29
Nov
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Last Updated: July 24th, 2011

Last week, Samsung was awesome enough to send us the T-Mobile variant of their Galaxy Tab for review. As of this writing, I've spent a full 9 days using the 7" tablet - more than enough time to get an intimate feel for it. Without giving too much away off the bat, I have to say that I'm fairly impressed with it, despite having a few minor niggles.

So what does the Tab do right, and where does it come up short? Read on to find out.

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Hardware

Build

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The first thing you notice about the Tab is that it's very solid; at nearly 14 ounces, it has a good heft without being too heavy. The build quality is similarly solid, no doubt aided by the lack of removable body panels. The obvious downside of this is that users can't service the Tab themselves (meaning the battery isn't removable). The upside is that the body consists of basically three very solid pieces - a full plastic back, a gorilla-glass front, and a solid (albeit, with spots for buttons and cards/headphones) band around the rim. The three parts are very firmly put together, resulting in a well-built device that feels like it could withstand just about anything. And indeed, while I didn't exactly run it through a battery of tests, it made it through a few days in my heavy (and device-laden) backpack, being carried around, dropped, and bumped - and came out of it no worse for the wear.

The design comes together to form a pretty sleek package, and between the aesthetic appeal and the newness of tablets in general, let alone Android tablets, it garners a lot of attention. Most people asked me if it was an iPad - the average consumer really is (understandably) pretty clueless.

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Tech Specs

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It's a good thing the build quality is top notch - the shell has to protect some excellent hardware:

  • 7-inch 1024×600 display
  • 1GHz Hummingbird processor
  • 3.2MP rear camera
  • Front-facing camera
  • 4000mAh battery
  • Android 2.2 FroYo with TouchWiz UI
  • 16 GB ROM memory
  • 3G/WiFi

The components come together to form a potent package, with one drawback that I briefly mentioned in the hands on: the infamous Galaxy S lag problem. The issue stems from the file system chosen by Samsung; in a nutshell, the file system doesn't really match up to the internal memory type used. For the end-user experience, the devil is in the details - in this case, the software. In other words, the lag issue only really presents itself under certain circumstances when using the device, which I'll cover below in the software section.

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In my testing, Quadrant scores typically came in around 970; however, with the lagfix, a custom ROM, and some overclocking, Galaxy S devices have broken 3000. It's unlikely the Tab - which has to drive roughly 60% more pixels - would manage a score that high, but the point stands that these components pack some serious punch. Unfortunately, as this is a review unit, I couldn't do any of those things, so I couldn't take advantage of all that potential.

Screen & Battery

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The screen is what really makes this a tablet, and that's not a bad thing at all: it's extremely bright and crisp. At 7", it's 3" smaller than the iPad's scren, yet it sports the same 1024 x 600 resolution, making for a very sharp image. Even better, the massive (4000 mAh) battery complements the screen well - even with brightness cranked to roughly 80%, you'll still get stellar battery life. I went about 3 days with moderate usage (3-4 hours per day, WiFi about 75% of the time, lots of Pocket Legends, Angry Birds, and browsing) before needing to charge again.

The only downside to the screen is that the viewing angle is noticeably less impressive than the Super AMOLED screens found on the Galaxy S phones. That's not to say the viewing angle is lackluster - it's still at least on par with my EVO, if not better - but it's worth noting, especially if you've witnessed a Super AMOLED screen in person.

Note: In some of the pictures, the screen looks like it has colored lines running across it - it doesn't. That's just due to the age of the DSLR.

Camera

At 3.2MP, the camera on the Tab isn't going to replace your point-and-shoot or DSLR, but it's adequate for spontaneous candids. I wouldn’t count on the Tab’s camera for action shots though: there's a delay of a few seconds between hitting the button and it taking the shot. You may be able to get better action shots using burst mode, but in my (admittedly very limited) experience with it, I doubt burst mode would provide you with better shots. Another complaint with the camera is that pictures generally seem to be overexposed, with the exception of low-light shots.  As for the flash, it's surprisingly bright: I took two pictures (below), one in a small room with a two-bulb ceiling light on (no flash), and one with the ceiling light off (with flash) - the difference is negligible.

2010-11-21 12.48.33 2010-11-21 12.49.18 2010-11-21 12.49.51

2010-11-21 12.50.26 2010-11-21 12.50.44 2010-11-21 12.53.24

2010-11-21 12.53.01 2010-11-21 17.58.14 2010-11-21 17.58.25

Bottom row, from left to right: 1) Too slow to take motion shots, 2) Lights on, no flash, 3) Lights off, with flash.

