The tablet wars are building, petty disputes that will soon lead to bloodshed. Products will be launched into battle only to be gunned down straight out of their boxes, crying for their fabricators as bigger, faster, better slates step over the stricken chassis of their predecessors, running on to their own brief bits of glory. At a high level it's obviously Android vs. Apple vs. The Rest, but battle lines are forming as we consumers, caught in the middle, try to decide just what the right size is for a tablet.
Right now two camps seem to be getting the most supporters: seven-inchers, like the Streak 7 and BlackBerry PlayBook, and 10-inchers, like the Motorola Xoom and the Apple iPad. But, sometimes weapon systems need to be a little more specialized. Sometimes the templates don't fit, and the $530 (after rebate, on-contract) T-Mobile G-Slate by LG isn't fitting into those categories, slotting somewhere in between with its 8.9-inch display backed with Tegra 2 graphics, 4G HSPA+ wireless, and all the oomph you want in a modern Android device. It's a little smaller and little lighter than the 10-inchers, bigger and meatier than the sevens and, by cutting down the middle, it hits almost all the right marks.
Out of the box the G-Slate looks like, well, any other Android tablet (especially the LG Optimus Pad). Until we start getting oblong-shaped slabs, it's going to just keep getting more and more difficult to tell these things apart, and with a complete (but tasteful) lack of branding on the front, this machine is completely nondescript when just sitting there. It's only the metal ring around the screen, forming the edge of the chassis with its subtle and silvery hue, that makes this tablet look a little different from the rest.
That ring of metal is, quite naturally, punctuated by numerous holes for ports and things. When holding the tablet in landscape orientation, on the bottom are one each of micro-USB and HDMI, along with six golden contacts that will mate up with a dock. Moving clockwise around the left edge we find an input for the provided AC adapter, though you can charge over micro-USB -- slowly. The 3.5mm headphone jack is here as well, along with a speaker and, on top, a power button that is mostly flush and a little hard to find, but workable. Up top, on the left, is the volume rocker (also something of a challenge to locate), along with a small hole for a central microphone, and around on the right side is the other speaker.
On the back is where all that missing branding wound up, T-Mobile on top and LG on the bottom, each a light gray applique atop the darker gray plastic back. A gratuitous swipe of brushed metal bisects the thing, "with Google(TM)" engraved. We might have preferred something a little more personal. "With love, Sergey" or some such. Ultimately, it looks a lot like an overblown, perpendicular Optimus 2X.
Also on the back are not one but two HD camera holes, with a little LED flash sitting off to the side of one. They're five megapixel each, capable of recording 1080p video when using one or 720p when you're calling on the pair to capture in 3D. Around the other side a two megapixel shooter peeks out from behind the glass.
Those with particularly strong thumbs and determination will manage to pry off the upper portion of the plastic back, revealing a SIM card and not much else.
The plastic back definitely gives the G-Slate a somewhat less posh feel than much of the competition, but that decrease in luxeness comes with a strong benefit: it weighs 1.3lb compared to the Motorola Xoom's 1.6. It's just a hair thinner and about an inch shallower and, while it's a little unfair to compare a nine-incher to a ten in these kinds of metrics, in day-to-day use we didn't find ourselves missing that extra inch, especially since this is almost exactly as tall as the Xoom. We did, however, notice the reduced weight, and that decrease in width means it feels a bit better balanced in the hand.
The 8.9-inch, glossy, 1,280 x 768 display is a bit shorter and skinnier than the Xoom's 10.1-inch, 1,280 x 800 display. This gives it a slightly higher pixel density and, indeed, you can tell the difference. With the Xoom, the pitch on the pixels seemed a bit broad -- jagged edges appear on text and in high-contrast areas. The G-Slate's screen definitely has a sharper, crisper look. However, it's also rather more yellow, added warmth that we didn't notice until putting them side by side.
Pushing the pixels is a dual-core, 1GHz Tegra 2 processor, which continues to be super trendy. It's running at 1GHz here and keeps things moving smoothly. That's backed by 32GB of internal storage that is not user-expandable -- you can keep hating on Motorola all you like for not enabling the microSD slot by default, but at least the Xoom has one.
For connectivity, a slew of antennas are included here. There is, of course, WiFi and Bluetooth, but the G-Slate is a tri-band UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+ device, meaning it's sorta 4G right here and now.
