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: 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.

The iPad 2's optional magnetic Smart Cover is smartly designed. It snaps into place quickly, folds out of the way easily, helps clean fingerprints on the screen, and remained snuggly attached in my backpack tests. The cover ($40 for polyurethane and $80 for leather) does not protect the iPad 2's aluminum back, which may concern some users fearful of scratches, but there are plenty of cases, skins, and portfolios for such folks. I was disappointed that the Smart Cover doesn't affix magnetically to the back of the iPad 2; it only does so to the front. There are a few cases, skins, and portfolios for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 should you be concerned about damaging its screen or plastic case, but none have the imagination of Apple's Smart Cover.

Neither the iPad 2 nor Galaxy Tab 10.1 have ports in addition to the 30-pin dock/charging connector; the Galaxy Tab is much more minimalist than the Motorola Xoom, which boasts both a MicroUSB port and a Mini HDMI port. Both devices require USB adapters to connect to USB devices; the $29 iPad Camera Connection Kit's USB connectivity is limited to cameras and SD cards, whereas the Galaxy Tab 10.1's $20 USB adapter connects to storage devices, cameras, and input peripherals. The iPad 2 can mirror its display to VGA or HDMI using a $39 dock-to-HDMI cable or $29 VGA connector that other iOS devices also support. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 can connect only to HDMI using a $40 adapter cable. If you do a lot of typing, you can use Apple's $70 Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad 2; Samsung sells an $80 keyboard dock for the same purpose, though some Bluetooth keyboards also work with it. Note that the Samsung peripherals were unavailable for review, so I could not test them; the Apple peripherals all worked fine.

I found the iPad 2's screen easier to read -- both in sunlight and in office lighting -- than the Galaxy Tab's screen, which suffers from excessive reflectivity. I disliked the Galaxy Tab's widescreen (16:9) display, because Web pages and other content appear too squished in landscape mode. The iPad 2's old-fashioned 4:3 ratio is more comfortable for most apps; only when I'm watching HD movies do I wish the iPad 2 were widescreen.

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