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I did some calculations with a "data table" in Excel, but to me it looks like the same calculations could be done just copying the formula across rows and columns with a mix of absolute (using $) and relative references.

Are there any unique features of data tables, that can not be reproduced by other means?

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Simple answer: No, you can reproduce exactly the same results using formulas.

They are there for your convenience, to save you the time of having to set-up everything yourself.

You can use data tables to see how different input values affect the results of a formula. By doing so, you can test different input values for a formula without having to retype or copy the formula for each value.

-An overview of data tables in Excel 2003 and in Excel 2007

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Ok, looks to me to be indeed very useful when there are not only different input values, but where the formula is changed as well –  grojo May 10 '11 at 7:04

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