Most of Samsung's recent tablets have been decidedly mid-range. Mediocre screen resolution, budget processors, plastic builds ... these qualities have gone hand-in-hand with just about all of the company's tablet efforts. But 2014 is a different story, with Samsung's high-end Galaxy Pro tablets hitting store shelves. We'll be reviewing all of them soon, but today we're starting with the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1.
If you look at Samsung's new tablets through the lens of equivalent Apple products, then the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 is the company's iPad Air rival. And you wouldn't be crazy for making that comparison. Not only are the two devices' measurements only off by a few millimeters, their weights are identical. For the Tab Pro, that's a good thing. Like the iPad Air, this sucker is very light, very thin, and a pleasure to hold.
On the tablet's back, we have the faux leather finish that Samsung has fallen in love with of late (we first saw it on the Galaxy Note 3). Pleather with fake stitching may sound a little tacky (oh, who am I kidding, it sounds extremely tacky), but I actually think it works. It's lightweight, slightly soft in hand, and lends itself to a premium aesthetic. Not an authentically premium aesthetic, mind you. But in terms of experience, it's a nice alternative to the aluminum and matte or glossy plastic that you'll find on every other tablet. It looks sharp and feels great in hand.
The Tab Pro 10.1 has a terrific display. As its name suggests, it's a 10.1-in diagonal, with a 16:10 aspect ratio. That's more elongated than the iPad's 4:3 screen, making the Tab better for holding in landscape mode. Samsung agrees, and positioned its navigation buttons accordingly. And unlike the iPad, you can watch videos without sandwiching your movie between giant black bars (here they're much smaller black bars).
Speaking of navigation buttons, we have Samsung's customary physical home button flanked by two capacitive touch keys. But this time around a recent apps key takes the place of the old menu key. I find this to be a welcome change. Most Android apps are going to have onscreen menu triggers anyway, so this switch just makes jumping to your recently-used apps that much quicker and easier.
The Tab's screen is also very sharp, at 2,560 x 1,600 and 299 pixels per inch. If you need a frame of reference, that's the same size and resolution we saw in both the Nexus 10 and Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition (both Samsung affairs). The pixels aren't packed quite as densely here as they are on its little brother, the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4, but there's really nothing to complain about. The display is very bright, colors are rich and varied, viewing angles are great, and everything looks crisp. And though the iPad Air's display is very good too, I think the Tab Pro's screen pops a little more.
On the software end we're greeted by Samsung's familiar TouchWiz UI, along with a new "Magazine UX" on the home screen. It's a series of permanent widgets that look like a cross between Flipboard and Windows 8 live tiles. You can customize the widgets with news feeds from various broad categories like "news," "technology," and sports" (the feeds are powered by Flipboard). There's also a separate screen with Magazine widgets for email, calendar, and the Hancom Office suite.
App selection is the biggest reason to hesitate about the new Galaxy Tab. It isn't bad by any means, and is no better or worse than any other Android tablet, with the Google Play Store's solid selection on board. It's just that when you compare it to the iPad's App Store, you'll see that the Play Store's tablet selection still has some catching up to do. You still run into a fair amount of smartphone apps stretched out for the big screen: perfectly functional, but they don't always look so hot on that spacious display.
The best part of the Tab Pro's software is its side-by-side multitasking, or "Multi Window." Swipe over from the right side of the screen, drag and drop another app from the launch bar that pops up, and you can run two apps next to each other. You can even slide your finger to change how much of the screen each app takes up. That's a very nice perk that iPads, and most other Android tablets, don't currently offer.
The Tab Pro 10.1 has terrific battery life. In fact, you'd have to work really hard to drain this sucker in one day. In our standard test, where we stream video over Wi-Fi with brightness set at 75 percent, it lasted almost exactly nine hours. That's a little bit off the record pace set by Apple's latest iPads, but it also looks like the Tab Pro's screen is brighter. With a similar battery test based on an absolute light output level, I wouldn't be surprised if the Tab Pro came out a little ahead. Either way, none of these tablets' batteries should give you any problems.
The Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 is easily one of the best Android tablets money can buy. On a hardware level, I'd say it's one of the best tablets, period. Its killer features are its gorgeous screen and soft, feathery-light build. But its zippy performance and outstanding battery life are also among the best. I could take or leave Samsung's Magazine UX widgets, and TouchWiz has always been a polarizing software interface. And again, Android's tablet app selection isn't on par with the iPad's. But taken as a whole, those are pretty minor nitpicks for what's otherwise a top-notch tablet.
Samsung priced the Tab Pro 10.1 at the same US$500 starting price as the iPad Air. It would have been nice to see it ring up a little lower, but even at that price, I think it's worth a look next to Apple's tablet.
The Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 is available now from a variety of retailers, including the product page below.
Product page: Samsung
See the stories that matter in your inbox every morning