Five months after releasing the original 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, the company has finally shipped a Wi-Fi-only version, as it promised to do way back when the Tab debuted in September 2010. This Tab offers no surprises: We’ve seen the hardware before. What’s different here is that it lacks the wireless connectivity available on the tablets from ATT, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon. And since it has no carrier involvement, there’s no need to mess around with contracts: Instead, the Galaxy Tab Wi-Fi is priced at $350 (as of April 27, 2011), with no additional costs.
Of course, $350 is still 75 percent more than the current $200 price for an original Galaxy Tab at T-Mobile. It’s also considerably cheaper than the HTC Flyer, another Wi-Fi-only tablet, which just went on presale at Best Buy for $500.
Nonetheless, before you decide that this tablet is a bargain, consider whether you want to spend this kind of money on a product that isn’t the newest technology in town.
When I first reviewed the Tab, I noted that Samsung had succeeded in delivering the smoothest implementation of Android on a tablet to date–and that it had done so on a smoothly designed piece of hardware that was a far cry from the generic slabs coming out of Asia. What’s also clear is that although the Galaxy Tab is a fine 1.0 product, the tablet has room to grow.
We should see that growth in the Tab’s larger cousins, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Galaxy Tab 8.9. Both of these larger-screened yet more sleekly designed models will use the newer, tablet-optimized Google Android 3.0 instead of the Android 2.2 on the 7-inch Galaxy Tab Wi-Fi. The 10.1-inch tablet ships in June, while the 8.9-inch tablet is coming this summer.
With those revamped models so close, the question is whether the 16GB, 7-inch Galaxy Tab Wi-Fi is too little, too late. Right now, I’d answer that question with a qualified maybe. It has a smaller screen than the 16GB 9.7-inch Apple iPad 2, but at least the price reflects that difference, unlike the price of the HTC Flyer.
The 7-inch Galaxy Tab Wi-Fi still feels zippy and responsive; in fact, while I was typing, it somehow felt even more responsive than I recall from my early experiences on the first Tab (more on that below). The Tab also still looks nice, thanks to Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. I know that the interface has its detractors, but I continue to appreciate how it makes icons and text pop more than they do on stock Android 2.2.
Now that I’ve summed up what’s new and different, let’s step back and revisit the Galaxy Tab hardware itself. (Editor’s note: Portions of the remainder of this review echo what we have said about carrier versions of the Galaxy Tab.)
Hardware: The Specs
Inside, the Galaxy Tab has Samsung’s 1GHz Hummingbird Application processor, a 3G radio for data connections, and Wi-Fi and DLNA support. The Tab runs Android 2.2, supports Adobe Flash 10.1 and Microsoft’s PlayReady DRM, and features a tablet-optimized version of TouchWiz 3.0, the interface found on Samsung’s Galaxy S smartphones.
The back panel of the Galaxy Tab Wi-Fi is white. The sides are matte black, while the front panel is glossy black, with a row of four touch-sensitive buttons along the bottom of the screen, just as on the Galaxy S smartphones.
The first thing that jumps out about the Galaxy Tab is its manageable size. The Tab measures 7.5 by 4.7 inches and stands at a half-inch thick. The depth is the same as that of the original Apple iPad, and that of other tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and T-Mobile G-Slate, but the 7-inch RIM BlackBerry PlayBook is 0.4 inch deep.
The dimensions and weight allow you to hold the Tab and type on it with your thumbs at the same time, using two hands or even one hand. Users with smaller hands will have to stretch to type one-handed; for larger hands, the arrangement is no problem. I found the keyboard very usable and responsive–far better than many Android on-screen keyboards I’ve tried, and definitely more manageable for holding in two hands and efficiently thumb-typing.
Unlike with earlier shipping iterations of the Tab, this operating system install provides the pop-up letters common to Android 2.x; before, their absence hindered my accuracy, whereas on this tablet I could type speedily and catch errors more quickly.
One issue persists: The screen’s sensitivity still makes it too easy to activate keyboard buttons accidentally (something that also proved to be a big issue with the capacitive-touch menu buttons when I held the device in landscape orientation).
Not surprisingly, the front face is all screen. 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. Like the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, the Tab is particularly comfy to hold in one hand; even at 1.3 pounds, the Apple iPad 2 is too heavy to grasp with a single hand for any length of time.
That said, as time wore on and I read a tome on the Amazon Kindle app, I realized that in an era of half-pound e-readers, I couldn’t see myself holding the Tab for lengthy reading sessions of 30 minutes or more.
The wide, Super VGA, 1024-by-600-pixel TFT display appeared bright, with pop-out, borderline oversaturated colors at the default settings. It had a pleasing angle of view; I could tilt and share the screen without altering the quality of the display.
In use, however, it didn’t handle the glare of sunlight especially well. (It also clearly shows fingerprints–lots of them.) The screen was slightly more viewable in daylight than the higher-resolution iPad, but it’s for use in a pinch only. To be honest, to say that it’s better than the iPad outdoors is a stretch–I could make out the time, but not how to adjust the time. In the end, I’d recommend neither product if your routine will take you outside, or into rooms that always have serious glare.
