The latest release within the world of Android slates, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1" Android Tablet, has hit stores, and the reviews are starting to come in. Priced at $399.99 (MSRP), it's being marketed as the "budget-minded" follow-up to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1". The 1.28-lb. tablet notably packs a TI OMAP 4430 1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal memory, a 3-megapixel camera, and storage expandability via MicroSD card slot, among other features.
So how do the Tab 2's features, design, and usability compare to other tablets? And did the manufacturer cut one too many corners in order to make this a budget-friendly device? We scanned the internet for reviews from the most respected and revered electronics outlets, to see what the general consensus is about Samsung's latest offering.
Form Factor, Software, and Build
Most tablets these days look a lot alike, but the Tab 2 does have some features that make it stand out. According to The Verge, its plastic silver back with a "brushed metal look" is "smooth without being slippery or feeling cheap." However, the headphone jack is located on the top of the device, smack dab in the middle, amounting to a pretty significant design flaw, in our opinion. The Verge says, "Your headphone cable will always naturally go either on top of the screen or directly underneath it, and it's awkward either way." We couldn't agree more.
A particularly noteworthy design feature is the pair of thin speakers wedged into the bezel beside the screen. While we'll speak to their quality later, it's worth pointing out that this is the first time a tablet has put speakers in a place that directs the sound at the user, rather than their lap.
As for overall build quality, The Verge says that "the Tab 2 feels sturdy and solid, without any bending or creaking to speak of." However because of its size it feels tough to hold in one's hand for an extended length of time.
The tablet runs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), but with a custom UI called TouchWiz laid overtop. Sometimes these custom UIs hamper, rather than help, the user's experience, but that isn't the case here. As LaptopMag says, "Samsung TouchWiz adds small flourishes with big impact. The arrow icon in the bottom system bar calls up helpful Mini Apps such as Calculator, Alarms, Email, and Task Manager that open above the currently opened app." Though they do warn, there is a lot to process compared ti the more straightforward iPad operating system. Meanwhile, The Verge finds many of TouchWiz's attributes helpful, specifically referencing the connectivity toggles, and the mini apps that appear over a window, as well as a button that allows you to take screenshots.
CPU & Performance
The extras loaded on top of the OS may, on first thought, affect performance, especially given that this tablet has a TI OMAP 4430 1GHz dual-core processor with 1GB of RAM — a step down from the Tegra CPU of the original Galaxy Tab. However, LaptopMag says that the Tab 2 10.1 is speedy when it comes to opening apps and flipping through home screens. "We rarely, if ever, saw a slowdown or pause, even when surfing the Web with Pandora playing in the background."
It's not all glowing press, though. The Verge feels otherwise, stating that the processor "works well enough on the Tab 2 7", [but] it's not quite as up to the task of powering a larger device with a bigger display." Mashable also chimed in, claiming "a slight lag after some finger taps" and less-than-fluid motion.
Meanwhile, CNET says that the CPU delivers "decent, playable frame rates," but, once it's pressured (like during high-frame-rate gaming), the Tab 2 doesn't reach the nearly 60fps smoothness seen on Tegra 3-based tablets. "It's not choppy and it's pretty consistent, but it's just not as buttery-smooth." PCWorld also notes that the old Tab outperformed the Tab 2 in select tests, including cold start-up time; the Tab 2 took 44 seconds or 22% longer to boot up.
When judging this tablet based on power alone, one thing to keep in mind is the fact that beefier models exist. Ubergizmo specifically references the ASUS Transformer Pad TF300, which is "slightly faster than the Tab 2," and retails for about the same price. The TF300's speed is attributable to its quad-core CPU, while the Tab 2 lamentably sports just a dual-core.
Overall, the reviews of Tab 2's screen have mostly positive. LaptopMag points out that "with an average brightness of 424 lux, the Tab 2 10.1 far outshone the TF300 (331 lux) as well as the notes that the new iPad, at its maximum brightness, is comparable to the Galaxy Tab 2, although the Tab 2 is a hair more reflective." They also point out that the Tab 2 is still readable, even in direct sunlight.
However, The Verge takes a contrary opinion. "The 10.1" 1280x800 TFT display is good without being particularly exciting. It has great viewing angles and gets pretty bright, but can't measure up to the new iPad." Meanwhile, LaptopMag says it noticed "some splotchiness in darker scenes," while CNET suggests that Samsung didn't devote time or effort to calibrate the Tab 2 10.1's color. "The screen looks noticeably greener and colors appear washed out compared to the original."
