Apple’s iPad dominates the tablet space, but with next week’s release of the Galaxy Tab, Samsung has something that might just bring the fight.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab has impressive looks and specs. It’s decked out with a huge 7 inch capacitive touchscreen that looks fantastic from nearly every angle, and beneath the hood is technology similar to that in the company’s high-end Galaxy S mobile phone, namely a 1GHz processor and 16GB of memory, with a microSD slot for boosting storage to 32GB.
The tablet exchanges the phone’s rear 5 megapixel camera for a 3 megapixel jobbie, but this is still the highest resolution camera to found on a tablet, and comes complete with autofocus and an LED flash. It shoots stills and video at 720×480.
A front camera is supplied for video calling from the Tab, and this provides a resolution of 1.3 megapixels.
Design-wise, the screen dominates the device, with the 7 inch 16:9 display sitting within a simple black frame and underscored by four touch buttons. These light up when the device is on, giving you access to the menu, home screen, back button, and search. White plastic on the back provides a stark contrast to the face of the tablet, but with just the camera, flash, and device information, it maintains a clean look.
The periphery of the Tab provides good connectivity, incuding a SIM card and microSD slot, headphone jack, microphone and docking port. Stereo speakers and buttons for power and volume are also located here.
In the hand
While it doesn’t have the quality ‘heft’ of the aluminium-clad iPad, Samsung’s plastic Tab does feel well built. Unlike the iPad too, the Tab is compact enough for you to carry confidently in one hand – though the exterior is so slick and glossy it oftens feels like it will slip out of your hands.
Typing on the device can be achieved in either portrait or landscape modes, and with the vibrating “haptic” function switched on it provides a nice level of feedback – something lacking in the iPad.
With Android 2.2 (Froyo), you’ll have access to voice-to-text services (provided you’re connected to the internet). This means Google will attempt to translate what you’ve said into text for documents, messages, and search terms.
The mail client is different to that in the Galaxy S phone, and we like it. In portrait mode, you’ll find messages just scroll downwards, but switch to landscape and the screen presents as a proper mail client, with your messages listed on the left and the one you’re reading in a large panel on the right. From here, you can compose messages pretty easily or even jump into a phone call by hitting the phone icon (yes, it’s a phone too, but more on that later).
Battery wise, we had a fairly good run. Samsung rates the 4000mAh battery for seven hours of video playback, and that’s not too bad. We averaged a day and a half from a charge, with activities including surfing the web over 3G, using WiFi, an hour’s worth of phone calls, watching a 25 minute video, and generally investigating features and menus on the device. If you’re a heavy user, you will be recharging this every day, but light users should be able to go for up to three days between charges.
Adobe Flash has also been catered for, making for a better web experience than offered by many other tablets.
We’ve seen Android handsets offered one or two unique applications, but the Galaxy Tab takes this to a whole new level.
You get the same style Galaxy S menu skin, with a left-to-right slide menu that sits over your wallpaper, plus Android’s widget screens. Here, though, you get up to nine screens, and choosing between them and adding more is easy: just pinch a home screen and you’ll find an easy-to-use interface that lets you customise to your heart’s content.
The top status bar can still be dragged down to display notifications and updates, and just under this you’ll find control of wireless networking control, Bluetooth, GPS, brightness, and an “orientation lock”. This forces horizontal or portrait modes to remain unchanged until you switch the lock off.
GPS and games
Nifty features unique to the Tab include a full navigation application, providing a proper turn-by-turn 3D GPS option. Coupled with pre-loaded Navteq maps for Australia and New Zealand, the Tab performs nicely as a large-screen GPS device, though a mounting device for your windwcreen is yet to be released.
Next you’ll find “Need For Speed SHIFT,” a high resolution 3D racing game with accelerometer controls for steering. We’ve been using the Android platform for some time and its current lack of games is noticeable, so it’s nice to see Samsung include a high quality title such as this.
Newspapers, magazines, books through Readers Hub
New to any Android device is the “Readers Hub,” a portal to eReader applications that make it possible for you to read newspapers, books, and magazines on the go. This feature is so new that two of the three programs Samsung is using haven’t even been officially released yet, with “PressDisplay” and “Zinio” not yet released for any other device.
Newspaper reading is handled by “PressDisplay,” which allows you to purchase digital copies of papers from around the world. This includes Australian titles such as The Daily Telegraph, The Herald Sun, The Age, The Australian, Townsville Bulletin, and others. And if you’re nterested in yesterday’s news, editions dating back several days are available.
International newspaper editions are available as well, allowing you to keep up to date with local news from, say, Liechtenstein (yes, we checked).
Magazines are handled through “Zinio,” a digital magazine service that offers well-known titles such as Popular Science, Cosmopolitan and Elle, as well as more niche titles.
And then you have the books, taken care of by Kobo, the same service through which Borders and Angus & Robertson sell ebooks in Australia.
These three services make up Samsung’s “Readers Hub”, and all make use of swipe gestures and easy to read text. The experience is not as natural as reading regular print editions, we’ll be honest, but given the cheap price of the media and the eco-friendliness of it, the e-reader experience on the Tab gets our thumbs up.
Much like the Samsung Galaxy S before it, the Tab supports multiple video formats, with DivX and Xvid supported out of the box. The video application looks great, with widescreen titles loading quickly, and without any black bars. While we appreciate the extra screen real estate provided by the iPad, the Galaxy Tab’s 7 inch 16:9 form factor wins, in our book, for multimedia display.
A two-month trial to “The Australian” was provided via an application, offering a version of the newspaper designed for the Galaxy Tab’s smaller form factor.
Samsung has – and will probably again – point out to you that the Galaxy Tab isn’t just a tablet; it’s also a 3G phone. A very big phone.
So big, in fact, that you won’t be able to comfortably hold it in your hand. Or indeed, hold it any way near your ear without appearing like a pillock. It does, however, make for a brilliant speaker phone, delivering audio at a good volume levels, and clearly to boot. We could see ourselves, for instance, making phone calls and checking emails on the Tab simultaneously, or using it for conversation while making dinner.
What it does wrong
No device is perfect, and the Galaxy Tab has its fair share of faults.
We wish, for one, that the screen wasn’t so glossy. It’s a small gripe, but the reflectiveness really reduces visibility and makes the screen a magnet for smudgy fingerprints.
More significantly, we found that widgets on the home screen often slipped from view when the Tab was held in landscape mode, making it hard to access menu items. The “Swype” finger-motion keyboard also suffered in landcape mode, with the keyboard failing to expand from portrait format to the wider orientation.
Then there’s the docking port at the bottom, which is used to charge the device and transfer data. Its not the standard microUSB port you’d expect, and which Samsung is using in its phones, but a connector remarkably similar to Apple’s iPod/iPhone/iPad dock.
We expect that many consumers will mistake the connection, and try to dock their Tab with iPod-compatible devices or Apple cables. The risk here is that connectors within the Tab’s port will be broken, rendering the device useless.
Should I buy it
When released on November 8, the Galaxy Tab will sell for $999, which is just $50 shy of the top-spec iPad. The price is probably appropriate for a flagship tablet from the Android camp, and it is as accomplished – more so, in many ways – than Apple’s market making device.
That extra $50 dollars, though, buys entree into more apps, accessories and kudos than Android currently offers, and it’s that value perception that will be the Tab’s biggest challenge.
If Android is your ecosystem of choice, though, then the Tab is your tablet.