Sunday, July 24, 2011

Samsung Galaxy Tab Review

In a nutshell: The Samsung Galaxy Tab is a compact tablet with a 7 inch screen. Running Android 2.2, the Galaxy Tab seems a little dated when compared with the latest tablets, but the price more than makes up for this. With a 1GHz processor, 16GB of built-in memory and a large battery, the Tab is quite capable of doing everything a smartphone can do and doing it better.
Samsung Galaxy Tab
The Samsung Galaxy Tab was the first mainstream Android-powered tablet, launching back in October 2010. The Tab is a relatively small tablet, at least compared with the iPad. It's roughly the size of 4 mobile phones placed in a grid (about the size of a paperback), and weighs in at 380g, which again is about 4 times the weight of a phone. It's too large to hold in one hand, but small enough to fit in a (large) handbag. It's very slim too, at just 12mm, yet feels really strong and well made

Most of the front face of the device is filled by the 7 inch display. 7 inches is big enough for doing a lot of everyday tasks like checking email and facebook, web browsing, watching videos, reading ebooks, etc, although it's smaller than a netbook and can't be recommended for any serious document editing or suchlike. It's a TFT screen, and looks rather dull when placed next to Samsung's Galaxy S2 phone with its Super AMOLED Plus display. The resolution of 600 x 1024 pixels is adequate, with a pixel density equal to that of Amazon's Kindle, but when you know that the Apple iPhone 4 display has 4 times the pixel density, you start to wish for a bit more from the Tab. It's a capacitive screen though, and responds smoothly to the touch.
Samsung Galaxy Tab
Being one of the first tablets to use Google's Android operating system, the Galaxy Tab runs runs an old version of Android - 2.2 (Froyo). Motorola's Xoom tablet, for example, is two version numbers ahead of the Tab, running Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). The Tab misses out on some new user interface enhancements, but otherwise supports all the key features and apps available in Android. These now number over 150,000 and many are free to download. We're big fans of Android as an OS for smartphones, and it works just as well as a tablet OS. Moving from an Android smartphone to the Galaxy Tab is like learning to ride a bike without stabilisers - all the controls are the same, but the new-found sense of freedom is exhilarating. That's what having 3 -4 times the screen size does for you. If you've ever found the virtual QWERTY keyboard on your smartphone frustrating to use, you'll appreciate the extra space available for typing on the Galaxy Tab. In landscape mode, the keyboard isn't far off full size, and you can use Swype to enter words without even having to take your fingers off the screen. Samsung have added some customisation to the Android user experience, including four hubs - Music, Media, Readers and Social - which make it easier to access your music, videos, ebooks & newspapers and to use social networks including facebook and twitter.

If you have the 3G version of the Galaxy Tab, you can make voice calls or video calls, using a handsfree Bluetooth headset.

The Tab is well suited to all kinds of messaging, including texts, MMS, instant messaging and email. The email client supports all popular protocols, including Microsoft Exchange & Outlook support. And the larger screen size makes email a much more pleasant activity than on a smartphone. The Social Hub integrates contacts and lets you access all kinds of messaging through a unified inbox. Attachments are handled, and you can not only view documents, but edit them too, including Word, PDF, PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets.

The Tab comes equipped with two cameras. The main rear-mounted camera isn't the best we've seen in a mobile device by a long way, but it's OK for taking snaps and sticking them on facebook. The camera is only 3 megapixels, but it does have an LED flash and autofocus. We've seen better on mid-range smartphones to be honest. But then again, we've seen a lot worse too. The camera can record video too, and there's a secondary camera that can be used for making video calls.

The Tab is equipped with a music player / media player. Audio quality is good with SoundAlive simulated-3D sound, or 5.1 surround sound through headphones or a HDMI connection.

A GPS receiver is on board. With Google Maps and a 7 inch screen, this is a great tool, and is perfect for navigation on the move. You can now use Google Maps to find location-based information such as local restaurants and travel tips.

The Galaxy Tab is powered by a 1 GHz processor, which is enough to make the user interface responsive and to power the range of apps that people will commonly use, but it's starting to feel outdated now. The latest smartphones have dual-core processors and pack significantly more punch. There's plenty of memory though. The built-in memory is 16GB, and this is expandable to 48GB with the addition of a microSD memory card. There's 592MB of RAM too, which is enough to keep apps zipping along.

When it comes to connectivity, there are two versions of the Galaxy Tab available. The standard version supports Wi-Fi and is 3G-enabled, with HSDPA offering download speeds up to 7.2 Mpbs. The Wi-Fi version has Wi-Fi only, and won't connect to the 3G network. In addition to this, both versions support Bluetooth 3.0, USB 2.0 and TV-Out (via HDMI or analogue connection.) A wireless DNLA connection lets you stream content to a compatible TV or computer.

A device of this power is going to use up battery power rapidly, and we're pleased to report that Samsung have stepped up to the challenge, equipping the Galaxy Tab with a large 4,000 mAh rechargeable battery. You should get a full day's use out of this, and you can save power by turning off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS when not needed, and by using Flight Mode in the case of the 3G version. An optional in-car charger is available.

In conclusion, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is a slimline, compact tablet that still has a lot to offer, even though we're reviewing it 8 months after its launch. The 7 inch screen is big enough for many activities - emailing, facebooking, surfing the web, playing games, watching videos and reading or editing documents - and is much better than a smartphone at doing these kinds of tasks. The tablet is small enough that you can get it out on the bus without elbowing your neighbour unsociably, so you can actually use it on the move. Some of the specs are starting to look outdated now, particularly the pixel resolution, processor speed and camera, but it nevertheless does the job that it was built for. Is there a killer app that makes the Galaxy Tab an essential piece of kit? Perhaps not, but it definitely fills a niche, doing all that a smartphone does and doing it a lot better. And it's priced competitively too. Just be sure to compare with the other tablets before you make your choice, and in particular satisfy yourself that you don't need a larger display.


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