For months and months, Apple and the iPad had a virtual stranglehold on the tablet computing space. Armed with undeniably sleek industrial design, the proven iOS mobile operating system, a huge display and a battery the size of a small planet, the Apple iPad ushered the world into casual computing on tablet devices designed for couch-bound websurfers. But, now, Apple finally has some competition in the Samsung Galaxy Tab Android tablet.
The Galaxy Tab is considerably smaller than the Apple tablet, runs Android 2.2 Froyo OS, and has been touted as the official “iPad killer.” It features its own Media Hub for buying and downloading all kinds of digital content. It works over WiFi or via a carrier’s 3G data network. And, all Tabs support microSD card expansion, for veritably limitless storage options. And, with a mostly plastic shell, the Tab is lighter and easier to handle than an iPad.
So, does this Android tablet have what it takes to give the iPad a serious run for its money?
Read on to find out.
Sprint Samsung Galaxy Tab
Available now from Sprint for $399.99 with a 2-year contract (choice of two data plans).
- 7-inch (1024×600) capacitive touchscreen
- 1 GHz Hummingbird processor
- 3-megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash
- 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for video calls
- 16GB or 32GB of internal storage
- Android 2.2 Froyo OS with TouchWiz UI
- microSD card slot with 16GB card pre-installed – expandable up to 32 GB
- 3G connectivity
- WiFi (b/g/n)
- GPS (with compass)
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- 3G data connection from Sprint
- Large screen in a very portable design
- Great for thumb-typing in portrait orientation
- Front-facing and rear-facing (with LED flash) cameras
- Built-in microphone for video chatting
- Expandable storage
- Strong GPU performance
- Media Hub
- Solid hardware
- More plasticky than iPad (but otherwise very solid)
- Some Android-related software bugs
- Awkward scrolling in the web browser
- Proprietary dock connector
- Less-than-stellar touchscreen response
- No voice calls (cellular or Google Voice)
- Android 2.2 Froyo is not quite yet optimized for tablet form-factors
The hardware is the best part of the The Samsung Galaxy Tab. To be clear, the Tab’s plastic backing puts it at an immediate disadvantage when compared side-by-side (or, we should say hand-in-hand) with an iPad – Apple’s use of an aluminum unibody shell is hard to beat in terms of the drool-factor.
But, that doesn’t mean the Galaxy Tab is any less impressive from a hardware stand-point. The front face, like the Galaxy S smartphone, features a smooth slab of glass. The backlit navigation keys are of the capacitive, touch-sensitive variety, keeping the face of the device clean and uncluttered by hardware buttons. That also means you’ll be left hunting for the “Home” key when the backlight turns off in a dark room. Compromises. The good news here is that the capacitive keys on the front don’t exhibit any of the unresponsiveness that we sometimes noticed on some Galaxy S smartphones.
The volume control rocker, the power button, the microSD card slot, the 3.5mm headphone jack, and dock connector line the outer edge of the Tab. These are the only design elements that interrupt the tablet’s clean lines. It’s just too bad that Samsung decided to dump the standard microUSB/USB port for their proprietary dock connector – we’re told this was done for the sake of creating a variety of accessories. Still, we’re still having trouble getting used to carrying around one more proprietary cable with us in case the Tab needs an on-the-road recharge. The lack of a standardized data/charging port was a mistake in our eyes, you may or may not agree, depending on how many different charging/data cables you have to carry around on a daily basis.
The Tab is small, sleek and quite solid. It’s a lot like the iPhone 3G and 3GS in that the glossy plastic backside is precisely mated to a 7-inch slab of tough-as-nails Gorilla Glass touchscreen display. You won’t find any wiggle or jiggle in the Samsung Android tablet, and it offers an a confident in-hand feel. Some tablets we’ve played with tend to feel too light or plasticky, but the Tab — like the iPad — feels solid and dense.
