Tablet Deathmatch: Galaxy Tab 10.1 Vs. IPad 2

For a good year now, we've been hearing about devices that would give the iPad a real run for its money, only to find the claims hollow. The closest contender thus far has been the Motorola Xoom, but it suffered too many shortcomings to give Steve Jobs cause to sweat. Now, however, the iPad has its first credible alternative: Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1, a stellar improvement over Samsung's first effort, the awkward Galaxy Tab 7.

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Both browsers offer settings to control pop-up windows, search engines, JavaScript, cookies, history, cache, form data, passwords, image loading, autofill, fraud warnings, and debugging. Note that many websites won't know about the Galaxy Tab 10.1's unique identifier or the subtle difference in how Android tablets in general self-report versus how Android smartphones do; they will treat the Galaxy Tab or other Android tablet as if it were an Android smartphone. That'll cause some full-sized sites such as InfoWorld.com to redirect the Galaxy Tab to mobile-oriented sites rather than present their desktop- and tablet-friendly site. The iPad's browser ID is better known to Web developers, so this redirect issue is less likely to occur for that device. (If you're developing mobile-savvy websites, you can use InfoWorld's User Agent Check tool to read the IDs of the various devices and, thus, optimize how your site works with them. Tip: Android 3 in the user agent string means a tablet.)

Using the cloud-based Google Docs on either device is not a pleasant experience. It's barely possible to edit a spreadsheet; the most you can do is select and add rows, as well as edit the contents of individual cells. You can edit a text document -- awkwardly. Partly, that's because Google hasn't figured out an effective mobile interface for these Web apps; the Safari and Chrome browsers are simply dealing with what Google presents, rather than working through a mobile-friendly front end. It's also because the mobile Safari and Chrome browsers don't support all the same capabilities as their desktop counterparts. But things are improving on the Google Docs front. For example, you can create, edit, and navigate appointments in Google Calendar in all four of its views (day, week, month, and agenda) pretty much as you can on a desktop browser.

The winner: This contest ends in a tie, with the iPad 2's advantage being able to copy and print Web images balanced by the Galaxy Tab 10.1's faster, more HTML5-savvy browser.

Deathmatch: Location support

Both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 can triangulate your location based on Wi-Fi signals and GPS. The beta Navigation app that comes with Android is a much better navigation app than the Maps app that comes with the iPad 2. On the iPad, you'll want a real navigation app such as the $45 Navigon MobileNavigator, whereas on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, you could stick with the free one -- as long as you don't need the map display itself to be updated while you drive (that would require 3G connectivity).

Although both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 ask for permission to work with your location information, the Galaxy Tab does not provide controllable settings for location use by the device or individual applications, as the iPad 2 does.

The winner: The Galaxy Tab 10.1 wins this round, thanks to its superior navigation app.

Deathmatch: User interface

It's often a throwaway comment that Apple's UIs are better than everyone else's, though it's not always true, as evidenced by the soon-to-disappear MobileMe service. But the iPad 2's iOS 4 is in fact a better-designed UI in many respects, allowing easier and faster access to the device's capabilities and information. Where the Galaxy Tab 10.1's Android 3.1 OS outshines the iPad 2 in terms of UI is through its widgets and notification capabilities, as previously mentioned.

Android smartphone users will find the Android 3 UI in the Galaxy Tab 10.1 both familiar and strange. Gone are two standard buttons at the bottom of all Android smartphones: Search and Menu. They now appear at the discretion of each application in the upper right of the screen. The standard Home and Back buttons remain at the bottom of the Galaxy Tab screen, though they use entirely different -- and ugly -- icons. These two on-screen buttons and the notification widget take up the entire bottom of the screen, shrinking the available viewing area. (On Android smartphones, these buttons are in the device rather than on-screen, and the notification widgets appear only on the home screens.) This loss of screen real estate especially matters on the Galaxy Tab in landscape orientation, where the widescreen layout already shortens its display area uncomfortably compared to the iPad 2.

