Samsung Galaxy Tab review
We review the Galaxy Tab, Samsung's tablet rival to Apple's iPad but with phone functionality.
Verdict: More compact iPad rival with added phone.
Pros: More portable than iPad, 7in touch screen, 16GB onboard memory (plus 32GB via microSD), Wi-Fi, GPS, HSDPA 3G, 3.5mm audio jack plug
Cons: Web browsing could be smoother, screen could use an anti-grease coating
Design: Baby iPad
Operating System: Android 2.2
More Information: Samsung website
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is being positioned as a tablet rival to the iPad, but that’s slightly misleading. For a start, despite its dimensions, the Galaxy Tab is a proper phone, with a SIM card and everything, as well as a very capable handheld tablet computer. It actually has more in common with Dell’s Streak, which also runs on Android but has a smaller 5in screen. It begs the question, when does a phone become a tablet, and vice versa?
If one definition of a mobile phone is that it should fit in a pocket, then the Galaxy Tab fails the test. It measures 191x121x12mm and 384g, considerably smaller than the iPad’s 243x190x13mm and 730g, but you’ll still need a bag (or at least a very sizable jacket pocket) to carry it around. The 7in screen is however easily big enough for viewing films, and, importantly, for reading ebooks, a cornerstone of the iPad’s appeal.
Just above the screen is a camera for video calls and beneath the screen are the usual Android buttons in a touch-sensitive style: menu, home, back and search. Around the sides are a power/lock button, volume rocker and covered slots for SIM and microSD cards. On top is a 3.5mm headphone jack and at the bottom is a Samsung power slot.
The 7in screen offers 1024x800-pixel resolution and multi-touch capability. It may not have the intense sharpness of AMOLED screens but it’s fine for both browsing and viewing films.
Frustratingly, fingerprints quickly became a problem, meaning it needs to be wiped regularly. It would have benefited from an anti-grease coating similar to what you get on Apple devices.
Interface and operating system
Samsung hasn’t meddled much with the Android OS, which in this case is the latest 2.2 Froyo flavour and brings Flash 10.1, support for Microsoft Exchange and the ability to use the phone as a Wi-Fi hot spot, among other tweaks and upgrades. There are five home pages to flick between and add shortcuts and widgets to. You can add loads more from the Android Market too, though there’s not much yet available on Samsung’s own Apps Store.
It’s powered by a 1GHz processor and speed generally holds up well, though it can start to stutter a bit when you have several apps running at once. Usefully, there’s an app manager widget which helps you to keep control.
You can just about use the onscreen keyboard for proper ten-finger typing though the space bar feels a little too cramped (though it’s all in a good cause since there are handy shortcut keys like @ and .com available). Samsung’s Swype option is on board, which allows you to type without taking your fingers off the screen. It’s a nice concept, but takes a bit of getting used to.
Reading ebooks proved to be no problem for the Galaxy Tab. The onboard ebook app is compatible with ePub and has a similar layout to Apple’s iBooks with its wooden bookshelf. The Reader Hub is linked to online book store Kobo, as well as various news and magazine subscriptions. You can choose from a variety of ebook readers available from the Market, including Amazon’s Kindle for Android.
Web pages render well on the big screen and fast connection is guaranteed by 3G or Wi-Fi. Browsing wasn’t quite as smooth as it should have been however, and there were more than a few lags – nothing outrageous, but not as clean an experience as you get with the iPad for instance.
The 3.2 megapixel camera is of the basic variety and comes with LED flash and multi-shot, panorama and smile detection options, though there’s no digital zoom. It records video at 720x480 pixels and 30fps which is okay, though a step down from HD.
The VGA camera on the front is for video calls and the screen’s big enough to be able to show both you and your caller at the same time.
Films look fine on the big screen and playback seemed to be smooth throughout. Usefully, there’s an option to stretch letterbox films to fit the dimensions of the screen, which gives you the chance to take full advantage of the size.
The music player is the standard Android version which is perfectly fine and supports MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC and WAV formats.
You can sync your media with your computer via Samsung’s newish Kies software, which works very well, and the Music Hub offers online music from 7digital.
Battery life was surprisingly good considering the big screen and powerful processor and it delivered a little over a day of heavy use.
Is it a phone, is it a tablet, and does it really matter? The Galaxy Tab has all the benefits of a high-end Android smart phone a well as passing muster as a media player and ebook reader. In other words, it can do pretty much everything the Apple iPad can do and if it’s not quite as smooth or as classy, the reduced size and its phone network connection makes it easily more portable.