By CHONG JINN XIUNGintech@thestar.com.my
Does the Galaxy Tab live up to everyone's expectations as a serious competitor to the iPad? Find out here.
THERE'S no denying that Android Tablets are the flavour of the day as most consumer electronics companies hurry to get their own Tablets out to meet the growing demand for these devices.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab has generated a lot of buzz since it was unveiled at the IFA show in September. It is certainly the most talked about Android Tablet that everyone is eager to get their hands on.
Thanks to Samsung, we managed to spend some quality time with a retail unit of the Galaxy Tab.
Aesthetically, the Galaxy Tab bears some similarities with the iPad - it sports a thick black bezel that runs around the screen. That said, the Galaxy Tab is about half the size of the iPad and thus is more portable and easier to slip into a bag.
It has a glossy 7in capacitive touchscreen display with 1,024 x 600-pixel resolution. The glossy screen can sometimes be too reflective, especially when used outdoors, but looks fine when it is used indoors.
Curiously the Galaxy Tab uses a regular LCD display unlike the Galaxy S smartphone, which has an AMOLED display. Though it isn't as good looking, it is still a serviceable screen that's bright and displays both text and images clearly.
At just 380g, the Galaxy Tab is a fairly lightweight device and is about the size of a trade paperback book so it still feels comfortable to hold even with just one hand for an extended period of time.
Charging and data transfer is handled by a 30-pin dock located on the bottom of the Tablet.
It has a 3-megapixel autofocus camera on the back with a LED flash and a front facing 1.3-megapixel camera that works for video calls.
Android on the inside
Much of the Galaxy Tab's interface takes its cue from the Galaxy S. In fact, it feels like you're using an up-sized version of the smartphone.
The Tablet's 1GHz Cortex A8 processor is more than capable of handling full multitasking while keeping the experience fast and snappy.
Unlike other Tablet makers that have opted to fit their offerings with customised Tablet interfaces, Samsung has left the basic Android 2.2 (Froyo) interface untouched. In fact, there are hardly any changes save for the TouchWiz interface that adorns the expanded application menu.
While the Galaxy Tab comes with all the basic Android applications like Gmail, Google Talk and Google Maps, Samsung has included a few well redesigned applications that take advantage of the larger screen.
Applications like the calendar, music player and e-mail client behave differently when turned on its side to landscape view, often altering to show you a dual panel view. For example, you can browse your e-mail on one column while reading the contents of the message on the next.
However not all Android applications are optimised in this way. After all, the Android operating system isn't designed to be used as a Tablet. To put it bluntly, you don't feel like you're gaining anything significantly different as you are using the same apps you use on your smartphone albeit on a bigger screen.
Much like other Tablets on the market, you can get online either via WiFi or 3G connection on the Galaxy Tab.
The larger screen is a welcome addition, giving you more room to view webpages in their entirety. Another big advantage offered on the Galaxy Tab is its support for Flash and HTML 5.
This allows you to browse full Flash-based websites, watch videos embedded in Flash and yes, even play Farmville, in case you were wondering.
The overall surfing experience on the Galaxy Tab feels speedy - it managed to load most webpages relatively quickly over both WiFi and 3G connections.
Simple text-based websites with few images like Wikipedia load up in less than five seconds. However, heavier websites especially those that feature lots of Flash elements tend to be choppy as the Tablet copes to display the content.
The Galaxy Tab is also a mobile phone, so you can make regular voice calls and send/receive text messages on it. The odd thing about using the Galaxy Tab as your primary phone is that there is no earpiece - instead you need to use the handsfree kit or the speakerphone mode.
The onscreen keyboard's layout looks exactly like the iPad, offering pseudo touch typing and it feels surprisingly usable.
The built-in auto correction can sometimes be overbearing, insisting on using suggested words but it is an otherwise very functional keyboard that works whether the device is held in portrait or landscape view.
An e-book reader and more
Considering the Galaxy Tab is a 7in Tablet, it's just about the right size for an e-book reader.
The Reader's Hub serves as the Galaxy Tab's feature for e-book fans, offering users the option to download and even purchase books through the provided Kobo e-book reader.
The hub is also supposed to offer newspaper and magazine feeds that you can subscribe to but both these option were unavailable at the time of writing this review.
Kobo is a fairly barebones e-book reader that gives you an Apple iBook-like virtual shelf for all your downloaded books. Readers can purchase new books from the online bookstore as it offers a range of titles from classics to current day novels.
If you're not a book person, don't worry. The Galaxy Tab is a decent media player for both music and video playback as it supports a variety of different formats including MPEG4, DiVx and H264 encoded videos.
The device handles videos fairly well and is able to keep up with most fast moving scenes with hardly any stutter. The Galaxy Tab is also great device for listening to music thanks to its rather intuitive music interface that makes full use of the Tablet environment.
The Galaxy Tab's twin speakers may be small but the output was surprisingly good. We came away impressed at just how good songs sounded with strong vocals and even a hint of bass when the SRS 5.1 virtual surround sound feature was switched on.
Android apps like Google Maps benefit from the larger screen and it was much easier to view while driving. Achieving GPS lock-on is relatively fast on the device and it works well as a navigation device if you need to get to somewhere you don't know.
However the Galaxy Tab feels very odd to use as a camera. Though the large 7in screen is great for framing shots, it is just too big and cumbersome to use.
In terms of quality, the images taken by the 3-megapixel camera aren't that sharp and it can only perform well under bright sunlight.
The addition of HD video recording is a nice touch and it keeps the camera more relevant. Videos looked smooth during playback but the quality you get is not going to beat a dedicated video camera obviously.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab certainly lives up to the expectations of those who are seeking a speedy Tablet that offers web browsing, e-mail and HD video playback.
Its compact size makes it very convenient to carry around and can be whipped out at a moment's notice to catch some online news or watch a video on the go.
However we found it too bulky and impractical to use as a phone, though on the bright side it works well as an e-book reader.
Samsung has done well to include applications such as e-mail, calendar and contacts that take advantage of the Tablet's larger screen size. However, it is clear to see that the Android platform isn't optimised for a Tablet environment with many applications functioning just as they do on a smaller screen Android smartphone.
While the Galaxy Tab isn't an iPad killer, it is one of the best performing Android Tablets we've tested so far. All in all, if you are an Android user looking for an all-in-one Tablet device, the Samsung Galaxy Tab might just be what you are looking for.
Pros: Great Internet browsing experience; HD video recording; good for reading e-books; good speakers.
Cons: Too bulky to use as a phone; many applications not optimised for Tablet form; 3-megapixel camera isn't greEndat; expensive.
NETWORK: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSDPA 900/2100
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 2.2
PROCESSOR: 1GHz ARM Cortex A8
DISPLAY: 7in TFT capacitive touchscreen (1,024 x 600-pixels)
CAMERA: 3-megapixels; autofocus; LED flash; 720p HD video recording, 1.3-megapixel (front facing)
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, WiFi
MEMORY: 16GB internal
EXPANSION SLOT: microSD (up to 32GB)
STANDBY/TALK TIME: 490 hours/8 hours
OTHER FEATURES: Kobo e-book reader, Google Talk, Google Maps, MS Exchange ActiveSync, ThinkFree document viewer, A-GPS
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 190.09 x 120.45 x 11.98mm
PRICE: RM2,699, available at all Maxis Centres from Oct 29
Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia Electronics, 1-800-88-9999