In the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Samsung complements Android 3's already nice ability to see thumbnails of active applications with a custom UI element called live panels, which are widgets you can place on a home screen that show the current status of, say, your email inbox or the weather. One aspect of the Android user interface I admire is the at-a-glance indicators showing what is going on in the tablet (system info, battery life, and so on) or in the outside world (such as news and weather); the iPad 2 is more single-minded in that you have to switch to whatever app or website you want to see with that -- and only that -- information.

Operational UI. The Galaxy Tab 10.1's Android 3 tablet OS doesn't suffer the excessive reliance on the Menu button as Android smartphones do. The Galaxy Tab instead uses its larger display area to make relevant controls easily accessible on-screen, as the iPad and iPhone always have.

The Android OS's Settings app can be disorienting, and the white-on-black text is nearly impossible to view in bright daylight. For example, there are two Wi-Fi options: Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Settings. Tapping Wi-Fi turns off Wi-Fi -- not what I expected. To find a Wi-Fi network, you tap Wi-Fi Settings. After a while I learned the difference, but it was an unnecessary exercise. (Bluetooth is handled in the same awkward manner.) The iPad 2's iOS doesn't let you confuse turning Wi-Fi on or off with selecting a network, thanks to a single location with clearly designated controls.

The good news is that pinching and zooming, as well as autorotation as you turn the device, work equivalently on the Galaxy Tab 10.1's Android OS and iPad 2's iOS. For text entry, I find the iPad 2's on-screen keyboard to be slightly easier to work with than the Galaxy Tab's, with clearer keys and better contextual use of extra keys, such as in the Mail application. Although I appreciate the intent behind the Galaxy Tab's use of Tab and other keys not found on the iPad 2, the result is that the keyboard is not quite full size in landscape orientation (the iPad 2's is) and, thus, a tad difficult for touch-typing. I'm sure I'll eventually get used to it, but it remains an annoying UI decision.

Text selection and copying. The Galaxy Tab 10.1's Android OS improves text selection versus that in the Motorola Mobility Xoom's original Android 3.0 and the various smartphone versions of Android. When you tap on text, a slider now appears so that you can reposition the text cursor easily. It's thus easier to work with text than before. (As before, a long-tap selects all the text and provides the selection tabs.) This text-selection method isn't universal, though it needs to be. The demo version of Quickoffice that's included, for example, doesn't support it.

On the iPad 2, text selection also works via handles, which appear more quickly than they do on the Galaxy Tab 10.1. To insert the pointer in a precise location, you tap and hold where you want to insert the text cursor (sort of like using a mouse), and a magnifier appears to help you move exactly to where you want to go. This is still easier than Android 3.1's welcome new insertion slider, and it works in every app, unlike the new Android slider. You then add and delete text at that location. Plus, the controls for text selection appear, so you can use those and not worry about a screen-filling menu getting in the way.

The winner: We have another tie here, although iPad fans may find the Android OS too loosey-goosey and its ever-present alerts annoying. That said, Android fans may find the iPad too rigid and disconnected from what's going on. To each his own; both work.

Deathmatch: Security and management

A long-standing strike against the Android OS is its poor security. The standard smartphone Android OS doesn't support on-device encryption, and it supports only the most basic of Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) security policies. By contrast, with the enhancements made in iOS 4, the iPad has become one of the most securable mobile devices available, second only to the RIM BlackBerry.

On the iPad, encryption is enables, straight out of the box, and it can't be turned off. Google, having recognized Android's security deficiency, has added on-device encryption to Android 3 OS for tablets, but you have to enable it manually. Not only does encrypting the tablet take an hour, but the battery has to be fully charged before you can begin, even if you are plugged into a wall socket. (The rationale is that the battery needs to be fully charged in case the power goes out or the power cord is disconnected.) It can take several hours before your Galaxy Tab is finally encrypted and ready for use. Fortunately, it's a one-time activity.

Also thanks to the changes in Android 3, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 comes close to matching iOS 4's support of EAS policies (unlike Android smartphones), allowing for complex passwords, password expiration, and password history restrictions. iOS 4 has more security capabilities overall, but Android tablets are much more securable than Android smartphones.

