Guest Post: Albert is a developer, gadget geek, and all-round nice guy. He‘s passionate about Android, and writes for ZADroid, a new blog that covers Android in South Africa. However, anything shiny and sufficiently technologically advanced puts a smile on his face. Above and beyond that, Albert loves the web and the technologies that drive it, good design, and original ideas.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab is somewhat hard to get hold of, but we‘ve managed to get our grubby paws on not one, but two of these nifty little devices (not official Samsung review units, though, seems they‘re quite attached to it). Both Philip and I have had the opportunity to spend some time with the Tab.
The Galaxy Tab is a seven-inch (~18cm) Tablet device, which measures 190.1×120.6×12.0mm.
You would think that using a Galaxy Tab right after the deluge of Honeycomb and Android Tablet news from CES would detract somewhat from the experience, and after the first few minutes with my unit I thought it was going to be a bit of a “œmeh“ review, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. You‘ve probably heard people saying it‘s like a giant Galaxy S. That‘s both spot on, and way off the mark. Let‘s get into the details, and you‘ll see what I mean.
The Galaxy Tab is a seven-inch (~18cm) Tablet device, which measures 190.1Ã—120.6Ã—12.0mm. It‘s a bit thicker than I expected, but that being said, it‘s still pretty thin. It‘s difficult to differentiate these all-screen devices, but Samsung have pulled it off with the interesting white plastic back (which holds up pretty well to scratches and dirt). The unit is lighter than expected, a bit plasticky, but quite solidly built and quite durable. Unfortunately, the Tab has Samsung‘s standard 4 capacitive buttons right beneath the display. With a device like this it‘s even easier to accidentally brush against these with undesired effects following. On top of the device is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, on the left sits the microphone, on the right is the power switch, a very nice volume rocker, and nicely concealed SIM card and SD Card slots. On the bottom is the dock connector and speaker ports. It‘s a pity that the 30-pin connector is non-standard (it almost looks like a flipped-over Apple connector), which means you‘re shit out of luck if you lose your cable.
It’s difficult to differentiate these all-screen devices, but Samsung have pulled it off with the interesting white plastic back.
All in all, the seven-inch form factor turned out to perfect for prolonged, yet comfortable use, quickly stuffing in an average-sized pocket, and leaving on the nightstand for a charge.
The Super TFT LCD on the Tab is a better-than-average display. Running at a resolution of 1024Ã—768, with a pixel density of 169ppi, text is sharp, colours are bright and vivid, and graphical elements just look better than usual. It even performs surprisingly well in direct sunlight, with a little bit of wash-out, but not to an unusable degree. The Galaxy Tab‘s display is covered by a sheet of Corning‘s Gorilla Glass, which makes it the ideal toss-it-in-the-bag tablet.
It‘s no Super AMOLED, but it‘s good enough, and a damn sight better than some other tablet displays out there.
Other Bits and Pieces
The Galaxy Tab has the usual array of extras: 3G and WiFi connectivity, aGPS, and Bluetooth, as well as an ambient light sensor. Nothing out of the ordinary here, and they all work as expected. It‘s curious that Samsung has decided that the GSM functionality shouldn‘t be limited to data on a Tablet device. You can actually make phone calls if the included headset is used, or on the built-in speaker if private conversations aren‘t your thing. A nice extra.
For those intending to use the Tab without a SIM card, the Tab offers a Flight Mode toggle, which will disable the GSM/3G and Bluetooth radios, but leaves WiFi as an option to enable. Be aware, however, that for some reason the Samsung Apps application that is pre-installed on the device will refuse to start if a SIM card is not present. The annoying thing about this is the fact that, even if it knows very well that it won‘t run without a SIM, it will still present you with a notification that you can download application updates using it.
