You have to dig a little deeper to appreciate the work Samsung did to differentiate the Tab experience from its line of premium Android smartphones. Spend some time in the app drawer, and you'll find that seemingly generic apps like Contacts, Calculator, and Memo have all been optimized by Samsung for the larger screen, using split-screen views and nested tabs to take advantage of the added screen real estate.
Most Android apps, unfortunately, aren't yet designed for the larger screens of tablets. It's a complaint you'll hear echoed in all of our Android tablet reviews so far. With all the extra room, some apps stretch unnaturally to fill the space (Pandora), whereas others appear like large-print versions of their original smartphone incarnations. If you're really looking for tablet-optimized apps, you'll need to step up to an Android 3.0 device.
In spite of some frustrations, there are quite a few things the Galaxy Tab nails dead-on that will get Apple fanboys flustered. Because the Wi-Fi-only Tab includes GPS, the included navigation app does an excellent job as an in-car navigation device, offering turn-by-turn directions, points of interest, and voice search (via the integrated microphone).
Another little advantage the Tab has over the iPad is Adobe Flash 10.1 compatibility, allowing much of the Web's Flash video content to play natively in the browser. The only hiccup in the Flash implementation is that the majority of popular sites treat the Android 2.2 device as a mobile phone and serve up bite-size Web content instead of full, desktop versions of sites. Android tinkerers will know how to force their way around this limitation or install third-party browsers, such as Firefox, but the out-of-the-box Flash-enabled Web experience of the Tab doesn't compare to that of its large-screen Android 3.0 siblings, or the similarly sized BlackBerry PlayBook.
Predictably, when you add up Flash video playback, GPS, Bluetooth, and 720p video decoding, battery life can go downhill quickly. By pulling down on the home screen you can access a menu for quickly activating or killing off GPS and Bluetooth, helping to squeeze the most from your battery life. If you keep yourself to core features such as Web browsing, music, and e-mail, Samsung expects you'll get around 7 hours of battery life with Wi-Fi active.
As far as media playback performance is concerned, audio, video, and photos all work beautifully. Transferred content--whether by USB or microSD card--is immediately scanned by the device and accessible in the appropriate app. Samsung's years of creating highly rated portable media players is evident in little extras, such as audio enhancement settings, video bookmarking, and a mosaic view of video stills for quickly skipping to the perfect spot in a movie.
The movie and video content available through Samsung's Media Hub is priced competitively with Apple's iTunes offerings. Most movies are available to buy for between $9.99 and $17.99, or rentable for between $1.99 and $3.99. A decent selection of TV shows is also available for download, with content from NBC, MTV, Warner Bros., Comedy Central, and others, all priced at $1.99. All of the videos in the Media Hub have been optimized for playback on the Galaxy Tab.
As an e-book reader, the Tab has plenty going for it. The included Kindle app grants you access to one of the most popular e-book retailers in the world, Amazon.com. Through the Android Market, e-book software from Barnes & Noble and dozens of other sources can be installed. As an alternative to a dedicated e-book reader, such as the Kindle, Nook, or Sony Reader, the Tab's paperback-like dimensions make it a natural fit. On the downside, the Tab's battery life is relatively low; it's considerably heavier than most e-readers; and a highly reflective backlit LCD like the Tab's isn't as desirable to most book lovers as an e-ink screen.
If productivity is your thing, you'll be happy to know that the Tab's calendar and e-mail apps readily took to our Gmail and Exchange accounts. We're also happy to see the ThinkFree Office app preinstalled, which allows you to view and edit any Microsoft Office documents. That said, for serious document editing, it makes more sense to spend the same amount on a Netbook with a larger screen and peripheral support.
Here are our official CNET Labs test results for the Galaxy Tab with 3G. More tablet-testing results can be found.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Web site load time (in seconds; lower is better)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Contrast ratio|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab||7.8||8||364||123||674:1|
Tabs versus pads
Now for the big question: iPad or Galaxy Tab? The short answer, in our opinion, is iPad. Apple's catalog of apps and games optimized for tablet-size screens number in the thousands, whereas the Tab has just a handful--and they're not terribly exciting. If you feel that a tablet computer should be more than just a supersized smartphone, the iPad is still the best game in town, followed by tablets running Android 3.0.
In fairness, what we enjoy most about the Galaxy Tab is its efficient, handy size. It's a different type of product, one geared more for portability. That said, the Android smartphone market seems to cover a lot of this territory already.
The Galaxy Tab Wi-Fi is a full-feature tablet with great system performance and above-average screen quality. However, in spite of its attractive, contract-free price, Android's future on tablets lies with Honeycomb. With Android 3.0 devices priced as low as $399, saving $50 to get half the tablet with half the processing power just doesn't make sense. Still, if you're on a budget and you like the idea of a smaller tablet, and you can score one for closer to $300, the Tab has plenty to offer over $250 options such as the Nook Color or the Archos 70.