REVIEW: Verizon Samsung Galaxy Tab

I was excited to receive the Verizon Galaxy Tab for review, as I have heard much about the device. I was eager to explore this world of the Android tablet and see what all the fuss was about (as of the time of this writing, over 1 million Galaxy Tabs have been sold in little more than a month).

Like the iPad, the Galaxy Tab falls into that middle ground of somewhere between a full-fledged computer and a smartphone. Since I have an HTC EVO as my smartphone, and a Dell Mini netbook for my portable computing needs, I was eager to explore how a device such as the Tab would fit into the scheme of things. Admittedly, my first thought is a tablet is attempting to fill a void between the smartphone and the netbook that I didn’t feel even existed! This is coming from a gadget lover, and my wife would laugh at me saying this, but how many devices can one truly carry?!

BUT, after spending a week with the Tab, I can say my opinion has changed – I certainly have a different perspective on the tablet form-factor and what it brings to the mobile computing experience. Read on and I will share my experience with the Galaxy Tab.

HARDWARE

At first, picking up the Tab feels like you are picking up an HTC EVO that fell into a bag of Miracle Grow! It can be held in one hand as if you were holding a smartphone, but if it were any larger, you would definitely need two hands. Yet even though it is a handful, considering that the Tab is really a tablet device and not a smartphone, it is really quite comfortable to hold.

The Galaxy Tab as compared to my HTC EVO

The device can fit into a pocket (it fit in my jeans back pocket as well as the pocket of a sportcoat), though I really wouldn’t carry it that way. Still, if you needed a free hand, you could slip it into a pocket, even temporarily. Keep in mind, I am referring to doing that with the device “naked”, not in a case…

I wish Samsung had placed a kickstand on the back of the Tab, so you could prop it up for extended use. Any device of this size should have a kickstand! Think about it – on this kind of device, people are consuming info for long periods of time, from eBooks to movies & TV shows, etc. I guess Samsung figured users would purchase a case that would perform that function. I myself prefer to use devices in their naked form, so a built-in kickstand would have been nice.

The screen is gorgeous, and the 7″ viewing area is quite nice. It’s not Super AMOLED, but it’s still quite stunning and very responsive.   See more about the screen in the video portion of this review.

I was disappointed to see that Samsung built the device with a 30-pin style connector, when so many devices now use micro USB. Another minor annoying feature is the placement of the power button right above the volume buttons.

While reviewing the device, I powered the device off several times when I really wanted to turn the volume up! Granted, you would get used to where the buttons are located over time, but it could have been non-issue if they had placed the power button on the top of the device!

The speakers are physically located on the bottom end of the device and they are quite loud for being such little slots! While I was disappointed about the 30-pin connector, I have to give kudos for Samsung placing the speakers where they did. If they had placed them on the rear panel of the device, the speakers could have ended up muffled when the device was laying flat.

Another kudo to Samsung for making the SD card slot easily accessible from the side of the device. And kudos for simply having removable storage!! The Tab comes with a 16GB micro SD card, and I understand it can handle up to 32GB cards.

Finally, a Verizon Android device with a front-facing camera! True video calling capability at last! The rear camera is only 3.2 megapixel, which suffices, but it would have been nice if it were at least 5MP. Still, it takes a very decent picture. Holding the device up to snap a shot can look a little dorky (a 7″ viewfinder is quite a sight!), but hey, I’d rather have the camera capability than not!

I’m curious as to why Samsung prefers to NOT include a charging LED on their devices. There isn’t one on the Samsung Fascinate or the Samsung Continuum either. Yes, you can see charging status once you turn the device on, but it seems like an LED wouldn’t have taken up that much space!

The battery life is quite decent. I used it quite a bit on Day 1 (with 100% charge) and after about 8 hours of browsing, email, video, games and just playing around with all the features, I was down to about 30%. Recharge to 100% took about two hours. BUT, I also found that (as with just about any device), if you are not in an area with a good signal, you can experience battery drain very fast. I took the device with me on a weekend trip to the country, where the Verizon signal teeters between 3G and 1x all the time. I turned on the 3G hotspot to try it out, and began with 100% battery. Within about 20 minutes, I heard a beep on the Galaxy Tab and was shocked to see that I had 15% battery left! I will say however, that I have experienced severe battery drain in the same area when using my HTC EVO as well as other previous smartphones. In this particular case, I think the combination of the 3G hotspot running and the device trying to keep a signal with a Verizon tower was just an incredible battery drain. I guess the solution to this would be, insure that you have your power cable with you!

Speaking of power, I did not know this at the time of my testing out the Tab, but I learned on some other sites that the Tab will not charge from a PC USB port! If it is plugged into a USB port, the Tab will maintain it’s charge, but it will not be recharged. So, if you get a Tab, you better make sure you have the appropriate power adapter with you (car or wall).

Here is the video portion of the hardware review:

SOFTWARE

The Tab comes with Swype pre-installed, which is very nice. At times, swyping from a letter such as “a” all the way over to “p” seems like such a W-I-D-E gesture on the screen, I feel like I’m doing some sort of exercise for the Karate Kid: Swype On, Swype Off! I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to swype on a 10″ screen! “Stand clear of the elbows, ladies and gentlemen!”

Also while on the topic of text entry, there is a nice blue “pointer icon” which appears when you are working with text, making it very easy to move the cursor around with your finger. It is particularly handy when you want to move to a specific location to correct a word, insert some text, or do other editing functions.

Something to keep in mind about the OS and the software in general: Google did not intend for Android 2.2 (or even 2.3, Gingerbread) to be used on tablet devices. According to Google, version 3 of Android (beginning with Honeycomb in 2011) is the first iteration of the software they endorse as being tablet worthy. Regardless, Android 2.2 works very well on this device, and most apps scale to the 7″ screen just fine. If it were a 10″ screen, I’ll bet there’d be more issues, but considering the EVO and the Droid X are 4.3″ screens, it’s really not that far of a leap to scale to 7″.

The Tab has the TouchWiz interface just like the Fascinate and the Continuum, which is Samsung’s version of HTC’s TouchFlo. The interface “sits on top” of the default Google interface, and offer various additional widgets and apps. It also allows a carrier to customize the build to their liking, adding proprietary apps of their own. The interface is quite snappy and responsive, and it rotates with screen orientation as well. Note, you can disable screen orientation in the notification curtain (I point that out in the video portion of this review).

Samsung expounded on three of the fundamental apps, and did so quite nicely. Their Email, Contacts & Calendar apps all look and work quite well. On the Email app, when you are in landscape mode, you get a nice “preview pane” that displays your Inbox on the left and the messages on the right. The Calendar and Contacts apps look great in either portrait mode or landscape mode, and make good use of the additional screen real estate (see the video for more on that).

There is a really nice built-in Task Manager. Android haters often make a big issue about why a user needs to even worry about managing their applications, but I am fine with it. I actually prefer it! But I am a geeky tinkerer, so it makes sense to me.

Here is the video portion of the software review:

CONCLUSION

The Galaxy Tab is primarily a consumption device, not unlike the iPad. It can be used for productivity, but for most people, they are going to surf, read, watch video, listen to music and play games. And for that, the Tab is really well suited. It could be easily carried in a purse, backpack or briefcase with room to spare, and like I mentioned earlier, it could even fit in some pockets. Will it replace a full-on computer or netbook? No, but again, for most people, they don’t need all that computing power in most instances. And even for power users, the Tab can do many things with the right software installed. And as we continue to move to the cloud for our computing needs, devices such as the Tab make more sense with every passing day.

Would I recommend a Tab to someone? Sure! Would I get one right now? No, but that is because I already have the EVO and I have a very powerful netbook, so the Tab would be a luxury. I can only carry (and afford!) so many devices! But I assure you, I will be the owner of an Android tablet in the near future. Over 1,00,000 folks have already taken the plunge with the Galaxy Tab, which certainly says something!

I encourage you to visit a Verizon store and check it out for yourself.

 

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