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T-Mobile G-Slate review: T-Mobile G-Slate

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MSRP: $529.99

The Good With 4G support, a wide-angle IPS screen, out-of-the-box streaming TV features, and Honeycomb support, the G-Slate is one of the best options for Android tablet shoppers.

The Bad Unless you have a thing for two-year contracts, the G-Slate is pretty expensive. 3D implementation is disappointing, and 4G drains the battery something quick.

The Bottom Line Thanks to its high-quality screen, streaming TV features, and 4G support (if you're willing to sign a contract), the T-Mobile G-Slate is one of the better Honeycomb tablets on the market today; however, its high no-contract price insures that it's not the best.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

Editors' note: We've lowered the T-Mobile G-Slate's score slightly to reflect the increasing selection of competing Honeycomb devices, many of which offer near-identical features at a lower cost. For our most up-to-date ranking of top tablets, visit CNET's Best 5 tablets page.

As it's only the second tablet to use Google's Honeycomb OS, many will wonder how the T-Mobile G-Slate with Google distinguishes itself from the first Honeycomb tablet, the Motorola Xoom. For one, the G-Slate has a smaller form factor, including a screen that's an inch smaller. It also houses a 3D camera and includes T-Mobile 4G network support. Otherwise, the tablet functions very much like a smaller Xoom. The devil's in the details, however, so let's get to those.

Design and features
With its 8.9-inch screen, the T-Mobile G-Slate is noticeably smaller than both the 10.1-inch Xoom and the 9.8-inch iPad 2. The G-Slate is only slightly heavier than the iPad 2, but, like the Xoom, feels heftier, due to its odd weight distribution.

The G-Slate has a thickness of 0.49 inch, a little over one-third thicker than the iPad 2's 0.34-inch profile. In landscape mode, its screen is as wide as the iPad 2's, but is about an inch shorter in height. The G-Slate feels comfortable in our hands while typing, whether in landscape or portrait mode, and unlike the iPad 2 with its smooth-as-silk metal casing, the G-Slate isn't as likely to slip from our grip.

On its bottom side, the tablet has ports for Mini-USB and Mini-HDMI--although not Micro-HDMI as on the Xoom. On the top are a volume rocker and microphone pinhole. Two speakers can be found on the right side, with another on the left. Also on the left are the power/lock button, a headphone jack, and the power adapter slot input.

Accessing the G-Slate's SIM card is a little more involved than doing the same on the Xoom. There's a hidden panel on the back, requiring you to push down and slide it, revealing the SIM slot as well as the reset button underneath.

These days you can't have a tablet without a built-in camera, usually two. The G-Slate attempts to one-up the competition by including not only a front-facing 2-megapixel camera, but also a 5-megapixel 3D camera on the back. Technically, this is three cameras in all, although T-Mobile isn't really marketing it that way.

If you've seen pics of the back of the G-Slate, you may have noticed a narrow silver plate across it. You may have also assumed this stylish-looking plate doubled as a kickstand. It doesn't; its only function is to add a little design panache.

The G-Slate is the first Honeycomb tablet with out-of-the-box 4G support, courtesy of T-Mobile's network. The tablet also comes with T-Mobile streaming TV preinstalled as well as an on-demand service called T-Mobile TV, EA's Need for Speed Shift HD, Zinio Reader, and 3D camcorder and player software. Full Flash support is delivered via the Get Flash application, which will install Flash on the device within seconds.

The G-Slate also provides the usual tablet features, such as Bluetooth 2.1 support for audio and peripheral support (including Bluetooth keyboards). The Wi-Fi antenna supports bands up to 802.11n. Embedded sensors for screen brightness, accelerometer, and gyroscope are all included

A 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core mobile processor and 32MB of internal flash memory round out the specs.

Honeycomb
The T-Mobile G-Slate is the second tablet to use Google's Android 3.0.1. operating system, aka Honeycomb.

Up until the Xoom, every Android tablet we've reviewed suffered from behaving too much like a smartphone. Google's mobile operating system, its apps, and its developer tools were all geared for the small screen, and it showed.

With the introduction of Android 3.0, Google is showing its commitment to tablets. With the exception of legacy support of existing Android apps, Honeycomb is a dramatic departure from the Android of smartphones.