Despite being a dense piece of kit, the Tab is light enough to hold above your head as you read in bed or hold in just one hand as you check your news feed on the toilet at the breakfast table. The “palm-ability” of the Tab is one of its greatest assets, allowing you to literally surf the web from the palm of your hand. Speaking of size, the smaller form-factor allows for really easy typing with two thumbs. Try typing on the iPad in portrait orientation with your thumbs – it’s not easy.
Unfortunately, the smaller size of the Tab also means that you won’t be tapping away at 55 words per minute on the virtual keyboard in landscape orientation. In comparison, I can type at least 55wpm with good accuracy on the iPad. That’s not to say that typing on the Tab is limited to using just your thumbs. The Tab can connect to a Bluetooth keyboard and also comes with an optional keyboard dock that should make quick work of long emails and heated Google Voice texting sessions. The downside here is that you’ll have to carry around extra hardware if you think you’ll need to do some serious writing whilst on the road.
Overall, the hardware is great. If you can deal with a plastic backside, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more solid Android tablet. Also, for those of you that are more accident prone, you’ll be glad to hear that the Tab has survived multiple drops onto tile and wood flors and steel chair legs with nary a scratch, our iPad picked up dents from lesser falls.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab runs the Hummingbird processor, developed by Samsung. It’s clocked at 1GHz and is mated to a custom Hummingbird GPU that is claimed to be the best in its class. We’re not sure if the GPU is really better than anything else on market, but the 3D performance of the tab (mostly in games) is top-notch. Car racing games like Asphalt 5 HD really put a mobile chipset’s 3D performance to the test, and the Tab handled this particular 3D game with aplomb. And, just to back up the 3D performance and application processing performance of the Tab, we used Quadrant, Linpack and Neocore to put the CPU and GPU to the test. Quadrant and Linpack consistently scored the Tab’s internals . Neocore consistently achieved more than 53 frame per second (fps) on full-screen, intensive 3D tasks. Those numbers don’t really mean much without a baseline, so here are the numbers in comparison to an HTC EVO 4G, Nexus One, and Samsung Galaxy S (Verizon Fascinate): Clearly, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is no slouch in the power department. With 512MB of RAM in tow — twice that of the iPad — the Galaxy Tab puts its silicon to good use.
Size and Weight
This Android tablet is going to be one of the slimmest and lightest in its class for some times. It’s almost small enough to get away with slipping the Tab into some larger pants pockets. You’ll probably get some strange looks from people wondering why your pants look a bit funny, but don’t let that stop you from the novelty of carrying a tablet computer in your pocket. As mentioned above, the Tab is fairly lightweight. It’s light enough to hold with one hand above your head as you read in bed. But, it still retains that solid in-hand feel that we’ve come to expect from high-end smartphone-like devices these days. Solid construction and quality materials are the name of this game.
Fit and Finish
The back cover is not removable, which lends to the device’s sturdy feel. The downside here is that the battery is sealed. The only real moving part is the plastic cover over the microSD slot, and it snaps into place flush with the body Fit and finish on the Tab are exceptional. Like a new luxury Japanese car. Whereas the iPad is like a German luxury automobile, with higher quality materials, the Tab does a darn good job with slightly down-rated materials.
This is where the Samsung Galaxy Tab will either prove itself a stud or a dud, depending on your tastes. The Tab runs on Android 2.2 Froyo OS, which is the latest and greatest that Google has to offer at this point. But, what differentiates the Tab from the crowd is the Samsung TouchWiz UI that is skinned atop the OS.
The TouchWiz user interface is the same that you’ll find in other Galaxy S devices, and it makes the entire device feel somewhat like the iPhone and iOS. If you like the iOS aesthetic, you’ll feel right at home with TouchWiz. If you despise the iPhone/iPad and everything Apple stands for, you might want to think twice about jumping on the TouchWiz bandwagon.
TouchWiz gives a bit of the “round” and “bubbly” feel of the iPad’s iOS. App icon badges are customized with various colors. The badges also have rounded corners, making them more iPad-esque. To top it all off, TouchWiz serves up an app drawer that swipes sideways, like the iPad, rather than vertically, as you’ll find on most other Android devices.
Unfortunately, as handy as they are, Samsung’s TouchWiz customizations are no substitute for out-of-the-box optimizations for the tablet form factor. Froyo is still not yet optimized to handle the Tab’s larger screen and higher resolution. You’ll notice this lack of optimization when you scroll through a webpage – jerky kinetic scrolling and (sometimes) awkward pinch zooming plague the Tab to no end. We’re looking forward to they day when Android 3.0 Honeycomb becomes available for the Tab, as that will likely resolve the web page scrolling lagginess and other UI-related issues. Overall, the software is good, but it could indeed be better (which it will be, eventually).
There are all kinds of custom app preloaded on the Tab. You get the Samsung Media Hub, Task Manager, My Files, ThinkFree Office, Daily Briefing, Qik, Kindle, Digital Frame, and AllShare. You also get the full suite of Google’s Android apps that come preloaded with all Android phones, but we’re going to focus on the Samsung-specific apps that differentiate the Tab from other Android devices.
First, Samsung Media Hub. The idea of the Media Hub is to fill a gap in the Android OS that Google has yet to address. A media store. Google has no such store that serves up movies and TV shows that you can buy and download over the air. Media Hub solves this problem. It’s basically Samsung’s movie and TV show store integrated into Android. From Media Hub, you can buy and download videos on a whim. Downloads of larger media (movies, especially) are generally restricted to WiFi-only, which makes sense, since you don’t want to wait days for your Tab to download Analyze This over a 3G data connection. The downside is that the selection on Media Hub is quite limited as of the time of this review.
Task Manager is a handy little app that allows you to quickly view all your running apps and kill them at will. You can easily download third-party apps from the Android Market that serve the same function as Task Manager (look for Advanced Task Killer on Android Market), but it’s still nice to be able to control which apps are running in the background without having to download accessory apps. Out-of-the-box functionality is the key here.
MyFiles is, well, exactly what it sounds like. It’s a file manager that allows you to view and manage your files. Again, you can download similar apps from the Android Market, but it’s just nice to have this kind of app built into the device.
ThinkFree Office is the Samsung’s solution to reading, editing and sharing Microsoft Office documents. You can’t necessarily create Office documents using ThinkFree, but you can view and edit them via the ThinkFree Online document sync service. Simply upload your MS Office documents to your ThinkFree Online service and they’ll automatically be synchronized with your Tab. The next time you fire up the ThinkFree Office app, you’ll have full access to all your important documents.
Daily Briefing is an app that gives you your, well, daily briefing. Between the full Daily Briefing app and the Daily Briefing widget, you’ll never be more than a couple finger-taps away from getting the skinny on breaking news, your stocks’ performance, your calendar and even the weather – all in one convenient and intuitive interface. We wish Daily Briefing would sync with Google Reader, but we’re willing to let the lack of any RSS integration slide on account of the app’s overall usefulness.
Qik. We really want to love Qik. On paper, the video-chat app is awesome. Using 3G or WiFi, Qik allows you to use your Android phone or a tablet, like the Galaxy Tab, to call up your friends and have a real face-to-face chat. The Tab’s front-facing camera makes this all possible. That is, it’s sometimes possible, because Qik is one finicky piece of software. We’d like to say that using Qik only sometimes results in choppy video, audio that isn’t in sync with the video, audio that doesn’t work at all, or all of the above. But, if we did that, we would be lying. Qik is really only usable via WiFi networks. Under real-world conditions, 3G video calls are going to do little more than frustrate you. Still, it’s nice to have the option – especially when you’re lucky enough to be near WiFi.
