tablets

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1-inch Review

Why does this tablet exist? We're not sure, but buyers beware.

$399.00
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Introduction

I'm very glad you decided to read this review—because it means you're about to get fair warning. Due to a litany of factors including outdated hardware, better offerings from Samsung, and long-term viability concerns, you should probably steer clear of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 inch. If you're really set on a $400 slate, get the Nexus 10 instead—even though it's a year old, it's a much better tablet for the same money.

Design

Standing still

Samsung is known for taking risks. Forward-facing speakers? Samsung's idea. The Exynos 5 processor? Samsung. But this tablet in particular isn't an expression of innovation, and that's a problem. A lack of distinguishing features really spells doom for tablets, failing to bridge the gap to laptops. You don't have to be a Roman-era diviner to rip into the guts of the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1" to know that the future is bleak for this tablet.

Samsung charges the same amount of money for a tablet with far fewer features, a worse screen.

This new line of tablets from Samsung is one of the biggest head-scratchers out there in the mobile industry. Samsung is responsible for the hardware of last year's Nexus 10, so why not use that to its advantage? While the 10-inch Galaxy Tab 3 packs a comparable screen size, it hosts far fewer features, an extremely disappointing screen, and wholly out-of-date specs for the same amount of money.

Many of the tablet's functional and aesthetic features are either stripped-down or scaled back. Speakers that used to be on the front (a wonderful option) are now on the side. NFC is gone. You're left with a tablet that resembles something two years old in features and performance. The IR blaster to control your home theater is interesting, but hardly a reason to buy a tablet with such glaringly huge flaws elsewhere. Durability is also a concern with the cheap-feeling plastic body, though this type of plastic is generally scratch-resistant.

To its credit, Samsung held onto the microSD card slot to allow expandable storage. The ability to pair bluetooth accessories with the tablet is also useful, but extremely pedestrian as far as tablets are concerned. Honestly, neither of these features justify the amount of money you'd pay—if you want interesting bells and whistles, there are plenty of other options out there.

If it seems that I can do nothing but rip on this tablet, it's because it could have been so much better. However, Samsung seems to be moving away from making "dumb pipes" in favor of grabbing content partnerships. The goal? A tablet that prints money. It makes sense from a business standpoint, and it's something that Apple does very well by having a pseudo-monopoly. But Samsung's most recent effort is just a bad bet for consumers. This model just doesn't cut it.

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Performance

Mediocre by today's standards, worse by tomorrow's

Probably the most glaring flaw is the screen. Where the same-priced Nexus 10 has a fantastic screen, this device has a bafflingly bad one. It really doesn't make much sense when you consider that for the same real estate, Samsung elected to use a 1280x800 pixel screen when it had 2560x1600 last year. Additionally, the processor is extremely poorly-equipped to handle graphics-intensive games.

The screen is the most prominent part of a tablet—c'mon Samsung, you don't cheap out on that.

Despite the three separate screen color modes, you really should just stick with "Movie" mode for the best performance. However, even this is lackluster—the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1" failed both our contrast and color tests with a narrow color gamut and washed-out image quality. Honestly, this is where cutting corners gets you in trouble, as the screen is the most prominent part of a tablet—c'mon Samsung, you don't cheap out on that.

If that weren't bad enough, usually when we see toned-down specs we get a tipoff that battery life should be a bit better: Not so with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1". In our tests, it only lasted 4 hours and 58 minutes playing back video (5 hours, 33 minutes reading an eBook), which is far short of the mark compared to other 10" slates. It's just behind the pack across the board—it'll frustrate, annoy, and infuriate you— and Samsung wants you to pay money for that experience? Pass.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1-inch, take a look at these other tablets.

In Use

Frustrating, to say the least

Like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8-inch, this tablet isn't really equipped with top-shelf components to carry you for very long. As more and more resource-intensive apps and media bleed out into the mainstream, you'll find that this product lags far behind even cheaper models—a tough pill to swallow.

Honestly, who needs two clocks on the homescreen?

Nothing really stands out with this tablet—processor speeds aren't great, the interface won't blow you away, and many of the measurable performance points are lackluster, or worse. Probably the biggest draw to the tablet is the brand, and the second draw is the content partnerships. Sure, the screen has okay color, but wretched pixel density makes those accurately-colored pictures look like Lego bricks. You can also expect some video stuttering if the file is too large, as the tablet must downscale some HD content—the resolution is just not big enough to handle much above 720p (1280 x 720 pixels).

Much like it is on the other Galaxy Tab 3 series tablets, the interface seems stuck in the past. While the slate does maintain some of the nicer features from Android 4.2.2, aesthetically it is a bit less clear. When you first turn on the tablet, you'll be greeted with a splash of widgets everywhere that you may not need, and probably don't want. You can remove unnecessary widgets, but it takes a while. Honestly, who needs two clocks on the homescreen?

For the interim, this tablet is fine for casual tasks. Browsing the web or flipping through photos is acceptable—and most people use their slates for little more than that, anyway. However, if you're like Mrs. Thomas, the inability to play the newest games will really stick in your craw after a while.

Conclusion

A friendly word of warning

The Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 is an unwise purchase. If you're looking for value, this isn't for you—you can buy better for less. If you're looking for the latest-and-greatest, the Galaxy Tab 3 lags behind other tablets—even ones released last year. This tablet has few redeeming qualities. It turns on, doesn't shock you upon use, and works (albeit poorly) for a few basic tasks. That's about it. There's only so much one can hope for with software updates, and hardware fixes aren't one of those things.

There's typically a large number of flagship releases at the end of the year right before the holidays, so I suggest waiting for October and November 2013—you'll have a wider array of better-value options.

Samsung pushed out a tablet that's "good enough" for content partnerships, but the whole innovation thing seems lost in the shuffle. Brand loyalists will miss out on Android's latest and greatest features. Do yourself a favor—if you are seriously considering buying this tablet, don't. Get the Nexus 10 or wait for the fall.

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