Nov, 19 2010

The holiday season’s coming up and I’m willing to bet a lot of people are in the market for a nice tablet device to give to their loved ones or to make for a nice gift for themselves. The question: what should they buy? Not too long ago, the obvious answer was “iPad.” It wasn’t the first tablet ever to come out, but it was the only modern tablet that could break into mainstream and get people ready to spend hundreds of dollars for what most ended up calling an oversized iPod Touch (yours truly included.)

But the market has changed, as often tends to do, and Samsung has come out with the first real potential threat to Apple and they’re literally selling it everywhere, just as they did the Samsung Galaxy S – their flagship line of Android-based handsets, currently. Now, shoppers will stop into their local Best Buy retail stores and see giant ads for the Tab up against giant ads for the iPad and they’ll have questions. A lot of questions. And even though the iPad – at first sight – would seem like the surefire best bet, the process is still going to prove to be very difficult.

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Thus: we break it down. What should you get? In unbiased fashion, I take a look at the hardware, software, and overall ecosystem of both devices and determine which would be the better buy to put under that nice tree this december.

Hardware

The Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Apple iPad are very similar, hardware wise, but are different enough to take a closer look at each. Here, I’ll pick apart every nook, cranny, corner, and angle of each device and I’ll determine a “winner” in that category. I’ll also take a look at the software, but let’s get to the gears that make these devices tick.

Size and Display

Perhaps the first thing people look at when they look at a tablet device (or any device where the display is an important piece to the puzzle) is the display itself. Which is larger? Which looks better? Brighter? Has more vibrant colors? Has a higher resolution? Your average consumer won’t care about the technical details of that last question as it’ll fly over their heads anyway, but it does play into some of the questions before it. The Samsung Galaxy Tab has a 7-inch capacitive LCD touchscreen with a WSVGA resolution of 1024×600 opposed to the iPad’s 9.7-inch capacitive display with a higher resolution of 1024×768 (what an older computer monitor would generally run on.)

It’s easy to think that the bigger size and resolution of the iPad gives it an automatic win, but you have to consider that – in a smaller 7-inch package found in the Galaxy S – the lower resolution really doesn’t do much to change just how great the display looks because it’s pushing only a marginally-less amount of pixels into a screen that’s nearly 3-inches smaller. Having used both of these devices myself, I can’t really say one display completely destroys the other, but there is a noticeable pop in color vibrancy and brightness to be had on the iPad over the Galaxy Tab. If we’re going based on looks alone, then the iPad would be the clear victor.

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But the size plays a major factor in comfortability and portability, too. Tablet computers are seen as mobile devices, even if they were never meant to be, and the iPad is simply less mobile than the Galaxy Tab. If you want to use that thing on a subway, too bad. Want to palm it with one hand while walking down the street? Good luck. The Galaxy Tab is still a beast to hold, but you CAN hold it as well as you need to for one handed operation and you can stow it as easily as you could a small netbook.

For these reasons, I have to give the ultimate prize to the Galaxy Tab. That’s not to say people can’t walk around with the iPad with one hand (I’ve seen it personally, and I’m sure there are cases that exist to help you hold it with one hand), but it’s just so much easier to do on the Galaxy Tab. The loss in screen real estate is a bit of a bummer, but if you’re going to be expecting a full-screen laptop-like experience from a tablet, why not just get a MacBook air?

Processor

There really isn’t much to say here: the iPad has an A4 processor – just like what you see in the iPhone 4 – and the Galaxy Tab has Samsung’s Hummingbird – just as you’d see in the Samsung Galaxy S. And both of these processors are based on the same family of chipsets, with differences coming only in slight form. The difference comes from how the software utilizes the hardware, but we’ll get into that a bit later. For now, there’s no clear cut winner here.

Memory and Storage

Both of these devices come with a lot of gee-bees (or gigabytes, as you technophiles would rather call them): the Apple iPad can be had in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB configurations, while the Galaxy Tab can be had in both 16GB and 32GB configurations. The iPad, though, doesn’t allow you to expand the storage, while the Galaxy Tab allows you to add up to 32GB more with the use of a microSD card. Ultimately, flexibility is king and the Samsung Galaxy Tab allows you to get just as much as you need.

I know, I know: who wouldn’t want as much as they can get? Sure, you can make a case for the iPad in that regard, but when you start discussing price, then you’ll learn why some will want to shy away from Apple’s more capable options. We’ll afford the Samsung Galaxy Tab the victory, here.

Camera

The Samsung Galaxy Tab has a front-facing and rear-facing camera, the iPad doesn’t. Winner: Samsung Galaxy Tab.

“What’s that Rob? You want more substance in this paragraph? Fine…” Cameras on mobile devices are important to a lot of people. Even though most people who own a tablet device will also likely be carrying their phones, which most likely will have a camera on it, you won’t want to put your tablet away just so you can pull your phone out, snap a pick, then put the phone back, and take the tablet back out and go about your business. That’s clunky and unnecessary, and I’m quite surprised Apple didn’t consider as much when they had the iPad in research and design.

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But what’s more important here is the front-facing camera. Say you’re walking one day and you find a spot to sit down and eat. (Alone? Blech.) You get lonely and want some company, but don’t want to limit yourself to just talking. Introduce a tablet with enough screen-size to make the experience worthwhile. The Samsung Galaxy Tab enables that, and a lot of people are going to eat that up at the point of sale. There have been murmurs that the iPad would be getting at least one camera whenever apple decides to unveil the next iteration, but as of right now, it’s as dry as a desert in this area. Winner: Galaxy Tab.

