Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 review

Pros

  • Can function as universal remote control
  • Runs Android 4.2.2
  • Bright display with good viewing angles

Cons

  • Some performance issues
  • Missing compelling TouchWiz features
  • Overpriced

Samsung's Galaxy Tab line has been relegated to second fiddle, with top-end features and specs now going to devices bearing the Note moniker. Like last year's Tab 2, the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 is simply an incremental upgrade to a tried-and-tested formula. The one feature of note (no, not that Note) is an Intel Atom processor in lieu of your typical ARM affair. What does that amount to? Not much, as performance can best be described as pedestrian.

Everything, in fact, can be described as pedestrian here, from the uninspiring design through the average display to the bloated Android skin that lacks most of the compelling features that make TouchWiz tolerable on other Galaxy devices. The Tab 3 isn't a bad tablet, but unless you're completely tied to the Samsung ecosystem of devices and services, I'd take your £330 and put it towards a tablet that isn't so utterly bland.

Design

Not much has changed in the Galaxy Tab world. The Tab 3 10.1, like its 8in sibling, looks a lot like a Galaxy S4, only stretched out to comical proportions. There are a few minor physical changes from last year. Physical and capacitive Android navigation buttons now sit below the display, while the speakers are now situated along the tablet's edge, facing out instead of towards you.

Thankfully, Samsung ditched the proprietary faux-30-pin connector in favour of microUSB. Measuring 176 x 8 x 243mm (WxDxH), and weighing 510 grams, the Tab 3 is slightly thinner and noticeably lighter than its predecessor. Along the top edge you'll find familiar Power and Volume buttons, as well as a microSD card slot and an IR-emitter for remote control use.

As far as I can tell, the display has remained untouched since the very first Galaxy Tab. You get a reasonably bright 1,280 x 800-pixel TFT display with good viewing angles. It doesn't look bad, but the Nexus 10's unbelievably sharp 2,560 x 1,600 display puts it to shame. These two tablets are pitched at almost the same price, by the way (in fact Google’s slate is a tenner cheaper).

The Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 is a Wi-Fi-only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, which is an upgrade from last year. Bluetooth has also been bumped up from 3.0 to 4.0 and you still get GPS. We reviewed the 16GB Tab 3 10.1, but a 32GB model is also supposed to be available (although it doesn’t appear to be on sale yet). The Tab 3 10.1 supports microSD cards up to 64GB, but the actual card slot makes it difficult to remove cards, so don't plan on swapping often.

Performance

The Tab 3 10.1 is the first Android tablet we've tested that runs on an Intel chip. It's a 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2560, to be precise, coupled with a PowerVR SXG544MP2 GPU and 1GB of RAM. It's a similar setup to ones you'll find powering low-cost Windows 8 tablets and convertibles, but the performance doesn't really transfer over to Android.

On our synthetic benchmarks, the Tab 3 10.1 turned in respectable, if somewhat inflated scores. It absolutely crushed our Antutu overall system benchmark, but a closer look revealed some anomalies in the subscores that just don't make much sense. Moving on to some of our other benchmarks and the Tab 3 falls back down to earth. On the overall system benchmark Geekbench, the Tab 3 10.1 scored a 1147, which is actually lower than the Tab 3 8.0’s 1223 and lags behind older Tegra 3 tablets like the Sony Xperia Tablet S. Gaming results were also average, and the Tab 3 10.1 struggled with stuttering frame rates, slow load times, and forced closes on graphically intensives game like NOVA 3.

Real world performance was a mixed bag overall, in fact. Samsung released a software update midway through our review, which tightened things up a bit, but I still ran up against a few issues. When switching screen orientation or launching various apps, the Tab 3 10.1 exhibited some minor and seemingly random lag.

That's not the biggest issue I had, however. The Tab 3 seems to be employing some aggressive memory management, as switching between multiple running apps causes apps to re-load. For example, I would open up a tab in Chrome, switch to the Gmail app to copy a link, then return to the home screen and open the Play store, and then when I opened Chrome again from the recent apps list, the page had to reload. This didn't happen every time, but it was frequent enough to be an annoyance.

In our battery test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to maximum and Wi-Fi switched on, the Tab 3 10.1 lasted 4 hours and 45 minutes. That's pretty bad, and even worse than the Nexus 10’s 5 hours and 9 minutes – and Google’s tablet has a power-hungry high resolution display. On top of that, despite disabling all power saver features, the Tab 3 10.1 curiously turned the brightness down to unusable levels when the battery reached 5 per cent. The Asus Transformer Pad TF300, which has the same screen resolution, turned in 7 hours and 53 minutes on the same test.

There's a 3.2-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. They're there if you need them, but they produce pretty awful pictures. Colours are washed out and photos lack crispness, even in the most ideal lighting situations. Video, likewise, is a mess and tops out at 720p with inconsistent frame rates indoors, but it hits 30 frames per second in well-lit environments. I'd recommend using the front-facing camera for Skype or Google Hangouts and just forgetting that the rear-facing camera is even there.

The Tab 3 10.1 is running Android 4.2.2 with Samsung's TouchWiz skin. I've been starting to come around to TouchWiz, as on newer devices it doesn't seem as bloated and slow. Indeed, there are also some genuinely useful features I've come to appreciate in TouchWiz. Unfortunately, most of them are missing on the Tab 3 10.1, leaving little more than the cartoonish icons and theme that I've never been a fan of.

For example: You get Smart Stay, which uses the front-facing camera to keep the screen on when it detects someone looking at it. You get the quick settings from the notification shade. Multi Window, which lets you run two apps side by side, is available on the smaller 8in model, but is inexplicably missing on the 10in Tab 3 where it would arguably be even more useful. What’s going on there?

Like most of its Galaxy stablemates, the Tab 3 10.1 features robust multimedia support and a built-in IR-emitter for controlling an array of home entertainment devices. For video, you get MP4, H.264, DivX, Xvid, and WMV files at up to 1080p resolution. For audio you get MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV, and WMA support. The IR emitter works with both the Samsung WatchON app and the Peel Smart Remote app, letting you browse local listings, but falling short of scheduling recordings on DVR boxes. Still, it's a useful feature that makes the tablet a solid living room companion.

Verdict

Samsung has left the Galaxy Tab line languishing, as the company focuses its efforts on its superior Note devices. The Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 isn't much of an improvement over the Tab 2, which itself was only a modest update to the original Tab. This isn't a three-year-old tablet, but it feels dated right out of the box thanks to its low-res display and middling real-world performance.

That might be acceptable if this tablet carried a more budget-oriented price tag, but at £330 it's tough to recommend the Tab 3 over the multitude of more capable competitors. The Nexus 10 is markedly better in nearly every way, and even the year-old Asus Transformer Pad TF300 offers a more compelling experience. The simple fact is – if you've got your heart set on a Galaxy Tab, the Tab 3 8.0 is the better choice.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1

Screen Resolution

1280 x 800 pixels

Operating System

Google Android 4.2.2

Dimensions

176 x 8 x 243mm (WxDxH)

Weight

510g

Screen Type

TFT LCD

Graphics Card

IMG PowerVR SXG544MP2

RAM

1GB

Camera Resolution

3.2-megapixel Rear

Storage Capacity

16GB SSD

Screen Pixels Per Inch

149 ppi

Additional Storage

MicroSD

Video Camera Resolution

720p

Processor Speed

1.6GHz

Bluetooth Version

4

Screen Size

10.1in

CPU

Intel Atom Z2560

Ports

microUSB

Wi-Fi Support

2.4GHz/5GHz