Performance & Battery Life
The 1 GHz Hummingbird processor (an ARM processor featuring package-on-package construction) is the same that can be found in the Galaxy S Phone. Samsung takes advantage of the Package-on-Package architecture by embedding 8Gb of MLC Flex OneNAND, 1 Gb of OneDRAM and 3Gb of Mobile DDR into the processor. We already know this makes for a snappy experience, but it felt even quicker on the Tab. It may be down to software tweaks and optimizations. Whatever it is, the Tab is blazingly fast, even with multiple applications running. You also get 16 or 32 GB of internal storage capacity (depending on the model), which can be expanded with a microSD card. The Galaxy Tab also packs 512 MB of DDR RAM, which is less than expected, but it doesn‘t seem to hamper performance.
The Galaxy Tab feeds off a massive 3.7V/4000mAh Li-Ion battery, and Samsung claims up to 7 hours of video playback. We didn‘t get quite those numbers, but the battery lasted a little bit more than a day and half with regular use. The battery isn‘t user-replaceable, but at the pace gadgets are becoming obsolete these days, it shouldn‘t be a problem.
The Tab has two cameras: 3.2 MP rear facing camera and 1.3 MP front facing camera. You‘d expect a camera packing slightly more mega-pixels from Samsung, whose cellphone cameras are generally very good. So, the main camera isn‘t wonderful, but it does the job. The front-facing camera couldn‘t be tested with video calls, but the pictures it produced in self-shot mode were useless. That being said, the Camera application almost redeems the lackluster hardware. It has a few very nice features like an auto-stitching panorama mode, and smile detection.
Up to the Galaxy Tab, Android just wasn‘t meant for screen sizes large than 5 inches. Samsung worked with Google to bring a modified version of 2.2 (Froyo) to the Tab, which scales correctly, and has a few display tweaks such as larger fonts and buttons (and a different, quite pleasant colour scheme). Samsung has also pre-installed a few applications specifically created for the Galaxy Tab and its form factor. Among these are e-mail, calendar, a media player, and one or two other bits and bobs, like a calculator. It is evident that a lot of thought and care was put into the development of these applications, as they are a joy to use. Also included is Samsung Applications, an extra software repository with Tab-specific extras.
The Galaxy Tab also boasts Adobe Flash 10.1 support, but this is something of a mixed bag, as some Flash content will completely ruin your browsing experience. As an example, the Flash content on Rockstar‘s Social Club website caused the Browser application to eat CPU cycles so badly that the operating system made it go away with nary a peep or a notification. Another huge annoyance caused by the Flash support was that one block of Flash content on a page managed to obscure the Browser toolbar at the top of the screen, rendering one unable to perform almost any kind of useful navigation. It eventually got so bad that we set plug-ins to load on demand, instead of automatically.
Admittedly, these issues may well be the fault of the Flash content creator, but the plug-in should at least ensure that the tablet‘s user interface isn‘t affected by content it‘s displaying.
From a usability perspective, using an operating system I‘ve gotten used to on a small screen all blown up like this was strange at first. Every now and then it‘s evident that the Android we all know and love just wasn‘t meant for Tablets, but for those of us familiar with the ins and outs of the OS, using it is a breeze, and, on the Tab, a joy ““ as there is little to no lagging. Downloading and installing applications from the Android market happened so fast sometimes, that I missed it.
So yes, this tweaked version of Android works on the Galaxy Tab, but only because it is so familiar. Hopefully the Tab is in line for an upgrade to Honeycomb, so it can run Android as Google intends it to be run on this form factor.
I was prepared to be wholly underwhelmed by the Galaxy Tab. I thought that I was going to brush it off as Samsung‘s attempt to get a foot in the door before everyone else. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. Samsung has managed to make a software and hardware pairing that was never intended to be work quite well. It‘s a pretty device that is fun to use, and it‘s just the right size and weight. Would I buy one off-contract? Probably not. Would I get one on contract? I‘d seriously consider it.
Now to see how, and if, Samsung catches up to Motorola, LG, and all the other players that will be releasing very powerful hardware coupled with a flavor of Android intended for Tablets.
Build Quality: 4/5
Performance and Responsiveness: 4/5