Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Samsung Galaxy Tab Review

One of my favorite phones of the past year has been the Samsung Galaxy S. From the fast processor to the camera to the slim profile to the iPhone copycat interface really enjoy using it. Let’s not forget it’s gorgeous display.

Now imagine Samsung were to put the Galaxy S in a photocopier and enlarge it 75%. Then we’d have the Galaxy Tab. With the Tab you get the same processor as the Galaxy S with a larger higher resolution 7” 1024x600 display but lower resolution cameras.

To me the 7” screen size makes a lot of sense. It makes for a big enough device that it feels more useful than a phone but not so big that I feel like I’m carrying a computer around with me.

It’s also small and thin enough that it fits in most of jackets. It’s been cold lately and I have to wear a jacket when I go out. That said if the weather was warmer it would be harder to carry around since it’s too big to slip into my pant pockets.

I really liked the size of the bezel. It’s big enough that I can easily hold the Tab with one hand without touching the screen.

Let’s take a tour: On the right side you have MicroSDHC and SIM card slots. They’re hidden behind doors. There are also volume buttons and a power button. On top is a 3.5mm headphone jack. The left side is bare save for the microphone hole.

On the bottom are a pair of speakers, and a proprietary Samsung connector that I haven’t seen before (it’s not the connector they used to use on their older phones).

In front along the bottom are 4 capacitive buttons; menu, home, back and search plus a front facing camera at the top right corner. On the back is a 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera with LED flash.

The back cover doesn’t come off like it would on a phone so the Tab is an extremely solid device. There are no creeks or shifting when you hold it. The back has a checkered pattern on it which is nice because it should make scratches less noticeable.

While the Tab has a SIM card slotb out of the box it’s strictly a data device. If you want to make calls you’ll have to use a 3rd party service. You won’t be able to take your SIM card out of your phone, pop it into the Tab and make calls with it. To be honest it’s a real shame. The Tab is just small enough there are a lot of times I’d just want to take it out instead of the Tab plus a phone.

I have to admit though, I felt kind of funny walking around with the Tab. It’s the right size that it looks like a prop from Star Trek. I got a lot of funny looks from people. I guess I know what I’ll go as next Halloween.

The LCD is not bad. It’s clear and has a decent viewing angle. My problem with it is that it’s quite reflective. It could also use a little more resolution as I sometimes found text to be kind of raggedy when I used the browser.

The 7” screen is the perfect for the portrait QWERTY keyboard. I was able to type very quickly right away. There’s also a SWYPE keyboard which also works okay. I like that the SWYPE keyboard is narrower than the width of the screen.

I didn't really enter text in landscape mode because I found the keyboards didn't work as well as they did in portrait mode.

Speaking of landscape and portrait modes most of the built in apps and menus support landscape mode.

There is 16GB of storage built in which you can expand via Micro SDHC cards. So right now you can do 16GB + a 32GB card = 48GB. I only got around 5MB per second when copying files to the Tab which is a little on the slow side. If you’re copying a ton of stuff to the Tab it can take a while. If you want to do that you’re better off getting a fast Micro SDHC card and copying stuff via a card reader.

Along with not having a phone there is no text messaging program. So out of the box you’re stuck with Email or Instant Messaging. Emailing is handled via the Android Email client or Gmail. Gmail has threaded email support while the regular client

There is Gtalk along with a Samsung one. The one from Samsung supports Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. I like how the IM client makes use of the extra screen real estate by using left and right panes. I just wish the text entry area was bigger as I often can’t see everything I typed.

One big problem with the IM client is that it seems to have disconnect after a while. This is really limits its usefulness.

There is a 3.2 megapixel camera on the back. Image quality isn’t bad. Video capture is limited to 720x480 resolution. There’s no HD video capture. I have to say using the camera is a very interesting experience as I’ve never used a camera with a 7” display before. There should be a sticker on the Tab that says objects may appear bigger than they are. Don’t use the Tab if your wife is asking you their outfit makes them look fat.

I’m a heavy Picasa user so I was very happy to see that you can view your Picasa photos from the Gallery.

Adobe flash works really well with the built in browser. In fact the browser works well period. I just wish the Tab had a higher resolution display as text can sometimes be a little rough looking.

The built in video player is able to play many of file formats I threw at it including divx and high definition mkv’s. I like how the built in audio player makes use of the Android window shade so you can control it from there if you’re multitasking.

One of the Tab’s best features are it’s amazing stereo speakers. They’re loud and sound really, really good. They’re so good I often found myself using the Tab as a personal video player.

There is support for DLNA but it’s more for sharing pictures and videos you’ve taken with the Tab on your DLNA enabled TV. When I tried to to stream videos from my DLNA enabled server (Tversity) I usually got a codec not supported error.

Really as far built in programs go the Galaxy Tab is just like a Galaxy S phone so I won’t cover the rest in too much detail.

One of my favorite features about the Galaxy S is it’s WiFi hotspot functionality (really it’s a feature of Android 2.2 that they back ported to 2.1 - the Tab runs 2.2 out of the box). I love how transparent the hotspot is. You turn it on and connect your device. It’s not an ad hoc connection so it’s very easy to use. The problem with this feature on the Galaxy S is that it tears through the battery.

The Tab has a whopping 4000mAh battery. I used the Tab as a portable hotspot and worked off of it. I used it for around 6hrs in an area with strong network signal. During that time I transferred around 1000MB but the battery only drained about 50%. Assuming that the battery percentage meter drains linearly that means you can the Tab to run as a hotspot for around 12hrs! Just for reference my Cradlepoint PHS300 portable hotspot only gets around 3.5hrs.

I also tried watching about 90 minutes of divx videos with the brightness maxed out. I was blown away because the battery only moved around 11% during that time.

So the Tab has stunning battery life right? Not so fast, it seems that the Tab uses a lot of power even when it’s not doing anything. When I'm not using the Tab much it seems the battery only lasts a day and a half. It doesn’t seem to matter what I’m doing with it, what the brightness is set at.

So I guess the battery life is shocking in both a good and bad way.

Strange battery life aside one big problem I found with the Galaxy Tab is it’s not very stable. I often find that the browser has trouble connecting to the Internet (even with a strong WiFi or 3G connection), The mail client crashes a lot and sometimes the screen brightness dims for no reason (and no, I didn’t have automatic brightness turned on).

Another problem I noticed is that the Tab lags occasionally. Sometimes the browser, menu transitions, etc feel a little slower than on the Galaxy S. I’m guessing the higher resolution screen makes it more noticeable. Dual core processors which are coming in the next generation of Android Tablets will definitely help here.

In the end I really enjoyed using the Tab. If I could use it as a regular phone with my carrier I would buy one at full price.

While it can be a little unpredictable at times the size really makes sense to me. It’s big enough to be more useful than a phone but small enough that it’s still portable sometimes. Of course these comments will probably apply to other 7” Android powered tablets when they start appearing so I guess I’m more in love with a 7” Tablet than I am in love with the Galaxy Tab.

There’s also the price. The Tab is pretty priced pretty much the same as an iPad. While you don’t get a camera on the iPad you do get a bigger screen. So while I don’t think the iPad is as useful because of its larger screen I do think Samsung is being a little too ambitious pricing the Tab at the same level.
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