Samsung Galaxy Tab review

Reviews Alan Lu 12:05, 4 Nov 2010

We review the Galaxy Tab — Samsung’s eagerly awaited Android-based rival to the iPad

Rating: 
3
Pros: 
Lightweight; broad video file format playback; generally comfortable keyboard; battery life
Cons: 
Sluggish interface; incomplete or frustrating-to-use software features; no USB or HDMI ports
Verdict: 
The Samsung Galaxy Tab is a lot like Christmas. After all the anticipation, in reality it’s a bit of a let down. Although the Tab is a sturdy, slender, lightweight and attractive tablet, it could be easier to hold. The Tab’s small size, which makes it great for reading, also makes it less suitable for writing judging from our experiences with the onscreen keyboard. Even more critically, it’s let down badly by the sluggish interface. Other frustrating aspects of operating system, such as copy and paste, lead us to believe that Android 2.2 isn’t ideally suited for tablets. We really want to like the Tab, but until a software update comes out that fixes the Tab’s problems, perhaps Android 3.0 Gingerbread, we’d still rather have an iPad.

A whole horde of Android-based tablets were announced following the successful launch of the Apple iPad. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is not only the first of these Android tablets to actually go on sale, but it’s also one of the most hyped and eagerly awaited since Samsung’s Galaxy S smartphone is one of the best Android phones.

First impressions are good. The glossy black and white plastic case looks great and feels robust. It weighs just 384g, almost half the weight of the 700g iPad, making it easier to hold for long periods than Apple’s tablet.

There’s still room for improvement though – the glossy plastic can feel a little slippery. We also wish the black bezel surround the screen was a little thicker to make it easier to hold without accidentally pressing the four touch sensitive Android buttons on the bottom lip of the bezel.

Although the Tab’s 10.1-inch screen uses an LCD instead of an AMOLED panel like the Galaxy S, it’s still very bright and vivid looking. It has a resolution of 1,024x600 pixels which is slightly smaller than the iPad’s 1,024x768, but the Tab’s 16:9 aspect ratio makes it a better fit for watching widescreen movies than the iPad’s 16:10 aspect ratio.

If the Tab’s 16GB of storage isn’t enough, you can always add more using the microSD card slot. Most cameras use full-size SD cards though, which makes the lack of any USB ports for copying data off digital cameras and flash drives all the more disappointing. There’s no HDMI port for connecting a TV either, but this might not be a big loss for most people (more on this later).

As well as 802.11n WiFi, there’s also Bluetooth 3.0. This is supposed to be faster than previous versions of the short range wireless transfer technology, but at the moment the only other devices we know that are equipped with Bluetooth 3.0 are certain Samsung laptops and netbooks. GPS is integrated for use with Google Maps and other mapping/navigation applications.

3G is built in so you can access the internet away from Wi-Fi hotspots. The SIM card slot is located next to the microSD slot. The Tab can be used as a phone, but given its size, you’d feel a bit dopey doing so. It could still be useful as a backup phone when paired with a Bluetooth headset though.

Reception was surprisingly good on T-Mobile in some of the dodgier parts of north London and we had no trouble making ourselves heard or hearing the other calling using both the included wired headset and the speakerphone.

Another use for the built-in 3G is placing video calls. The Phone app can place video calls to other Tab users, similar to the FaceTime feature on the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch. Unlike FaceTime, which only works over WiFi, the Tab’s video calling only works over 3G.

We couldn’t get it to work though, despite repeated attempts. Sadly, the Skype app doesn’t currently recognise the Tab’s rear-facing three-megapixel camera or the forward-facing 1.3-megapixel camera.

The cameras can of course be used for taking photos and recording video. The Tab’s large size means you’re unlikely to want to do so though, unless your phone or camera has run out of juice – nevermind the mediocre image quality.

There is a flash for illuminating dimly lit rooms though and the Camera app has some useful settings for getting as good quality snaps as possible, such as adjusting the white balance and ISO settings.

A USB charger is included in the box, but the Tab doesn’t use a standard USB cable. It uses a proprietary USB cable with a plug that resembles the dock connector on the iPad. You’ll want to carry the Samsung charger with you on long trips too. Although the Tab will charge when plugged into computers or third party USB chargers, it charges much faster when plugged into the Samsung charger.

Battery life was lengthy. `The Tab lasted just under seven hours when playing a H264 video file on a loop, which is in line with Samsung’s claims.

Although the iPad lasted four hours longer in the same test, Apple’s larger, heavier tablet has the advantage of a larger battery. When using the Tab for web browsing and reading the occasional ebook, the battery lasted almost an entire weekend.

As expected for an Android 2.2 device, the Tab supports multitouch gestures. In most apps, the touchscreen interface feels very responsive, almost matching the iPad in terms of accuracy and speed. Unfortunately we were disappointed and unimpressed with the responsiveness of the interface when using certain other apps, especially the preinstalled web browser.

Scrolling through, panning around and zooming in and out of web pages often felt very sluggish, especially if Flash content was present on the webpage. Adjusting the browser's preferences so Flash content only loads when you tap on it helped improved responsiveness, but it's still not as smooth and slick as the iPad's almost flawlessly responsive touchscreen interface.

A button in the notification bar allows you to lock the Tab in either horizontal or vertical orientation – handy for reading in bed. Copying, deleting and backing up files is easy since the file system is user accessible under Android 2.2, which isn’t the case on the iPad. Samsung’s included file browser app works well enough, but it’s a bit basic – for example, there’s no way to rename files.

Samsung has added a much-needed printing feature. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it work with our Samsung laser printer and the lack of any documentation didn’t help.

Specifications

Typical Price £599
UK Launch September 2010
Network O2, Vodafone, T-Mobile
Frequency Quadband
Phone Style Touchscreen
Thickness 12mm
Length 190mm
Width 120.5mm
Weight 380g
Built-in Memory 16/32GB
Additional Memory MicroSD card
High-speed Data HSDPA
Connectivity Wi-Fi,GPS,Bluetooth
Screen Size 600x1024 pixels, 7-inches
Screen Colours 16 million
Camera Yes
Camera Resolution 3.2-megapixel
Video Resolution 720p
Ringtones Yes
Music Player Yes
Song Storage 16GB
Radio No
Speaker Yes
Video Calling Yes
Internet Yes
Browser HTML
Games Yes

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