Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: A slim and sexy Android tablet

Samsung's new tablet is the thinnest currently available -- but is it actually worth buying?

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Cameras, multimedia, and more

Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash and 720p-quality HD video recording. The Tab also has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat, which can be accomplished through Google's preinstalled Google Talk program or through any number of third-party utilities. A gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light sensor and compass are also all on-board.

The Galaxy Tab has stereo speakers along its side edges, about an inch and a half from the top of the device. I found the sound quality to be decent -- better than most mobile products, but still a bit tinny. The speakers on the Xoom, for instance, produced a fuller and richer sound to my ears, though their placement -- on the back side of the tablet -- is undoubtedly inferior.

In terms of connectivity, the Galaxy Tab is pretty limited. A headphone jack sits on the top edge of the tablet, alongside the power button and volume rocker. The bottom of the unit has just a single port for Samsung's proprietary charging/connection cable. The cable -- included with the tablet -- allows you to connect the unit directly to your PC, where you can access it like an external hard drive and drag and drop files as you wish.

What's missing

For all its assets, Samsung's new Galaxy Tab is missing several significant elements that could go a long way in differentiating it from Apple's market-leading iPad tablet. The Tab 10.1 has no microSD card slot and consequently does not support external storage. It lacks a USB port, meaning Tab users won't be able to natively take advantage of Android 3.1's USB host functionality. The Galaxy Tab has no dedicated HDMI out port, either, and -- unlike the Motorola Xoom -- has no LED indicators to alert you of new e-mails, the tablet's charging status or other relevant messages.

Some of these omissions will be corrected with third-party accessories Samsung will sell in the future. But they're not built into or included with the tablet, as is the case with some of the Tab's competitors.

The bottom line

Available now only at New York City's Union Square store, Wi-Fi versions of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be available nationwide on June 17. The 16GB model will sell for $499; a 32GB edition will run $599. Verizon Wireless will also offer 4G versions of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 starting in July; those models will cost $529.99 for 16GB or $629.99 for 32GB and will require two-year contract commitments.

All considered, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is an impressive tablet with an outstanding form. Its slim profile and sleek appearance make it a standout item in a field of often indistinguishable contenders. The Tab's "sexy" factor is sure to catch the eye of many an eager buyer, and -- combined with its $499 starting price and Samsung's past success with Android smartphones -- may very well position the Tab to become Android's first breakout star in the booming tablet market.

For casual users who want to venture outside of Apple's carefully controlled walls, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is an excellent option -- easily the best available right now. For users who want extra bells and whistles and don't mind taking on a little extra weight for those features, a more robust tablet like the Motorola Xoom or the upcoming Toshiba Thrive may be a better choice. Frankly, the differences in design are subjective; as smartphones have shown us, some people prefer a sturdier, more heavy-duty look over the shiny and smooth curves employed by the Tab.

Finally, for Android enthusiasts who prefer Google's stock Honeycomb experience -- and who place great importance in receiving quick updates to the Android operating system as they become available -- it is difficult to wholeheartedly recommend the Galaxy Tab. Samsung is offering no guarantee that it'll provide a stock Android upgrade path into the future, and even the software on the tablet at launch, while technically stock-based, has a handful of OS-level modifications in place.

The Xoom is the reference model used by Android engineers; if you want "pure" Google software and the first shot at future upgrades, it's probably still your safest bet.

JR Raphael is a syndicated writer and the author of Computerworld's Android Power blog. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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