Hands on with Samsung’s 10-inch Galaxy Tab 3: Go for the Nexus 10

Galaxy Tab 3 10.1

I had high hopes when Samsung’s first Android tablet powered by an Intel processor arrived on my doorstep. Alas, those hopes were quickly dashed not long after using the 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab 3. For $399, I had hoped for more; perhaps I’m spoiled by Google’s Nexus 10, which is the same price and much easier on the eye.

Too harsh? Maybe. And it doesn’t help Samsung that my eyes are used to higher resolution displays these days: The Nexus 10 uses a 2560 x 1600 display and my Chromebook Pixel is even higher at 2560 x 1700 pixels. The new Galaxy Tab 3 tops out at a lowly 1280 x 800 resolution making me feel like I’m looking at a screen from 2010, not from 2013.

galaxy tab 3 screen

Here’s the thing. Different people have unique requirements for their tablets but there’s one universal aspect that holds true: The screen of a tablet defines the device than any other component. I say that because the screen works for both input and output. It’s the most used hardware feature on a tablet because you stare at it non-stop and it’s how you interact with the apps on the device. For that reason, I’d strongly consider spending the same $399 on a Nexus 10 device; also built by Samsung, by the way.

Granted, if you take the Nexus 10 out of the equation, there are some nice features in the Galaxy Tab 3. Many are borrowed from the Samsung Galaxy S4 in fact. You get an IR blaster and Peel software to control your television set. The Smart Stay feature that keeps the screen on when it detects your face is here too. And the 16 GB of internal storage can easily be expanded via the microSD card slot.

Having seen Intel processors show great performance running Android in the past, I expected more from the Galaxy Tab 3, which uses Intel’s 1.6 GHz dual core Atom chip. I saw performance lags from time to time doing basic activities; just navigating the Google Play store, for example or playing games. I didn’t benchmark the device — I’d rather do real-world testing — but I didn’t find the general level of performance to be anything other than mediocre. I believe the issue is Samsung’s choice to use 1 GB of memory. By comparison, the Nexus 10 uses 2 GB of RAM with its 1.5 GHz Exynos 5 Dual chip.

I don’t take many pictures with large tablets, but again, Samsung chose to go low-end: The rear camera on the Galaxy Tab 3 uses a 3 megapixel sensor and images are acceptable, not impressive. The 1.3 megapixel front facing camera works fine for video chatting, however. With the 6,800 mAh battery, the Galaxy Tab 3 ought to manage a solid 8 hours of battery life; I haven’t used it long enough to charge the battery multiple times yet to verify.

Android 4.2.2 is installed, so you do get a very current version of Google’s software. And although many folks are turned off by Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface, I don’t mind it. Having used many Samsung devices over the years, I’m simply used to it. If you have a Galaxy smartphone, you already know what to expect.

Nexus 10 tabletAll in all, however, I can’t help but keep coming back to the Samsung-built Nexus 10 for the same amount of money. Even though the device is a year old, it offers far more bang-for-buck. And it will always get the latest Android software first directly from Google; with the Galaxy Tab 3, you’ll rely on Samsung’s schedule for updates.

As much as I wanted to like the Galaxy Tab 3, I just can’t, mainly because I don’t see a compelling reason to choose it over the Nexus 10. If you prefer TouchWiz and want to control your television from your tablet, then perhaps the Galaxy Tab 3 is worth the look. Otherwise, I’d likely pass unless Samsung drops the price by $50 or more.

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