Samsung Galaxy Tab review: Don't call it an iPad competitor

November 11, 2010: 4:00 PM ET

I've come to enjoy the company of the 7-inch Android tablet over the course of the last week but where does it fit in the big picture?

I received my Samsung Galaxy Tab review unit last week and have had it with me ever since.  In that time, I've come to one conclusion: This is anything but an iPad.

At half the size and weight with half the screen size of an iPad, it is closer to a Sprint EVO or Motorola Droid X.  For me, that is a good thing.  The Tab is por-ta-ble yet it has almost as many pixels, more RAM and the same processor as the iPad and even some netbooks.  Put another way, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the iPad wasn't a mobile device on the day he released a mobile app that worked on the Galaxy Tab.  The iPad and the Tab are two totally different classes of device.

While most women carry a purse and won't think twice about putting something this size inside, for men, it is a bit more challenging. I know people joke about it, but you can put a Tab in your pants pocket (front or back) so long as you don't wear skinny jeans. I was able to happily walk around forgetting that it is there.  Just don't try to sit down with it.  Mine usually rides in my coat pocket -- good thing Samsung is releasing it during the winter months.

Having the Tab with me at all times all but negates the need for a smartphone.  I might as well have a RAZR feature phone because the Tab does everything a smartphone does, but much, much better.  I seriously wonder: Why didn't Samsung keep the phone option in the U.S. version while the international versions can be used as phones?  Perhaps the negative publicity of Dell's Streak being compared to a huge ear-sandal scared Samsung off.  

Voice isn't a totally lost cause because  I can use Google Voice and Skype (on Wifi) and I would rather not pay for a redundant voice plan anyway.  The speaker/mic work great as a speakerphone on Skype and it is compatible with stereo Bluetooth headsets, so using it as a phone is more than doable.  I think Google will have a full 3G VoIP solution in the coming months that will make the lack of a voice plan a blessing in disguise, but for the time being, you can't make traditional calls.

Even the battery is impressive compared to a smartphone.  I've never used up a full battery in a day, even playing arcade games, watching movies, using it as a hotspot, and browsing the web over 3G for hours.  It may not last quite as long as the double-sized iPad, but it will blow by a cross-country flight with ease and outlast most netbooks.

Adobe's Kevin Lynch visited Fortune's offices to show off some of their new work, with magazines on the iPad and the Galaxy Tab.  Nowhere had the difference between the two products been so obvious.  The iPad was much better at replicating a two-handed magazine that you would enjoy at home on your couch, whereas the Tab is more like a paperback book you would put in your purse or pocket for reading on the go.  It is no coincidence that the Tab is the exact same size (though slightly thicker and heavier) than Amazon's Kindle.

Flash is a double-edged sword on the Galaxy Tab.  It works fine for some movies (Crackle!) but it often froze the browser while things loaded and was a generally the worst part of an otherwise excellent browser.  What annoyed me more than anything though, was that a lot of media websites saw the Tab as a phone and provided extremely limited versions of their sites with only clips of video.  Samsung needs to allow users to change the browser agent on this, much like the HTC EVO does, so I can view full websites.  Luckily Android has other browser options which can spoof desktop browsers.

Media sites also need to learn about Android tablets and not offer smartphone-formatted sites for devices with the same amount of pixels as a typical netbook.

Turn Flash off and you've got a browsing experience that is much better than a phone and similar to a much bigger iPad.  It is fast and efficient and has all of the multi touch tricks that smartphones have.

Reading is fantastic on the Tab and its portability lends itself to use on a subway train or in a car.  Whipping it out of my pocket at a moment's notice beats reaching into a backpack or briefcase and pulling an iPad out.  It is a new level of portability and the defining difference.

Videos are great and the Tab's player is awesome.  The music player is a nice touch as well.  The built-in speakers are louder and crisper than most phones, but that is to be expected.

The cameras are both "OK" as well.  The front camera worked with Qik video conferencing, but clearly this software is still being worked on.  The quality was so-so.  I would have hoped for better with such a nice screen.  Over Wifi, I got cut off a few times, which shouldn't happen.  I'd like to see Google come out with a native videoconferencing client that connects to Google's own gChat.

