Saturday, November 13, 2010

Samsung Galaxy Tab - Galactic Adventure! Another review from Asia

Thanks to the Apple iPad, tablets have now made a glorious return to the mainstream consciousness, while the big brands have been paying close attention. Where in their earlier incarnations, tablets were targeted at a niche market and came packing a full fledged Windows OS that wasn't suitable for finger-based touch-screen usage, Apple's iPad and the use of their iPhone's operating system (iOS) for the tablet changed the way tablets were viewed.

Taking a page from Apple's book, manufacturers have started using Google's Android OS to create similar 'lightweight' tablet devices, and Samsung's latest 7-inch creation, is a testament to that. The Samsung Galaxy Tab however isn't just a normal tablet loaded with Android OS, but one that comes with a familiar looking interface that we previously saw on the Samsung Galaxy S. This gives it a much more polished look then if the notebook were to just use the default stock Android build. Here's our video preview of the device and its handling for a quick visual overview:-

Having spent time with the unit, we're very much pleased with the device, from its snappy 1GHz Cortex A8 processor, 16GB onboard storage (and another 32GB expandable via the microSD slot), to the Wi-Fi, 3G and voice capabilities. While the TFT-LCD screen doesn't use an IPS (In Plane Switching) type panel nor Samsung's AMOLED, it's still bright and clear enough with pretty decent viewing angles.
Factor in GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer, light sensors and a digital compass, the Galaxy Tab is packed with features for both gaming and navigation. The size of the device, at 7-inch seems just right for the hands too, and with the Tab weighing just half of what the Apple iPad does, it makes the Tab a really portable device that's easier to carry around as we discovered in the course of our review. One more thing before you start looking at the pretty pictures though - don't rely on its 3.0-megapixel camera if you want to take pictures.

Looking all pretty and shiny is the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Note that there is a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera at the top.

Like the iPad, the Tab doesn't have much in the way of ports, and is pretty limited to just the 30 pin port connector at the bottom located next to the speakers.

The microphone is located on the left side of the Galaxy Tab while at the top, you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Located at the right side, you'll find a micro-SD slot (with an expansion card support up to 32GB) and the SIM card slot. Since the tablet can work as a phone, it's probably a good idea to pick up a Bluetooth headset too unless you want everyone to hear your phone conversation.

At the back lies the 3.0-megapixel camera with the LED flash.

If you're a person who uses an iPad pretty regularly (like ourselves), it may seem to be quite an adventure switching to a smaller, lighter tablet that's running on a different mobile platform. That said, we adapted quite easily thanks to Samsung's custom Android UI that was last seen on the Samsung Galaxy S. While it does look and feel a little like Apple's iOS, it adds a very polished feel to the tablet which we really liked. Also, since the Tab comes with the Swype enabled keyboard, it does help with your typing. Note however, that because of the screen size, it's not as easy to swipe your way through the keyboard, and you're probably better off tapping each letter out the conventional way.

Somehow, this looks extremely familiar. We've seen it before somewhere... the Samsung Galaxy S, yes?

The notification bar gets tweaked with a few goodies that makes using the Tab so much easier.

Since the Samsung Galaxy Tab packs in the latest Android 2.2 (Froyo) version and has Android Marketplace built-in, it means getting apps is pretty easy. Factor in Samsung's own App Store, SingTel's App Store (since the Tab is exclusive to Singtel for now) and the Readers Hub app, this means you're pretty much covered where apps variety and availability are concerned.

A widget to quickly access the Task Manager is located right under the Google Search bar for easier access to closing your unused apps.

Samsung's very own App store, though we could only find two apps available at the moment.

The only problem here however, lies with that some Android apps aren't quite optimized to scale up to the resolution of the Galaxy Tab, which at 1024 x 600 pixels is much higher than the 800 x 480 pixels that some phones have. This leads to scaling issues as you can see from the picture below. Some apps however, like the Android version of Angry Birds, scale perfectly, leaving us hope for app developers to update their apps to fit the Galaxy Tab's resolution.

Not scaling properly means you get weird stuff in your background!

Angry Birds for Android however scales properly with no issues.


Given the inclusion of a Readers Hub for news, eBooks and magazine browsing and SingTel's mobileTV services, entertainment with your Galaxy Tab shouldn't be an issue, but how about watching videos and movies on your tablet device?

The Samsung Readers Hub where you can read, buy and download news, eBooks and magazines.

Like for example, our very own HWM Singapore! Now you can savor the goodness of HWM digitally too.

Since the Galaxy Tab uses a wide screen 16:9 aspect ratio panel, watching videos with the tablet in the horizontal orientation feels comfortable and natural. When held in portrait mode though, you may notice that the screen feels slightly longer than expected, but on a 7-inch device, it still feels handy and usable. If this were a 10-inch tablet or larger, you'll find this aspect ratio looking way too elongated for comfort.

Watching videos on this device feels just right!

Unlike the Apple iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab comes with the ability to play Adobe Flash videos out of the box (though this comes at a slight disadvantage of having Flash based advertisements running on your browser). You can however set the Flash plugin to run only on demand, which should help those who are paranoid. We did notice that using the browser with Flash running slows the whole unit considerably, making scrolling on a page a jagged and irritating experience.

