It's getting increasingly hard for manufacturers to differentiate the look of these all-screen gadgets, but Samsung's done a commendable job distinguishing the Tab from the others with its contrasting front and back surfaces. The back of the rounded-off device is coated in white shiny plastic (whether it will remain ghost white over time remains to be seen), while the front consists of a familiar flush black bezel and glass screen. (Note: we were sent the Sprint version of the Tab and there may be slight aesthetic differences amongst the carrier versions.) The screen and bezel do appear less glossy than the iPad -- you'll still want to keep the Windex (or Brasso gadget polish
) and chamois close by, though. Speaking of clean, that's exactly how we'd describe the rest of the design -- there are four touch buttons on the front side, a headphone jack on the top edge and a volume rocker, microSD card slot and power button on the right edge. However, we don't see why Samsung couldn't have made room for a micro-USB port -- you have to charge it and sideload content using Samsung's proprietary charging cable.
To be honest, our real appreciation for the device's design comes more in terms of its form factor. Unsurprisingly, 7-inch tablets are much better for one-handed use than larger-screened ones (i.e. the 9.7-inch iPad or 11.6-inch ExoPC), and the 7.4 x 4.7-inch Galaxy Tab is no different. Steve Jobs may not think
the size is optimal, but we loved being able to wrap our smaller hand around the 0.83-pound / 0.47-inch thick Tab when reading a book or hold it like a phone and use our thumbs to type on the on-screen keyboard. Sure, it's not as light or thin as the 0.53-pound / 0.33-inch Kindle or 0.48-pound / 0.4-inch Dell Streak, but it's still light enough to hold up in bed without fearing that you'll drop it on your face.
The overall build of the device is top-notch, and though it may appear to some like an enlarged Captivate
, it feels more solid than those plasticy phones. We're not saying it's a rugged device by any standard -- although it does have a Corning Gorilla Glass screen -- but it does feel incredibly durable, and we didn't worry too much when it mistakenly fell off the couch. By the way, the Tab's smooth back causes it to slide off things every so often -- so we'd suggest keeping this little guy in a case or nabbing a stand for it. We do wish the Tab had a built-in kickstand like the Evo 4G and Archos 7. Think about it, Samsung.
The Tab doesn't have a Super AMOLED
screen like its Galaxy S smartphone
brothers, but the 1024 x 600-resolution LCD is still stunning. It's notably better than most other tablet screens we've seen of late, which, of course, means that the first thing we noticed was its stellar viewing angles. (You know us and our hang-up with viewing angles.) Tilting the screen off-axis doesn't cause color distortion and sharing it with a friend didn't require us to make any adjustments.
The display itself is extremely bright and colors appear extremely crisp. While some have complained that it looks a bit oversaturated, you can adjust the color saturation in the display settings to your liking. As with the iPad, it's hard to make out what's on the glossy display in the sun, but when we took to shooting some video around New York City on a sunny day we were still able to make out all the controls. While the Tab's resolution isn't as high as the iPad's 1024 x 768-resolution IPS panel, the screen does have better pixel density, which translate to a crisper e-book and webpage reading experience than the iPad. (You know how some of us
feel about pixel density.)
Just like the Galaxy S phones, the capacitive screen is extremely responsive, and as we said in our preview, easily matches the iPad in terms of sensitivity. Not once in the last few days of testing did we have an issue making selections with a light tap or scrolling down the length of a long page with a light flicks. Similarly, the four-way accelerometer is quite responsive in most applications (it tends to be slower in the browser) and quick to adjust when turned. As with the iPad using OS 4.2, there's no physical button for turning it off, but you can do so within the screen settings menu. The two speakers on the bottom of the tablet are noticeably louder than your average smartphone (okay, maybe save for the HTC Surround
), but if you're planning to have the Tab rock out a party you'll want to connect a set of speakers.
Software: TouchWiz and Android
As we've said throughout a number of our previous tablet reviews, that nice screen is only as good as the software that runs underneath it. And in the case of the Tab, the software is going to be extremely familiar to anyone that's ever used a Galaxy S phone with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0
Android layer. As you probably already know, we've never been particularly big fans of the cartoony design of the interface -- it just feels rather kiddie-like -- but it does provide some nice polish for average consumers and on a tablet it adds more to the generic Android smartphone experience.
"Android isn't ready for tablets." Everyone's heard it
, and while we'll get into some of that in the next few sections, the Tab's central UI -- the panes, app drawer, home screen, Swype keyboard -- lends itself nicely to the 7-inch screen. Similarly, the sightly re-skinned Android browser scales nicely to the 7-inch display. Is it just an enlarged version of Google's smartphone OS? Yes, but we've never seen anything wrong with that.
On the other hand, that doesn't mean there aren't core parts of the OS that require tweaks to take advantage of the added screen real estate, and unlike the many others making Android tablets, Samsung has done more than just throw on the stock applications. Below is a rundown of the core apps Samsung has developed specifically for the Tab.EMail
-- The core of the email app looks like those on the Galaxy S phones, but when you flip the display into landscape mode you get a Microsoft Outlook-like pane that displays your Inbox on the left and the messages on the right. We preferred managing and responding to mail in this app over the Gmail app, which is just the smartphone version.Calendar
-- The calendar app is equally as attractive. In landscape mode you can adjust it so your calendar takes up the entire screen or with a similar two pane view that shows a listing of upcoming events.Messaging, Contacts
-- These are pretty self-explanatory. Even though the Tab isn't technically a phone since all the US carriers have restricted its calling ability, you can use the messaging app to send SMS or MMS messages or e-mails to other contacts. Like the others, you've got a two pane view in landscape mode -- you can look at your contacts on the left side and message from the right.Media Hub
- This one has started to pop up on some Galaxy S phones
as well, but the Tab is perhaps the best suited to take advantage of Samsung's new movie and TV store / player. At this point there's over 1,000 videos from MTV, Universal and Paramount, and while there is a decent selection of current titles -- we downloaded the Jersey Shore episode of South Park for $1.99 -- you'll come up empty when you start searching for older flicks. Nope, E.T
, just to name a few, aren't available. Of course, everything here is DRM-protected so we had zero luck trying to drag it to our desktop. However, you will be able to log into your Media Hub account on up to five other Samsung devices to watch any previously purchased content. Media Hub isn't a bad over-the-air alternative, but at this point we'd recommend buying content through Amazon's Unbox and sideloading it for use on multiple devices.Note
: Samsung also has a Readers Hub app, which contains access to Kobo's e-book store and other reading content, but Sprint's decided not to preload it.