iPad. Google should be producing the fastest mobile browser on the planet. For strict loading times, it's fine. Animations done with javascript are a joke. I routinely saw the Tab (a dual core 1GHz processor inside) lag behind an iPad 1 in rendering javascript animations. In some cases I would estimate 4 fps on the Tab while 10-15 on the iPad 1. Chances are this will vary across sites and methods used to animate. Not encouraging though.Flash doesn't work well enough to be relied upon. Poor performance and crashes. I would say this is Adobe's problem if not for the marketing hype put behind support for Flash – that makes it Samsung's problem.Android tends toward a dekstop mindset of having lots of options available through menus and settings panels. This makes the entire system more confusing and gives it a steeper learning curve. I could feel it while playing with the Tab. Ugh.Right now I still can't think of a single benefit that would cause me tell anyone to consider a Tab or any other Android tablet. Well, except to keep the dream alive that someday, maybe, they'll present real competition and drive the market forward… it's kind of a charity purchase right now.

  23. Da

    I bought a Dell Streak 7 with the Staples $100 off coupon, and I love it. I use the Streak mainly for GPS and web surfing, and so far I haven't had to buy any apps. I can't see paying more than $200 for a tablet. I have to set money aside for the Droid Bionic.

  24. Brandon

    As an iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 (and now TouchPad) owner, I agree with most of what you write here. I use my tablets reasonably infrequently – primarily for use on the road, as my laptop is much easier to use/capable and readily available when at home. The comments, on the other hand, are another matter entirely. 1) "Android tends toward a dekstop mindset of having lots of options available through menus and settings panels."2) "I've tried 16:9 tablets, and they feel clunky. Good for video, but not for much else."3) "I got my hands on a Samsung tablet today for the first time, and I could see from the home page that they just don't get it. Busy, busy, busy. Frankly, it looks like it was designed by whoever was designing smartphone UIs before the iPhone came out."Android vs. iOS arguments amuse me because I enjoy watching people turn blue in the face thinking they're proving their point, when really they're being entirely subjective. Take the three people above:1) Nothing makes me happier than when I open an application and find out I can change pretty much everything about it – the same thing goes for the OS itself. PowerAmp (a music player), for example, lets me choose the size of the audio buffer. It also lets me adjust the equalizer bands to +/- 6dB. Customization on my iPad is limited to selecting "Bass Booster" (which, I might note, doesn't boost the bass anywhere near enough). You're not forced to adjust these settings – the app works fine with no adjustment at all – but the result is my music actually sounds how I want it to. I can see how some less confident users might find the menus daunting, but I'm always surprised to see tech-savvy people make this complaint about Android.The fact that I can drop my music/videos on the hard drive without using iTunes outweighs every other aspect of usability for me.2) I think this goes without saying. It's actually not as subjective as it seems – as a land-dwelling species our brains are wired to perceive content horizontally. More information can be conveyed effectively in widescreen – this is why movies have always been in widescreen, why LCD computer monitors are made widescreen, etc. Again it comes down to the person, because it's a matter of personal preference.3) Huh? Prior to the TouchWiz update all I had on my homescreen was Asus' clock widget. Now I have a few of the tile-like Samsung widgets (no application icons) – my homescreens are meticulous. If I wanted to just put my application icons in a grid like the iPad I could, I simply choose not to, so I fail to see how a customizable homescreen that actually takes advantage of the tablet real estate can be a detractor.My point is that people will ignore reality in an effort to defend their brand of choice. Likewise, people in either camp refuse to recognize the objective advantages of the competition, or the fact that the other product might be better for someone else. My iPad has many more tablets apps then my Tab does, but I use e-mail more than all of those applications combined, and the Gmail app on the Tab is leagues better than the iPad. Different strokes for different folks.

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