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Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 review: A fine tablet, but you can do better

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The Good The Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 delivers satisfying performance for web browsing and casual gaming, and has a pretty good screen, for just $180.

The Bad That budget price is now matched by superior devices like the Nexus 7. You'll want to invest in a microSD card.

The Bottom Line The $180 Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 is a fine choice for a budget tablet, but it's ultimately bested by great older devices, and new slates that are cheaper still.

6.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 4's meager specs and humble design make it easy to pass over in a sea of budget Android devices. But don't be too hasty, as it is worth your consideration. It has a pretty good HD display, coupled with capable performance for general use, an IR blaster and Samsung's vast array of added functionality, including Multi Window for optimized multitasking.

And it's available for just $180 (after a $20 instant rebate) in the US and £159 in the UK. That's a fair price for what you're getting, and you won't really go wrong with the Galaxy Tab 4. But if you're willing to shop around, there are plenty of other, and better options.

Editors' note: The Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 is identical to the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook ; parts of this review are similar.


Design and specs

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A plastic slab, in your choice of white or black. Nate Ralph/CNET

The Galaxy Tab 4 isn't much of a looker: you're getting a plastic slab in your choice of white or black. It weighs just over half a pound (9.76 ounces/277 g) and is 4.25 inches (10.8 cm) wide, making it comfortable enough to hold aloft for extended periods of time. The back is smooth, and while it's not exactly grippy or textured it's also not slippery, and feels nice in my hands. Admittedly, it's not the most satisfying of devices to use or hold, but it's leagues ahead of cheaper tablets like the $99 Toshiba Excite Go , which sacrificed much to hit a low price point.

The Tab 4's headphone jack sits up top, while the Micro-USB charging port sits on the bottom. The physical home button is flanked on either side by the capacitive back and app-switcher buttons on the lower bezel. The lock switch and volume control rocker are on the right side, while the microSD card slot sits on the bottom right, hidden by a flap that's secure, but fairly easy to open when you need to. There's also an IR blaster on the side, so you can use the tablet as a remote control with the Samsung WatchOn app.

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You can use the IR blaster and Samsung's WatchOn app to control your TV. Nate Ralph/CNET

The tablet's 7-inch display has a 1,280-by-800-pixel resolution, giving it a pixel density of 215 pixels per inch. You can get higher-resolution displays from 7-inch tablets without spending too much more, but the screen on the Tab 4 is fine: colors reproduce accurately and there's no shifting when I tilt the screen at awkward angles. There's only 8GB of storage, about half of which will be available for use when you first fire up the tablet. The microSD card slot can support up to 32GB cards, but the capacity-crunch is still incredibly limiting; starting at even 16GB would've made for a much more satisfying experience.

While easily outclassed in the style department by pricier, premium devices is doesn't necessarily feel like a disposable device. It bears much in common with its slightly larger 8-inch sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 . That device offered consistently fair performance for basic tasks while stumbling at bit on gaming, but its plastic build and that meager 1,280-by-800-pixel resolution fail to justify its $280 price tag.

Software and features

Samsung's TouchWiz still runs the show, and its custom Android skin will prove largely familiar to anyone who's used Samsung's wares before. It's also my biggest gripe with every Samsung device I've ever touched. TouchWiz absolutely takes over a device, injecting every facet of the Android experience with Samsung's optimizations. It replaces Android's stock menus with bold, bright facsimiles, their elements shifted about to potentially make things easier to find for Android neophytes.

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I'm no fan of TouchWiz, but Multi Window is pretty cool. Nate Ralph/CNET

Some of the TouchWiz's enhancements are pretty cool. Consider Multi Window, which lets you split the display in half for "true" multitasking on a tablet. It's fantastic, in principle: while chatting with a friend in Hangouts, I can easily drag in Google Chrome to scour Wikipedia for facts to back up an argument, or pull up Google Maps to search for a place to eat. It's easy to use, but performance takes a bit of hit here -- nothing deal-breaking, but the occasional stutters introduced while I flitted about dual windows did put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm.

The rest of TouchWiz mostly just duplicates features that already work just fine in Android 4.4 KitKat. Consider S Voice: double tap the home button, and Samsung's Voice assistant will pop up and offer to tackle your tasks. But messaging -- "Send a note to Nate" -- isn't supported in S Voice on the Tab 4, and things like searches default to Google Now's Search anyway.

All that being said, this is going to boil down to personal preference. Some people like TouchWiz, and the changes it makes to layout, coupled with the extra apps and features it adds, are bound to please. I prefer the stock Android experience.

Performance and camera

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Battery life is just right, but skip the cameras. Nate Ralph/CNET

The Galaxy Tab 4 has a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and 1.5GB of RAM. Performance is pretty good: the device never got in my way as I skipped through menus, browsed the Web, or streamed videos online.

Gaming performance was more of a mixed bag. I've been playing quite a bit of Angry Birds Transformers recently (hey, it's fun), and the game's frame rates, while smooth, are just slow enough to be distracting -- though it certainly helps my accuracy. More hardware-intensive games like Dead Trigger 2 tended to stutter occasionally once the action flares up, which is far less satisfying.

The Tab 4's 4,000mAh battery is rated at 10 hours, which is about right. I found myself reaching for a charger after four to five hours of near nonstop video playback, but my general usage typical revolves around lots of Web browsing and reading, and I easily saw a day and a half or more worth of power.

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The single, tiny speaker isn't very good. Nate Ralph/CNET

There's a single speaker on the rear of device, but it pipes out weak, tinny sound, as expected from something this tiny. It's also easily blocked when the tablet is laid flat on a table, and I found myself muffling it with my hands when I held the device up in landscape mode -- just stick to headphones.

You're also going to want to skip the cameras. There's a 1.2-megapixel shooter on the front, and a 3-megapixel camera on the rear. Neither one is very good, though, capturing dull, grainy photos that are chock-full of noise, with washed-out colors.

Conclusion

The Galaxy Tab 4 is one of those "good enough" devices that doesn't break any new ground, but brings enough of the right features to placate someone looking for a cheap tablet. Performance is suitable for casual gaming and the screen is just right for reading, with an HD resolution that makes 720p video a good fit too.

But if price is your limiting factor, this is still not the best budget option available. Consider the $150 LG G Pad 7.0 , which offers many of the same caveats, but will at last save you a few bucks. And while the 2013 Nexus 7 is a bit old and no longer available directly from Google, you can still grab a 16GB version from Amazon for $180, and a 32GB version for just $240 -- either one would make for a far more satisfying experience. The Nexus 7 will also receive the Android 5.0 Lollipop update , ultimately offering the best Android experience for around $200.

And if you're still interested in the Galaxy Tab 4, you're actually better off just getting the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook. It's the exact same device, but offers a bunch of freebies from the Barnes and Noble Nook store. Just remember that the device's meager 8GB of storage also means you'll want to pick up a microSD card right away.

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