This week I finally received the Galaxy Tab tablet that I ordered for the office. After using it on and off for a few days, I’m seeing some good and bad points to the device. It does look to be a promising start however.
First impressions of it are that it is both thicker and lighter than expected. These can both be explained by the plastic body that Samsung used. It does not feel as solid as an iPad or either of the Motorola Droid phones, but if it were built to those levels, without using Apple’s unibody construction, it would be a tank, and nobody could hold the thing. So they sacrificed a more solid body in the name of saving weight. It is probably a good trade-off for usability, not so much for durability.
We have used it for a few demos in the short time we have had it, and it gets a lot of looks and questions. People either know what it is and want to get their hands on it, or didn’t know about it and want to play with it. It is an attention getter, and that is a good thing for Samsung.
Next, the size issue. Everybody’s favorite turtleneck-wearing CEO recently panned the idea of 7-inch tablets, and I can see the point. Having used an iPad for a while now, it feels a little cramped, although considering my (and most everybody else’s) experience with Android is in the 3 or 4 inch screen range, it gives the illusion of feeling larger. Where it does shine, however, is typing. If you have used an iPad, you know that typing on the go requires holding it in one hand and going with the old hunt-and-peck with the other hand. The Galaxy Tab, in landscape orientation, is the perfect width for holding and typing with both thumbs, which people have grown familiar with on mobile devices. Swype is a poor addition to the Tab though. I have grown to really like Swype on my Motorola Droid X. It works very well there. On the Tab, the screen is too wide to keep your finger or thumb on the screen across the entire keyboard, unless you go back to the one-handed typing. Swype works great for a phone with a smaller screen, not so great on a tablet.
The screen on the Tab is great. The postive reviews of Samsung’s Super AMOLED screens are everywhere, so no need for me to say the same thing as everyone else. The screen is 1024 x 600, so despite the extra real estate, the resolution is not any extra. That means everything is blown up to a larger size. Since this is the first major release of an Android tablet, most apps were not created in that fine of detail. This leads to many apps looking a little fuzzy or rough. Again, not the fault of the Tab, but it brings the user-experience down a little bit.
The Android build on the Tab is slightly customized, but mostly a standard FroYo build. Samsung added a few nice touches, such as adding the controls for Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, etc. to the notification drop-down for quick access from any screen. Little things like that make for a good user experience. Samsung’s past history in updating their smartphone software should make people a little wary that any bugs fixes or upgrades will come in a timely manner.
One small thing gives the Tab a bit of a thumbs down for users. Rather than use a micro-USB connector for charging and data connections, Samsung chose to use a proprietary 30-pin connector. All of the major mobile manufacturers agreed to make micro-USB the standard for phones going forward. Apparently Samsung doesn’t think that should apply to a tablet. Now you’ll need to add one more cord to the pile in your bag, and you better not lose it.
In general, this is a good start for Android tablets. Considering the OS wasn’t made for tablet use (yet), it is a relatively good user experience. If you are an Android fan, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on one to try it out at least. The price is a little high. Without a contract, the Galaxy Tab is $599 from T-Mobile (and most of the other carriers.) An iPad with 3G starts at $629, with a larger screen and an established app ecosystem. They are completely different devices, but that is the standard everyone will hold Samsung to. The Tab is a solid base hit, and it sets the standard for Android tablets. With a bit of improvement and the tablet-friendly (as rumored) Android 3.0, I have high hopes for the Galaxy Tab 2.
Edit added 11.30.2010
In my initial review, I forgot to mention one of the largest differences between the Galaxy Tab and the iPad…..Flash support. How could I have missed that? Well, two simple reasons. First, most major web sites have finally picked up Android devices in browser detection and direct you to a mobile version of the site. The other is that when you go to a site using Flash, or manually override to visit a full version of a site, Flash feels like, well, Flash. Sites load a bit slower due to the added content, and scrolling is not quite as smooth when there are a lot of Flash animations on a page, but otherwise, it works just fine. Videos play, animations move, and interactions interact. There are still all of the old caveats of Flash on a touchscreen device, but it works acceptably well. As more powerful Android devices show up on the market (dual-core processors, Tegra 2, etc.), Flash performance will work just fine. Oh, and it doesn’t appear to drain the battery any faster than anything else. Running graphics intensive apps drained the battery just as much, if not more.