In a rare reviewers treat, we were fortunate enough to have both the New iPad third generation (iPad 3) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7. Both are new tablets running competing mobile OS’s, and rocking similar hardware. It gave us the chance to put the devices head to head in some basic consumer-style testing to look at things that matter to the average user. This was a completely unscientific test. We looked at things like load times of apps, differences between some popular apps for both Android and iOS, and some basic functionality of both devices. To begin, let’s take a look at the spec sheets.
Galaxy Tab 7.7:
Dual Core 1.4 GHz Processor
Android 3.2 Honeycomb
16GB Storage with Micro SD Card Slot (Supports up to 32GB cards)
7.7″ Super AMOLED Plus display. Resolution: 1280 x 800
5100 mAh battery
Verizon 4G/LTE connectivity
3MP rear camera (720p HD recording)
2MP front camera
Dual Core A5X Processor with Quad Core GPU
Storage Options from 16GB-64GB
9.5″ Retina display. Resolution: 2048 x 1536
11560 mAh battery
Verizon 4G/LTE connectivity
5MP rear camera (1080 HD recording)
.3MP front camera
While many will likely say that there is no comparison between an Android tablet and an iPad, that claim is largely untrue. With the first round of Android tablets that we saw in late 2010, and the early months of 2011, you could have made that argument, and I would have agreed. Android tablets have come a long way since then, however. Even though the Honeycomb OS is far from a perfect tablet experience, in the case of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 Samung’s TouchWiz overlay actually does the system a service in my opinion. Normally, I prefer a stock experience. I don’t care for proprietary skins, mostly because they’re ugly (opinion again) and they slow the system down. In this case, I actually enjoyed TouchWiz and thought it brought a few features to Honeycomb that made the tablet experience a bit better. The Galaxy Tab 7.7 has an Ice Cream Sandwich update coming, but for now it’s running Honeycomb 3.2, which has some significant improvements over 3.0. Is it perfect? No. Is any mobile OS perfect? No. And that’s a good thing. It keeps those that create these mobile OS’s on their toes, constantly innovating and turning out new features.
In the case of the New iPad it’s also a huge improvement over the iPad 1, and a marginal improvement over the iPad 2. The latest iPad doesn’t bring any game-changing features to the experience, aside from the absolutely gorgeous display. Unfortunately, for the first few months of your experience with the New iPad, apps that take advantage of the astounding resolution will be few and far between. By the end of the year, however, you’ll likely have a huge wave of new apps and games that are going to look amazing on that display. As far as the rest of the system goes, hardware improvements were a slight step up over the iPad 2 and you’ll see an all around increase in performance everywhere. If y0u opt for the Verizon LTE version, you’ll also be getting the largest and most reliable high-speed connection in the US. That, in itself, is also a good reason to opt in for a new iPad over your first generation device. If you’re already rocking an iPad 2, though, we’d suggest you stick with it until next year’s model. That is unless you just have the money to burn.
Having both tablets on hand at the same time gave us the unique opportunity to see just where the devices and the operating systems really differ. This experience was made better, though, as both tablets feature almost the same internal specs and are very recent additions to the market. Just for fun we threw in the Acer Iconia Tab A500, which is now 1 year old. In the last year, improvements in processor speed and efficiency have become very noticeable in many instances. The Acer Iconia Tab features the Tegra 2 dual core processor, which was much-loved in the early days of 2011. While Tegra 2 was a big improvement over its single core predecessors, alternative CPUs from Qualcomm and Samsung have since overtaken it in terms of performance. You can certainly tell the difference in how fluidly apps run, how well the screen transitions flow, and how quickly apps and games load. While it’s not a significant difference, it is noticeable.
In our comparison, we weren’t looking at benchmark scores and other geeky scores, though, aside from testing the connection speeds. What we wanted to look at was user experience. How quickly did the tablets load apps and games, or browse the web? How smooth were the animations? What significant difference between popular apps were there, if any? What kinds of features and customization were available to make the tablet your own? For the non-geeks of the world, who don’t spend their entire day reading tech news, these are the kinds of things that matter.
We spent several hours with some of our favorite apps and games, like Pulse News, Angry Birds, Netflix, TED, Google Currents, Flipboard (iPad Only), Twitter, as well as doing our everyday business like email and web surfing. What we found was that both tablets performed very admirably. In the case of load times there was never a perceivable difference. Both devices are very snappy, and took almost no time to load up any app we wanted. However, on apps that had a significant video library to load, such as the TED app, the iPad took far longer to load in all the videos that did the Galaxy Tab. By significant, we mean about a 10 second difference. It’s certainly no deal-breaker. To compensate, though, the iPad was much faster at loading graphic-intensive web pages. That can largely be blamed on Honeycomb’s inefficiency, though, and the ICS update will help. When swiping between screens or switching between menus, animations were very fluid on both devices and there was never any hitches. In both of these areas, though, the Iconia Tab lagged behind just slightly. You can certainly tell that it has a less efficient processor, especially when you hit the home button and you have to wait a second for the home screen to refresh. There was no waiting to refresh on either the Galaxy Tab or iPad.
