A few years ago, when tiny and thin phones like the Motorola RAZR and Pantech C3000 came out and became hugely popular, I felt like the forthcoming trend in cell phones was: the smaller the better. I saw movies like Zoolander that made fun of the tiny phones and figured that this was just the way the industry would go. I was completely wrong. Who would’ve thought that the phones would just get bigger and bigger, and that we would love it that way?
The year 2010 saw the world’s introduction to mainstream tablet devices. They’ve been around before, but were executed poorly and nobody wanted them (remember the Apple Newton?). But now it’s becoming a part of everyday living, and everyone who buys one seem to get addicted. That means this obsession with tablets that started with the iPad isn’t going to stop anytime soon. It’s going to keep growing.
One such example of bigger and better devices in the form of tablets is the Samsung Galaxy Tab, a 7-inch tablet device. Sure, it’s not a phone (at least, not without rooting it anyway), but it’s the epitome of what phones have become over the last two to three years since iOS and Android came out: a large-screened device that does a great job of retrieving information off the internet, entertaining us with multimedia and games, and helps us communicate with others around the world even more efficiently than we could have ever dreamed. The only thing that’s missing is the phone.
But nobody seems too concerned with the fact that there’s no phone. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite. And why is that? Why pay all that extra money for an oversized smartphone that isn’t actually a phone? Today I review the Samsung Galaxy Tab, a powerful Android device that is good enough to convince each of the four main US carriers (plus smaller regional ones) and multiple carriers worldwide to carry it as one of their flagship devices.
In the US, the fact that every major carrier is offering the Tab not only for different prices up front but also with different monthly data plan options means that competition is working in your favor. Other than the performance of each carrier’s network in your area, the only other major factors that could influence your decision of which version of the Tab to buy is if you want to be under a contract, and how much internet you’ll need and how much you’re willing to spend to get it. We’ll cover that in this review, and much more. Keep reading below for the review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Unboxing of the Galaxy Tab
Before I begin the review, I want to be completely forthcoming about something: the Samsung Galaxy Tab has been compared to the iPad in every single review I have read, and as I have played around with it for quite some time now, I’ve concluded that I should not and will not be comparing the two tablets side by side. I do understand that it’s natural to compare them since both are tablets and competitors with each other, but I feel that comparing a Galaxy Tab to an iPad is much akin to comparing the Samsung Galaxy S to an iPhone; they’re two completely different devices with completely different OS platforms. They both do great things and each has a set of pros and cons. And frankly, if you have looked at iPhone reviews vs. Android reviews, you have that opportunity to weigh out which one fits your needs best. I like using both tablets, and both have things that are better than the other, I’m treating the Tab as its own separate, independent device from the iPad, so if you want a side-by-side comparison of the iPad and Galaxy Tab, you will not find it here.
Please enjoy the full video of my Galaxy Tab overview:
Hardware and Design of the Galaxy Tab
The Galaxy Tab is a large device that feels awkwardly placed in a zone between the category of smartphone and netbook. It acts as a smartphone more than a computer, but its size makes me want to treat it like a touchscreen computer rather than a smartphone. It’s a confusing place to be for a device, and only as time goes by will people begin treating it as its own unique category that can’t be compared to either smartphones or netbooks/notebooks.
For a device that ranges between $400 and 650 depending on which carrier you buy it from, it sure has a rather glossy and plastic feel to it. No metal, no rubber, no soft materials whatsoever. This is nothing surprising for a Samsung device, as its main driving force in designing a new device is making it look sleek and sexy. After all, if you dont’ like looking at your phone or tablet, it’s not worth buying, right? While most Samsung phones that use this material feel as though it’s going to break, that glossy plastic on the Tab doesn’t make it feel like it’s going to break into pieces the first time you drop it on the floor. On the contrary, the Galaxy Tab is incredibly sturdy and solid, and I feel as though it will last a long time with good use.
Certainly, Samsung was very wise in choosing Gorilla Glass for the touchscreen display, because you can’t get any tougher a screen than that. Given the 7-inch display, it’s absolutely essential to make sure it’s as protected as possible.
The most important question that has been asked of me is how easy it is to hold in my hands and move around with me. I was skeptical at first glance, wondering the same thing: as much as I love the idea of a tablet, where the heck can I put it? I can’t really carry it around in my pocket as easily as a standard phone.
To answer the first part of the question, it’s very easy to hold in my hands because I don’t need both hands to keep it steady. The 7 inches does come to close to being too large to hold with one hand, but it was designed to be portable nonetheless. A device becomes much less portable when it requires use of two hands. The ability to keep the Tab in the palm of your hand is tremendously handy. And at 13.4 ounces it’s still light enough to use it at any angle without my arms getting tired.
As for taking it around with me wherever I go, even though it may not fit in my regular pockets, it fits nicely in my coat pocket. If you wear cargo pants or just like oversized pants pockets, it may possibly fit in there too. Other than that, it still fits in nooks and crannies whenever I’m in my car (it fits easily in the glove compartment so it’s out of the way) or at a friend’s house. In other words, I can still hide it easily enough without showing the entire world that I use the Galaxy Tab.
