Editor's note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 has been adjusted down from 7.7 to 7.2.
Just like computers and mobile phones, tablets are not a one-size-fits-all technology. Sure, Apple is selling plenty of iPads, but many people are looking for something a little more compact.
If you want an Android tablet that's a little easier to wrap your hands around, but not so small that it feels like an oversized smartphone, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 8.9 might be the perfect fit. The tablet is available starting October 2, priced at $469 (16GB) and $569 (32GB).
The Galaxy Tab 8.9 looks just like a Galaxy Tab 10.1 that got left in the dryer too long. Aside from the dimensions being slightly smaller, it's indistinguishable from the Tab 10.1.
But don't be too quick to dismiss the advantages of a smaller size. At 8.9 inches, this tablet still escapes the awkward in-between nature of 7-inch tablets (including the original Tab). It's large enough to make Web pages and documents appear life-size. Most importantly, Google's Android 3.2 Honeycomb software and its more spacious user interface have enough room to live happily.
So why not pay the extra $30 for a Tab 10.1 with a larger screen? Well, that decision comes down to what matters to you. We can say for certain that the Tab 8.9 is slightly lighter, and the dimensions less unwieldy. It's easier to grip with one hand for an extended period, which also means it's a bit easier to type on without sitting down and propping the tablet up on your knee.
A new take on Honeycomb
Another notable difference between the Tab 10.1 and the Tab 8.9 is that Samsung's latest comes installed right out of the box, offering some interesting optimizations of the stock Android experience.
The standout feature of Samsung's TouchWiz for Honeycomb is the new Mini Apps tray located on the bottom of the screen. This is a tray of utility applications (notes, calculator, calendar, task manager, and so on) that is hidden from view until you pull it up from the bottom of the screen. Once a Mini App is launched, it floats as a window on top of the currently running app, offering a handy way to take notes while reading or consult your calendar while in e-mail. It's a trick that no other tablet maker (including Apple) has been able to pull off.
When Samsung decided to shrink down the Tab 10.1 to this smaller size, the company did so seemingly without compromising any of the features. You get the same 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, the same vibrant PLS screen quality with excellent viewing angles, same Bluetooth 2.1, 802.11 Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, same GPS, and same front (2-megapixel) and rear (3-megapixel) cameras. Same, same, same.