Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 is a sleekly designed tablet, but, with more powerful and cheaper options available, it feels like more of the same, rather than an upgrade.


6.0
CNET Rating

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The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 stylishly embraces a more simple aesthetic compared with its predecessor. For a 10-inch tablet, it manages to be a rather compact device; it's lightweight and sleek, with thin bezels and a clean, cohesive design that would make any iPad melt with flattery.

Unfortunately, Samsung continues its trend of lacklustre updates to its 10-inch Galaxy Tab line. While we appreciate the Tab 3 10.1's stylish turn, its specs are only a modest upgrade from the Tab 2 10.1, resulting in noticeably lacklustre performance. In fact, "change", instead of "upgrade", is a better way to describe its new components.

Also, the tablet's design is plagued by trigger-happy menu and back buttons. The two buttons can too easily be activated, and we found ourselves accidentally pressing them a lot, even after we'd become painfully aware of their over-sensitivity. However, its design, certainly not its functionality, is what prevents it from being completely forgettable.

Samsung didn't attempt to push the envelope with the Tab 3 10.1, and succeeded in producing a mediocre device. Thanks to its dull hardware upgrades and the resulting underwhelming performance, the tablet proves an inferior product in a sea of much wiser choices.

For the same price, the Google Nexus 10 offers a higher-resolution screen and faster performance, and is much more functional.

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1, the largest in the Tab 3 family, boasts a simpler and smaller design than any previous Galaxy Tab 10.1 model. Its trim size is because of its skinnier bezels and revamped metallic border. While the Tab 2 10.1's thick frame housed front-facing speakers, the Tab 3 10.1 relocates them to the left and right edges.

The 10.1-inch tablet is relatively thin and light, although it's no Sony Xperia Tablet Z. It's also comfortable to hold in both hands and feels solid, but the tactile sensation of the smooth plastic back gives it an inexpensive feel. Thankfully, it isn't slippery, and you can actually get a pretty good grip when holding it.

The Tab 3 10.1 weighs a little over 1 pound.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

In order to trigger the menu and back buttons, you don't need to directly touch the icons, but merely place a finger in their immediate area. The active space, or hit box, on the bottom bezel that initiates the menu and back functions spans a little over 3.5 inches.

There shouldn't be a learning curve to holding a tablet, but the Tab 3 10.1 has one. The navigation array's hit box is hard to avoid while using the device in its designated landscape orientation, because it's the same space your hand casually occupies when holding it.

The capacitive buttons' functions can be triggered from over an inch away from the icon.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

The back and menu buttons on other Android devices are usually placed in the on-screen navigation bar, and, although the extra space freed up on the Tab 3 10.1's screen is nice, we would gladly sacrifice it for a less frustrating experience. In addition, there is very little control over the capacitive buttons; you can only change the amount of time that they stay lit.

The back looks like a typical Samsung Galaxy device.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

The tablet's top edge is home to the power/sleep button, volume rocker, microSD expansion slot and IR blaster. Sitting not too far away is the headphone jack on the top-left corner, which is right above the speaker on the left edge. A micro-USB port and microphone pinhole are located on the bottom edge, and the right edge houses its speaker at the top. There's an ambient light sensor and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera in the centre of the top bezel and a 3.2-megapixel rear camera in the top-centre of the tablet's back.

Software features

The Tab 3 10.1 runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with Samsung's TouchWiz UI skin. Features include Smart Stay, which puts your tablet to sleep when you're not looking at it, and a useful notification panel that's somewhat customisable.

The shortcut tray offers easy access to commonly used settings.
(Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET)

The shortcut tray that is easily accessible by swiping down from the top of the screen allows you to turn features like Wi-Fi, GPS, Smart Stay and screen rotation on and off, as well as adjust the brightness level. You can customise which order these settings are in, but you cannot add any new ones to it. Below these settings are notifications and a small black bar that lets you know which Wi-Fi network you're connected to.

The Tab 3 10.1's built-in IR blaster allows it to be used as a universal remote, and it offers a few apps to help you do just that. We couldn't get Peel's Smart Remote to work with our cable box instead of our television, so instead we favoured Samsung's universal remote/video hub app Watch On. We were able to easily browse TV listings, set reminders, change channels and turn our television and cable box on and off.