What was surprising was the connection speeds between the devices. We ran the Ookla Speedtest.net app on both devices. The first thing you notice is that the iOS version has a little additional animation in the meter that the Android version doesn’t. Extra animation aside, however, the real difference was in connection speed. The iPad consistently had higher upload and download speeds than the Galaxy Tab. And not insignificant numbers. They were, in fact, much higher. The Galaxy Tab continually reached download speeds of about 5-7Mbps, where the iPad was always over 10Mbps on the download side. Upload speeds were a little closer with the Tab at about 1-2Mbps, while the iPad was at about 2-3Mbps. The wifi-only Acer Tab registered about 4-7Mbps dowload, and 1-3Mbps upload. The Galaxy Tab and iPad are both Verizon 4G/LTE enabled devices, though, so the difference is likely in the radio supplier’s equipment. Qualcomm manufacturers the LTE radio in the Galaxy Tab, but we’re not sure at this point who makes the radio for the iPad.
The experience between apps, and web browsing turned out to be very close on both devices. There was really no significant differences in performance. What it really came down to was the experience. This is largely a matter of taste in what kind of experience you prefer, as well as what ecosystem you’re invested in. The iPad has a very clean experience. It’s simple with no real customization for the homescreen, and nothing but icons to tap to get where you want to go. The Galaxy Tab and Android, by comparison, is a vastly different experience. Aside from your choice of wallpaper, pretty much all iPads are going to look the same. With Android, though, you can customize to your heart’s content. If you want a clean look you can do that. Remove all your widgets, and go with a straight icon interface and you’ll have the simplistic approach. If you want to tweak, though, you can set up multiple screens for all kinds of things. For example, we had a social screen with the Samsung Social Hub widget, which displayed incoming feeds from Twitter and Facebook. Next to it was the Google+ widget for that feed. It’s a really nice way to see the latest feeds from your networks at a glance, without having to launch the app. On another screen we set up a video screen with a YouTube widget, and the TED and Netflix apps. Another was for business, and had email, bookmarks to important sites, and a calendar. Being a user who likes to customize a lot, I personally preferred the Android setup. I’d go so far as to say that the iPad was a bit boring. Again, that’s personal preference. If you’re not a big tweaker and you just want a simple look, then the iPad can give you that.
When choosing between iOS and Android tablets, it’s not only a matter of customization, but mostly ecosystem. You need to realize that you’re making an investment in either Apple or Google’s ecosystem, and that’s going to include things like apps, games, music, movies, etc. Will you be constrained to either of those ecosytems by your tablet choice? No. Both offer ways of accessing your content on either device, with the exception of your apps and games. However, if you’re a Mac user with an iPhone, have a ton of iTunes music, and have an iCloud account, the iPad is going to be much more beneficial in the long term. iOS also gets many more exclusive apps and games than does Android. If you live and die by GMail, have purchased Android apps, have an extensive Google Music library, and love widgets, a solid Android tablet is a good choice. The continuing issue with Android is in updates. Newer versions of the OS will take longer to reach your device than will the latest version of iOS. This is if you’re not into the wide and wonderful world of rooting (Android) or jailbreaking (iOS). The average user, though, will likely be into neither. That said, Android is notorious for slower updates that, in some cases, may never make it to your device. It’s up to the manufacturer and carrier to update your device for you, where iOS will see updates from Apple immediately upon release. You’ll certainly need a little savvy when shopping for a tablet, and it’s important to keep all of these factors in mind when you’re considering iPad vs Android tablets.
Of course, we also took a look at the cameras, and it should be no surprise that the iPad’s rear camera bested the Tab’s hands-down. While the Tab’s camera isn’t a bad one, it’s not very good either. Here’s a few photos to compare.
Galaxy Tab Photo
Fortunately, if you’re going the iOS route you don’t have many options. There’s an iPad 1,2, or 3. If you’re shopping Android, you’ve got a much bigger task in front of you. Android tablets come in all different sizes, have different hardware, and are made by multiple manufacturers. If you’re considering Android, you can probably get a lower price on the same (or better) hardware than an Apple tablet. Here’s some tips if you’re considering Android.
Do not invest in any Android tablet that does not run at least Android 3.1, 3.2, or 4.X. Any version under 3 was not meant for tablets, and if the manufacturer is slapping on a pre-Honeycomb build this late in the game, chances are you’re going to have buyers remorse really fast.
Do not buy anything with a single core processor. Dual core should be the standard at this point for a tablet, and anything less will be a detriment to performance.
Opt for at least 1 GB of RAM. Almost all tablets will come with 1GB these days, and anything less should be avoided if you’re planning on owning this device for more than a year.
If you plan to use your tablet to video chat, make sure it has a front-facing camera.