AllShare is one of the more underrated apps/features on the Galaxy Tab. It’s Samsung’s custom DLNA app, which allows you to push multimedia to any other DLNA device (TV, computer, smartphone, printer, game console, etc.) that’s connected to the same WiFi network. Simply connect your Tab to your home WiFi network and AllShare will automatically detect all DLNA capable devices. Once that’s done, you can pull down photos, videos, and/or music from any connected device on your home network to your Tab. Or, if you feel like sharing, you can play your media on those same connected devices, using your Tab as a remote control of sorts.
One of the nicer features included in the custom TouchWiz skin is the tweaked “notifications tray.” With stock Android, the notification bar that sits along the top edge of your display is used to display system information like time, battery level, signal reception, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc. Pull the notification bar downwards with your finger and you’ll see the “notifications tray,” which serves up more detailed system notifications: emails, app downloads/installations, etc.
With TouchWiz, the notification bar/tray is transformed into a quick-access menu that allows you to quickly toggle WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Silent mode, Orientation lock, and even lets you change the brightness of the screen. Of course, it still serves up system notifications. Going beyond the notifications bar, you’ll see Samsung’s bits-and-pieces customizations throughout the interface. Text input is handled by default by the Swype keyboard. The Swype keyboard basically allows you to trace the letters you’d like to type, without having to perform the traditional tap-and-lift ritual. It’s fast and accurate, but we’re not sure Swype is suited for larger tablet-sized form factors. And, if you make a mistake, Samsung provides a convenient text selection tool in its own apps or customized apps (browser, Media Hub, etc.) makes it easy to position your cursor precisely where you need it to be.
Like most other tablets — the iPad excepted, for obvious reasons — the Samsung Galaxy Tab has a rear-facing camera. It’s rated at only 3-megapixels, but it’ll be more than enough for your tablet-as-camera needs. Honestly, you’ll probably be better off taking that picture with your smartphone’s camera, but if you just have to snap a pic with your Tab, you’ll find the camera more than sufficient.
Without a dedicated camera shutter button, you’ll have to get used to tapping the on-screen shutter button in order to take pictures. But, you’re probably not going to use your Tab for too many photo sessions, so we’re not too worried about the lack of a dedicated camera button.
You can use the volume keys to zoom. The camera user interface works well and it gives you a variety of options including outdoor visibility mode (which helps), various scene positions, anti-shake technology, blink detection, effects, ISO adjustments and more. There are also a variety of shooting modes.
The Tab gets a bonus point for having a front-facing camera. You can use this camera to take portrait photos of yourself (to use as a headshot or avatar), or you can use the front-facing camera to get your video chat fix. Fire up the Qik video-chatting app, and you can start having some honest-to-goodness conversations like your grandparents used to do: facing the person on the other side of your yapping session. That is, as long as you’re on WiFi or willing to take your chances on a 3G connection. Qik is not an app we’d call “reliable” over 3G.
The LED flash works well enough in low-lighting settings. You’re still not going to get amazing shots with marginal lighting conditions, but at least this LED flash gives you a shot (no pun intended).
The Tab can handle video recording, and maxes out at 720p HD video resolution. It won’t blow your mind, but if you’re recording video with a tablet, chances are you weren’t expecting cinema-quality results anyway. That said, having a camcorder on the Tab can be convenient. We see the camcorder mostly being used to record quick clips of the kids to share with the grand-folks or maybe to show off your new gadget to your web forum buddies.
Browsing and Multimedia
This Android tablet comes with a Webkit browser that is bundled with Android 2.2 OS, but it boasts some customizations. The browser is skinned with the same TouchWiz aesthetic that you’ll find throughout the UI. It includes a “back” and “forward” webpage navigation button alongside the URL bar, probably not unlike your desktop web browser.
Most web pages render well. Intelligent zooming mostly works well. Unfortunately, the Tab suffers from choppy web page scrolling and the occasional zooming snafu. Try flicking through a website and you’ll likely be met with frustratingly slow kinetic scrolling. If you’re lucky, scrolling through a webpage will be a mostly smooth experience. Sometimes, though, you’ll have to deal with jerky scrolling and awkward pinch-zooming issues when surfing the web (which includes viewing PDFs, unfortunately).
