Samsung was the first manufacturer to provide a credible iPad competitor with its original Samsung Galaxy Tab and now the company is back with a bigger and better tablet — the powerful Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v.

Design and display

Like the Samsung Galaxy S II Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v is made from sturdy feeling plastic and has a carbonlike finish on the rear. This adds style, and makes the tablet easy to grip. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v feels well built despite its plastic body and manages to remain lightweight at 599g. However, it does lack the premium feel of the iPad 2 and the rear casing creaks when pressed near the charging port.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v's power button and volume control are the only physical buttons on the tablet. A side mounted headphone jack, a bottom mounted proprietary charging/synchronising port and a SIM card slot keep the Galaxy Tab 10.1v's shell relatively clean looking. Like the iPad 2, the Galaxy Tab 10.1v doesn't have a memory card slot for extra storage, so the 16GB of internal memory will quickly fill up if you store a lot of videos and photos on the device.

As its name suggests, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v has a 10.1in capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 1280x800. The original Galaxy Tab had a 7in display, and the new model competes directly with the 9.7in iPad 2. The screen is crisp and clear and has excellent brightness. However, it shares two flaws with the iPad 2. The Galaxy Tab 10.1v is almost impossible to see in direct sunlight, and the display quickly becomes a grubby mess after limited use.

Software and performance

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v is one of the first tablets to run Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb platform, which has been specifically designed for tablets. The software is a "vanilla" version of the Honeycomb OS, so it doesn't come with any Samsung UI overlays like the Galaxy S Android phone does.

Android 3.0 Honeycomb has a completely redesigned interface that aims to take advantage of the larger screen. New UI features include an "action bar", a contextual option group displayed at the top of the screen, five customisable home screens with a big emphasis on widgets, a recent apps list for easier multitasking, a redesigned on-screen keyboard, a new browser and improved copy and paste.

Most of the changes are positive. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v's web browser is slick, fast and displays Flash content, most of the time with minimal delay. It also supports tabbed web browsing and out of the tablet devices and smartphones we've tested it comes closest to offering the browsing experience delivered by a full PC. The Honeycomb user interface, particularly the home screen, looks striking and is easy to use, and the handling of notifications is excellent. The recent apps list also makes flicking back and forth between recently used programs a breeze. We also love the flexibility of live widgets, and they are particularly useful on a tablet device with much more screen real estate than a smartphone. The on screen keyboard is also spacious and comfortable to type on once you get used to its layout.

Unfortunately, using the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v on a day-to-day basis isn't all positive. The web browser still automatically switches to mobile versions of many websites (including Facebook) and Flash video performance, a key advantage the Galaxy Tab 10.1v is claimed to hold over the iPad 2, is hit and miss. Sometimes, the browser would crash trying to load Flash-heavy sites, while other times it would load them almost perfectly. Trying to browse Twitter through the browser, for example, was also clunky at best. We also noticed that the home screen lagged if it was populated with more than two or three widgets.

Samsung was keen to point out that our Galaxy Tab 10.1v review unit was not running the final software it will ship with, so some of these issues may not be present in the final product. An issue that will remain is the fact that many applications in the Android Market, including official Twitter and Facebook apps, have not yet been optimised for tablets.

Default apps like Maps, Gmail and YouTube worked excellently, and there are a handful of downloadable apps like Angry Birds and Pulse News Reader that filled the screen perfectly and worked without issue. But many apps in the Android Market simply resize to fit the screen, looking odd, or don't resize at all. While this will change over time as the platform evolves and develops, it means the out of box experience of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v is much inferior to that of the iPad 2, and even the original iPad.

Other features

One advantage the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v Android tablet definitely holds over the iPad 2 is its cameras. It has a rear 8-megapixel rear camera that doubles as a 1080p HD video recorder, and a 2-megapixel front camera for video calls. Both take significantly better quality photos and video than the iPad 2. The interface of the camera app is also superb, but it is a shame you can't use the physical volume buttons to zoom in and out. Unfortunately, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v lacks HDMI connectivity, so you can't hook it up to a television or monitor.

Samsung claims the Galaxy Tab 10.1v's battery is good for seven hours of video playback, which is less than the iPad 2's 10 hour figure but still respectable. In our testing, the Galaxy Tab 10.1v often lasted over two days with moderate use, a fair result for a tablet and a significantly better figure than pre-Honeycomb Android tablets.

OUR VERDICT

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v and its Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system offer a credible alternative to the iPad 2, but one that falls behind Apple when it comes to general usability and slickness. The Galaxy Tab 10.1v is a nice, albeit incomplete feeling, start to life with Honeycomb.