Wall St. Journal Android Tablet App

The back camera is decidedly better, taking great videos and respectable stills which I would rate as somewhere between a good smartphone camera and a low-end point and shoot.  With a 7-inch, 1024x600 viewfinder, what you see is really what you get.

The apps are all pretty standard Android fare.  The Wall Street Journal android tablet app (left) is an example of the type of apps I expect we'll see from this new category of device.   Most good Android apps, like Facebook, expand out to the full screen.  Some, like Weather.com's app, have a black box around them and are smartphone-sized.

Because the Tab runs Android 2.2 you get all of the new Voice command options, which allow you to do all of the nifty speech recognition functions like speaking out emails or opening up songs or videos by command.

Speaking of voice commands, the Tab is awesome in the car. Maps and GPS are second to none on this and they listen to your voice commands.  Turn-by-turn is great and Google Maps scales out for the extra pixels, making directions very easy to follow.  Voice actions are also great for picking out songs to listen to rather than having to navigate manually.  These things are true differentiators (though something you can also do on on any Android 2.2 phone).

Another area where size matters: Home screen space.  You can put many more applications and widgets on each screen and that allows for more creative usage.  I have a social page, a business page and a media page as well as a homescreen with 28 apps ready to launch.

On carriers, I was given a Sprint version initially and just today I got a brand new T-Mobile version.  You can get a Tab on any carrier with a bunch of different plans. Choose whichever one is right for you.  All things being equal, however, I like the T-Mobile version better because it has a removable SIM card (will it work on AT&T?).  I have noticed that the T-Mobile Tab gets much better reception than a T-Mobile Vibrant, for instance, so there aren't any reception issues.  Also, check your hotspot options if you plan on using that feature.  And the Sprint Tab is white while T-Mobile's is black, including the back and charger cords.  Decisions.

Finally, the price.  Right now, at launch, the Galaxy Tab costs $599 without a plan and less with one.  I think the price will go down by nearly $100 towards the new year.  That's why Samsung sells their products on every carrier.  Competition.  The BOM for the Tab is just over $200, so there is some room for movement.

Think of it another way (and I've been trying to avoid the iPad comparisons here): The iPad is a similar product that has a lot of Samsung parts in it.  It also has a much bigger screen and Apple's trademark aluminum backing.  It costs significantly more to make and Apple has notoriously high margins, yet it costs about the same.  Of course, Samsung can make these things much cheaper.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see these things at $400 by March, when the next iPad is released.

Wrap-up:

Contrary to what some have said, the Galaxy Tab works.  It is immediately beneficial and fun and when I leave the house, it is the first thing I grab.  My wife and toddler both love it as well.  It works for novices and techies alike.  Like any 1.0 product, however, it has its rough edges, but they are small and largely fixable.

The biggest question I have is about form factor and use case.  The people in the tablet market likely already have smartphones.  If you use the Galaxy Tab in the way Samsung advertises (and you certainly will), what is the point of having a smartphone?  Smaller screen, shorter battery life, more expensive plan?  The phone becomes expendable.  It quickly becomes a feature phone or a "backup."

Many people won't want to carry something this big around with them wherever they go. That isn't unreasonable either.  In that case, a good netbook or an iPad or even a small notebook like a MacBook Air make even more sense.

Still, I think there is a market for this product.  It fits somewhere in between a netbook/iPad and a Kindle/Smartphone.  It is as portable enough to be put in a pocket, yet it has the power of a much bigger device which can't be.

I'll say this: If I was only allowed one mobile device besides my computer, I'd pick the Galaxy Tab.

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About This Author
Seth Weintraub
Seth Weintraub

Google went from searching the Web to worming its way into nearly every facet of business and government. Seth Weintraub unveils where the company is going, who it's competing with, who it's about to compete with and how market forces push the company to veer or adhere to its Don't Be Evil motto. For 15 years, Weintraub was a global IT director for a number of companies before becoming a blogger.

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