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Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9

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MSRP: $569.00

The Good The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 packs the full Android Honeycomb tablet experience (soon upgradeable to Android 4.0), along with Samsung's useful customizations, into a compact body.

The Bad The lack of ports on the tablet will be a problem for some and the plastic back leaves the Tab 8.9 feeling less solid than the iPad 2.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 is everything we loved about the Tab 10.1 in a slightly smaller form, with a slightly smaller price.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

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).

Size matters
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 TouchWiz interface 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.


Samsung's TouchWiz optimizations allow you to run widgets, such as a calculator, on top of any open Honeycomb app.

Hardware features
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.

Unfortunately, all the annoyances of the Tab 10.1 carried over, as well. For example, there's the lack of microSD memory expansion. You still have to use Samsung's adapter to recharge the internal battery. There's no HDMI output (although an adapter can remedy this).

And while we're being picky, it's worth noting that the Tab with its plastic construction (as thin and light as it may be) still doesn't feel as nice as an iPad 2, which can be had for just $30 more.

Tested spec Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Sony S Tablet Apple iPad 2
Maximum brightness 372 cd/m2 336 cd/m2 393 cd/m2 432 cd/m2
Default brightness 181 cd/m2 336 cd/m2 160 cd/m2 176 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.38 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2 0.47 cd/m2 0.46 cd/m2
Default black level 0.15 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2 0.19 cd/m2 0.19 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 1,206:1 1,120:1 842:1 926:1
Contrast ratio (max brightness) 979:1 1,120:1 836:1 939:1

Performance
Just like the Tab 10.1, the Tab 8.9 has an impressive screen. You get the same 1,280x800-pixel resolution packed into a smaller space, so the pixel density is very smooth.

The quality of the rear camera is great, though not as stunning as the camera on the recently reviewed Sony Tablet S. Web speed on the Tab 8.9 is just as zippy as on its big brother, and it should be noted that Adobe Flash 10.2 comes preinstalled (take that, iPad).

Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours)
Samsung Galaxy 8.9 8.3

Final thoughts
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 is a slightly shrunken version of the Tab 10.1--pure and simple. What's not immediately obvious until you hold it in your hands is that this smaller size changes, and in many ways eases, the experience of using a Honeycomb tablet. It's a subtle difference, sure, but if you've found other tablets unwieldy, yet worry that 7-inch tablets are too constrained, the Tab 8.9 may be the tablet you've been Goldilocksing for.

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