My problem with Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Galaxy Tab 10.1

I can't apply updates. C`mon, how hard must this be?

Generally, I prefer Galaxy Tab 10.1 to iPad 2. I like how the device feels in the hand, and I'm now accustomed to its longer, narrower shape when held in portrait mode. I find Tab to be generally faster and more responsive than iPad 2, and Android 3.1 is considerably more pleasing than iOS 4. I could go on -- and would -- in a full review, which I was saving for Samsung's TouchWiz UX user interface/skin that released Friday. I can't install it -- hell, I can't even come close.

Before continuing, two interrelated points need to be made. I had great angst about applying TouchWiz UX because it's permanent. The firmware upgrade would replace the vanilla Honeycomb experience, something I was willing to do for review purposes, and Samsung offers no utility to remove it. My failed update experience shows exactly what's wrong with Android tablets -- fragmentation of the user experience. By comparison, because Apple controls iOS updates, the user experience is fairly consistent, not just on iPad but iPhone, too.

Because of these two interrelated things, which I'll expand on below, I renew my call for Google to offer its own branded tablet like it does with the Nexus smartphone series.

What the Hell?

My problem started rather unexpectedly.

One of Android's great benefits is the ability to receive over-the-air updates, a facility iOS users finally will get when v5 releases sometime later this year. No connection to personal computer is required. I had assumed, therefore, that my Galaxy Tab 10.1 was primed to receive updates. Now that's unclear to me. In Settings > About Tablet > System updates there are two options: Update and Auto update. There is a check in the box for Auto update, as I would expect. When I clicked the Update option, Tab 10.1 presented a log-in page for entering or signing up for a Samsung Account. Say what?

On Nexus S, like Nexus One before it, everything ties to the user's Google Account, and that includes OTA updates. I expected no different from Tab 10.1, which shipped with vanilla Honeycomb 3.1 -- well, more or less. I created a Samsung Account, which afterwards prompted to download an 11.22MB firmware update.

Samsung presented no information about what it was or what it would change. I followed the prompts to download and install the 11.22MB update, which by its small size indicated that it wasn't TouchWiz UX. After the download, Tab 10.1 rebooted and attempted installation. Instead it presented error "Failed to update firmware" and recommendation to use Kies connected to a PC. What the hell is Kies?

Kies Please?

It's Samsung's desktop software for syncing music, photos and other files to smartphones and tablets. I had a heck of time finding it, too, and ended up Googling instead. I initially went from Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 Updates page to its Download Center, where I was presented with v1 of the software. But it's v2 that supports firmware upgrades, which I only found after going through three or four pages of Google search results. Except -- when later examining the file, it's labeled as 2.0 but the About menu indicates 1.x. WTH?

I downloaded and installed Kies 2.0 to my wife's 13-inch MacBook Pro and then connected Tab 10.1. In the device section, Kies presented: "GT-P7510 does not support firmware upgrade". C`mon, Samsung, at least the text could indicate Galaxy Tab 10.1. There's nothing showing what the problem is, either. "Terrible" is simply not strong enough to describe this user experience, which demonstrates the problems of OEMs having control over anything dealing with the operating system.

OTA update or its PC/Mac software backup is basic functionality in 2011. There's no excuse for any kind of problems, and it's the kind of situation that maligns the broader user experience and poisons buyers against the Android, Google or Samsung brands. As I stated right from the start of this post, I otherwise like Galaxy Tab 10.1 more than iPad 2, yet I find myself in an unfortunate position of writing something negative that will dissuade other potential buyers, and on a Sunday morning. If I can't apply firmware updates, the tablet might as well be a brick.

I tried numerous web keyword searches looking for something somewhere to solve the problem. I even searched for the text: "GT-P7510 does not support firmware upgrade". I also repeated the OTA update process a half dozen times and reconnected Tab 10.1 to my wife's Mac three more times. The tablet won't take the firmware. To be clear, I haven't rooted Tab 10.1 or otherwise mucked around with it. Maybe someday but not before finishing my review from a typical mainstream buyer's perspective. I was going to post this yesterday but waited 24 hours hoping something would change. Nope.

Now if this were an iPad 2, I could haul it down to Apple Store and let a Genius look it over -- and he or she could either fix or replace the tablet. That's the advantage Apple has with its retail stores -- and one of the main reasons iOS devices are selling so well. Buyers know they have a place to go to get things fixed when they go wrong.

I posted my problem to Google+ on Friday night, hoping someone might offer resolution. Satia Hediyanto suggested going into "recovery mode" -- to which fellow journalist Ian Betteridge offered chilling response: "Phrases that no one should ever have to use about a consumer product: 'Put the product into recovery mode '".

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