Even experienced Android users will need some time to get accustomed to Honeycomb's navigation. Gone is the familiar four-button navigation across the bottom of the screen. Contextual menus and options are accessed through the top of the screen, notifications pop out from the lower right, and the trusty old back arrow will occasionally morph into a down arrow when the keyboard is engaged, allowing you to conceal or reveal the keyboard.

Out of the gate, the first thing we noticed about Honeycomb compared with iOS is the amount of information conveyed on the home screen. Through the use of widgets, you can glance at your inbox, Twitter stream, Facebook news, and YouTube channels, all in one view. The whole metaphor feels more like a deck of cards on a playing table than the grid of apps we're accustomed to in iOS or an Android phone app drawer. It's not quite the clumsy mess of a conventional desktop, but not as rigid and size-constrained as a mobile OS. It's a thoughtful compromise.

That said, Honeycomb's added sophistication is a double-edged sword. To Google's credit, Android 3.0 in many ways pushes tablets in an exciting new direction by blurring the line between a mobile OS and a conventional desktop. But as much as iOS gets resistance from users who find it insultingly simple, Android Honeycomb is at times needlessly secretive. A task as simple as opening the lock screen plays out like an IQ puzzle. Home screen customization is broken down into separate categories for widgets, app shortcuts, and app-specific shortcuts, such as browser bookmarks and Gmail labels. There will be those who are going to rejoice in the flexibility and options Honeycomb brings, but there are bound to be just as many who are turned off by the complexity. We're just thankful that users now have more options when it comes to tablets.

Performance
With new tablets being released seemingly every other week, one of the biggest challenges for a tablet manufacturer is getting its tablet to stand out from the pack. T-Mobile's solution is a 3D camcorder. While I've see good-looking 3D before, good-looking 3D is not what you get with the G-Slate. First off, it uses red-and-blue anaglyphic glasses, and while they are much more practical and cheaper than active-shutter lenses, the results are an eyesore in the end. Recorded 3D movie playback on the device reminded us of watching non-cable TV in the '90s, with lots of ghosting and washed-out colors. The 3D effect is there, on some objects at least, but the whole thing feels shoddily implemented given the lack of image quality.

Both OS navigation and app-launching in Honeycomb are speedily satisfying, matching the Xoom's speed. T-Mobile TV performance was pretty good under 4G, delivering a high-definition picture most of the time, but showed signs of artifacting and dithering periodically. Surfing speeds under 4G were faster than on the iPad 2 and Xoom under 3G, especially when going to busier sites like CBSnews.com; however, using Wi-Fi, both the iPad 2 and Xoom were faster overall.

The G-Slate includes a high-quality In-Plane Switching (IPS) screen, demonstrating a wide viewing angle, much wider than the Xoom's, and matching the viewing width of the iPad 2. The preinstalled game, Need for Speed Shift HD, didn't look as sharp as it did on the iPad 2, however. Its colors were less vibrant and the game's frame rate was noticeably lower on the G-Slate. Also, some of the menu details have lower-resolution assets on the G-Slate, contributing to a less polished product.

Despite having three speakers, the G-Slate's low maximum volume prevents it from packing quite the same aural wallop as the Xoom or iPad 2.

With the screen's brightness turned to max and Wi-Fi on, the G-Slate's battery drained at about the same rate as both the Xoom and iPad 2 under normal use. Switching the G-Slate to 4G drained its battery noticeably more quickly, compared with the Xoom and iPad 2 under 3G.

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

Video battery life (in hours) Maximum brightness (in cd/m2) Default brightness (in cd/m2) Contrast ratio
T-Mobile G-Slate 9.7 424 143 794:1

Conclusion
If purchased direct from T-Mobile's site, the price for the G-Slate is as low as $399. However, this price assumes two things: first, that you'll sign up for a two-year plan with the carrier, and second, that you'll be willing the pay $599 up front and then wait weeks/months to collect a $200 mail-in rebate. Otherwise, T-Mobile has it for $699 with no contract. At its carrier-adhered price of $399, the G-Slate is as low as the Wi-Fi-only Asus Eee Pad Transformer and cheaper than the iPad 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1; however, if two-year contracts aren't your tablet cup of tea (they shouldn't be this early in the market's life), all three aforementioned competitors offer cheaper Wi-Fi-only alternatives to the G-Slate's $699, no-contract price. T-Mobile has not announced a Wi-Fi-only version of the G-Slate.

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