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The recent flood of Android tablets has been nothing less than astonishing. In the past months, we at Gadgetnutz have evaluated nearly a dozen different Android based models. Of those, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is the first we’ve found to be a true competitor to Apple’s dominant iPad. Perhaps it’s even a bit better?

At a glance

The Galaxy Tab is a 7 inch capacitance touch screen tablet with a resolution of 1024 by 600. Depending on the carrier, it comes in white or black, glossy or matte. It’s the first major Android tablet to fully feature the latest iteration of the Android operating system, version 2.2 (Froyo). It has a speedy processor, fast wireless data connections, copious amounts of storage, exceptional video support, multiple cameras, and weighing in at less than a pound, it’s quite easy to use with a single hand.

Design

There are tablets with larger screens, some with much larger screens. Screen size isn’t everything. If it were, all laptops would be 17” behemoths. There’s a reason consumers are drawn to devices with smaller screens, the reason is usability and portability.

In designing a device that measures just 7.48” by 4.74” by 0.47”, Samsung has made a clear concession to usability over screen real estate. The Tab is not just half the size of the iPad; at only .8 lbs it’s fully half the weight. Unlike its larger competition, the reduced size and weight of the Galaxy Tab allow for easy one handed use. No, there’s not as much screen real estate as there would be on larger tablets, but we find ourselves taking the Tab along when we’d leave a larger device behind. While the Galaxy Tab is not what one would typically define as “pocket-able”, it’s very easily carried about and fits well in many coat pockets and hand bags. And cargo pants.

While the Galaxy Tab is a sharp, modern looking device, we can’t say it has an especially unique look, as it doesn’t. Most recent tablets have taken on very similar appearances. We suspect this is largely driven by the realities of the necessary hardware. There are only so many ways to package a capacitance touch screen device.

All versions of the Galaxy Tab have a plastic case with a familiar black bezel surrounding the screen. The sides are black while the color and finish of the unit’s back varies depending on the carrier. The decision to go with a plastic instead of a metal case helps explain why the Tab weighs so much less than its most notable competition. Large flat devices can tend to flex without a very rigid case. The smaller size of the Galaxy Tab likely obviated the need for a metal case. The rigidity of the unit we tested is exceptional in that it shows absolutely no case flex. While the case feels very sturdy, the Gorilla Glass screen seems especially strong.

Hardware

The Galaxy’s has a 1020 by 600 pixel TFT LCD capacitance touch screen faced with Gorilla Glass TM. The pixel density of the screen is 171 pixels per inch, which while not as high as some smaller phone screens is significantly higher than that of the iPad.

Perhaps one of the more noticeable differences between the Tab and its competition is the 16:9 aspect ratio of the screen. 16:9 is the ratio for which most movies and TV shows are currently developed. Video can be viewed on the Tab in the intended ratio with no extraneous black bars on the top and bottom. In comparison, some cheap imported Android tablets and Apple’s iPad use the outdated 4:3 ratio.

The Galaxy Tab has a 1 GHZ Cortex ARM A8 Hummingbird processor, including a Power VR SGX 540 graphics processor. The device has two cameras, a 1.3 mega pixel front facing camera for video conferencing, with a higher quality 3 megapixel camera on the back of the device. The rear facing camera also includes a very bright LED flash.

The unit charges through a 30 pin Samsung specific non-proprietary connector. The reason stated for not adopting the familiar MicroUSB charging port is that the USB specification does not provide enough power to quickly charge the unit. The included charger fully charged the device in a bit over 3 hours. It would apparently take twice as long were the device to have used MicroUSB for charging. Another advantage is that apparently sound output and input and video output is carried on this connector as well to use with special cables and docks. While the 30 pin connector is of Samsung’s own design, Samsung is reportedly not requiring third parties to license the connector. This suggests that a flood of inexpensive third-party adapters, connectors and docks should be hitting the market shortly. Through an included adapter, this 30 pin connector is also the method through which the Tab provides USB connectivity for side loading content.

Those familiar with other Android devices will find the familiar Menu, Home, Back and Search integrated into the black bezel at the bottom of the device. They are in the same design as those found on Samsung’s popular Galaxy S line of phones. The buttons are not physical and completely disappear when not selected. The edges of the device feature the power button, volume rockers, MicroSD card slot, and 3.5 mm audio jack. The bottom edge of the device features two, surprisingly loud, speakers.

The Tab supports 3G data networks. In our experience, the speed was very robust. Wi-Fi support is provided from 802.11 A through the latest 802.11 N standard. These are speedy connections with which we were able to stream some rather large videos. The Tab has Bluetooth 3 connectivity; a feature that largely seems intended for use in video conferencing. Like its high-end smart phones cousins, the Tab includes a GPS receiver, MEMS accelerometer, and a magnetic compass.

On board memory differs depending on the carrier and version purchased. Most units feature 2GB of internal memory with an additional 16 to 32 GB provided in the form of an included MicroSD card. Currently, the Tab supports user upgradable MicroSD cards up to 32 GB in size.

