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Friday, January 28, 2011

Samsung Galaxy Tab Review - Android takes on the iPad

Introduction and Hardware Overview


2010 saw the first releases of what can be considered a truely modern tablet computer. Instead of the old haphazard notebook computers turned tablet with resistive touch screens, we saw something new. Embedded systems with with capacitive, multi touch capable displays have invogorated the market for tablet computers. The forerunner of this new market segment by far is Apple's iPad. However, some people are not satisfied with Apple's closed platform in iOS, bringing on other competitors, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, with the Android OS.




The radical difference in the iPad hardware versus the Galaxy Tab is the adoption of a 7", 1024 x 600 LCD display instead of a 10" one. In my experiences, this provides a solution that is much easier to travel with and carry in many different situations, while not losing any real usability features of the 10" iPad.


Size comparison with Apple's iPad


Size comparison with Apple's iPad


Beyond a bigger screen size, hardware in the Galaxy Tab is extremely similar to the Samsung Galaxy S series of phones. Both the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab feature the Hummingbird processor core, developed by fabless semiconductor company, Intrinisty. This is an interesting detail, as the Apple A4 processor, first introduced in the iPad, and the Hummingbird core were both developed by by the same company, and are similar. However, since the development of this chip, Apple has purchased Intrinsity.


The SoC unit used on the Samsung Galaxy devices consists of a Hummingbird processor core, based on the ARM Cortex A8 processor, paired with a PowerVR SGX540 GPU. Both the ARM A8 Core, and the PowerVR GPU are tuned to give maximum processing and video rendering capability. In particular, the PowerVR GPU (found in the Hummingbird and TI OMAP SoCs) greatly outperforms the standard Qualcomm Adreno 200 GPU in our benchmarks, but more on that to come.



Comparison of the Galaxy Tab to the Droid X, Epic 4G, and Droid Incredible (left to right)


Aesthetically, the Galaxy Tab has a very minimalistic design. On the front of the device, all we see is a solid glass screen, with the 4 standard Android menu buttons represented in a touch sensitive form, and a front facing, 1.3MP camera.



The back of the Galaxy Tab is a glossy plastic, with a raised design that resembles a carbon fiber pattern, which actually seems to help grip. Depending on what provider you purchase it from, the back is either black or white (Sprint exclusive). Also, here we find a 3MP Camera with LED flash, to compliment the front facing camera.



A mic is featured on the left of the device, while the standby button, microSD slot, and volume rocker are found on the right side.




We also see a headphone jack on top, with a proprietary dock connector on the bottom of the device used for USB syncing and charging, along with the external speakers.



Overall, the Galaxy Tab feels solid, and well constructed while not being too gaudy. The 7" form factor leads to more portability, and expanded options when carrying it. In such scenarios like the pocket on the inside of a sport coat or jacket, the Galaxy Tab fits well, where the 10" iPad could not hope to compete.


Samsung TouchWiz


As with the other Galaxy devices, we find Samsung's TouchWiz UI on the Galaxy Tab. This interface layer on top of the Android OS works hard to emulate interface elements first introduced by Apple in iOS. Instead of the Android standard, vertically scrolling, applications list, TouchWiz features pages of apps that flip left and right, like the home screens on iOS.




Another addition to Android that Samsung has introduced in TouchWiz is the idea of a universal task manager. Instead of having to depend on third party apps, such as the immensely popular Advanced Task Killer, Samsung has chosen to implement their own system for terminating applications.


When holding down the home button to see the list of recent applications, a task manager button is added. Inside of the task manager, we find options for Active Applications, Packages, a RAM Manager, a general summary of system statistics, and a Help Menu. Between terminating active apps, uninstalling programs, and clearing up RAM, this task manager is a very powerful tool, and reduces the need on third party applications.


Overall, the TouchWiz UI seems to be fairly unobtrusive to the general operation of Android, unlike some interface layers that we have seen (ex. NinjaBlur). While TouchWiz doesn't seem to slow down the system, it also doesn't seem to add much in the way of functionality. While the task manager is a nice addition, Samsung just didn't go as far UI's such as HTC's Sense which really change the feel of the operating system. Without going far enough, it is a wonder why Samsung even put effort into developing TouchWiz instead of just using the default Android scheme.


TouchWiz can also likely be attributed to the fact that the Galaxy devices are still running Android 2.1, while most phones have gone to 2.2 with substantial performance gains. With Android 2.3 out on some devices, it is ridiculous for Samsung to still be on 2.1


Performance Testing - Linpack and Quadrant


Linpack


Note: this benchmarking section is currently experimental and constantly being tweaked to better reflect actual performance of these devices. In order to compare the performance of phones with similar clockspeeds, but different mobile architectures and operating systems, we have come up with this new experimental mobile device performance testing.


For this test, we ran the mobile versions of Linpack, a popular tool for measuring Floating Point operations in supercomputers. We ran Linpack on a variety of our own personal devices, including Android and iOS devices.



Disclaimer: Real world CPU performance isn't necessarily indicative of MFLOPS score


Here we can see how big the performance differs between Android 2.1 and 2.2. With similar hardware to the EVO and DroidX, performance is much lower under 2.1


Quadrant


Quadrant is an entire system performance mobile benchmarking suite, which tests things like the CPU, Memory throughput, I/O access, as well as 2D and 3D Graphics.



Interestingly enough, in this test we see the dominance of the TI OMAP3 SoC found in the Droid X and Droid 2. Also, this seems to be the only test where the Intrinsity-tuned, Hummingbird chip shows lesser performance over the Qualcomm Snapdragon.


Performance Testing - GPU Benchmarks and Conclusions


Neocore



The Neocore Benchmark from Adreno Graphics (Qualcomm) is an OpenGL-ES 1.1 test, which measures GPU performance. In this test, we also see some more advanced graphical features, such as 1-pass light maps and bump mapping.




Even though we may expect this test to be tuned more towards the Adreno graphics cores in Snapdragon SoCs, the PowerVR GPU in the Hummingbid core and TI OMAP (Droid X) outperforms the Qualcomm solution across the board. Also interesting, is that even though the Galaxy Tab is driving twice as many pixels, it has a very similar score to the Epic 4G (A Galaxy S phone) with similar hardware.


NenaMark




Similar to Neocore, NenaMark is an OpenGL-ES 2.0 benchmark, using shaders for graphical effects such as reflections, dynamic shadows, parametric surfaces, particles and different light models.



With NenaMark, the resolution difference between the Galaxy Tab and Galaxy S becomes more evident, but the PowerVR GPU still seems to victor over the Qualcomm Adreno core option.




Conclusions


Overall, I have been very impressed with both the form factor, and performance of the Samsung Galaxy Tab. With a more portable, but still very expansive 7" screen, at a similar resolution to the 10" iPad, it provides more room for applications and an overall more usable Android experience.



Comparison of Galaxy Tab, DroidX, Epic 4G, and Droid Incredible (Bottom to Top)


The real test for the Android tablet market will be in the upcoming months, with the pending release of Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). Honeycomb features an all new tablet-redesigned interface. This, as well as the dual core processors, such as the Tegra 2 platform, and other ARM A9 Dual Core options, should refresh the tablet market, and keep it interesting for the forseeable future.



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