Executive Editor, Android Thoughts
Join Date: Aug 2006
Totally Tabular: The Sprint Samsung Galaxy Tab Reviewed!
Product Category: Android Tablet
Where to Buy: Sprint
Price: $399 (w/ 2 yr. agreement; $29.95/mo data plan)
Specifications: 7 inch 1024x600 Touchscreen, Android 2.2, Dual Cameras (1.3 MP Front, 3.0 MP Rear), Mobile hotspot, 802.11 b/g/n, GPS, 2 GB Onboard Memory, 16 GB SD Card Included, 4,000 mA battery, 1.0 Ghz AP S5PC110 Processor, Bluetooth 2.1
- Comfortable in one hand or two, portrait or landscape;
- Samsung's customizations of Android 2.2 are useful and beautiful;
- Excellent battery life.
- Proprietary connector - no micro-USB and no charging over USB;
- Low resolution cameras;
- Smaller size, higher price.
Summary: In a world where seemingly everyone wants to release an Android based tablet, Samsung has put forth the Galaxy Tab, a device that sports two cameras to the iPad's none, shaves off a few inches, and is popping up on networks all over the place. Recently I was able to spend a few weeks with Sprint's version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab... so was it Tabtacular or does it leave your slatesmitten soul sad? Read on and find out!
The Sprint review unit I received came in full retail packaging, which I'm more than happy to show you below. The box wasn't overly big - nice for those of us who keep boxes and don't like them taking up a ton of space (and better for the environment), and the accessories were nice and simple: USB cable, power charger with USA tip, headphones, manuals, and device. Sweet!
Figure 1: Samsung Galaxy Tab's Retail Box (I don't think you get the Sprint media rep's card though, unfortunately).
Figure 2: Open the box, and what do I see, a Galaxy Tab staring at me!
Figure 3: My Gorilla hands holding the Tab, although even my wife's smaller, normal sized hands could probably hold this without too much trouble.
The presentation was nice, the device beautiful, and of course my next question (as an iPad user) was "How does this compare", so go ahead and read on to the next section...
More than one time I've taken the Tab out of my bag and have had someone say "Wow, that's the perfect size". And this begs the question, Compared to what? Well, an iPad of course! So here are the comparison shots - you tell me if you think it's the perfect size:
Figure 4: iPad and Galaxy Tab, side by side.
Figure 5: iPad and Galaxy Tab, backside by backside. What's that on the Tab? Oh yeah, it's a camera...
Figure 6: iPad and Galaxy Tab, sitting on each other.
The practical implications for the Tab and its size compared to the iPad are simple: It's lighter, and easier to hold. I recall hearing a guest on TWiT last spring comment that the iPad "wears on you", and in my experience, that is true. It's just a bit big and heavy to be held completely out away from your body without any support for more than a few moments. The Tab, however, is just big enough to have a useful screen, and small enough to be operated without support and, dare I say it, with just one hand!
But How Does It Work?
Two weekends ago, our esteemed Contributing Editor Karey Westfall and I were out browsing at a local retail establishment (one that prominently features a yellow price tag in its logo). We marveled at all the Android tablets that were on display, and especially at how crappy some of them were. I'm sorry - I can't think of any other word to use. When I drag my finger across the screen to switch home screens, I do not expect to see my tablet jerk around like a seizure patient! I expect a nice fluid transition, just like my Nexus One provides. Out of all the tablets we saw, the Galaxy Tab was one of the only ones (if not the only one) to provide such an experience, and I think that is a good indicator of the overall speed and quality of the device. The Tab is responsive and fast, and I've yet to be able to lock it up or crash it. That's a good thing.
The screen is nicely responsive, although with it being larger than the average Android, you do find some ways in which Samsung could have helped out. For example, PIN entry to unlock can be annoying since the keypad takes up the whole width of the screen (as opposed to an iPad which brings up a smaller PIN entry panel). This caused my finger to jump up and down a bit as I punched in my code.
Samsung includes only a few apps that you'd otherwise download from the Market, so one of my first tests was to download a few of my favorite apps and see how they played on the big screen. The first, the game Fruit Ninja, ran well with no lag. Again though, my finger had to slice fruit over a larger area than I was used to!
Usability-wise, the device gets a high grade. The major complaint though comes in connection and charging. Samsung decided to ditch Micro-USB for the Tab (for some reason I can't explain), and even when connected to a computer with Samsung's cable, the device does not charge! I left my device in my bag with WiFi on and found that it would last around 2 days without a charge and with moderate use. Without WiFi on, you can probably go around 5 days with moderate use before needing to charge. It's just annoying to me that I've got to add a proprietary cable and USB charger to my bag when travelling - get with the program Samsung, even if I don't have to charge your device very often!
Cameras and Radios Oh My!
