(For a more thorough overview of the operating system and how it differs from Apple's iOS, see my full Android Honeycomb review.)
In its rush to get 3.1 on the Tab, Samsung opted to ship the device with stock Honeycomb, leaving off its trademark TouchWiz overlay for now. If you like a "pure" Google experience, though, you may be in for a disappointment.
First of all, while the new Tab is lacking Samsung's full custom interface, the company did -- contrary to initial impressions -- make some subtle modifications to the OS. Most immediately noticeable, the default Honeycomb camera app is replaced with a Samsung alternative. I wouldn't say it's really better or worse in any significant way; it's just different -- and that's the problem. Samsung's camera app is inconsistent with the overall Honeycomb interface; unlike the rest of the system, it doesn't have the standard set of navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen to let you step back, return to the home screen, or multitask. This inconsistency hurts the user experience and makes me wonder why Samsung meddled with the software in the first place.
Other OS modifications include the addition of a Samsung virtual keyboard, which uses Nuance's XT9 text-prediction technology. It is set as the primary keyboard by default, though you can switch back to the standard Honeycomb keyboard if you prefer. (Personally, I found the regular Honeycomb version easier to use.) Samsung also added in a setting that lets you specify separate wallpapers for your home screen and lock screen -- a fine if somewhat unnecessary feature.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a handful of Samsung-added apps preinstalled, all of which are set as system applications and thus are unremovable. These include Samsung's Music Hub, a rather clunky and superfluous Samsung app store, and a couple of third-party programs for word processing and news.
Hang on, though: This stuff is all small potatoes compared to the Samsung software modifications on the way. The company still plans to add its TouchWiz user interface onto the Galaxy Tab 10.1; the interface will be sent as an over-the-air update to Tab users at some point "in the near future." The update will integrate the company's full custom UI into the Android software, adding such features as a dock-style app tray for quick access to commonly used applications, a series of custom apps and widgets for the home screen, and seamless access to Samsung mobile services like Media Hub, Social Hub and Allshare.
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