The iPad Finally Has a Worthy Rival: Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1

Apple may be the world’s largest electronics company as measured by market capitalization, but Samsung is the largest by sales. So it makes sense that the Seoul, Korea-based giant—not Microsoft, not HP, not Motorola, not Dell—would the first to compete seriously in the market that Apple invented last year with the introduction of the iPad. If Samsung wants to stay on top, it needs a tablet device that compares well not just with the iPad, but with the sleeker, more powerful iPad 2.

And that, I can now tell you first-hand, is exactly what the new Galaxy Tab 10.1 does. When you hear “Galaxy Tab,” erase any thoughts you may have of the awkward, plasticky, overgrown phone that Samsung brought out under that name last September. The 10.1 is so different from its predecessor that it really deserves a new name rather than a number (the “10.1” refers to the screen’s diagonal size in inches, which is slightly larger than the screen on the iPad 2). My vote would be to call it the “Me2Pad”—that’s how similar this device is to its Apple cousin, at least in outward appearance and physical characteristics. The software inside is another matter: the Galaxy Tab’s Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” operating system couldn’t be more different from Apple’s iOS. But more on that in a moment.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be available in U.S. retail stores starting June 8, at price points that match Apple’s: $499 for a 16-gigabyte unit, $599 for 32 gigabytes. (There’s no 64-gigabyte version.) I’ve been testing the device since Tuesday, when I was one of 5,000 attendees at the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco who were given free units, courtesy of Google and Samsung.

Don’t worry, we haven’t changed our policy on gifts at Xconomy—we don’t accept them, and as soon as we’re done reviewing this unit, we’re probably going to give it away to someone in our community (stay tuned for the details). Meanwhile, though, I wanted to describe some of my early impressions of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and tell you why I think it’s the first device worth considering as a serious alternative to the iPad 2. I’m not necessarily saying you should spend your $499 on a Galaxy Tab rather than an iPad; I’m just saying it’s the first iPad rival that can’t be dismissed out of hand.

Let’s start with the hardware. With its aluminum rim and its black bezel, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 can easily be mistaken from a distance for a black iPad. Once you get closer, though, you notice that the screen has a different shape: it has a widescreen 1.6:1 aspect ratio, in contrast to the iPad’s 4:3 ratio. I think that gives the Galaxy Tab an advantage in some situations, such as watching a wide-screen movie in landscape orientation or reading long Web pages in portrait orientation.

In most other physical respects, the Galaxy Tab and the iPad 2 are effectively identical. The Galaxy Tab weighs slightly less (595 grams compared to 601 grams) and is thinner by a hair (8.6 millimeters compared to 8.8 millimeters). Its screen has a few more pixels, meaning the resolution is slightly higher—1280×800 compared to 1024×768.

But a tablet computer is really just a magical glass touchscreen; it’s the apps that run on it that count. And in this department, Apple still has a huge advantage. There are more than 80,000 apps designed specifically for the iPad, compared to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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