Software

A common critique against the Android OS is that it’s built to work best on the smaller screens found on smart phones, not the larger screens found on tablets. Google has not yet released a ‘Tablitized’ version of the Android OS nor has it yet upgraded most of the core applications to take specific advantage of a tablet’s extra screen real estate.

Samsung has anticipated these issues by building their own tablet versions of many core applications. Samsung has a long history of robust software development, their experience shows in these included applications. The key to most of Samsung’s alterations can be summed up in two words – Dual Pane.

The Tab’s email client has been comprehensively reworked to elegantly function within a tablet’s larger workspace. The dual-pane design should be familiar to anyone who has used a desktop email client like Outlook. The very fast and responsive email client automatically reconfigures for landscape or portrait. The client automatically displays dual panes of information viewing in landscape mode, though this can be customized to the user’s preferred mode. Multiple email accounts are supported and can quickly be switched.

Similar dual-pane customizations have been made to the SMS messaging client, file manager, the new memo application, and a number of others. These applications all move to a dual-pane configuration when the device is tilted to landscape mode, retaining a single pane look when rotated to portrait mode.

Rumors abound that Google’s upcoming Android version will have a significant number of tablet specific customizations and upgrades. Samsung has indicated that the upcoming Android version 2.3 (Gingerbread) will be made available for Tab users shortly after its release.

Browser & Flash

The Tab’s internet browser has taken a lot of criticism from some members of the press and in most all cases it comes down to the inexperience of those writers in how to use the Android browser or a failure to appreciate all that is offered in web browsing on Android.

The Browser itself is based off the stock Android browser but Samsung has reworked the interface to make it tablet-friendly. You won’t find yourself poking at the Menu button nearly as often as the Back/Forward, Favorites and Windows buttons are all on the main interface around the URL bar. The Windows and Favorites buttons also invoke quick onscreen menus rather than sliding over to a new menu screen like Android does on phones. The Samsung menus really make switching between multiple browser windows effortless.

Normally browsing is fast and fluid – but if a page contains any Flash elements it’s going to render a bit slower. I have no complaints about being able to view Flash on the websites when I want it but I do think Samsung should have defaulted to having Flash available ‘on demand’. (this is the area that some reviewers didn’t understand in that they could turn Flash off) The browser should also only turn Flash on for individual elements rather than the entire page at once. It would also be an excellent idea to offer a white-list option so you can mark certain sites so they always show Flash and leave it off for the others.

If the included browser isn’t right for you – then you’re going to find something more to your taste in the Android App Market. Many people are recommending the Dolphin HD browser which is very tablet-friendly – but there are many choices.

Watching Video

While Android 2.2 comes with video playing built into it’s Gallery app, Samsung went a step further and included a very nice Video player that is fully Divx certified. The video player actually offers a full interface for controlling video playerback and will show you any videos it can play that are loaded on your Tab.

In our tests we loaded a variety of Divx and Xvid videos as .AVI from a number of sources and all of them played smoothly. MKV videos showed in the player but none of the ones we tried would play.

We also took a quick dip into the Samsung Media Hub – their answer to iTunes. It allows for renting and buying movies and television shows at fairly standard prices. You can stream preview clips as well. It feels a touch shallow but everything is there that you need for now. It’s a welcome addition since carriers often offer addon services that cost far more than this.

Ebook Reader

Samsung originally demonstrated a full suite of reading apps on the European versions of the Tab. Since then the carriers have exercised their options and had some items removed and some replaced.

The original ereader demonstrated was eBook from Samsung. This turned out to be not ready for wide release, partially due to it being very slow, and has only been released to our knowledge on one European version of the Tab. Since then Kobo and Kindle have been offered by different carriers on their versions of the Tab. Both are excellent ereaders but a third-party ereader, Nook, from Barnes and Noble has jumped ahead of all of them and works beautifully on the Tab as well. Once the issues are worked out we’re sure Samsung will release their eBook ereader soon.

Samsung also showed daily newspaper reading, via the app Press Display, but this has not been made available on the US variants of the Tab. Possibly this is due to licensing agreements. We haven’t seen this in action here but it’s supposedly been updated regularly and still needs a bit of polish.

The third app in Samsung’s Readers Hub was for magazines and was an Android port of the Zilio magazine reader. It was released in beta and in our opinion might have been released early. It’s a bit unstable and appears to be a lite version that doesn’t support all the features of the iPhone and iPad version. We talked with Zilio about this and they replied that they plan to make some new announcements this week and through the holidays. Specifically they’ll be releasing a lite version (similar to the Galaxy Tab app) that can work on all Android devices and an Adobe Air version for higher-end devices that will support all Zinio publications with all features. If these new releases are as stable as the iPhone/iPad versions then the wait will have been worth it.

Apps and Market

A lot of talk has focused on how the Android market doesn’t have a tablet specific section. To read some gripes, you’d almost think the Galaxy Tab is incapable of running most of the 100,000 + apps in the Android market.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In our experience, with the many apps we tried on the Galaxy Tab, we found they just worked. This is not to say that all apps displayed in full screen mode, but they did function as designed. Fact is, we couldn’t really find an app that couldn’t work at all unless it was only meant for telephone use. Because apps on the Tab with Android actually scale up properly for larger screens you don’t have to settle for pixel doubling on pre-tablet apps.

