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Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 review: A pricey tablet not worth a 2-year contract

MSRP: $399.00

The Good The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is a well-designed tablet with powerful speakers, a responsive screen, and expandable storage.

The Bad The tablet is overpriced, its dual-core CPU has trouble running large 1080p movies smoothly, and its screen color accuracy isn't as high as the previous Tab 10.1's.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 comes up short in performance, features, and value compared with competing tablets.

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6.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was one of the premier Android tablets when it launched in 2011, with specs that, at the very least, matched top-tier Android tablets at the time.

Unfortunately, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 feels almost like a disappointing prequel, rather than a full-fledged "we've improved everything" sequel. Also, the asking price for the cellular versions -- both on and off contract -- is too high, given its offerings.

Design
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is both slightly heavier and a bit less svelte than its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. It still sports the same plastic backside, but now comes in titanium silver as opposed to white.

The tablet feels comfortable in my hands, but it's a bit wide and feels awkward when trying to type and hold at the same time, even if you sport alienlike, Arsenio Hall-length fingers, like me. Also, the bezel isn't completely flush with the outer casing of the tablet, creating a slightly annoying edge.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Asus Transformer Pad TF300 Acer Iconia Tab A510
Weight in pounds 1.28 1.24 1.4 1.48
Width in inches (landscape) 10.1 10.1 10.4 10.3
Height in inches 6.9 6.9 7.1 6.9
Depth in inches 0.38 0.34 0.38 0.46
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.74 0.8 0.9 0.8

When held in landscape, the top edge of the tablet seats five features: from left, there's a power/sleep button, a volume rocker, a 32GB-capacity microSD slot, an IR blaster, and a headphone jack. In addition, two 2-inch-long speakers stretch vertically along the left and right bezel. A dock connector and microphone pinhole sit along the bottom edge.

The Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 trades in its predecessor's 2-megapixel front camera for a VGA one, and while it retains a 3-megapixel rear camera, the LED support light has been excised. There's no HDMI option, unfortunately, requiring you to purchase an additional accessory if you have plans to connect the tablet to a TV.

Josh Miller/CNET

Software features
The Tab 2 10.1 is the second Samsung tablet, after the Tab 2 7.0, to ship with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.3, to be precise) installed. Although the Wi-Fi version is now upgradeable to Jelly Bean, there are currently no plans to offer the same for the cellular versions.

Samsung's TouchWiz UX skin is of course included and comes with custom Samsung apps like Music Hub, Media Hub, and Game Hub, a built-in screenshot app, and the Mini Apps tray located on the bottom of the screen. Tapping it brings up a tray of apps consisting of a calculator, notes, calendar, music player, and clock. However, the most useful of these is still the task manager, which allows you to quickly kill any app running in the background; this comes in handy when apps become otherwise unresponsive.

Josh Miller/CNET

The basic look and design of ICS are retained, just with a TouchWiz skin and a few extra shortcuts for quickly turning off Wi-Fi, GPS, screen rotation, and so on.

Peel's Smart Remote app
The IR blaster found on the Tab 2 7.0 makes its way to the Tab 2 10.1 and, in conjunction with Peel's included Smart Remote app, helps turn your tablet into a remote control for your TV. Peel can take the place of your cable or satellite channel guide and display a list of shows currently playing locally on your cable or satellite provider's channels. Go to the currently playing tab and click on a show, and your TV switches to the appropriate channel. Peel does a great job of holding your hand initially through a step-by-step set-up wizard. The set-up requires only that you know your TV manufacturer's name, your cable/satellite provider, and your ZIP code. Thankfully, Peel spares us from having to know any more-detailed information; however, be aware that Smart Remote does not work with regular monitors, only TVs or monitor/TV combos.

Once it's set up, you can browse shows by category, mark shows as favorites, or prevent shows you'd rather not see listed from showing up again. Thankfully, Smart Remote now syncs with over-the-air listings, but its accuracy as to which shows and channels were available to me left a bit to be desired.

Navigating the interface took some getting used to, but was easy enough to pick up; however, I took issue with the method by which cable TV screen menus are controlled by the interface. Peel went with a swipe interface that requires you to flick the screen in one of four directions to highlight different menus. While this method works, and after some time could be gotten used to, I would have much preferred more direct directional controls.

As I learned with the Tab 2 10.1, Smart Remote's accuracy is very closely dictated by the information cable and satellite providers choose to release. So, while the Smart Remote guide might have indicated that "Law & Order" was on right now on Channel 12, selecting it didn't always take me to the appropriate channel. In addition, sometimes the channel wasn't available to me or there was a different show on the channel at that time.

While Peel's Smart Remote is still missing some features, it's well-implemented overall. However, I'm still waiting for Hulu and Netflix integration, and an actual search feature would be useful. Also, while I found that the remote reliably functions from 10 to 20 feet away, performance is definitely more reliable within 8 feet. Also, the tablet does not handle obstructions like coffee tables as well as my normal remote does, requiring you to be much more precise when aiming it.

