The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is one of the first tablets to come pre-loaded with Android 3.1, the latest version of Honeycomb. Honeycomb is the first version of Android that has been designed specifically with large-screen tablets in mind, and, although it shares many similarities with the mobile version of the operating system, there are some key differences.
For starters, the arrangement of the menus and options is different. In the top left corner, you have the 'search' command, as a handy shortcut to Google's home page. In the opposite corner, there's the app drawer shortcut and a '+' symbol, which allows you to add more widgets to the home screen you're currently viewing.
Speaking of home screens, Honeycomb grants you five to play with. You can fill these with widgets covering a wide range of applications, including Google Mail, the calendar, YouTube and the Android Market. It's also possible to place shortcuts to your favourite contacts, allowing you to drop them an email quickly and easily.
The Tab 10.1 comes with the excellent Swype app pre-installed, so you don't have to lift your finger off the screen when typing.
You can access the various home screens by swiping your finger across the display either to the left or the right. Doing so triggers a cool 3D effect, whereby the screen actually looks as if it's floating off the side of the tablet. The transition isn't quite as smooth as the scrolling on the iPad 2, though.
If you've used an Android phone before, you'll be aware of the brilliant slide-down notification bar at the top of the screen. With Honeycomb, Google has chosen to eschew this fan favourite in favour a pop-up message system which is docked in the bottom right corner of the screen.
Important notifications -- such as emails, installation updates and download status reports -- all appear in this portion of the screen. Tapping the corner brings up a pop-up menu that displays all your current messages, as well as allowing you to toggle settings such as screen brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and automatic screen rotation.
This pop-up menu allows you to toggle options and view notifications.
Also located on that bar at the bottom of the screen are a series of touch commands. The home button takes you back to your main home screen, and there are no prizes for guessing what the back button does.
Another icon opens up a scrolling menu showing all of your open or recent applications. It's here that the multitasking power of Android 3.1 becomes apparent. You can switch between active programs using this menu, although doing so does sometimes incur a discernible pause as the tablet busies itself with loading up the app in question.
Here's Android 3.1's multitasking panel in all its glory.
Finally, there's a hidden dock at the bottom of the screen that features shortcuts to key applications, including the calendar, notepad, calculator, world clock and music player.
The handy dock at the bottom of the screen holds shortcuts to important applications.
All in all, Android 3.1 isn't a massive upgrade from 3.0. Google has bigger enhancements planned for version 3.2, including the ability to control how non-Honeycomb apps are displayed on the larger screen. At the moment, some Android mobile apps refuse to display full-screen in Honeycomb and instead run in a scaled-down window. Version 3.2 will seek to rectify this problem.
It's also rather disappointing to observe that the stuttering home-screen scrolling that plagued Android 3.0 remains in this update. Android 3.1 was apparently supposed to solve this issue, but the OS remains rather sluggish at times. When you consider that it's handling proper multitasking and other fancy tricks, it's just about forgivable, although, when you place the Tab 10.1 alongside the iPad 2, with its silky-smooth scrolling and stable performance, it's hard not to feel a tad envious.
But, that doesn't mean Android 3.1 isn't worth making a song and dance about. Google's software engineers have been busy tidying up the operating system and eradicating bugs, but the most significant addition is the ability to resize home-screen widgets.
Adding widgets to your five home screens is a straightforward affair.
This means you can expand a widget to occupy a larger area, or you can shrink it down so that you can fit more widgets on one screen. It's a seriously useful improvement that makes Honeycomb feel even more versatile and adaptable than it did previously.
Although the Galaxy Tab 10.1 sports a relatively unmolested version of the Honeycomb operating system, Samsung has introduced some tricks of its own. One we particularly like is the ability to take a screenshot of your display.
To do this on the mobile phone edition of Android, you need to root your device and install a special application -- hardly the most elegant of procedures. It's good to see that such a feature is included as standard with the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and, what's more, it's pinned conveniently to the bottom of your screen.
TouchWiz user interface
More alterations to the core OS are on their way, too. Samsung is planning to release a revised user interface that will bring the Galaxy Tab 10.1 more in line with the company's TouchWiz user interface, seen on its phones. This update will include features such as mini apps and live panels, and it's expected in the next few weeks. It will also bring with it apps such as Samsung Media Hub, Amazon Cloud Player and Amazon Kindle.
The introduction of TouchWiz for tablets is either good news or bad news, depending on your personal opinion of manufacturer-produced skins. We have to admit that it seems a shame to bury the slick Android Honeycomb interface under performance-sapping applications, but, if the changes are executed thoughtfully, they may give the Galaxy Tab 10.1 a unique advantage over its Android-based tablet competitors.
Out of the box, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 comes with several exclusive pre-loaded applications, although Samsung is looking to roll out more with the aforementioned TouchWiz update.
For the time being, you get Samsung's Social Hub, which allows you to aggregate posts from your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, all in a single timeline. You can also post to multiple accounts using this service, and it can be pinned to your home screen as a scrollable widget. While we're sure many users will ditch it in favour of alternatives -- the Honeycomb-optimised Twitter client Plume is especially good -- it does the job well enough.
The Social Hub apps aggregates all of your social network updates in one place.
We liked Samsung's ebook app too. It not only allows you to turn the Galaxy Tab 10.1 into a full-colour rival to the Amazon Kindle, but also allows you to import PDF files.
Pulse is an RSS news reader that has been optimised for Honeycomb. It comes pre-installed on the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
But it's impossible to shake the impression that Samsung has rather short-changed early adopters when it comes to software. The Media Hub app that came pre-loaded on the original 7-inch Galaxy Tab is missing, although Samsung promises that it will be made available in the impending TouchWiz update.
Next page: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Flash support and Honeycomb apps