As mentioned, this tablet has a pair of speakers situated on either side of the screen when held in landscape mode. Unsurprisingly, LaptopMag believes that front-facing speakers, instead of those on the edges or back, are a major plus. "Whether we were listening to music or watching a movie, it was nice to have sound directed at us." The Verge agrees that the placement is a good thing, claiming that the speakers "output impressively loud, clear sound for a mobile device". Some of that is certainly due to the fact that the sound is actually coming toward you, and not at your lap.
However, curmudgeonly old CNET is not impressed. "The larger speakers deliver louder sound, but unfortunately don't exceed the apparent quality limitations most tablets adhere to."
Camera / Video
To obtain their "budget" price of $399.99 MSRP, Samsung opted to only install a VGA front-facing and 3-megapixel rear-facing camera into this Tab. According to all sources, this was a bad idea.
The rear-facing camera is lambasted by The Verge: "It doesn't even take very good pictures in great lighting" and the lack of autofocus is embarrassing. LaptopMag adds that the back camera was lackluster during indoor conditions, deeming images "grainy and washed out" while outdoor photos seemed "hazy, even on a sunny day." SlashGear's assessment is perhaps more level-headed: the camera isn't going to appeal to serious photographers will be "good enough for Facebook and Twitter if that's your thing."
The front-facing VGA camera received even more critical analysis, as one might expect. "The VGA-resolution (read: less than one megapixel) front-facing camera is bad," says The Verge, but allows that it's "fine for video chat and checking your teeth." The 720p video capture seems to be just as disappointing, and "suffers from the same haziness as outdoor stills."
The battery on this tablet seems to hold up pretty well, if you don't use it too heavily. However, if you play a lot of video, expect to only get about eight hours of use. The Verge agrees: "This is a tablet you'll only need to charge every few days, unless you're really pushing it hard."
However, CNET again dissents, claiming that the Tab 2 battery "drained fairly quickly with normal use over the course of several hours."
Peel Smart Remote App
An exclusive to Samsung Android tablets, Peel is an app that allows users to control their TV and cable box via the device's built-in IR blaster. Better yet, it seems to be intuitive and easy to set up, taking just five minutes. Once you get it going the navigation and interface takes some getting used to, but is easy enough to pick up."
Secondarily, Peel works as a TV listings guide; you can search for whatever show you're eager to watch, and Peel will return any channel that's showing it, even switching the station for you. Peel is useful for sports since "figuring out which channel the game is on is a constant pain," says The Verge. However, "Smart Remote's accuracy is very closely dictated by the information that cable and satellite providers choose to release," noting that sometimes the app was incorrect, or took the user to the wrong channel, or a station that the user doesn't have.
The Bottom Line: Yay or Nay?The overall assessment of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 is somewhat muted, with many sources pointing out that it's a slightly lackluster sequel to what was considered by many to be one of the strongest Android tablets available. However, realizing that some of the limited specs are a result of Samsung's attempt to shave down the product's price, these reviews also offer the slate its due props.
LaptopMag says, "Samsung has made some nice improvements to the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, all while keeping the price below $400 and the battery life really long." Ubergizmo says that the Tab 2 "delivers good performance packaged in a nice design for a reasonable price." Even Mashable admits that "the tablet will certainly please anyone who just wants a decent screen for checking out Netflix videos. However, The Verge would hesitate to recommend it to power users or gamers.
Compared to its Competitors
Several of the reviewers could not help but draw comparisons to the ASUS Transformer TF300, since the ASUS features a quad-core CPU and 32GB of storage for the same price. CNET further points out that the TF300 includes micro HDMI connectivity and a higher-quality rear camera, while Ubergizmo puts it into an interesting perspective: "The ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 (32GB) offers a lower build-quality packaged in a heavier body (1.28 lbs. vs. 1.39 lbs. without dock), but provides higher performance."
Mashable goes so far as to compare this orange to Apple, since it's priced equivalently with the iPad 2. "The experience on the Tab 2 (and most Android tablets) is generally a poor substitute for what you get from an iPad." SlashGear's take on that comparison is slightly different, arguing that "this tablet is not made specifically to compete with the iPad, ... [but is] among the best values in the Android world. If you just want to watch movies and browse the web, this may well be your best bet on the market today."
It is, of course, a matter of personal preference when it comes to OS choice, but it's hard to debate that Apple has put a lot more oomph in a similarly-priced tablet.
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