Both the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad 2 offer remote wipe, SSL message encryption, and timeout locks. If your Galaxy Tab is lost or stolen, you can lock or wipe it via your Google account or via Exchange. Apple supports remote lock and wipe both through Exchange and via the free Find My iPad service that tracks your iPad 2's location from a Web browser, iPhone, iPod Touch, or other iPad.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1's Android OS can back up contact, calendar, and email data wirelessly to Gmail, as well as system settings and application data to Google's servers. Syncing the iPad 2 to your computer's iTunes backs up -- and encrypts, if you desire -- the data on it. iTunes backs up everything: your media, your apps, their settings, their data, and most of your preferences. (iTunes can be configured for use in the enterprise, though most companies don't know that.)

The winner: The iPad 2 ekes out a slight victory here. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has brought in a key business security capability (encryption) but isn't quite as far along in EAS support as the iPad.

Deathmatch: Hardware

Although the real value of a tablet comes from its OS and apps, you can't get to them without the hardware they run on. The iPad 2 sports a dual-core 1GHz A5 CPU chip, matching at the spec level the Galaxy Tab's dual-core Nvidia 1GHz Tegra 2 processor; both are based on the ARM chip architecture. Both tablets offer front and rear cameras (supporting videoconferencing and motion video capture), and they're capable of display mirroring through video-out connector. The iPad comes in both Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi-plus-3G models (which supports 3G tethering), whereas the Galaxy Tab comes only in a Wi-Fi model.

Performance. The iPad 2's A5 processor makes quick work of app loading and is generally responsive, such as when panning in Google Earth or parsing documents in iWork Pages. The Galaxy Tab is no slouch, either, with similarly snappy reaction time. I had significantly fewer Android apps with which to test the Galaxy Tab's speed, however, so I can't fully assess app performance across the two tablets. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 does start up from powered-off mode noticeably faster than the iPad 2: 25 seconds versus 35 seconds. (By comparison, my 2011-edition MacBook Pro takes 127 seconds.) In either case, if you're looking for instant-on, let the tablet go to sleep rather than power it down.

The iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 performed similarly in their network usage over Wi-Fi. I did find that the Galaxy Tab usually received emails and updated its calendar slightly more slowly than the iPad 2, even though both were connected to the same Wi-Fi network and pulling from the same Exchange server.

For battery performance, I found that the iPad 2 lasted longer than the Galaxy Tab 10.1 -- 9 or 10 hours versus the Galaxy Tab's 7 or 8 -- in regular use with Wi-Fi enabled. In light use, their work time stretched another hour. Note that the Galaxy Tab starts chewing through battery power the more you use Wi-Fi, whereas the iPad 2 seems better able to handle sustained Wi-Fi connections without draining the battery. Also, the iPad 2 charges much more quickly than the Galaxy Tab -- two or three times as fast, depending on whether the devices are powered down.

Device hardware. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 as a device is very much like the iPad 2: the same thinness, with roughly the same dimensions; due to its widescreen display, it's wider but shorter than the iPad 2. But the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is 12 percent lighter, shaving 2.5 ounces off the iPad's 2's 21.5 ounces; you can really feel the difference when you hold one in each hand. The iPad 2's aluminum back can feel dangerously slippery, whereas the plastic (your choice of white or gray) of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a little more grippable.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1's bezel is simple and clean, like the iPad 2's, with just the hardware features you need: well-positioned power and volume controls at the top, front and rear cameras placed unobtrusively (with better image resolution and quality than the iPad 2's), an audio jack at the top, small speaker notches on the sides, and dock/charging connector at the bottom.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1's power button also doubles as a battery indicator switch: Press it quickly when the device is powered down to see the battery status on screen; press and hold it a few seconds to turn the device on. The iPad 2 has no such battery indication while it is powered down. But the iPad 2 wakes itself automatically if its (optional) Smart Cover is opened -- nice. It also has the rotation lock button that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 does not.

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