Software

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TouchWiz

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I'm not nearly as critical of manufacturer UI's as many other people are. I think if done right, they can add value while detracting little in terms of performance and usability. For the most part, TouchWiz meets those criteria. On the tablet, it's definitely needed - Android clearly wasn't designed for devices with extra screen real estate and higher resolutions (this can be seen in the far left image above - Speedtest doesn't fit the screen). For example, in the app drawer, icons are enlarged to fill the space by laying them on top of larger color backgrounds. The stock email and messaging apps are also clearly designed with tablets in mind - they've split the screen into two panes, making the apps more efficient and usable.

Apps

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Crapware is kept to a minimum, which is certainly nice. In fact, it's so minimal that it's fairly unobtrusive - I don't think it really got in my way at all. You'll find Slacker Radio, Kindle, Asphalt 5, ThinkFree Office, the T-Mobile HotSpot app and Samsung's Media Hub app pre-installed. Noticeably absent are the Facebook and Twitter apps.

Lag

As I mentioned above, the lag is generally only noticeable in a few circumstances, some of which only seasoned Android users are likely to encounter, and others which would be obvious to Ray Charles. For example, pulling down/pushing up the taskbar isn't as fluid as it should be, especially around the top - it stutters just a little. Similarly, it often stutters when scrolling between homescreens - and it's worse any time any processes are running in the background. The worst is undoubtedly the browser, though, and the lag there is unbearably bad. All three examples are shown in the video below:

Sorry for the poor quality - you may not be able to see the slight stuttering in the taskbar/homescreen switching. The video was shot on my EVO, and then optimized by YouTube on top of that.

Wrap-Up

Overall, I really enjoyed my time with the Tab and found it to be an extremely capable device. In fact, about the only real technical flaw I see with it is the lag problem, and that's an easy fix if you root it (which I'd recommend). I think the 7" screen strikes a good balance between size and portability, and the crisp, bright screen, coupled with the good weight and excellent battery life, make the Tab a joy to use.

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Aside from the lag, my biggest gripe with the Tab is the price; at $650 off contract, it's a hard sell. I think the average consumer will be looking at the iPad and Tab side-by-side in store, and see the larger iPad with that Apple logo around back for about the same price - and I don't know that the Tab will win out unless the consumer already owns an Android device. Frankly, I'd rather just buy the Wi-Fi only Tab for $400, not pay for a data plan, and tether it to my phone.

What's To Love

  • Excellent battery life
  • Good balance between size and usability
  • Sharp, bright screen
  • Gobs of potential
  • Solid build, Gorilla Glass front

What's To Hate

  • Price
  • Action shots (Camera)
  • Front, back, and sides are all major smudge magnets
  • Some apps don't support the higher screen resolution

Verdict: 8/10

Aaron Gingrich
Aaron is a geek who has always had a passion for technology. When not working or writing, he can be found spending time with his family, playing a game, or watching a movie.

  • tomhierl

    It's actually pretty easy to make all apps run full screen, without rooting.
    It's explained by JKKMobile in a Youtube video.

    Surprisingly, pretty much all Android apps seem to support the higher resolution and don't look bad or pixelated at all.
    It's amazing.

    I got my Galaxy Tab last week and I must say it's an incredibly smooth experience. Yes, it is as smooth as the iPad. Lag gets mentioned in a couple of rewievs, but so far, I've not experienced any lag at all.
    I have set browser plugins (Flash) to on demand, but that's all.
    This thing just flies.

    I have not rooted my Tab (yet). I'm very pleased with the experience so far and yes, it was worth the 600€ (800$) that I had to pay for it over here in Europe.

    Overall, I think it's the best slate tablet so far. Better than the iPad for me, because it's not that heavy and it offers all the huge advantages of Android over iOS.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      As for the lag: have you used other high-end Android devices? For example, EVO, Droid X/2?

      • tomhierl

        Yes, my main phone is the HTC Desire, which, surprisingly, lags a lot more (running CyanogenMod).

        My Galaxy Tab shows no sign of lag whatsoever.

        Of course I prefer Android over iOS any day, but I always thought Android wasn't as smooth.

        My Galaxy Tab, however, is just as smooth as any iOS device out there. It's awesome.

        I've tried two Galaxy Tabs in stores before and they were very laggy, almost not usable. Probably because people are messing around with them all day.

        I was concerned about that, but nevertheless bought one and now I'm glad I did, because mine doesn't lag at all.

        The only thing I don't like about it is that the default browser doesn't let me change the user agend, but Dolphin or xScope help with that.

  • Peter

    Download Dolphin HD browser for faster and better performing browsing experience.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      I have been, I mention it in the video :)

      • tomhierl

        I think if you set plugins to on demand, the default browser doesn't lag either. Flash should always be set to on demand, too bad this isn't Google's default setting.