Battery

I honestly don’t know what type of battery capacity the Apple iPad has, but I can say that it smokes the Galaxy Tab’s 4,000 mAh battery. That’s not to put the Galaxy Tab down at all: 7 hours of continuous video playback is VERY respectable, but 10 hours is even better. (We’ve even seen some users able to go a few hours beyond Apple’s advertised battery life.) If we assume that these two are using the same or similar battery capacity and technology, then it means the iPad is just more efficient in software, hardware, or both. Regardless, the Apple iPad lasts longer and that’s all you need to know. It gets the “#1” badge in this category.

Connectivity

Both of these devices fail just as miserably as each other for one reason: proprietary connector. I’m sorry, but in today’s world of finicky, cheap charging cables that must be replaced with 30x the amount of cash it takes to make the darn things, we would like something a bit more standard. We expected as much from Apple, but Samsung completely ditched any form of USB and went with their own proprietary connector. Both devices have WiFi, both have Bluetooth, and both will accept the draw here. (Albeit a very sour draw. For shame.)

Browsing

The iPad doesn’t have flash, the Galaxy Tab does. Honestly, the screen real estate provided by both of these devices are more than enough to facilitate a pleasing browsing experience. Things are smoother on the iPad, but they can be just as smooth on the Galaxy Tab on your every day website. The option to use flash is a major factor considering a lot of these full sites push a lot of flash content out. Even still, some people don’t need or won’t prefer flash, and if you take that away, the iPad is the smoother experience as browsing is on all iOS devices. Pick your poison: this one’s a draw.

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Videos and Media

Samsung’s made quite the reputation for themselves with the media experience you can get out of their flagship Galaxy devices, and the Tab is no different. DivX and XviD support gives you that much more freedom in loading your videos without any issues, and the same goes for the type of audio you can play. Both devices can expand their capabilities through the virtue of apps, but out of the box, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is going to give you the best video experience you can find on a device this size. If you’re an iTunes buff just as much as you’re a music buff, then the ecosystem with that desktop software will play a large factor, but it’s not necessary. We’ll throw the bone to the Galaxy Tab on this one.

The Determining Factors

When it comes down to it, you’ll need to consider four major things (some of which we discussed above): software, camera, the size/weight/”wieldy-ness” of each, and price. Above any other factors, these will most-heavily weigh into the purchase decision as we look from the average consumer’s point of view.

Software

iOS on Apple’s iPad completely pounces on the Tab with Android 2.2 and TouchWiz, but that’s not to imply that iOS is flat-out better than Android. Their market is bigger and got off to a very fast start, as evidenced by the tons of great apps submitted that take advantage of that HD resolution and 10 inch screen. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab has native apps that make great use of the extra real estate, but there’s no real market for tablet-specific apps yet. They’re urging developers to create apps for bigger screen sizes and resolutions, but the sense of urgency just isn’t there from third-party developers. Perhaps we’ll see a shift with the introduction of Honeycomb and all of the tablets sporting it, but for now, the Android market will make the Galaxy Tab just feel like an oversized Galaxy S. iOS also takes advantage of hardware acceleration so everything is smoother across the board, as it is in the handset sector.

Camera

One of the benefits of having a large screen with a camera is the ability to capture your memories and play them back on the same device. That’s very important to a lot of people, and the iPad just doesn’t facilitate this. The Galaxy Tab even gets the added benefit of having a front-facing camera so you can video chat with your friends and family on that nice-sized screen.

Size/weight

The iPad is still quite light despite its size, but it’s much more comfortable to carry around a 7-inch device than it is a 10-inch device. You can use a 7-inch device with two hands and no surface, while trying the same with an iPad could prove disastrous, uncomfortable, and/or just impractical.

Price

Say what you want about the Samsung Galaxy Tab’s price, but the iPad is just as expensive, if not more when you get into the higher storage tiers and when you talk about adding 3G radios. “But you get so much more with the iPad! And Apple overprices their merchandise by a lot more than any other manufacturer!” That’s true, but the truth is they ALL inflate the price. After you figure in every single cost it takes to create and market one Samsung Galaxy Tab or Apple iPad, they have to see a return on the device. Everyone does it, and while you may feel that the Galaxy Tab’s “inferiority” should bring its price down, that’s just not fair to Samsung. Expect to pay more than $5-600 for any configuration of either of these devices without carrier-provided subsidy. This one’s a draw.

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Yes, we chose the Galaxy Tab over the iPad if you go by the tally count, but numbers won’t dictate the result here. Being Android fans, we’d always give the benefit of the doubt to the Galaxy Tab, but being unbiased in this quick comparison between two of the biggest tablet devices on the market today, we’d have to give the victory to the iPad. Even with the Galaxy Tab winning 2 of the 3 most weighted factors, the iPad wins in software which is VERY important to the overall experience. (If we were to distribute the weight of the four factors, software would get 50% of the influence with the other 50% being evenly distributed to the remaining three.)

Without software, the hardware isn’t all that special. We’re certain Samsung, Google, and Google’s other hardware partners will be able to catch up in due time, but as of right now, it’s just not there. To be frank, it’ll just be a more pleasant experience to walk into an Apple Store or Best Buy or what have you, buy an iPad, and be happy with the decision as that monstrous tablet-specific app store proves why software will always be king. We hope and fully believe that Google and company will get there, but Apple walks away with the victory this holiday season.

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