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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Bottom row, from left to right: 1) Too slow to take motion shots, 2) Lights on, no flash, 3) Lights off, with flash.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Action shots (Camera)
Front, back, and sides are all major smudge magnets
Some apps don't support the higher screen resolution