In contrast, the Galaxy Tab looked gorgeous in ambient and darkened lighting. Yes, I noticed some pixelation in Android games. And I noticed the dots that make up the letters–but I see that on the iPad, too, and the effect is worse there because of the iPad’s lower pixel density. My observations come as someone whose eyes have been spoiled by the resolution on the iPhone 4.
The Galaxy Tab has two cameras–a rear-facing 3.2-megapixel camera and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera–and a camcorder for video chat. The back-facing camera provides passable quality, but none of the pictures I took with it, either indoors with the flash or outdoors in natural light, particularly impressed me. I found the device surprisingly easy to use as a camera, though: The big viewfinder (otherwise known as the screen) was a kick, but no way are you going to be subtle when taking a photo with the Galaxy Tab.
It’s worth noting that the Tab has a number of camera controls in its software, but the differences in the modes I tried were subtle at best. I also thought that images had a slightly bluish cast.
Physically, the device has little else on it aside from volume-up and -down controls and a power button. It has 16GB of internal memory, and one MicroSD slot for expanding storage up to 32GB. To use the camera, you must have a card in place.
The Tab has a proprietary charging port, a negative in that it requires you to have Samsung’s charger on hand. The device charges very slowly over its included AC power adapter; if you plug the Tab into a computer’s USB port, it will power up at an even pokier rate on the trickle charge. One thing I did like: When powered off and charging, the device shows the percentage of the battery charge.
All About the Software
Like all Galaxy Tab models, the Galaxy Tab Wi-Fi has Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 Android overlay. I like how TouchWiz adds pop to Android’s otherwise-indistinct icons, making the screen feel more like Apple’s iOS than stock Android.
The Tab uses Swype for potentially faster typing through gestures; Samsung’s Social Hub for aggregating your messages across e-mail, text, and social networks; Facebook; Qik Video Chat, Think Office (for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or PDF files); and Samsung Media Hub for accessing television shows and movies for download and rental.
Samsung has optimized some core Android apps, redesigning the memo functions, e-mail, file-management system, calendar, contacts, music player, and video player to take full advantage of the extra screen real estate.
E-mail, for example, presents a dual-pane view in landscape mode that shows both the open message and your various inboxes. 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. Above that is the Android-standard notifications bar, which you can drag down with your finger as on any Android device. You can pinch to view all of your multiple home screens, too.
The Wi-Fi Galaxy Tab has some minor tweaks in its software selection as compared with the carrier versions of the tablet. For one thing, it adds an updated, more versatile Daily Briefing widget. It also has the new Music Hub for accessing your music collection. The added Samsung Apps icon, though, was disappointing: It didn’t lead to anything of note, and was populated with painfully few apps when I tried it. Other preloaded items include Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, plus Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, and Moviefone apps.
The Tab carries the Google-certified logo and has the Android Market on board. But many of the apps available there still don’t play well with the Tab’s roomy screen size and resolution, and they fail to recognize the Tab as a tablet and not a phone. Of the apps I downloaded that weren’t optimized for a large screen, all but one (a game) appeared centered in the screen at 800-by-400-pixel resolution.
Going back to the Media Hub for a moment, the app is designed so that you can share an account among up to five Galaxy devices, although at this time you can’t start watching something on one device and then return to the same spot and resume viewing on another. That capability is in place for e-reader software such as Amazon’s Kindle apps; if Samsung can establish something comparable for Media Hub, that could give it a competitive advantage over Apple’s iTunes.
Media Hub is no iTunes, though, with a still-thin selection. In theory, with a greater selection of TV and movie options, better design, and integration with other Samsung connected devices (such as the company’s HDTVs or Blu-ray players), Media Hub could become an asset to Samsung’s Galaxy products.
My frustrations with the Galaxy Tab lie partly with what it lacks–a USB port, a nonproprietary connector, a better keyboard–and partly with Google’s Android 2.2 operating system, which was never intended as a tablet OS. Android 2.2, with the help of Samsung’s enhancements, can make for a serviceable tablet environment; just be prepared for some heartaches if you run into issues with apps. On the whole, I’d still say that Android 2.2 does better than I initially expected it would on a 7-inch tablet, but the OS’s nuances and quirks, such as its heavy reliance on the back button to get out of menus, feel more annoying on a larger screen.
With the Samsung Galaxy Tab Wi-Fi, we now have a great choice for anyone looking to dip a toe into the tablet universe without spending a fortune. It has its limitations, and it lacks the cutting-edge technology and OS of newer tablet models, but it also still has its strengths too. Think of it as a tweener until you graduate to the big leagues. It’s a good alternative to an off-brand, low-cost Android tablet; the Galaxy Tab beats those products by miles, and it remains a viable, albeit less-sexy-than-it-once-was gadget for mobile e-mail, Web browsing, and multimedia consumption.