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

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.

Sure, if you're well entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, you'll go for the iPad 2; likewise, if you're happy in the Android camp, you'll go for the Galaxy Tab 10.1. But if you're open to tablet platforms, you have a real decision to make. Depending on your tablet needs, however, you may find your choice made for you, as both tablets have their share of strengths and shortcomings.

[ See all of InfoWorld's mobile deathmatch comparisons and personalize the tablet scores to your needs. | Compare the security and management capabilities of iOS, Windows Phone 7, Android, and more in InfoWorld's Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF report. ]

I put both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 through a series of tests to determine their respective strengths in areas such as email and calendar functionality, applications and app stores, and general performance, design, and usability. Overall, Android 3.1 coupled with Samsung's tablet design make for a strong competitor in terms of speed and browser capabilities, along with handy widgets to keep users abreast of incoming emails and other such notifications. Meanwhile, the iPad 2 is an admirable update to Apple's original groundbreaking tablet, showing more polish and better security than the Galaxy Tab 10.1, alongside having superior apps.

Deathmatch: Email, calendars, and contacts
For testing these essential business functions, I used personal accounts of IMAP, POP, and Gmail along with a work account of Exchange 2007. Both devices work directly with IMAP, Gmail, and POP; my email, email folders, calendars, and contacts all flowed effortlessly among the tablets, my laptop, and the server.

Both devices try to autodetect your settings wherever possible, though the iPad is much better at handling non-vanilla settings. Setting up Exchange access on both devices was simple. Unlike with Android smartphones, the Android 3 "Honeycomb" OS in the Galaxy Tab supports on-device encryption (though setup is a pain, as I describe later), so it easily connected to our corporate server and passed its Exchange ActiveSync policies. I particularly liked how the Galaxy Tab let me know specifically what permissions I was granting IT over the device -- details the iPad does not provide.

But the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was unable to set up access to my IMAP email account, unlike the iPad 2 and most other Android devices I've tested. It doesn't support the authentication method for outgoing mail that my ISP uses, so it refused to set up access to the email even for getting messages. Unlike the iPad, the Galaxy Tab doesn't let you set up an incomplete or "incorrect" account, so it's all or nothing. I got nothing.

I had similar issues trying to set up a separate POP email account, with the outgoing server being the obstacle. In this case, the SMTP server uses common settings, unlike my IMAP ISP provider, so it should have worked. I suspect this is an Android 3.1 issue, as I was able to set up these accounts using Android 3.0 on a beta version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Google says it believes the issue is caused by changes made to Android by Samsung, which did not respond to my repeated requests for an explanation.

The good news is that my Exchange email, contacts, and calendars flowed into the Galaxy Tab 10.1's apps, and its Email app allowed me to access and send my messages. I also was able to set up a Yahoo email address -- the Galaxy Tab even detected the settings automatically -- and use that for non-Exchange testing.

For Exchange, IMAP, and POP, the iPad 2 had no trouble at all setting up the email accounts. It all worked on the iPad.

Email messages. Working with emails is equivalent on the two tablets: Both use the large screen to provide common controls at all times, and when in landscape orientation, both let you see a selected email without opening it. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 displays mail as black text on a white background (as does the iPad 2), not as white text on a black background in the manner of Android smartphones. Thus, the messages are much more readable.

In both devices, you can reply, forward, mark as unread, delete, and move messages while reading them. You can also delete and move emails to folders from the message lists. On the iPad 2, you can easily delete individual messages from the email list: Swipe to the left or right and tap Delete. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, you long-tap (that is, tap and hold) the message to get a menu of options such as Delete and Open.

The iPad 2's email display keeps a folder or message list on the left and the message preview on the right, whereas the Galaxy Tab 10.1's display works more like Mac OS X's Columns view: If you tap an account, its folders appear at left, while the list of messages for the selected folder appear at right. If you select a message, the message list moves into the left column, and the right column becomes the message preview window. The iPad approach is more predictable, and the Galaxy Tab approach more flexible. For example, it allows you to drag a message from the list into a folder, which you can't do on an iPad because you can't see the folder and message lists simultaneously.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Hardware (10.0%)
Security and management (20.0%)
Web and Internet support (20.0%)
Application support (15.0%)
Usability (15.0%)
Business connectivity (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Apple iPad 2 8.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 8.5
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 8.0 7.0 9.0 7.0 8.0 7.0 7.7
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