Technology: Stylish Galaxy Tab 10.1 is Built for Speed

The blinding pace at which new tablet computers are reaching consumers only serves as a reminder that we want the machines themselves to be blazing fast.

And the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 with 4G LTE I’ve been testing is all about speed. It recently became the first Android tablet to exploit Verizon Wireless’ zippy 4G LTE technology.

LTE is shorthand for the Long Term Evolution wireless network that Verizon has been rolling out across the country.

Galaxy Tab mostly lives up to its high-speed notices. But you’ll have to sign onto costly data plans and will have to sacrifice battery life along the way.

If you think the Galaxy Tab 10.1 bears more than a slight resemblance to the iPad, you’ve got company. For months now, Apple has been embroiled in lawsuits against Samsung, claiming that the Galaxy tablet and some Samsung smartphones violate Apple’s intellectual property.

The disputes extend beyond America’s borders. Reports out of Australia suggest that Samsung delayed launching a version of the tablet Down Under. But Samsung said in a statement that a “Galaxy Tab 10.1 for the Australian market will be released in the near future.”

But Galaxy Tabs have been available in these parts. And on July 28, Galaxy Tab 10.1 with 4G LTE went on sale in the U.S.

Sprinter-like speeds are this slate’s main draw, and it’s what I mostly focused on during this review. That said, Galaxy Tab is beautiful: slim, sleek and slick.

Side by side, the Toshiba Thrive Android tablet I reviewed last week comes off as the overweight ugly sibling.

Unlike the thicker Thrive, however, Galaxy Tab lacks such niceties as a built-in SD card slot or full-size USB and HDMI ports. You’ll need optional adapters to add such features. The iPad also lacks these built-in connectors.

As with the Thrive, Galaxy Tab runs Android’s Honeycomb operating platform for tablets. It has a splendid 10.1-inch widescreen display, five customizable home screen panels, a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera with flash and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. The browser can handle Adobe Flash sites. You can purchase or rent movies or TV shows through Samsung’s Media Hub store.

In the specs battle against Apple, Galaxy weighs in at a mere 1.25 pounds, making it a tad lighter than the iPad. It’s ever-so-slightly thinner, too.

Of course, Apple has a ginormous advantage versus all Android tablets in available apps.

Then again, Apple’s tablet, at least to date, cannot equal Verizon’s blazing cellular speeds when Wi-Fi is out of reach.

Verizon says customers exploiting LTE coverage areas can expect download speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps. In certain areas of New York City and the surrounding suburbs where I did my testing, I consistently bested those download benchmarks by a wide margin.

Using Ookla’s standard Speedtest.net, I topped out at 29.0 Mbps downstream and 4.67 Mbps in the other direction.

Such results translate into rapid downloads of apps, speedy browsing and fluid video playback.

But I also frequently slipped into slower 3G areas and, during my travels, occasionally even ended up in pokier territory.

In my own house, I sometimes saw the tiny 4G at the bottom right corner of the screen indicating the machine was taking advantage of the faster network. But sometimes that 4G indicator turned to 3G.

For the record, Verizon says LTE is available in 102 markets across the country, covering a population of more than 160 million. By the end of the year, those totals are expected to hit 175 markets and 185 million people.

Of course, you can also tap into Wi-Fi if available. And you can use the tablet as a mobile hot spot capable of connecting up to 10 Wi-Fi-ready devices in 4G or up to five Wi-Fi devices in 3G.

High speeds on the Galaxy come with costly tradeoffs, however.

First, there’s the hardware price: $529.99 for 16 gigabytes or $629.99 for 32 GB. (You can choose between metallic gray or white models.)

Granted, that’s $100 cheaper than respective iPad 2 (3G) models with the same storage capacities. But Galaxy owners must sign up for a two-year mobile broadband data plan.

Starting today, Verizon also will sell a 16-GB Wi-Fi-only Galaxy online for $499.99.

Verizon charges $30 for 2 GB of monthly data access, $50 for 5 GB and $80 for 10 GB. Overage charges are a hefty $10 per GB.

Battery life turned out to be a major disappointment. Verizon made vague claims of 12 hours of use on a single battery charge. But in my harsh test, in which I cranked up the brightness level to about 75 percent, used cellular and (for part of my test) Wi-Fi connections while streaming videos, I barely approached 41/2 hours.

A second similar test (without Wi-Fi turned on) yielded nearly identical results. As I watched movies during those tests, the brightness was automatically dimmed after I received low-battery warnings to preserve what little juice remained.

For sure, that’s frustrating. But you’d probably fare a lot better with “normal” usage.

And if you’re in the market for an Android tablet, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a model with Galaxy Tab’s combination of good looks and speed.

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