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

RELATED TOPICS

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.

[ InfoWorld's Galen Gruman says "Whatever you do, don't buy a Chromebook." | 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 3.0 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 smartphones, 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 is checking into this issue but had no answers by press time; I'll update this review once the cause is clear.

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.

Test Center Scorecard

Web and Internet support

Business connectivity

Application support

Security and management

Usability

Hardware

Overall score

20%

20%

15%

20%

15%

10%

Apple iPad 2

9

8

9

7

9

9

8.4, very good

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

9

7

8

6

9

9

7.9, good

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 stumbles over not retaining the subfolder relationships in Exchange; instead, it displays all folders and subfolders in one big list. Well, not all -- some of my Exchange subfolders went missing. In IMAP accounts, you also get a big folders list, but at least the IMAP list displays the parent folder as part of the subfolder name -- such as InfoWorld/Newsletters and InfoWorld/Authors -- so that you have a clue to the original hierarchy. Also for IMAP accounts, the Galaxy Tab doesn't display your junk folders; you can't scan for misflagged emails as you would on the iPad.

In a stupendous omission, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has no facility for searching emails. In fact, there's no systemwide Search button on the Galaxy Tab as there are on all Android smartphones such as Motorola's own Atrix. By contrast, the iPad 2 displays the search box at the top of the message list and lets you constrain your search to the To, From, or Subject fields.

Getting to the top of your email list isn't so obvious on the iPad 2, though it is easy: Tap the top of the screen. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, there is no fast-jump capability, although you can find it on Android smartphones such as the Atrix.

In general, Android devices favor small text that is hard to read for my middle-aged eyes, and there are few controls to ameliorate their youth-oriented design. The iPad 2 lets you specify very readable sizes for the text in its Settings app. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 provides zoom controls at the bottom of your email window, but they appear only if you begin scrolling through the message. However, the zoom settings are retained for your other emails, except -- and unlike the iPad -- where the email's HTML formatting specifies a fixed size, which overrules your preferences.

Email management. Both devices support multiple accounts and universal inboxes. I prefer the way the Galaxy Tab 10.1 navigates among email accounts: Tap the account name at the top left of the Email app to summon a pull-down menu listing each account and the Combined Account, which shows a universal inbox. The iPad 2 also has a universal inbox, as well as an inbox for each active account. Below the inboxes are a list of accounts that, when opened, show all the folders for that account in a nice hierarchical display. I don't think the iPad needs the two lists; the universal inbox followed by the individual accounts would be just as easy and less cluttered. This is a case where the Galaxy Tab 10.1's UI surpasses that of the iPad 2.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 separates Google email into the separate Gmail app -- a longtime Android OS behavior imposed by Google. Although you must have a Google account to use the Galaxy Tab, you don't have to work with Gmail if you don't want to.

The iPad 2 has a message-threading capability, which organizes your emails based on subject; you click an icon to the left of a message header to see the related messages. That adds more clicks to go through messages, but at least finding the messages is substantially easier. (The iPad's iOS 4 lets you disable threading.) The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has no equivalent. Instead, it lets you flag emails, then see all flagged emails via the virtual Starred folder.

Using the basic version of Quickoffice included with the tablet, you can open images on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, as well as PDF and Office files; after tapping the Attachments link, you get a list of attachments and an option to view or save each one. The iPad 2's native Quick Look viewer handles a nice range of formats, and it opens attachments with one tap (downloading them if needed at the same time). Of course, on either device, to edit those files you'll need an office app such as Quickoffice Mobile Connect Suite or Documents to Go Premium. The iPad 2 -- still! -- doesn't open Zip files without the aid of a third-party app such as the $1 ZipThat. For that matter, neither does the Galaxy Tab 10.1, though opening Zip files is a standard capability on Android OS 2.x-based smartphones.

Both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 remember the email addresses of senders you reply to, adding them to a database of contacts that's automatically scanned as you tap characters into the To and Cc fields. Both devices let you add email addresses to your contacts list, either by tapping them (on the iPad) or long-tapping them (on the Galaxy Tab).

Contacts and calendars. Both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 offer three of the same calendar views: day, week, and month. But only the iPad 2 supports the list (agenda) view. Moving among months is easy on both, as is shifting between weeks on the Galaxy Tab, and both can display multiple calendars simultaneously. The iPad 2 makes it slightly easier to switch through week or month views, thanks to on-screen buttons and sliders, but this is a minor advantage. The two devices also have comparable recurring-event capabilities.

Both the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad 2 can send invitations to others as you add appointments. But whereas the iPad invitations are sent immediately, the Galaxy Tab invitations take tens of minutes to show up. On the iPad 2, your invitations for Exchange accounts show up in your calendar as a pop-up; you can accept them there within the full context of your other appointments. For both Exchange and other email accounts, you can open the .ics invitation files in Mail, then add them to the calendar of your choice. On the Galaxy Tab, the Calendar app automatically adds Exchange invitations to your calendar with Maybe status, which is not apparent until you open the appointment. You can open Exchange invitations in the Email app, as well as accept or decline the invitation. But you can't open .ics invitations sent to POP or IMAP accounts.

Both the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 have capable Contacts apps, but navigating through entries on the iPad is easier. You can jump to names by tapping a letter, such as "t," to get to people whose last names begin with "t," or search quickly for someone in the Search field by tapping part of the name. On the Galaxy Tab, a blue box appears to the side of the contacts list as you begin scrolling, and if you drag it, you can scroll through the letters of the alphabet to find the contact you seek. It's not as simple as the iPad approach, and its "secret handshake" nature means many users won't know it exists.

On the iPad 2, to search your contacts, drag up above the first contact to reveal the Search box. On the Galaxy Tab 10.1, you can do the same by clicking the Search button. You can also designate users as favorites, to put them in a shorter Favorites list. The iPad 2 doesn't have a similar capability.

The iPad 2 supports email groups, but you can't create them on the device; they must be synced from your computer's contacts application. Also, you can't pick a group in the iPad 2's Mail address fields. Instead, you select a group, then open it up to select just one member, repeating this step to add more names. It's a really dumb approach to groups. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 both supports groups and lets you create them, though the process is unintuitive: When you add or edit a contact, there's a field in which you can select or create a group. You can't start by creating a group and then adding contacts to it; instead you have to go to each contact in turn. Also, the groups capability is not available for Exchange-based contacts. And you can't send email to groups, so this feature has little value.

RELATED TOPICS
1 2 3 4 Page
Top 10 Hot Internet of Things Startups
View Comments
You Might Like
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies