Tablet deathmatch: Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs. iPad 2

Samsung's Android 3.1-based tablet is the first to give Apple's iPad a real run for its money -- most of the time

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Deathmatch: Applications
The native apps are comparable on the two devices, providing email, camera, contacts, calendar, maps and navigation, browser, media playback, YouTube playback, and SMS. The iPad 2 also provides a notes app, whereas the Galaxy Tab 10.1 provides a calculator, IM, and a limited version of the Quickoffice office editing suite that seems slower and jerkier than its iPad version. The Galaxy Tab's (still beta) Android Navigation app speaks directions as you navigate, as well as provides an on-screen live map and written step-by-step directions. The iPad 2's Maps app has comparable on-screen navigation capabilities but does not speak them as you drive. The Galaxy Tab's Android 3.1 OS also comes with the Movie Maker app for video editing; for the iPad 2, Apple's better-designed equivalent, iMovie, costs $5.

One of the Galaxy Tab 10.1's claims to fame is that it comes with Adobe's Flash Player 10.3, which the iPad does not and will not support. I found that the player did well with videos and basic Flash animations, such as those that let you rotate views, open content via hotspots, and the like. Flash games worked sometimes. Other Android devices using earlier versions of Flash Player and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook have had trouble running Flash content, but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks like it may break that string of Flash failure.

However, not all tablet-specific Android apps take advantage of the Galaxy Tab 10.1's larger screen; for example, the USA Today tablet app sort of does, but not nearly as well as it does on the iPad. More typically, "tablet" apps remain stretched renditions of the smartphone version. Amazon.com's Kindle app, for example, displays one too-wide-to-read page when in landscape orientation, rather than two facing pages as on the iPad 2. The Twitter app, likewise, stretches columns. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn't display such legacy apps in a smartphone-sized window, as the iPad 2 does, to clue you in. Additionally, I haven't found Android apps that auto-adjust their display and capabilities depending on whether they're running on a smartphone or tablet -- a feature that has quickly become very common in the iOS world.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 and other Android tablets need a better stable of apps to foster the addiction that iPad users exhibit with their tablets. The growing selection does show some of the promise of the tablet form factor, but none is exceptional. It's a matter of both quantity and quality -- or lack thereof.

App stores and app installation. There are tens of thousands of apps for the iPad 2's iOS, from games to scientific visualization tools. Sure, there's a lot of junk, but you'll find many useful apps as well. Android doesn't have anywhere near the same library of apps as iOS, but its smartphone-oriented apps portfolio is now in the thousands and growing, with many relevant apps such as Quickoffice, for which the Galaxy Tab 10.1 includes a basic version with limited creation and editing capabilities. I often find that iOS apps are more capable than their Android equivalents (such as the Kindle app) -- but not always (Angry Birds, for example).

Both the Apple App Store and Google Android Market separate tablet apps from smartphone apps, simplifying the search for appropriate titles. The Apple store also indicates which apps auto-adjust for the iPhone and iPad, so you know they can be run on both devices and appear native on each.

Unlike Apple's App Store, the Android Market is not curated; developers will have an easier time getting their apps listed, but the market also lets cyber thieves create phishing apps that masquerade as banking programs, games, or other apps and steal user information. Apple's App Store seems to be less at risk to such Trojans. The Android Market is also not as easy to navigate within the app details, though it is extremely clear about what permissions each app needs to run. The Android Market does have one highly useful feature that the iOS App Store does not: an option for each app to enable auto-updating.

You don't have to use the Android Market to get apps onto the Galaxy Tab 10.1, of course -- unlike the case with a non-jailbroken iPad. If you want to get down and dirty, you can configure the Android OS's application settings to install ("side-load") software from other sources.

Installation of apps is similar on both platforms: After selecting an app, you confirm your store account information and wait for the app to download and install. Both mobile OSes let you know if updates are available. On the iPad 2, the App Store indicates the number of available updates. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, with those apps for which you've not enabled auto-updating, available updates are displayed in the notifications pop-up at the bottom left of the screen.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 uses the Android Market to remember your paid apps (though not your free ones) and a separate sync utility for handling media files transferred from your PC, but in this regard it's no match for the iPad 2. Thanks to the iPad's reliance on iTunes as its command center for corralling media, apps, and documents, the iPad makes it much easier to manage your device's content. If you get a new phone, it's a snap on iTunes to get it up and running with the same assets as before. There's no such easy way to transfer the assets to a Galaxy Tab from a previous device.

App management. The iPad 2 has a simpler app management process than the Galaxy Tab 10.1. For example, it's easy to arrange your home screens to cluster applications both on your iPad and on your desktop via iTunes; you can also put them in your own folders. Just tap and hold any app to invoke the "shaking apps" status, in which you can drag apps wherever you want, or tap the X icon to delete them (press the Home button when done to exit that mode). You can also arrange and delete apps using iTunes on your desktop.

Like the Android smartphones and other Android tablets, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 lets you drag apps to any of its home screens, which appear in preview mode below the apps matrix. (Unlike with Android smartphones, you cannot long-tap an app to move it to the current home screen.) The full list of programs is available in the apps page, which you access by tapping the Apps button at the upper right of any home screen. But the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has no groups capability for presenting apps, and you can't rearrange the roster in the apps page -- just in the home screens.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 supports the Android OS's widgets feature. Widgets are mini apps that you can place on the home screens, and they can be very helpful, showing the latest email message or Facebook update or the current time in a large clock. Thus, you can see at a glance the current status of whatever you want to easily track -- one of Android's superior UI capabilities. The Galaxy Tab, like other Android devices, also has pop-up notifications that make it easy to see if you have new email or other alerts, whatever you happen to be doing. Alerts appear in the lower right of your screen, not at the top as in Android smartphones. Again, the iPad 2 has no equivalent, though Apple has promised that iOS 5 will offer a similar Notification Center feature this fall.

Multitasking. The iPad 2's iOS 4.3 supports multitasking if enabled in the apps themselves; Apple has made specific background services available for multitasking, rather than let each app run full-on in parallel, as on a PC. As you switch among iOS apps, they suspend, except for their multitasking-enabled services, which conserves memory and aids performance. By contrast, Android supports full multitasking, whereby default apps continue to run in the background when you take care of other duties. From a usage point of view, these differences aren't apparent; on both devices, apps appear to multitask the same.

The major difference related to multitasking is the UI for switching among apps. On the iPad 2, a double-click on the Home button pulls up a list of active apps, and it's easy to see what's running and switch among them. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, a persistent menu icon provides access to all running apps at any time, and it even shows a preview window of what the apps are currently doing (as with Mac OS X and Windows 7 in their taskbars).

The winner: The iPad 2 comes out on top again, mainly because there are still few tablet apps available for the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and Android app quality remains generally inferior. But for the underlying apps management capabilities, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has the edge, thanks to the widgets and notifications capabilities of the Android OS; you feel their omission on an iPad 2 after you've used an Android device for a while. Plus, the Galaxy Tab's ability to show all running apps and what they're doing is an impressive feature the iPad 2 doesn't match.

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