It feels more natural to read like this, but note that this is about half the size of the iPad screen while in landscape mode.

Note that the Adobe based Flash ads have been enabled.

Otherwise the built-in Android browser does a fine job, making surfing the web an experience you will find similar to any other Android smartphone. That said, using the Tab in portrait orientation does make text a little too small to read depending on the website. In landscape mode, you'll find a lack of vertical space due to the 16:9 aspect ratio format of the screen that may or may not affect your sensibilities, especially when the keyboard alone takes up half the screen, leaving you with very little screen real estate.


The Samsung Galaxy Tab comes with bundled with ThinkFree for office productivity, and you'll find that it works pretty well. This app allows you to create new documents, edit current ones, and if you have a ThinkFree account, store them online so you can access the documents on any computer. Unlike a mobile phone, there's plenty of space to view and type with, so if you're the type who likes to do your work while away from a desktop, then you're pretty much set.

Reading and editing *.docx Word documents using the ThinkFree app is pretty simple and easy. Note the slightly limited space though.

It's much easier to work in portrait mode, but the screen tends to look a little compressed due to the 16:9 aspect ratio format.

You can also create documents on the fly, like...

A spreadsheet!

Hopefully, the Samsung Galaxy Tab will do as well as the Apple iPad, which lasted for over 11 hours in our battery test. For the Galaxy Tab however, since we couldn't get our hands on the same iTunes clip, we've decided to go with a 720p clip instead. Of course, this will drain the battery faster as opposed to a 480p clip, but from our unofficial tests, the differences aren't that notable. However, moving forward, we'll be using the same clip for all other tablets coming into the lab and we'll have a better comparison set soon enough. Lastly, we left Wi-Fi on but turned off the 3G service since we last tested the basic iPad that didn't have 3G support. Additionally, we can never be sure if all future tablets would come with 3G capabilities by default and we don't want to end up being unable to compare other tablets across the board. Now that you know how our testing is done, let's find out how the tablet performs.

Lasting for 5 hours 41 minutes, the Samsung Galaxy Tab seems prepared for a near full day of use, despite running a more grueling 720p clip. We do have to mention though, while the power consumption scores are near, bear in mind that the screen size is also smaller at half the size of the iPad. The iPad on the other hand sports two batteries compared to the single one on the Galaxy Tab. Other factors to consider are the power efficiency optimization at the firmware level and the different OS used by both devices. With these aspects in mind, it seems like the power consumption figure is a bit on the high side for the Galaxy Tab, thus resulting in quite a big difference in battery uptime.

Finally for our Portability Index test, a simple benchmark test based on a formula where we obtain a ratio derived from a device's battery uptime divided by the product of its weight and volume. If it sounds complicated, don't worry about it, as the final numbers are pretty easy to look at. The bigger the number, the more portable the device is. And looking the graph below, the Galaxy Tab is almost two time more portable than the Apple device despite the fact the battery uptime figures swing the other way around. This is a direct result in the size/weight differences which ranks the Galaxy Tab as a more handy device and it certainly is from actual usage.

Samsung's Galaxy Tab may be one of the first big name efforts to compete with Apple's iPad, and the unit doesn't let you down. During our review period with this tablet, we found ourselves easily setting aside the much heavier and larger iPad in favor of this much smaller and compact device.

However, the Tab still has a long way to go to show that it can dethrone the iPad, mainly because of the Android OS that the tablet uses. Froyo works great for smartphones but let's be fair here, it's not meant for use with tablets. The upcoming Gingerbread (Android 2.3) and Honeycomb (possibly Android 3.0) will have support for larger resolution screens (up to 1366 x 768) and be more tablet friendly. Honeycomb is supposedly being designed for tablets, but how will this affect Chrome OS development which in our opinion seems more like a tablet friendly operating system, is not quite clear at this point of time.

In the Galaxy Tab's favor however, it's a great gadget to carry around. It's snappy, it's fast, and the screen is great for reading or watching movies. You can make phone calls too with this device, though we really, really don't suggest getting this as a replacement for your smartphone, unless you are willing to always wear a Bluetooth headset around on your head.

At the end of the day, if you don't already own a tablet device, then the Samsng Galaxy Tab is one to consider. It's definitely a different machine compared to the Apple iPad, and one that stands out on its own. Given that other manufacturers too are announcing their own versions of an Android tablet, it may be a good idea to play the "wait and see" game, but Samsung's Galaxy Tab strikes us as the one to get for now if you need a handy one. Well, till the next batch of Honeycomb-based tablets arrive.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is one tablet you can consider getting if you're hunting for a spiffy new tablet.

Price and Availability

The Samsung Galaxy Tab will be S$998 without contract and S$538 with a monthly subscription of S$39 with SingTel's 3G Flexi Lite plan. S$298 with a monthly subscription of S$56 for the 3G Flexi plan and free with a monthly subscription of S$95 for the 3G Flexi Plus. The Samsung Galaxy Tab will be available from SingTel from 13th November 2010.

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