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: Web and Internet
Both Apple and Google are strong forces behind HTML5 and other modern browser technologies, so it's no surprise that the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 both offer capable Web browsers. Although neither is as HTML5-savvy as their desktop versions, the iPad 2 has nearly closed the gap with Mac OS X. Based on the HTML5 Test site's scores, the iPad 2's mobile Safari scored 206 versus 228 for desktop Safari (Version 5.05), versus the iPad 1's score of 196. (If you upgrade the iPad 1 to iOS 4.3, its score rises to 206.) But the iPad 2 remains behind the Galaxy Tab 10.1's mobile Chrome, which racked up 218 out of 300 points (better than Android 2.2 smartphones' 176 points), and way behind desktop Chrome (Version 12.0.742), which scored 291.

I didn't notice a qualitative difference between the two tablets' browsers other than greater font support on the iPad 2 in my admittedly subjective browsing. However, an associate who tested the devices had screen redraw issues when using Facebook on the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

For HTML and JavaScript performance, based on the Futuremark Peacekeeper benchmarks, the iPad 2 scored 808 versus 508 for the iOS 4.3 iPad 1, and 430 for the iOS 4.2 iPad 1. By contrast, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 scored 985 -- 22 percent faster than the iPad 2. By comparison, desktop Safari on my 2011-edition MacBook Pro scored 2,812, while the Firefox browser in the Motorola Atrix smartphone scored just 360 in Lapdock and Multimedia Dock use. Peacekeeper stresses media and JavaScript processing, so the indicated speed differences aren't apparent in more text-and-graphics-heavy sites.

Mobile browser HTML5 compatibility and speed tests

I also found in subjective usage that the iPad 2's browser felt nearly as snappy as the Galaxy Tab 10.1's browser, despite the 22 percent speed advantage indicated by the Peacekeeper benchmarks. I suspect that narrower perceived difference is due to the iPad 2's faster page downloads, which on many sites compensate for the Galaxy Tab 10.1's faster page rendering.

Otherwise, the main differences between the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 browsers are cosmetic. Both browsers have persistent buttons or fields for Back, Forward, Bookmarks, Refresh, and navigating tabbed panes. The Galaxy Tab 10.1's browser shows a row of tabs at the top for each open browser window, whereas the iPad 2 displays a button showing how many windows are open -- tapping it opens a screen that previews all open windows. The Galaxy Tab automatically opens a (cached) Google search page when you bring up a new tab. The iPad 2 opens a blank window instead.

Both browsers can share pages via email, but the operation is faster on the iPad 2, which also lets you print the page to a wireless printer, either to an AirPrint-compatible printer or to a local wireless printer connected via one of the many printing apps available for the iPad. But the iPad 2's separate Search and URL boxes are less convenient than the Galaxy Tab 10.1's unified URL and Search box; you have to be sure to tap the right box on the iPad. The Galaxy Tab also has a separate search control, if you prefer.

Unlike Android smartphones, the Galaxy Tab 10.1's touch keyboard offers a .com button -- like the iPad and iPhone -- when entering URLs, which is a significant timesaver. Both devices pop up a list of alternative domains, such as .edu and .org, when you tap and hold that .com button.

Both browsers let you select text and graphics on Web pages, but only the iPad 2 lets you copy graphics. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 can save graphics to the tablet's local storage. The iPad 2 can save images to its Photos app.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1's browser supports the TinyMCE WYSIWYG JavaScript editor widely used in Web forms to allow rich text editing. Mobile Safari's lack of support for the editor frustrates me every day, as's content management system uses it. But on the Galaxy Tab, I experienced display problems, such as the rich text window not always refreshing its contents after scrolling. Text selection didn't always work either. Other JavaScript windows had display problems, as well as significant typing and scrolling lags -- in some cases, the scrolling gesture wouldn't work. At the end of the day, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is unusably reliable with such AJAX tools, whereas the iPad 2 makes me work with raw HTML -- which at least always works.

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 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 conectivity).

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.

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