It’s worth noting that the rest of the Tab’s UI performs well. The underlying problem is that Android 2.2 Froyo is not optimized for this size screen and resolution. Future Android OS updates will likely resolve the Tab’s quirky webpage scrolling and zooming bugs. Check out the last few minutes of our Galaxy Tab software tour video to get an idea of what we’re talking about here.
The multimedia is fairly bare bones, as it is for many Android devices. The media player has been customized by Samsung. It handles most of the audio and videos you’re likely to load up on the Tab, but you’ll probably want to download a third-party media player if you’re a hardcore multimedia user. That said, the stock media player will be good enough to serve up videos for long enough to keep you occupied for the duration of your cross-country flight, and then some.
Gaming on the Tab is a redeeming experience. Thanks to the Tab’s powerhouse Hummingbird graphics processor, 3D games absolutely fly off the screen. Sure, playing Angry birds on the large 7-inch display is a great way to pass the time, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Tab shines on 3D games.
Screen Quality and Battery
The display on the Tab is crisp and bright. By default, the display is set to automatically change brightness levels according to ambient light levels. It does this by sensing ambient light levels through the light sensor located next to the front-facing camera. But we much prefer to go all out and set the display brightness to near maximum. You can do this through settings or through the quick-access shortcut available through the notifications tray.
At full (or near full) brightness, the display is hands-down impressive. Colors are crisp, images are sharp, and, perhaps more importantly, the display responds well to touch inputs.
We would have liked to have more responsive multi-touch inputs in the web browser and when viewing office documents, as mentioned above. But, hey, jerky scrolling and sometimes schizophrenic pinch zooming adds character. Right? The Tab delivers on its impressive display. Swiping through the TouchWiz interface (and most apps) is a breeze and a mostly smooth experience. If you can deal with scrolling- and multitouch-quirks, you’ll be happy with the Galaxy Tab. Just don’t expect it to be as slick as the iPad.
The Galaxy Tab is an iPad competitor, but it’s no iPad killer
The Samsung Galaxy Tab is a good Android tablet. As it stands right now, it’s the best Android tablet you can buy. The hardware is great. We love the more portable-than-iPad form factor, which makes it great for experienced thumb-typers and newbies alike. Aside from the fact that the Tab can fit in some jacket pockets and a helluva lot of purses out there, it’s lightweight enough to comfortably use in bed with one hand. You know, so you don’t get a cramp. That would not be fun.
The software is almost as good as the hardware. It’s customized enough to almost fool you into forgetting that you’re using an Android device. The extra colors and UI tweaks are just enough to help make the Android experience better (enhanced text selection, modified notifications bar, TaskManager, etc.). Unfortunately, no amount of custom homescreen magic can cover up the fact that Android 2.2 Froyo is just not ready to take on the larger tablet form-factor. The higher resolutions required by larger displays seems to be the most pressing problem. But, with the exception of webpage scrolling lagginess and sometimes inaccurate pinch-zooming, the Tab’s software performs well.
Top that all off with a 3G data connection from Sprint (or whichever carrier you decide to buy your Tab from), and the Galaxy Tab has the right stuff to keep you productive, or at least entertained and happy, on those long road trips or trans-oceanic flights.
So, is it an iPad killer? Not yet. The software is still too buggy to make it an iPad killer. The iPad’s software is the gold standard, and there’s a reason for that. Apple made some serious tweaks to the iOS to make it iPad-friendly. Android is just not at that point (yet). The hardware, as good as it is, could still stand feel like a more “premium” device in the hand – the kind of premium feel that the iPad delivers in spades.
That said, if a tablet is definitely in your near-term future, and you aren’t willing to join the cult of Apple, the Tab is your best Android-powered option.