Other Samsung features are nice additions but didn't function well. The S Voice app often didn't recognise our voice commands, and we found it to be more maddening than helpful. The feature is activated by double-pressing the Home button, but can be easily deactivated through the settings.

Group Play, a feature that lets you share and edit files in real time with other Samsung users on the same Wi-Fi network, worked mostly as intended, but didn't always notify us when we'd successfully shared a file. The Tab 3 10.1 doesn't have the multi-window feature that the 8-inch Tab 3 does, but it's probably for the best, considering that it already weakly supports its single-window performance.

Hardware features

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 houses a 1.6GHz dual-core Atom Z2560 CPU, 1GB of RAM and 16GB or 32GB of internal memory. We tested the 16GB model and it had about 11GB of free space out of the box. Its microSD expansion slot can support up to 64GB.

The IR blaster and microSD card slot are nice additions to the otherwise simple tablet.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Performance

Performance-wise, the tablet was responsive when doing simple activities like checking email or reading an ebook, but, when it came to multitasking and switching quickly between apps, it was slow and frequently lagged. Performance speed noticeably took a dive if a few apps were open at once or while downloading files.

Although the tablet never crashed or froze on me, it was occasionally buggy. It asked me to update apps that had no updates available, dropped Wi-Fi connections randomly, and frequently displayed old notifications.

The tablet's Wi-Fi speeds were directly, and sometimes dramatically, affected by how close it was to the router. The time it took to download Deer Hunter Reloaded continually increased the farther away the Tab 3 10.1 got from the router. In comparison, the Nexus 10 showed some slowing down as well, but still outperformed the Tab 3 10.1 by a long shot.

The headphone jack sits a little awkwardly on the top-left corner.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

The speakers produce decent and balanced audio quality. At full volume, they're pretty loud for a tablet, and the move to outward-facing speakers instead of front-facing ones didn't negatively affect our listening experience.

Neither of the tablet's cameras have manual focus or flash. The rear 3.2-megapixel camera took clear photos, although they weren't the sharpest, and it did a good job at replicating life-like colours. The front camera is a little soft, but otherwise takes well-exposed photos.

The 3.2-megapixel rear camera is decent, but probably not worth taking out of your bag to snap a shot.
(Credit: Xiomara Blanco/CNET)

The tablet's 10.1-inch TFT LCD screen gets the job done, but is rather unimpressive. It wins points with its high maximum brightness and deep black levels, but its resolution is average, if not subpar by today's standard, at 1,280x800 pixels. It was visibly less sharp than the Nexus 10 when it came to images, video, and text, but it replicated color saturation more vibrantly. The screen was very responsive to touch, but often suffered from the tablet's tendency to lag when trying to do too much at one time.

The family of Tab

The 10-inch Tab 3 is one of three Tab 3s now in the market. There's also an 8 incher and a 7 incher. We got the 8-inch version at the same time as the 10 incher, but have yet to receive the 7-inch Tab 3.

After handling the Tab 3 10.1 like a temperamental toddler, using the 8 incher was a refreshing change. It matches its sleek and light design with good performance and useful features, making it the best pick out of the two. Although the Tab 3 10.1 includes many of the same features, it's missing the multi-screen option, has a much lower screen ppi and suffers from too many functionality issues for a US$400 device. Since the 7-inch Tab 3 has yet to arrive, judging by its disappointing specs, we're keeping our expectations low.

Conclusion

Our experience with the Tab 3 10.1 was more frustrating than functional. Even while cutting it some slack for being a midrange tablet that's impressively small and light for a 10-inch device, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 fails to make a good case for taking it home.

The tablet's specs resemble the Tab 2 10.1's too closely to be considered an actual upgrade. The Tab 3 10.1's tendency to lag coupled with its flawed navigation array functionality don't justify the starting price of US$399. For the same amount of money, you can get the Google Nexus 10, which offers faster performance, a better screen and no frustratingly sensitive capacitive buttons.

Via CNET.com



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