If you ask us, the 7-inch tablet has not received its due. Often unfavourably compared with the standard 10-inch models, 7-inchers are seen as the cheaper, lesser alternative. Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.7 is a great example of why good things come in small(er) packages.
Like a prop from the movie Honey, I shrunk the kids, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 is exactly as you'd expect it to be — just like the Galaxy Tab 10.1, only smaller. And this is a good thing; smaller means lighter among other things, with the Tab 7.7 weighing in at 340g, or just over half the weight of the Tab 10.1 and the iPad 2. It's also easier to interact with a smaller screen, with the keyboard being more compact and options and icon being closer together.
From the width of the black bezel around the screen to the stainless steel finish on the underside, the 7.7 is instantly recognisable as part of the Galaxy Tab family. The big differences shine through when you power up the unit. Though it's unlikely you'll see the effects of the faster 1.4GHz processor straight away, there is simply no denying the improvement the AMOLED screen technology makes to using a device in this category.
Samsung uses Super AMOLED tech in creating this panel, and it looks gorgeous, with deep blacks and rich colours. In fact, some keen eyes may even say the display looks a touch oversaturated. There is also the same number of pixels in this 7.7-inch display as most other companies use for larger 10-inch screens, giving the Tab 7.7 more pixels per inch and a sharper appearance as a result.
There aren't too many slots or switches around the edge of the Tab 7.7. As with the Tab 10.1, this newer model uses a proprietary port for charging and USB connectivity, and offers owners the option to add more connections, like TV-out, with the use of adapters purchased separately. This is a different approach from most other Android tablet makers, who include micro-USB ports, SD card readers and HDMI-out for connecting to TVs. The Tab 7.7 does have a microSD card slot, however, so you can expand its internal memory.
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7||BlackBerry PlayBook||Acer A100||Samsung Galaxy Tab 7|
|7.7-inch 800 x 1280||7-inch 600 x 1024||7-inch 600 x 1024||7-inch 600 x 1024|
|Dual-core 1.4GHz||Dual-core 1GHz||Dual-core 1GHz||1GHz|
|Proprietary port, microSD||Micro USB, micro HDMI||microSD, micro HDMI, micro USB||Proprietary port|
If you're holding out for a tablet running Android Ice Cream Sandwich, you will have to wait a little longer. The Tab 7.7 ships with Android Honeycomb (3.2), though Samsung has committed to upgrading these units in the near future. As such, the user experience is identical to the Tab 10.1, with the Samsung TouchWiz user interface (UI) subtly adding enhancements to standard Honeycomb UI, but not enough to make it feel much different to other Android tablets available today.
It does run a little smoother than most tablets, with thanks to its zippier dual-core 1.4GHz processor. Scrolling animations and transitions don't stutter the way they do on devices using Nvidia's Tegra 2 processor, and hopefully this will improve further with the Ice Cream Sandwich update.
Importantly, the web browsing is still the standout feature here. The Tab 7.7 rips through the BrowserMark benchmark we run on new devices, and is very capable when handling complex web elements on pages. We'd still recommend you switch Flash content to "on-demand" in the browser settings for blazing-fast page loads.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The Tab's 5100mAh battery is also impressive when you consider the original Galaxy Tab 7 had only a 4000mAh capacity pack. This larger battery has more work to do, with the larger AMOLED screen to power, but it still manages to last for a considerable length of time. With a 720p video looping on the Tab, the battery held up for between nine and 10 hours, and standby battery use is superb. This is supported by the fact that our review unit is Wi-Fi only (a 3G connection would drain the battery much faster), but it is a great result nonetheless.
Samsung includes a somewhat tokenistic 3-megapixel camera on the rear of the 7.7, and though its large-sized lens looks like it means business, the photos taken by this camera are strictly for Facebook only. Even in playback on the Tab's fantastic display, the graininess of the image is clearly visible.
Although Samsung has no control over this one area, it is worth pointing out that the smaller 7.7-inch display still struggles with the majority of apps on the Android Market, as these apps were originally designed for smaller smartphone screens. Even major apps like Facebook display unusually, with tiny text crammed into the corners of the screen, rather than making use of the entire display.
Thankfully, there is a screen zoom option for apps that require it. This will stretch each screen of the app out to a pixellated mess, but at least the buttons are easier to press accurately.
We haven't really fallen in love with Android tablets to date; some have been good, but none have really blown us away. The Galaxy Tab 7.7 is a stand out with its excellent AMOLED display and its punchy performance, but we can't overlook the absence of important connectivity features, like HDMI and micro USB. If these features seem meaningless to you, feel free to add an extra mark to the score above — we would have had the Tab include these options. Also, don't write off this tablet just because its screen is smaller; it only makes the tablet lighter in your hands and easier to type on.