In handling the Tab I was impressed by how simplistic the tablet was on the outside. Samsung tried to keep the sides and back completely uninterrupted or littered with unnecessary buttons. The whole left side, in fact, is completely smooth (only a small hole for the mic resides there) and the only 2 physical buttons found on it are screen lock/power and volume up/down. There’s a 3.5 mm headphone jack on top and a MicroSD slot on the right side, and a proprietary charger with speakers on the bottom.
One part to the Galaxy Tab that was completely off base is the proprietary charger port. It’s not a MicroUSB or anything Samsung has used before. It looks a lot like the same charger Apple uses on all its devices (ha, you thought I was going to mention the iPad, but I tricked you!), and the only theory I can come up with for doing it this way is that a MicroUSB port doesn’t provide enough power to sufficiently charge a larger device like the Tab. It is, after all, a 4,000 mAh battery that’s supposed to play movies for up to 7 hours.
The keyboard is a feature that can be rather intimidating when you first use it. Going from typing on a standard-sized smartphone to the Galaxy Tab is a huge step when considering this thing stretches out over a 7-inch screen. I use Swype on all of my Android devices, and portrait mode feels like the ideal size to do Swype on. Landscape, however, is stretched out too far. For having so much screen real estate to use up, the keys tends to be too short and wide for my tastes; I would prefer having taller keys because it meshes with my hand easier. At least when I mess up on a word I can easily go back using a built-in cursor feature that enables me to slide the cursor to whatever point in the sentence I want to go to. This cannot be said about most other Androids I’ve used.
Fortunately there are more keyboard options than just on-screen, because the Galaxy Tab allows support for Bluetooth keyboards and includes a keyboard dock.
Software and OS of the Galaxy Tab
The Galaxy Tab smartly came with Android 2.2, aka Froyo, installed in-box. This means we can has Flash Player 10.1 on our Tabs and enjoy plenty of videos and websites that we normally can visit on the computer but not our smartphones. On top of Froyo Samsung throws in its ageless TouchWiz User Interface, the one that never seems to get old. It adapts to the Tab surprisingly well; it looks exactly the same as you would find on the Galaxy S with plenty of room for all the apps you would ever need and enough space between them that you’re not going to accidentally enter the wrong program.
Unlike most other Android devices, the TouchWiz app tray swipes sideways instead of up and down. It certainly does give off the aura of an iOS device, so if you a user of one you will definitely be very comfortable with the Galaxy Tab.
However, one thing that causes the Tab to stand out from the Android crowd is, again, its size. When using the Tab you will notice some significant differences in the way different apps are set up, and I absolutely love it. Several native apps now give you two panes of information, and putting the Tab in landscape mode enhances the experience greatly.
Email is one such example, where you can choose to view your selected inboxes on the left side and the actual email you have chosen on the right. Pinch-to-zoom can be used on the right side, which is wonderful when you have attachments you’re trying to view.The calendar doesn’t have a second pane, but it’s still amazing how much more organized you appear when you see your calendar on a Galaxy Tab. The messaging app has two panes, similar to the email app, and the right side gives the full conversation you are currently viewing. When looking at the music app in landscape, you also see the same two-pane effect, the left side showing the list of albums or artists while the right side shows more detailed information about each album or artist and the songs they contain.
These are just a few examples. A large number of apps are becoming tablet-friendly. In other words, porting a regular Android app into the Tab without much extra effort will show off the app as if it’s on a 4” touchscreen, so you see the app only show up smack-dab in the middle of the screen, with plenty of background showing through on the borders. However, more and more apps are getting in the tablet mode, with the apps being adapted for the 7-inch display and taking more advantage of all that space. Facebook is one example of an app that takes up the entire display; Touiteur and Tweetdeck also do their best to use up every possible square inch. Scores of developers are doing the same exact thing, helping the Galaxy Tab become a wonderful experience for those who use it.
Differences between carriers
Samsung’s product placement team must have done a very persuasive job of convincing the carriers — all of them — that they need to carry the Tab. They’re doing something right, if every major carrier in the US plus multiple carriers across the globe are carrying it as one of their flagship devices. This amount of competition between these carriers is very much welcome, and rather refreshing to have such an open and available device in a world of exclusivity.
But the difficulty in this lies in the fact that since there are so many options to choose from, which one is the best for you? Two factors will be involved in the decision-making process: the network/data coverage/strength, and price. That means both monthly data costs as well as cost of the Tab itself. Some carriers offer more data for higher price, so it’s essential to be very picky about which plans are the best.
Here’s a quick rundown of all the carriers and their prices with monthly data plans:
Verizon - Available for $600; no contract subsidized pricing available. Monthly plans include $20 for 1 GB and $80 for 10 GB.
