The core of the tablet experience lies in how consumers navigate the interface, gets things done and access information. All three manufacturers have different dogmas on how the interface should be designed for an optimal user experience.
Managing notifications is among the most important aspects for mobile devices and both the iPad Air and Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 deal with it via pull-down panels. For the iPad Air, a swipe down from the top of the screen gives you access to Notification Centre where emails, missed calls, to-dos and calendar info are compiled for easy viewing. Notifications are grouped according to their categories (e.g Facebook, Gmail, App Store). You cannot execute any action on the notification except to access them (by individual level) or remove them (by category).
Aside from letting you view the notifications, the notification panel on the Android OS also enables you to carry out certain actions. In the screenshot below, you are able to delete, edit or share the screenshot from the notification panel without the need to access it through the Gallery app. The Android notification panel also has the advantage of integrating the quick toggle settings with the notification panel. In addition, you can customize which quick setting buttons to appear at the notification panel. The iPad Air, on the other hand, allows you to access a fixed set of quick toggles (airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do not Disturb mode, Mute, brightness, volume, camera and music playback).
The Surface 2 is slightly more confusing than the iPad Air and Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1. While its two counterparts adopt an app-based interface, the Surface 2 prides itself on having a unique interface made up of Live Tiles. Dubbed the Modern UI, it is an integral front-end of the Windows 8 interface. The Live Tiles function similar to app widgets on Android, where information is updated at regular intervals.
They also can be resized to your preferences and in accordance to their importance. For example, you may want to see the weather forecast for today and tomorrow. You have the option to turn its Live Tile feature on for the latest update on weather information, and resize it to receive just the right amount of information at a a glance. In the case of the weather forecast tile, medium gives you today's forecast, wide displays today's forecast with animation, or large which provides forecasts for today and tomorrow with animation.
Navigating the interface can be a tricky, especially for users who are new to the Windows 8 interface. The recent Windows 8.1 RT update addressed some of the shortcomings of its predecessor, but it still poses quite a learning curve for a newbie to get acquainted with the different swipe gestures and features. The key thing to understand is that the interface is not difficult, but rather, it's still new to most people. You can check out our article, "Windows 8.1 Update: Bridging the Touch and Desktop Gap", where some of the new features can also be found on Windows 8.1 RT in the Surface 2 tablet.
As such, in terms of overall user-friendliness, usability and interface navigation, the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 seems to have a slight upper hand. Consumers who are looking for a straightforward interface to use will appreciate the iPad Air, but we foresee more demanding users gravitating towards the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1.
To a certain extent, the ease of use also extends into the physical attributes of the device and one way to look into it as by assessing the portability of the device where its ability to balance battery mileage against its size and mass, make up our Portability Index. As seen in the graph below, the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 takes the top spot as it has the sleekest dimensions and a light weight form factor. While it lost out to Microsoft's Surface 2 in raw battery life, these other factors made it favorable enough that it still clinched the top spot.
More often than not, tablets are used by consumers while they are on the move from one place to another. This is where data connectivity options comes into play. Both the iPad Air and Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 are available in two variants - Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + 4G LTE - while the Surface 2 sold in Singapore only comes as a Wi-Fi-only model.
In terms of Wi-Fi connectivity, Apple and Samsung claim that their tablets can deliver extremely fast download speeds. The iPad Air has dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11n Wi-Fi and MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology, which can deliver download speeds of up to 300Mbps.
Similarly, the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 supports dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11ac Wi-Fi and VHT (Very High Throughput) 80MHz MIMO transmission. It also has a feature, Network Booster, which can enhance download speeds by using both Wi-Fi and mobile data concurrently. To find out how Network Booster works and fared in reality, do check out our review of the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 which first introduced this feature. The Surface 2 only supports the older Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n standards.
When it comes to 4G LTE connectivity, the iPad Air model sold in Singapore supports 14 LTE bands (two of which are used by all three telcos). In comparison, the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 only supports six LTE bands (2600, 2100, 1800, 900, 850, 800MHz). What this means is that the iPad Air can connect to more LTE networks around the world. For consumers who often travel overseas, this is a major plus point.
Supporting more bands is one part of the big picture; the speeds supported is another. The Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 supports LTE Cat 4, which means you can enjoy download speeds of up to 150Mbps. The iPad Air supports LTE Cat 3; the maximum download speed is 100Mbps.