Critics' Choice: First Hands-on Assessments of Samsung Galaxy Tab

 

Apple has had the tablet market largely to itself since introducing the iPad in April. But if first impressions of Samsung Mobile's upcoming Galaxy Tab Android tablet are any indication, the iPad may have some real competition later this year.

Samsung "has set the gold standard for Android tablets, and might have just enough differentiation, quality, and moxy to set its 7-inch contender up against Apple's 9.7-inch juggernaut," says Engadget.

"The Samsung Galaxy Tab is the first Android tablet I can take seriously," writes PC Magazine. "It's well-built, elegant, and fast."

LAPTOP magazine adds: "To be honest, I was getting a little bored of the parade of crappy tablets trying to steal the iPad's thunder. The Galaxy Tab is different. And while the selection of Android apps for slates need a serious growth spurt, this device looks pretty impressive overall. If other Apple opponents are smart, they'll follow Samsung's lead."

Here's a look at some initial impressions reviewers have had of Samsung's tablet, which is due by year's end in the U.S. from Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. The comments quoted are from first-look articles, as opposed to full-blown reviews. (As of this writing, pricing, data plan rates, and exact release dates for the U.S. had not been announced.) For a look at the tablet's specs, read "Top 11 Specs of the Samsung Galaxy Tab."

Samsung Galaxy Tab - The Hardware

In their limited time with Samsung's tablet, reviewers have largely found the device to be attractive and comfortable to use.

PC Magazine's Sascha Segan says "the hardware feels solid and comfortable to hold. The edges are a bit squarish, the corners are rounded, and the metal back is smooth. At 13 ounces, it didn't bend my wrist, at least in the short time I got to use it."

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is "is good looking (though a tad on the "safe" side), solidly built (none of the seeming fragility of the Galaxy S here), lightweight (but not Kindle light), and glossy to the max (your iPad would be proud)," writes Engadget's Paul Miller.

The Galaxy Tab is better suited to one-handed use than the iPad, Miller adds. Melissa J. Perenson, writing for PC World, agrees. "With a 7-inch display and a weight of 0.8 pound, the Galaxy Tab is small enough to fit into some tight spaces (such as a roomy pocket), light enough to hold with one hand, and large enough to provide satisfying viewing. I found the Galaxy Tab comfy to hold in one hand, unlike the Apple iPad, which at 1.5 pounds is just too heavy to grasp with a single hand for any length of time."

Typing The Galaxy Tab's size and weigh make it possible to type on the tablet with your thumbs while holding it, according to PC World. "Users with smaller hands will have to stretch to type one-handed; for larger hands, the arrangement is no problem. The keyboard seemed decent overall, though I didn't pound on it enough to pass final judgment on its usability."

Screen The touch screen display of Samsung's Android tablet doesn't use AMOLED technology, unlike the Samsung Galaxy S Series phones. But "the 1024 x 600-pixel screen still looks plenty bright and sharp," writes Mark Spoonauer for LAPTOP.

Other reviewers agree.

Engadget: "The screen is great, though Samsung has managed to make this LCD look just as oversaturated as its AMOLEDs, and we're particularly enthused at the relative pixel density the screen gains over its iPad competition and the multitude of WVGA 7-inch Android tablets out there."

Engadget's Miller adds that the Galaxy Tab's capacitive touch screen response "is just as excellent as the iPad's, and the processor doesn't seem to have much trouble keeping up with the UI."

PC World: "The…display appeared bright and viewable at an angle, but I did not get a chance to test the display in bright sunlight."

Cameras Unlike the iPad, Samsung's Galaxy Tab will feature two built-in cameras--one 3.2 megapixel camera on the back and a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera for video chat.

"In our limited (testing) environment, the back-facing camera seemed to be of passable quality, but we need to get the final version of the Tab out into the wild to truly put it through its paces," says PC World. "The same goes for the front-facing camera, which I did not try on the unit I handled."

It's expected that Qik and other companies in the U.S. will enable video calls on the Galaxy Tab.

The Software

Third-Party Apps Samsung's tablet will run Android 2.2, which supports Flash (unlike the iPad). The Galaxy Tab can run third-party apps downloaded from the Android Market, which offers around 100,000 apps and counting. Given that Android 2.2 is a phone OS, the vast majority of apps available for the Galaxy Tab when it's available will have been designed to run on smaller screens.

According to Samsung, most apps developed within Google's UI guidelines for Android should scale correctly when run on larger-screen devices, while some might need to be tweaked by their developers. However, "the few apps we saw that looked to be scaled up (to run on the Galaxy Tab) looked and worked just fine," says Engadget.

Custom Apps In addition, Samsung has designed a custom Android skin and apps to take advantage of the larger screen. The consensus is Samsung's efforts were time well spent.

Samsung "has shored up enough of Android's deficiencies with its own custom skin and apps to make the OS thoroughly palatable in this form factor," notes Engadget.

The apps Samsung built specifically for the Galaxy Tab's screen size and resolution are "impressive" and include "a very attractive calendar app, an email app that has a dual pane view in landscape (of a style that seems unapologetically borrowed from the iPad), a similar messaging app" and more, according to Engadget. "A custom dialer app includes fancy contact browsing and a video call button right up front."

Samsung "has slightly tweaked the Android Desktop, too: A sliding tray of icons (browser, apps, e-mail, and the like) runs along the bottom of the display, while widgets occupy the middle expanse of the screen and an enhanced status bar runs along the top," notes PC World. "Above that is the Android-standard notifications bar, which you can drag down with your finger as on any Android device. The ability to pinch to view all of your multiple home screens--a feature not available on the phone series--is available here, too."

In addition, Samsung's Galaxy Tab will ship with software to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files as well as PDF documents, PC World notes.

Entertainment Samsung's Media Hub store allows for downloading movies and TV shows to watch on the Galaxy Tab and other supported devices. One feature Samsung is touting: progressive downloads, which will allow you to start watching a video while it's being downloaded. You can share Media Hub content with up to five Galaxy devices.

PC Magazine wasn't terribly impressed with the Media Hub store, however. "The good news is that it worked quickly, and downloaded video looked very sharp. But the selection wasn't that great, prices were pretty high, and the app's interface generally looks like a beta--lots of white space and default fonts."

Conclusions

LAPTOP magazine sums up the Galaxy Tab nicely--at least, as far as what we know about it right now.

"All of these ingredients add up to a formidable iPad foe, but there are also a lot of unanswered questions about the Galaxy Tab," concludes LAPTOP. "How much will it cost, and will consumers expect to pay less because of its smaller display? Also, can Samsung do as good a job as Apple demonstrating how its tablets and other products work well together?"

The answers to those "unanswered questions" will provide strong clues to the Galaxy Tab's potential.

"The Samsung Galaxy Tab might be a great seller at $299 plus data for $20 per month, with no contract," notes PC Magazine. "But I think it's safe to say that it wouldn't do so well at $599 plus $60 per month for data."

 

James A. Martin has written about mobile technology since the mid 1990s and is the author of the Traveler 2.0 blog.

TAGS:

Android, tablet PC, Samsung, Android tablet, Samsung Galaxy Tab

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