Hands-on with Tab 10.1's TouchWiz update

CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell gives the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1's new TouchWiz software update a try and describes its high and low points.

Galaxy Tab 10.1 with TouchWiz home screen.
Samsung's latest TouchWiz user interface for Android 3.1 offers some useful enhancements to the Galaxy Tab 10.1, along with some unwelcome redundancy. Screenshot by Donald Bell/CNET

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet owners are poised to receive a free software update tomorrow, bringing new apps, new features, and a new user interface. The over-the-air update comes by way of Samsung's TouchWiz software, which puts the company's unique spin on Google's Android 3.1, and further distinguishes its product from the herd of similarly spec'd Honeycomb tablets on the market.

This morning we outlined many of the new features users can expect, including a revamped Media Hub storefront, a new Music Hub store, and Live Panel widgets.

After getting our hands on an early release, we feel confident declaring the update a worthwhile improvement to an already great tablet. You can see many of the new features for yourself in the screenshot gallery below.

Personally, I feel that the update's standout feature is the new Mini Apps tray located on the bottom of the screen. This is a tray of utility apps (notes, calculator, calendar, task managers, and so on) that is hidden from view until you pull up from the bottom of the screen. Once a Mini App is launched, it floats as a window on top of the currently running app, offering a handy way to take notes while reading or consult your calendar while in e-mail. It's a trick that no other Honeycomb tablet (or the iPad, for that matter) can pull off.

Now for the bad news. In Samsung's zeal to put its mark on Android it has created many apparently redundant apps. Open up the app list and you'll find Samsung's e-mail app alongside Google's Gmail, Samsung eBooks next to Google Books and Amazon Kindle, Samsung Music Hub next to Google Music, and a Samsung-designed app labeled "Video" next to a Google-designed app labeled "Videos." As a reviewer I can empathize with Samsung's instinct to offer something beyond the stock Honeycomb experience, but I fear that all these overlapping apps may confuse new users expecting something closer to Apple's "it just works" philosophy.

Still, whatever minor complaints I may have, the software update itself gets an unequivocal thumbs-up, and further carves out the Galaxy Tab 10.1's place among its Android Honeycomb competition.

 

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