Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 review: Cute, compact, but functionally challenged

Other Samsung features are nice additions but didn't function well. The S Voice app often didn't recognize my voice commands, and I found it to be more maddening than helpful. The feature is activated by double-pressing the Home button but can be easily deactivate through the settings.

Say what?

Group Play, a feature that lets you share and edit files in real time with other Samsung users on the same Wi-Fi network, worked mostly as intended, but didn't always notify me when I'd successfully shared a file. The Tab 3 10.1 doesn't have the multiwindow feature that the 8-inch Tab 3 does, but it's probably for the best considering that it already weakly supports its single-window performance.

Hardware features
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 houses a 1.6GHz dual core Atom Z2560 CPU, 1GB RAM, and 16GB or 32GB of internal memory. I tested the 16GB model and it had about 11GB of free space out of the box. Its microSD expansion slot can support up to 64GB.

The IR blaster and microSD card slot are nice additions to the otherwise simple tablet. Josh Miller/CNET

Performance
Performance-wise, the tablet was responsive when doing simple activities like checking e-mail or reading an e-book, but, when it came to multitasking and switching quickly between apps, it was slow and frequently lagged. Performance speed noticeably took a dive if a few apps were open at once or while downloading files.

Tested spec Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Google Nexus 10 Apple iPad (fourth generation)
Maximum brightness 421 cd/m2 411 cd/m2 368 cd/m2 455 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.44 cd/m2 0.47 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 956 795 836 939

Despite impressive benchmark results, real-life gaming performance left much to be desired. Riptide GP ran smoothly and the graphics looked rather sharp, however, the Tab 3 10.1 performed painfully slowly when running N.O.V.A. 3. Loading each level took anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes, and the game occasionally suffered from choppy frame rates and lagging. The long load times would effectively put the kibosh on any kind of groove or rhythm you might have established from the previous level, rendering the tablet unfit for serious gamers.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z2560 PowerVR SGX544MP (dual-core) 1GB Android 4.2.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Quad (4412) Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.1.2
Google Nexus 10 1.7GHz Dual-core Samsung Exynos 5 Dual (5250) Mali-T604 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.2.2
Apple iPad (fourth generation) 1.4GHz dual-core Apple A6X PowerVR SGX554MP4 (quad-core) 1GB iOS 6.1.3

3DMark (normal)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Graphics Test 1 Normal (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Graphics Test 2 Normal (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Although the tablet never crashed or froze on me, it was occasionally buggy. It asked me to update apps that had no updates available, dropped Wi-Fi connections randomly, and frequently displayed old notifications.

The tablet's Wi-Fi speeds were directly, and sometimes dramatically, affected by how close it was to the router. The time it took to download Deer Hunter Reloaded continually increased the farther away the Tab 3 10.1 got from the router. In comparison, the Nexus 10 showed some slowing down as well, but still outperformed the Tab 3 10.1 by a long shot.

Download time (in minutes) Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 Google Nexus 10
1-foot distance 2:38 2:08
10-foot distance 5:09 3:28
20-foot distance 10:34 3:27
The headphone jack sits a little awkwardly on the top-left corner. Josh Miller/CNET

The speakers produce decent and balanced audio quality. At full volume they're pretty loud for a tablet and the move to outward-facing speakers, instead of front-facing ones, didn't negatively affect my listening experience.

Neither of the tablet's cameras have manual focus or flash. The rear 3.2-megapixel camera took clear photos, although they weren't the sharpest, and it did a good job at replicating life-like colors. The front camera is a little soft but otherwise takes well-exposed photos.

The 3.2-megapixel rear camera is decent but probably not worth taking it out of your bag to snap a shot.

The tablet's 10.1-inch TFT LCD screen gets the job done but is rather unimpressive. It wins points with its high maximum brightness and deep black levels, but its resolution is average, if not subpar by today's standard, at 1,280x800 pixels. It was visibly less sharp than the Nexus 10 when it came to images, video, and text, but it replicated color saturation more vibrantly. The screen was very responsive to touch but often suffered from the tablet's tendency to lag when trying to do too much at one time.

Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here .

Video battery life (in hours)
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 8.3

The family of Tab
The 10-inch Tab 3 is one of three Tab 3s now in the market. There's also an 8-incher and a 7-incher. We got the 8-inch version at the same time as the 10-incher, but have yet to receive the 7-inch Tab 3.

The screen is a bright feature. Literally. Josh Miller/CNET

After handling the Tab 3 10.1 like a temperamental toddler, using the 8-incher was a refreshing change. It matches its sleek and light design with good performance and useful features, deeming it the best pick out of the two. Although the Tab 3 10.1 includes many of the same features, it's missing the multiscreen option, has a much lower screen ppi, and suffers from too many functionality issues for a $400 device. Since the 7-inch Tab 3 has yet to arrive, judging by its disappointing specs, we're keeping our expectations low.

Conclusion

My experience with the Tab 3 10.1 was more frustrating than functional. Even while cutting it some slack for being a midrange tablet that's impressively small and light for a 10-inch device, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 fails to make a good case for taking it home.

The tablet's specs resemble the Tab 2 10.1's too closely to be considered an actual upgrade. The Tab 3 10.1's tendency to lag coupled with its flawed navigation array functionality don't justify the starting price of $399. For the same amount of money, you can get the Google Nexus 10, which offers faster performance, a better screen, and no frustratingly sensitive capacitive buttons.

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    Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 (10.1-inch, white)

    Part Number: CNETGalaxyTab3-10
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    Quick Specifications See All

    • Regional specs shown for US. UK specs are unavailable.

    • Wireless Connectivity Bluetooth 4.0
      3G Wireless
      4G LTE
      Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
    • Type Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
    • Weight 510 g
    • Operating System Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)
    • Storage 16 GB
    • Processor Intel Atom Z2560
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