        I would even set Flash to on demand on my desktop PC if I could, because this is an awesome option.

        However, since the default browser can't be set to load the full versions of web sites, you need Dolphin HD or some other replacement anyway.

  • http://www.AndroidCircuit.com Yuriy

    Great review Aaron!

  • http://www.amplifiedanalytics.com Gregory (@piplzchoice)

    During the first month after introduction, Galaxy shipped over 600K units and started to challenge iPad for customer advocacy. Check out this preliminary Market Intelligence report that shows Customer satisfaction of Galaxy users is 5% higher than iPad 64GB users http://blog.amplifiedanalytics.com/2010/11/851/

  • Andy

    Very thourough review. I own both an Ipad and a Gtab and although the Ipad runs much more smoothly and is probably more aesthetically appealing, I have to admit that I use the Gtab much more. It does more in technical terms and it is more portable. Do you know if it will upgrade to gingerbread or even honeycomb? God, I sure hope it does. What a waste if it doesn't.

    • tomhierl

      Yes, it will get updated.

      Make sure you set browser plugins to on demand, that way my Galaxy Tab is just as smooth as any iPad.

  • TareX

    That lag was really unfortunate... It's weird because it's a Hummingbird device, running Froyo.

    Anyway, I hope all forms of lag end with Tegra 2 and Orion.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      The lag is because of the type of memory Samsung chose to use, not because of a lack of processing power.

  • kk

    hi there. by rooting how does it help reduce the lag problem?

  • Ernie Guerrero

    The G-Tab is amazingly fast! I rooted with z4root(in the market) then used oclf lag fix (market) and it doubled my quadrant score to 2200. It now flies!

  • Dave Fox

    The Galaxy Tab does not have the same lag issues as the Galaxy S - period.

    The only thing "fixed" by installing the lag fix is the low Quadrant scores, which just goes to show what a poor benchmark it is! In daily use, you will not notice any difference between a "regular" Tab and a "lag-fixed" one, and in reality this is only really apparent in the stock browser.

    My regular phone is an HTC Desire, and that performs very well, so I know what a decent performing Android device should be like. Apart from the stock browser, the Tab performs brilliantly, despite the fact that the Desire scores 50% higher on Quadrant.

    The good news is that you can either install a different browser (e.g. Dolphin), or a "leaked" ROM (JM6) which fixes the stock browser lag.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      As I say in the video, my EVO running stock browser is smoother than the Tab with Dolphin is at scrolling.

      • Dave Fox

        EVO isn't pushing around as many pixels though is it, so it isn't exactly a like for like comparison. The Tabs resolution means there's 60% more pixels when browsing on the Tab than on the Evo.

        My main point however is that OCLF is simply not needed on the Tab and provides no tangible benefit other than Quadrant scores.

        • Aaron Gingrich

          I acknowledge that the Tab has to push more pixels in the review. I disagree about the lag, though - I think there's a fundamental issue with the memory and filesystem... but I can respect the fact that you don't :)

  • azumihk

    i cant read news that fast that it starts to lag hahaha, i know u see the lag when u scroll like that but if u read news u really scroll so fast ?

    • Aaron Gingrich

      You're assuming that all I ever do on the web browser is news - and every word of it, at that?

  • Dave Fox

    Hmmm, where's my right to reply directly to your comment gone? ;)

    You are correct in that there's a fundamental problem with the Galaxy S memory/filesystem, but the same does not apply to the Tab.

    Applying the Galaxy S lag fix on the Tab only speeds up Quadrant, not anything else. My Tab is rooted, and I did apply OCLF - and there was absolutely no difference in day to day usage. When I changed ROM, I didn't both with OCLF, and once again did not notice any difference - yet according my Quadrant score dropped from 2100 to less than 1000.

    You're recommending rooting the device to apply a fix that in reality doesn't "fix" anything. A far better fix is to apply the JM6 ROM, but this is only for GSM Tabs.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      I was lying when I said I respected your opinion, so I made my comment unreplyable ;) (Just kidding, there's a limit to the number of sub-replies).

      I see, well then I'll just have to add something about JM6 then, eh?

  • http://www.verisonstore.net James

    Just wondering how you use the phone feature, do you put the entire tab up next to your face and talk? Kinda odd looking if you have something that massive...

    • Aaron Gingrich

      Bluetooth or speakerphone.

  • Rob

    Bought a Galaxy Tab recently and very happy with the purchase. The graphics and the touch screen are excellent! I wished I would have waited for the 10” model to be available though.

    I was looking for a simple sleeve case that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg and found a small company, called http://www.nuvo-tek.com which sells a simple sleeve for only $7.95 with shipping included.

    If anyone knows where I can get a portable standalone battery charger at a good price, please let me know.

    Thanks,