For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been testing out Apple’s new iPad 2 against its most immediate competition, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1v. I should point out before I start this that I’ve been using an iPad (version 1) since Australian launch last year, whereas the Galaxy Tab 10.1v is much more of a newcomer. Android tablets have been available since last year, but the 10.1v is the first model in Australia to use Google’s tablet-specific version of Android, informally known as “Honeycomb”. Make of that potential bias what you will.
iPad 2 16GB: $579/$729
Galaxy Tab 10.1v: $729
The two pricing variants on the iPad2 are there as Apple offers it in both a with and without 3G option; if you see the cheaper iPad2, it’s the one that doesn’t offer mobile broadband, just WiFi. It’s pretty obvious that this is a clearly tied pricing race for comparable tablets, though.
There are catches to both approaches that may not be immediately evident. It’s possible to spend quite a bit more on an iPad2 — up to $949 — but that comes with increased storage capability, up to 64GB, where the 10.1v is a stock, set, unchangeable 16GB. On the flip side, the 10.1v, which is exclusive to Vodafone, is offered by the carrier under contract from as little as $39 a month with data included. From a budgetary perspective, that’s pretty compelling.
Look & Feel: Apple’s whole marketing schtick behind the iPad2 is that it’s slimmer than the original iPad, and this is indeed true; at 8.8mm thick it’s slender and tapered beautifully. The Galaxy Tab 10.1v is by comparison a chunky beast, but this hides something of a hidden advantage. The back of the tablet is textured and gently contoured inwards, making it easy to grip even without a case. By comparison, the iPad2’s back is relatively slippery unless you pop it in a case — at which point the thickness advantage goes away.
Base specifications: iPad2: Screen: 9.7″ 1024×768 Processor: Apple A5 Dual Core 1Ghz Memory: 16GB-64GB Galaxy Tab 10.1v: Screen: 10.1″ 1024×768 Processor: Nvidia Tegra 2 Dual Core 1GHz Memory: 16GB Again it’s pretty neck and neck; the larger screen of the 10.1v and improved resolution are nice, but the fact that it’s a fixed memory size is an oddity in the Android world and sticks out like a sore thumb.
Performance: This is a considerably more subjective thing, and a lot harder to call. There’s no doubt that Honeycomb is a much better version of Android than the previous tablets offered, as the native applications make better use of the screen space, the onscreen navigation is very snappy, the mail client works well and the browser is just that little bit quicker than the iPad2. Using the online Browsermark benchmark, I recorded a score of 88717 for the Galaxy Tab 10.1v compared to 70310 for the iPad2. If your application needs are modest, the Galaxy Tab 10.1v delivers nicely. The problem for Android is that there’s still a dearth of genuine “Honeycomb” applications for Android, and running older Android applications is a very hit and miss affair. Some scale up to the full screen neatly, while others occupy only a tiny area of the screen, or shrink everything down so small as to be useless. Comparatively, the iPad2 not only has a rich array of native applications on offer, but also scales up the vast majority of iPhone applications with only a little bit of pixel chunkiness as a drawback. Honeycomb should improve over time in this regard, but right now it’s not quite there.
Conclusions: The 10.1v is a solid iPad2 competitor, but it’s not quite there yet, and it’s something that Samsung’s all too well aware of. The company has already announced that newer models of the Galaxy Tab 10 will be forthcoming in slimmer frames and possibly with more storage. It’s good to see competition to Apple in this space, but for right now, I’d still say that the richer application infrastructure supporting the iPad2 makes it a better buy. If you’re staunchly anti-Apple for whatever reason, I reckon it’d still be worth saving your money for more Android tablets, and critically more native Honeycomb applications to hit the marketplace.