It’s hard to refrain from comparing Samsung’s Galaxy Tab to the iPad, if only because no real competitor to Apple’s tablet has emerged. After spending some time with the Sprint version of the Galaxy Tab, I have to say that the comparisons are warranted. The Tab is by far the closest thing on the market to the iPad.
While claims that the Tab is nothing more than an over-sized Android phone (my first impression, to be frank) may not be too far off the mark, its 7-inch form factor, as well as front and rear-facing cameras, give this device ample differentiation. Besides, who can really claim that the iPad is so much more than an overgrown iPod touch or iPhone?
Here’s a closer look at what’s behind door No. 2 in the tablet market this holiday season. Note that this review is based on a demo unit provided by Sprint Nextel.
Like the Galaxy S line of smartphones, the Tab is a well-designed piece of electronics. At 13.58 ounces, it’s heavy enough to feel like it’s worth the money Samsung is charging but also light enough to travel easily (it really does fit in the back pocket of a pair of jeans). The slick white plastic backing looks durable and the screen seems to resist scratching, although there’s no getting away from the smudges.
I think Samsung may have hit a magic mark with the 7-inch tablet. While the extra space provided by the iPad’s 9.5-inch screen is a luxury, the Tab feels more like a truly mobile device. You can grip it with one hand, between thumb and forefinger in the palm, the way you would a phone, whereas the iPad just isn’t meant to be handled in this manner. To be sure, it’s a trade-off. In my case, I felt like the extra mobility was worth more than the couple of extra inches of space.
It’s in this department that the Galaxy S really shines. The addition of expandable memory and front and rear-facing cameras are all that it might take for some to go the Tab route. I played around with the camera quite a bit and while the rear-facing lens maxes out at 3 megapixels (front-facing 1.3 megapixels), it still shoots a pretty good video. On-device replay was smooth and crisp.
You’re never going to take all your important photos on a tablet. The form factor just isn’t conducive to using it as a camera, which is one of the main reasons Apple probably thought it could wait on that score (they were also pretty far ahead of the rest of the pack). Still, the Tab is proof that a camera is a useful item on a tablet. The front-facing camera is great for video conferencing with services like Skype, and the rear camera is handy for catching the occasional snapshot or clip (not to mention barcode scanning, Google Goggles and the rest of the camera-based innovation on the way).
The battery is advertised at right around seven hours of use, and I’d go along with that. For reference, the iPad gets 10 hours, which is disappointing given the Tab’s screen size is so much smaller. I’m not sure if this is due to the Super AMOLED screen or just bad planning, but you’d think that Samsung could have done better given how far behind it was in getting its device to market.
I wonder what will be possible when dual-core processors become the norm? The Tab’s 1GHz Hummingbird processor is already fast. Renderings are quick and transitions between pages are on par with what you’d experience on a Galaxy S smartphone, which has the exact same processor. For some reason, I expected the Tab to be slower than the iPad (not sure why, since it has a 1GHz processor as well), but I was pleasantly surprised. This device is every bit as snappy as Apple’s tablet.
The Galaxy S series of smarpthones got rave reviews for employing Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen technology and the Tab is no exception. Pick your adjective – vibrant, brilliant, gorgeous – the Tab’s 7-inch face is all of them. While Apple’s Retina Display has been hailed as the pinnacle of resolution and definition, the Super AMOLED is the pinnacle of rich color and sheer “wow” factor.
Beyond its smashing good looks, the Tab’s touchscreen is exceptionally responsive, indicative of the high-end tablet experience defined by the iPad. Samsung adds optional haptic feedback (admittedly a personal preference), as well as the luxury of Swype technology. If you haven’t used Swype, you’ve no idea how much easier typing on a touchscreen can be when compared to the old hunt-and-peck styles offered by Apple products. As an iPhone user myself, I am simply dumbfounded that Apple hasn’t found a way to get this technology to their users (it’s that good)
Kudos to Samsung for not only its savvy handling of the Android UI at large, but also for making sure that the Tab came packing the latest version of Google’s OS. There’s just something that stinks when an OEM ships what it calls a “game-changer” with an outdated OS.
A friend of mine is an avid Motorola Droid user and after playing around with not only the Tab but also the Galaxy smartphones, he’s sold on the way Samsung has handled the UI on its devices and simultaneously turned off by Motorola’s work in the same area. It’s only one opinion, but one with which I think many users would agree. Samsung managed a completely intuitive experience with these devices and that makes all the difference when it comes to approaching an Android device.
The Tab offers up to three customizable home screens that are accessible by simply swiping the screen from side to side. Back, Home, Setting and Search all can be easily accessed from flat buttons at the bottom of the device.
When discussing any Android UI, I have to mention that I’m always pleasantly surprised by Android’s integration with Google’s various products and services. It just never gets old. There’s something incredibly comforting about signing into my Google account on a demo device from Sprint and finding that my entire Picasa album of photos are immediately available on that device (ahh, the beauty of the cloud). In the case of the Tab, all of my Picasa photos showed up in the Gallery section on the device, which features a slick 3D interface for scrolling through photos.
It Really Is an Over-Sized Android Phone
I had to laugh when alerts on the Tab referred to the Tab as an “Android Phone,” as in, “Your Android phone is unable to connect to Google’s servers because you are not connected to a network.”
After further review, I’m going to say that the fact that the UI hardly differs at all from the Galaxy S smartphones is a decidedly good thing. Samsung’s version of Android not only offers new users an enjoyable experience but also continuity for previous users of this line. I think this fact is overlooked when people make the “over-sized” comparison between a smartphone and tablet of the same brand. Who wants to jump on a tablet, which is based on the same OS as their smartphone, and have to learn a whole new UI?
While some might make the argument that the iPad is a “revolutionary” device, that claim is at least a little overblown. The iPad is a revolutionary device if only because it was first to market. The Tab is a worthy competitor in this arena, depending on your tastes and what you’re willing to pay. There’s a lot of redundancy in both hardware and software between the Tab and the Galaxy S smartphones, but because of its size, it emerges as a separate device despite its smaller, very similar relatives.
At $600 for a no-contract device with 3G and Wi-Fi, the Tab comes in a little bit pricier than Apple’s iPad, but nevertheless lands smack in the middle of that device’s pricing structure. When you consider that the Tab features expandable memory, the key feature from which Apple derives its pricing structure (16GB, 32GB, 64GB), the Tab is competitively priced. It’s worth mentioning that there have been reports of a $499 Wi-Fi only version of the Tab that should be available in time for the holidays, but that remains to be seen.
While the iPad might slightly edge the Tab in ease of use, Samsung has produced a great little device here that achieves a high level of quality and usability. I expect that the decision of whether to go with a Tab or an iPad may just come down to a preference between iOS or Android.