REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy Tab - a flawed but well-built challenger to the iPad

REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy Tab - a flawed but well-built challenger to the iPad

A hybrid device that sits somewhere between a largish touchscreen phone like Samsung's own 4-inch Galaxy S and the 9.7-inch iPad

the Apple iPad finally has a realistic challenger in the Samsung Galaxy Tab. This 7-inch Android tablet is a hybrid device that sits somewhere between a largish touchscreen phone like Samsung's own 4-inch Galaxy S and the 9.7-inch iPad. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is well built, functional and responsive, but a little overpriced.

Samsung Galaxy Tab: design

The Samsung Galaxy Tab's body is constructed entirely of plastic but this doesn't diminish its aesthetic appeal. The gloss black frame contrasts nicely with the gloss white rear. While it may lack the industrial appeal of the iPad's aluminium casing, the Galaxy Tab's 7in capacitive touchscreen gives it a much smaller footprint than Apple's tablet. This makes the Galaxy Tab more comfortable to hold and carry than the iPad; we particularly love the fact that it is easy to operate with a single hand, and slips easily into the pocket of a suit jacket. We also think it is the perfect size for use on public transport, where the larger size of the iPad can be a little overwhelming. We did note the glossy surface on the rear of the Galaxy Tab is quite slippery, so we recommend purchasing a case.

Samsung Galaxy Tab review

The Samsung Galaxy Tab's case is constructed entirely of plastic but this doesn't diminish its aesthetic appeal.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab boasts a standard capacitive TFT touchscreen. It's a shame the Galaxy Tab doesn't get a Super AMOLED display like Samsung's Galaxy S smartphone — Samsung says it opted for a regular TFT screen to keep the cost down, citing a shortage of AMOLED displays. Despite this, the Galaxy Tab's display is crisp, bright and clear and makes for a pleasant user experience. The only real shortcoming is that it is hard to see in direct sunlight. Like the iPad, it also attracts plenty of fingerprints during use. Unlike the iPad, the Galaxy Tab has haptic feedback, meaning the unit will vibrate in response to user input. It also features dual cameras; a 3.2-megapixel camera with LED flash on the rear for photos and video, and a 1.3-megapixel camera on the front for video calls.

Below the screen are four touch-sensitive buttons for menu, home, back and search. The keys are backlit and reasonably responsive, but we would have preferred physical buttons: the touch-sensitive keys can easily be accidentally bumped. You also can't wake the screen from sleep by using these keys; instead you need to use the awkwardly placed power/lock button on the right side. The Galaxy Tab also has a few other minor design quirks; there is no LED notification light, Samsung has opted for a proprietary dock connector for charging and synchronising, and the Galaxy Tab doesn't charge via USB. Volume keys along with microSD card and SIM card slots reside on the right, while a built-in microphone sits on the left side.

Samsung Galaxy Tab review

The Galaxy Tab's 7in capacitive touchscreen gives it a much smaller footprint than the iPad, making it much more comfortable to hold and carry.

Samsung Galaxy Tab: Software

The Samsung Galaxy Tab runs the latest version of Google's Android operating system, 2.2 or Froyo (short for Frozen Yogurt). This is the same operating system found on many smartphones (like the HTC Desire HD), so the using the Galaxy Tab can feel like using an oversized smartphone. As Froyo has been designed to work purely on smartphones rather than tablets, Samsung has developed a few of its own apps, notably enhanced e-mail, contacts and calendar apps, the Readers Hub, which houses newspaper subscriptions, e-Books and magazines, and the memo note-taking app. The e-mail app in particular is a good example of the benefits of a larger screened device; when rotated to landscape mode it switches to a two column view, showing your inbox messages in the left column and the selected e-mail in the right column.

Samsung Galaxy Tab review

Samsung has developed a number of apps specifically designed for the Galaxy Tab's larger screen, including a functional e-mail app.

The size and resolution of the screen mean that some applications in the Android Market won't use the full extent of the Galaxy Tab's screen real estate. Samsung claims that at least 85 per cent of applications on the Android Market will work correctly with the Galaxy Tab. The company is in ongoing discussions with Google about the issue. Though it is yet to be confirmed, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is likely to receive future Android updates that will solve this issue; the next version of Android, dubbed Gingerbread, is designed with larger screened tablet devices in mind.

Because it runs Froyo, the Samsung Galaxy Tab has full Flash support, built-in wireless tethering, and the ability to store supported third-party apps on a microSD card. It is also far more flexible than the iPad; you can transfer files by dragging and dropping them from your PC and you don't need to run iTunes. Performance in general is adequate. The Galaxy Tab is fast and smooth, with no significant lag or performance issues, even when running multiple apps. Screen transitions are swift, scrolling through home screens is slick and loading times are minimal. This is true of all applications we tested — except the browser. The browser supports Flash content, is multitouch-aware, and automatically reformats text to fit the page when zoomed in, but the Galaxy Tab offers a decidedly inferior Web browsing experience compared to the iPad. Scrolling in particular feels clunky and not nearly as smooth as on the iPad, while pages take longer to load than we would have liked. There is also often a delay when swiping or zooming. On pages with heavy Flash advertising, these delays often render the page almost unusable.

One of the best features of the Samsung Galaxy Tab is built-in Swype text entry, an option that allows you to slide your fingers over the letters you want to type in a single motion, letting the software work out the word you're trying to write. Though it sounds awkward, Swype is very easy to pick up and surprisingly accurate. As with most on-screen keyboards, the software will learn as you type and add words you use regularly to its database. If you aren't a fan of Swype, we found the regular Samsung keyboard easy to type on in both portrait and landscape modes. Samsung has also included a nifty task manager app on the Galaxy Tab, which includes a home screen widget that displays how many applications are currently running. The app displays any active applications, while also providing an overview of storage and RAM.

Samsung Galaxy Tab review

The home screen of the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Despite being marketed purely as a tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is also capable of making phone calls. Calls can be made using a wired headset, a wireless Bluetooth headset or using Galaxy Tab's built-in speakerphone. The front-facing camera is a handy inclusion here, as it allows video calling and can also handle conference calls. A range of accessories will be sold for the Galaxy Tab, including a stand that allows the tablet to sit upright on a desk or table, as well as a car cradle for navigation use.

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Tags tabletssamsungGoogle AndroidAndroid tabletsSamsung Galaxy Tab

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