Hardware features
The Tab 2 10.1 houses a 1GHz dual-core OMAP 4430 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. Tablet mainstays like 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 3.0, and GPS are included as well as gyroscope, accelerometer, and digital compass support.

Josh Miller/CNET

The larger speakers deliver louder sound, but unfortunately don't exceed the apparent quality limitations most tablets adhere to.

Performance
The Tab 2 10.1 uses the same PLS-based panel tech the Tab 10.1 does, running at a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels. Its clarity is as high as the original Tab's, but either there are different tiers of quality when it comes to PLS panels, or Samsung really didn't devote much time or effort to calibrating the Tab 2 10.1's color. Like the Tab 2 7.0, the Tab 2 10.1's screen looks noticeably greener and colors appear washed out compared with those of the original 10.1.

Tested spec Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Acer Iconia Tab A510 Asus Transformer Pad TF300
Maximum brightness (Super IPS) 380 cd/m2 336 cd/m2 353 cd/m2 331 cd/m2
Default brightness 213 cd/m2 336 cd/m2 118 cd/m2 135 cd/m2
Maximum black level (Super IPS) 0.39 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2 0.22 cd/m2 0.22 cd/m2
Default black level 0.22 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2 0.08 cd/m2 0.09 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 974:1 1,120:1 1,475:1 1,504:1
Maximum contrast ratio (Super IPS) 968:1 1,120:1 1,604:1 1,500:1

When swiping through screens and navigating menus, the screen matches the sensitivity of some the most responsive Android screens out there, like on the Transformer Pad TF300. Also, apps launch without delay and settings menu options appear readily after tapping them.

Web and app download speeds under Wi-Fi matched most other Android tablets when within 5 feet of our test router, and even when up to 20 feet away, the connection retained much of its strength. While scrolling through Web sites was smooth, there was a noticeable degree of clipping as the processor attempted to keep up with its rendering duties. Scrolling through a page once or twice, however, solved the clipping issue.

Josh Miller/CNET

I had the opportunity to test only the Sprint version of the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. The tablet includes the app Sprint Hotspot, which allows you to use the Tab 2 10.1 as a hotspot providing an Internet connection for other devices. At and around the San Francisco CNET building, I could only get a maximum of three bars and as a result, download speeds were much slower other 4G devices under more prolific carriers.

Thanks to its hardware scalability, I used Riptide GP as a games performance benchmark. Depending on the speed of the tablet's CPU, Riptide GP will deliver a noticeable increase or decrease in frame rate. The Tab 2 10.1's TI OMAP 4430 CPU delivers decent, playable frame rates but can't approach the nearly 60fps smoothness we see on something like the Nexus 10. It's not choppy and it's pretty consistent, but it's just not as buttery-smooth.

As mentioned, the Tab 2 10.1 has a front-facing VGA camera and a 3-megapixel back camera. Compared with the Tab 10.1, the difference between images and video recorded on the front camera was quickly apparent. A picture of my face taken with the VGA camera, for example, lacked many embarrassing and detailed blemishes, while a similar pic from the Tab 10.1's 2-megapixel retained many of the facial "features" I'd rather people not see.

Josh Miller/CNET

The 3-megapixel back camera fared better, capturing more details, but the Tab 2 10.1's pictures still looked washed out and lacked detail and contrast. While the Tab 10.1's camera took a longer time to focus, it resulted in higher-quality pictures.

The 720p video playback from outside sources was smooth and crisp; 1080p files that were only a couple hundred megabytes in size, played fine, but files that were larger, say 1GB, looked less like a moving picture and more like a slideshow of images. That's one of the ways that Tegra 3 clearly enhances the Android tablet experience.

Our Tab 2 10.1's battery drained fairly quickly with normal use over the course of several hours. 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 2 10.1 6.2

Conclusion
The Tab 2 10.1 is available starting at $499 from T-Mobile and AT&T, and $549 from Sprint. Those are the month-to-month contract prices. Signing a two-year contract gets you $100 off at each carrier. The problem here however is twofold: First, the tablet market is still too young and moves way too fast to commit two full years to one. And two, even when it launched in 2012, I had a difficult time justifying even $400 for the Wi-Fi version of the Tab 2 10.1.

The reality is that 4G tablets are just expensive -- thanks to the hardware, yes, but much more significantly to the licensing fees the manufacturer has to pay in order to use that hardware. That’s what drives up the price and what makes 4G tablets a tough sell.

So while the Wi-Fi version is a fine tablet, especially if you can get it for less than $400, the 4G cellular version isn't worth its high asking price given the state of the rest of its specs.

With that kind of competition, it's difficult to see the Tab 2 10.1 as anything other than an overpriced sequel that comes up short in performance and isn't exactly setting the world afire with unique features. IR blasters are nice, but can't compare with HDMI and quad-core power.

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