The real issue seems to be that certain developers did not explicitly follow Google’s current specifications, making their apps unable to scale to full screen or scale improperly. As has been pointed out in the Google Developer forums this isn’t terribly hard to do and we hope most apps will catch up on this. That said, a great many apps do scale properly and look especially good on the Tab. In the past week, we’ve noticed a rush of updates to Android market apps to fix any large screen issues.

There are already many apps that look amazing on the Tab. Wordsy, a Scrabble-like game for playing against other players online, looks designed for tablet displays. Nearly all games from Gameloft not only play in full resolution on the Tab but look even better than when on a phone. The new massive multiplayer online game, Pocket Legends, is perfect on the Tab and you can see more details that would be lost on a smaller device. RSS readers like Pulse and MyTapu really shine with the larger screen and offer a unique approach unlike your average RSS reader.

We have talked with a few publishers and most everyone are on-board for tablet-friendly interfaces. Best of all, they won’t have to do this in separate versions. (although they might). We have run into a few developers who erroneously think that if Google hasn’t said ‘program for tablet’ then they shouldn’t do so. They forget that Android is an open platform and Google aren’t the only ones moving it ahead.

Negatives

The Galaxy Tab isn’t perfect. No surprise. We think the price is too high when compared to the market as a whole. When compared to similar iPads it’s only about $50 less for a much smaller screen. Some will read that as a bargain – some will not. The Barnes and Noble Nookcolor has similar specs – but an ereader-specific interface and is only $249. The browser could use some work as we mentioned.

We’ve also noticed some minor differences in the software and OS itself on different carrier’s Tabs. This should be fixed in a carrier-agnostic upgrade. We hope. Specifically we’ve noticed that no Tab seems to have the Calculator app included. However there are dozens to choose from on the App Market so this is little more than a curious omission. On the Verizon Tab the Qik video calling app is missing. However the cross-platform Video Calling app Tango is available on the App Market and works just fine on all Tabs and Android phones, iPhones, iPads, etc.

Summing up

The Galaxy Tab defines a new market segment. Not only is it the first major Android tablet, it’s the first major 7 inch tablet. Despite critiques to the contrary, we don’t see the Tab as simply big phone, but a fast, powerful, full-featured Android tablet that’s also completely mobile. Apple’s iPad is also a fast, powerful, and full-featured tablet but it’s size makes it far less portable.

The Tab has strong advantages over a smart phone. The 7 inch screen size and wide viewing angles makes it far easier to read documents, view videos, and most importantly share content with others. The Android OS seems far more suited to tablet needs with it’s true-multitasking, notification bar, and configurable home screens. Our week with the Tab leaves us quite impressed. Of the Android tablets we’ve tested, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is the first that we can whole heartedly recommend.

Pricing

Prices vary by carrier of course and that’s not counting the upcoming WiFi only version that keeps being leaked by Best Buy. Here are the prices as of today:

T-Mobile

$399.99 (after instant and online discount) on a 2yr contract with
*$39.99/mo 5GB data OR
*$24.99/mo 200MB data
$599.99 no contract with
*$39.99/mo 5GB data OR
*$24.99/mo 200MB data (same as 2 year contract prices)

Sprint

$599.99 no contract
$399.99 (after $50 instant savings) on a 2yr contract with new activation and
*$59.99/mo 5GB data OR
*$29.99/mo 2GB data

Verizon

$599.99 on a 2yr contract with or without contract and
*$50.00/mo 5GB data
*$35.00/mo 3GB data
*$20.00/mo 1GB data

AT&T

$649.99 with pay-as-you-go

US Cellular

$399 after rebate and a two years contract

Specs

  • Operating System Android 2.2 Froyo
  • Screen Resolution 1024 x 600
  • Screen size 7 inches diagonal
  • Display type WSVGA TFT Capacitance Touch Screen w/t Gorilla glass
  • Processor 1 GHZ Cortex ARM A8 Hummingbird with 512 MB – PowerVR graphics
  • Memory 512 MB
  • Internal Memory 2GB internal device storage
  • External SD Card 16 GB included, user expandable to 32 GB
  • Battery 4000 mAh lithium ion
  • Cameras Rear facing 3 megapixel – Front facing 1.3 megapixel
  • Dimensions 7.48 inches x 4.74 inches x 0.47 inches
  • Weight 0.837 lbs
  • Network HSUPA 5.76 / HSDPA 7.2Mbps 900/1900/2100
  • Edge/GRPS 850/ 900/ 1800/1900 – WiFi a/b/g/n, – Bluetooth 3.0, DNLA
  • Video Playback Full HD (1080p)
  • Video Formats Supported XviD, Divx, MPEG4, H 263, h.264, AVC
  • Video Recording 720 x 480 @ 30fps
  • Ports 3.5mm ear jack, MicroSD, 30 pin port
  • Additional Features GPS navigation, MEMS gyroscope, Swype keyboard application, ThinkFree document viewer and editor,