Sprint - Available for $600 with no contract, but you can purchase with 2-year agreement for $400. Monthly plans include $30 for 2 GB and $60 for 5 GB.
T-Mobile – Currently at $550 with no contract, subsidized with contract down to $350. Data plans are $25 for 200 MB per month and $40 for 5 GB.
AT&T – The most expensive at $650 and there is no option for contract. Monthly plans are $15 for 250 MB and $25 for 2 GB. Comes with a $50 Media Hub credit voucher.
There is no clear advantage in the competition. Each carrier has a price plan that fits somebody, so this way you don’t have to settle with a plan too small for your liking, or spend too much for something you don’t use. It can be just right to fit your needs.
Besides these differences in price, each carrier puts its own proprietary software on the Tab, called bloatware. The goal of this bloatware is typically to get you to spend more on certain services offered, such as VCAST for Verizon and Sprint Zone for Sprint.
Media Hub and Kindle
The Galaxy Tab, much like most other Androids, has the ability to offer a little something to both business professionals and consumers alike. While the email, calendar and memo apps are very handy to use on a 7-inch screen, the Tab also offers many opportunities to add entertainment value as well. For instance, the Media Hub is a type of video store where you can rent movies and TV shows or just buy them permanently. The Media Hub is easy to browse through and also find exactly what you want.
Another handy purpose for the Tab is to use it as an e-book reader. And fortunately the Kindle app for Android comes pre-loaded onto the device, and all you need to do is register your account. Having set up my Kindle account on other devices before, all I had to do was login to my account and tell Amazon to restore my latest reading selections. The Kindle for Tab is incredibly easy to use and read with large (and adjustable) print size, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to flip pages, simply by sweeping your finger back and forth.
The camera was the one app that stretched out over the entire screen but probably should’ve stayed the way it was. I had a very awkward time trying to use the viewfinder on the Tab’s camera interface because of how large it was. Trying the hold the Tab in a certain way, I could barely keep it from shaking all by itself, let alone take pictures. It uses 3.0 MP with autofocus and LED flash on the back and 1.3 MP facing forward for video calls and vain movies that you want to make of yourself.
To be honest, I don’t expect much from a tablet camera. Given how large the tablet is in your hands, it’s very difficult to get a completely accurate and focused shot because there’s no dedicated shutter button except on the main screen, and you’ll be busy trying to not have your hands shake at the same time. I do find the front-facing camera to be much more intriguing and useful when trying to make video conference calls or just seeing your children when you’re out of town on business. My hands did shake somewhat, but I was at least able to take some decent shots with the 3 MP resolution. It certainly exceeded my expectations.
Multimedia on the Galaxy Tab
With 16 GB internal storage as well as a max of 32 GB extra available on MicroSD, you’re definitely going to want to take advantage of all of the Tab’s multimedia capabilities. Syncing music and movies with my Windows PC was incredibly easy: just change the USB settings to Music Sync, load up your Windows Media Player, and start dragging your music and movie files right on over to the Sync List. Once you have everything compiled together, just hit sync and it only takes a few minutes before your entire collection is in the Tab.
I enjoyed the Tab’s double-paned music player because it gave me a chance to preview the next song I wanted to play before the previous song ends. Going to the main library screen in the music player, I could control the current song by using the handy controls on the same screen; on Android smartphones you typically need to go back into the Now Playing screen to make these same changes. It just eliminates an extra step.
Performance of the Samsung Galaxy Tab
95% of the time, the Galaxy Tab took full advantage of its A8 1 GHz processor with 512 MB RAM and powerful SGX540 GPU and there were few problems. However I did notice some sluggish behavior from time to time. For example, loading up a podcast and then fast-forwarding to a different part of the song caused a delay in the processor and took a couple minutes to do anything again. Going into the standard Android browser also showed signs of lag, which I assume was due to difficulty in porting a browser meant for a 4″ screen to that of a 7″. The only times I saw any kind of lag in the Tab is in those activities which were likely built for an Android smartphone and were just thrown onto the Tab later.
Other than this, I enjoyed my time with the Galaxy Tab. I was skeptical about it at first but then as I began to use it more and more, the more I started to like it. I am still curious to see what new tablets come out over the next few weeks, and this keeps me from buying one quite just yet; there’s a lot in the tablet pipeline from very legit companies such as RIM, HP, and LG, so I’m going to keep a close eye out for these ones as well. If you don’t care about any of these upcoming tablets, the Tab is definitely worth considering.
Get the Galaxy Tab on Amazon:
Enjoy our comprehensive gallery of the Galaxy Tab: I threw in several pics and screenshots both, which should be rather educational and hopefully intriguing as well!
If you liked the post, you might find these interesting too:
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 with 4G LTE lands at AT&T on November 9
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v pre-orders start tomorrow at Vodafone Australia, pricing info now available
- Samsung Galaxy Tab may launch on Sprint on November 14th, cost $399
- Samsung Galaxy Tab officially coming to all major US carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile)
- Motorola Xoom Hands-On at CES