Four years ago, I wrote a short blog post about the Nokia N800 “Internet Tablet”. Like its 2005 predecessor, the N770, it was a small, expensive device that let you use the internet everywhere you went. I probably would have gotten one if the whole netbook hype hadn’t happened. But as cool as netbooks were (and sometimes still are), they’re still “small laptops”. And while I was playing with Eee-PCs, tablets were getting increasingly alluring.
There are many devices that paved the way for the ultra-slick devices that tablets are nowaday. They all contributed ideas like using a mobile OS (The N770 ran Maemo), going with a bigger screen (CrunchPad, MS TabletPC) and using touch input (iPod Touch?). The result is that tablets are starting to become more uniform products. Pretty much all the devices released in the last year have screens ranging from 7″ to 10″, are light and thin, run a “phone OS” and have a camera on both their front and back.
The first device to really tie all of these “optimum specs” together was Apple’s iPad. They’ve pretty much created and subsequently dominated the tablet market, but viable alternatives are starting to emerge. Like the Asus Transformer and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. I’ve been using the latter for little over a week now, and I love it.
There are two versions of the Galaxy Tab 10.1. There’s an older, thicker model that you can with a Vodafone plan (10.1v), and there’s the newer, thinner 10.1. Mine is the 8.6mm “non-v”, and in terms of hardware, it’s excellent. It has the same Tegra2 CPU that all the other Android tablets have, and its screen is wonderful. Excellent image quality and snappy touch response.
The Tab doesn’t have a USB port or and SD card slot. There’s an Apple-style all-in-one connector on the bottom. You can get an adapter from Samsung that plugs in there if you really need to plug in your USB stick. Instead, I use an app called “AndSMB” to simply copy files onto the tablet from Samba shares. Besides, “uPnPlay” lets me watch movies without copying them at all. Right from my server.
Weight is an important factor in how you use your tablet. You can hold the Samsung with one hand. You wouldn’t want to watch an entire movie like that, but it works for things like text input. The back is glossy plastic, and it does get a little slippery sometimes. The plastic back allows the Galaxy Tab 10.1 to be one of the lightest tablets out there, notably lighter and thinner than the Acer Iconia for instance.
But no matter how small, light and sexy a device is, it’s useless without good software. And after playing with my Tab for a week it’s very clear that Honeycomb (Android 3.x) is still in its infancy. It works, but it doesn’t always make good use of the large screen. The browser crashed on me a couple of times, but admittedly with very complex websites.
The real downside to getting an Android tablet right now is that there aren’t many true “tablet apps”. Besides the excellent Gmail app that comes with Android, I found a good Twitter client (TweetComb), a nifty Facebook app (Friend Me), a remarkable feed reader (Feedly) and a couple of games. Most other apps run fine, but they simply stretch to fit the screen, resulting in unnaturally long lines of text and other awkward usability issues.
This situation is almost certain to resolve itself over the coming months. Given Android’s quick rise to dominance in the mobile OS market, developers are very likely to get on board. Existing apps will be updated, or get special “HD” versions, and new developers will try to get part of the Honeycomb app market. And meanwhile, I’m pretty sure Google’s hard at work on the next version of Android too.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 (non-v) is the current champion of Android tablets. It’s thinner and lighter than the iPad 2 and its screen is excellent. For the moment, it’s held back by its software platform. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad device. If you’re into Android, I’d recommend the Samsung over the iPad. If you’re not, I’d encourage you to tryi both before making up your mind.