The device ships with two cameras, although disappointingly the rear camera only has a 3 MP resolution. In my test shots the pictures came out clear and crisp, with one small oddity: A burn in the camera's CMOS sensor, which caused a small "hole" in any photo I took! This is no doubt a quirk of the review unit I received and isn't indicative of the Tab as a whole - still it makes me wonder about the CMOS sensor as I've never seen this in another other device (perhaps a previous reviewer was taking pictures of the sun?). The front-facing camera was a little harder to test as the built in software doesn't let you easily switch from rear to front to take a self portrait (one must go to scenes, then choose "self portrait", I'd prefer just a simple slider!). The Qik software though, came through here. I was able to look at the front facing camera and, well, it is as grainy as you'd expect 1.3 MP to be. In general the Galaxy Tab isn't going to be replacing your camera anytime soon, although it is useful to have the cameras (if for no other reason than to taunt iPad users).
The device has a WiFi radio that, as I mentioned, can be left on without too much battery drain. If you don't have a 3G data plan, this is probably the best option for you. The device also includes a Bluetooth radio and GPS!
Samsung & Sprint Customizations
If you've never used a Samsung Android device before, you probably will be nicely surprised by the TouchWiz interface additions that Samsung adds to the stock Android applications. The calendar and contacts, downright ugly in stock Android 2.2, are pretty and more usable thanks to Samsung's additions. Samsung also includes a nice setup wizard that walks the user through initial setup and into using other email systems than Gmail. This is a nice addition for the non-Google crowd, although the wizard does perplexing things in cleanup - for example, after setting up my Gmail account, the wizard left the stock email icon on my home screen. This might confuse users - they tap on email and it takes them to the Android email setup wizard, while Gmail sits patiently in their app drawer, already set up and ready to go.
Samsung also does a few questionable things, such as putting a "free games" icon which merely directs one to a webpage where they might buy games. Aside from a bit of ad-related bloatware, the device runs smoothly - which is in contrast to other OEMs that might bulk up a device in the interest of affiliate sales at the expense of speed.
Sprint has also contributed a few customizations, including the hotspot app, allowing the Tab to be used as a hotspot for a number of other devices. Sprint also ordered their Tabs with white back plates, while other versions (e.g., the T-Mobile) has a black back plate.
Exercise In Usability: Reading a Kindle Book
One of the first things I thought of when I saw the size of the Tab was reading ebooks. I've used a number of devices over the past 3 years I've been reading ebooks, and they've all shaped my expectations about what the experience should be like. First came the original Kindle, which I still pull out from time to time to take advantage of the e-Ink screen. It was nice, small, and fit nicely in my bag. The only annoyance was the screen refresh rate, and the fact that it really could only read books - no surfing, no web browsing, etc... My next reader was an iPod Touch, however with the small screen, reading could get quite annoying. Since June I've used my iPad, which is big enough to be a comfortable experience, however it's a bit bulky, especially to use in bed.
The Tab looked like it might be the balance between the portability and usability of the iPod Touch, and the screen size of the iPad. So I bought a medium sized book on Amazon, had it sent to my Tab, and read it over the course of a week, both at home and on a plane. The results were encouraging, especially in a cramped airplane seat - I could hold the device in a myriad of ways (even one-handed, between my thumb and middle finger, using my forefinger to flick the pages. In the end though, one must be realistic about reading on any device that requires you to hold it - you'll be shifting around with the Tab just like you would with any paperback or small book. The difference between it and the iPad though is in weight - imagine the difference between holding a paperback and holding a textbook. No doubt one of the reasons iPads and Textbooks are read propped up on a table!
So the exercise in Kindle usability resulted in this: You can read books quite nicely on the Tab. The smaller screen size may mean a bit more finger flicking than on an iPad, but it's easier to find a comfortable position to do so in.
Before you go out running to buy a Galaxy Tab, you'll probably want to consider the following:
- The cost of another data plan, especially if you already have data on your phone.
- Your own experience playing with one - I can definitely see how some might find it too small, especially after using an iPad (even though most of my colleagues in the Blogosphere have told me they find it just the right size!).
- If you're a diehard Apple iDevice user, you might want to make sure that your favorite apps have transitioned over to Android first. Most have at this point, however if you're dependent on one or two apps, be sure to find out if the app has been ported over or has a counterpart on the Android platform.
- The cost is higher than a basic iPad - while you get less screen but more customization. It's a trade off!
- If you're the minimalist type that wouldn't like having another cable/charger to carry, you may want to consider that. Honestly though, for me, carrying an iPad was much more of an issue than the smaller Tab and it's charger!
- Remember that while Android 2.2 is a great OS, it isn't built for larger-than-phone sizes yet, so you will have some oddities (such as my PIN entry example above). If Samsung releases updates with major Android versions, I suspect this issue will go away as time goes by.
In conclusion, the Sprint Samsung Galaxy Tab is one heck of a device. It fits the essentials into a small package that can easily be used in many different situations, from cramped airline seats, to laying in bed reading. Described as possibly "Just the right size" it might provide that middle ground between iPad-size and phone-size, while not sacrificing speed and quality. It is certainly the top of the Android tablet field to date!
Jon Westfall is the Executive Editor of Android Thoughts, a member of the Thoughts Media Network. In his spare time he studies how humans make decisions as a member of the PAMLab and Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia Business School. He lives in Peekskill, New York, with his wife Karey, cat, and antisocial parakeet.
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Dr. Jon Westfall, MCSE, MS-MVP
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