Performance and battery life
We found browsing and general tableting to be a very responsive experience on the G-Slate. Pages are rendered quickly and respond handily to swipes, drags, pinches, and whatever other caresses you want to throw their way. Running the Quadrant benchmark we scored an 1,879, which puts it ever so slightly ahead of our Xoom, which clocked in at 1,801, but that's close enough to call it even. Unsurprisingly, the SunSpider browser test likewise had them neck-and-neck: 2,135 for the G-Slate to 2,042 for the Xoom.
Battery life tests were nearly identical as well. We had no problem making it through a full day of solid usage, surfing and gaming and generally loving life. But, when we sat down to our video loop test, with WiFi on and display brightness at about 65 percent, we scored eight hours and 18 minutes. That's a mere two minutes short of what the Xoom managed, and near enough to identical for us.
|Apple iPad 2||10:26|
|RIM BlackBerry PlayBook||7:01|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab||6:09|
|Dell Streak 7||3:26|
In terms of wireless performance, the G-Slate has an obvious advantage of being "4G" right out of the box. We had no problem finding that extra G on T-Mobile's network, staying on HSPA+ more often than not, even out in the country a ways. Running repeated network speed tests we nabbed scores of 6.5Mbps down on a few occasions, and saw 2.1Mbps up once. But, average scores were about half that, most download rates in the 3 - 4Mbps range, upload hovering generally somewhere around 1Mbps. That's well short of the amazing LTE rates we've seen in the past, and not the 42Mbps speeds we're looking forward to, but enough to keep downloading and browsing a snappy experience.
The G-Slate is running stock Honeycomb, Android 3.0, so there isn't much to talk about here. You quite naturally get the official suite of apps from Google, along with a few others to boot. Need for Speed: Shift continues its dominance of the tablet racing genre by being present here, looking nor playing any differently than it does anywhere else. QuickOffice HD is installed for viewing officey-type documents, and there are two apps for working with 3D video. The first, 3DCamcorder, is for recording content in 3D, while 3DPlayer is quite naturally for playing that content back. You won't be working with any active-shutter glasses here, and the screen lacks the parallax barrier wizardry of something like the EVO 3D. Good thing there's a pair of red and blue glasses in the box.
Also installed is T-Mobile TV, which allows for the viewing of limited television content, pushed straight to the tablet, including live footage and replays of some shows. Quality is poor and selection is extremely limited, with only nine channels available live. On-demand content is a little better, with a number of original shows from Discovery, A&E, and Animal Planet, but we'd trade this in a heartbeat for Netflix. We'd throw some money in there too, just to sweeten the deal.
Beyond that we're talking straight Android Honeycomb, which means a massive slew of applications in the Market -- most of which haven't been optimized for tablets and just don't look right on this screen. The stock keyboard still needs work and overall there's some polish needed. But, the Gmail app and browsing experience are still great, and Android lovers will certainly find a lot to love here.
The G-Slate has three cameras and, unfortunately, none of them is particularly good. The one looking back at you is fine for video calls and the like, but it's grainy enough that you won't need to worry too much about shaving or putting on makeup before calling a loved one.
Meanwhile on the back the dual five megapixel ports disappoint. We expect a decent amount of grain out of a sensor this size when things get a bit dim, but it's here even when there's what would be plenty of light for other shooters. Macro focusing is reasonably good for stills, but flip over to video (up to 1080p) and suddenly you have to take a few steps back if you want anything in focus. Even when in focus, plenty of compression artifacts marred the results.
Then, of course, there's the 3D capture mode. The tablet is advertised as 3D capable, but it's no better at 3D than that old tube TV you finally got rid of a few years back. It ships with a pair of quaint red/blue anaglyph glasses and that's the default presentation mode for video shot on this thing. You can feel good in knowing that this same technology was making people feel queasy way back in the '50s.
Ultimately the 3D cameras (which step down to 720p when filming in stereo) don't add much, but who knows. Maybe in a year or so when 3D home movies will be all that and a bottle of aspirin you'll be glad you have support here. But, right now, we'd trade these two crummy sensors for a single good one.
The ultimate victor in the tablet wars will be the army that conquers the most wallets, and so now the question of course is whether you should open the ramparts of yours to this potential intruder. After spending a few days with one, running across country and chilling in coach for hours on end, we'd certainly be tempted to sign up. The plastic back doesn't quite have that air of exclusivity you might want for your $530, but that money's going where it counts: great performance, a great screen, and solid battery life.
And, you get tasty high-speed downloads from an awful lot of places -- and another two year contract. Who doesn't want another two year contract? Thankfully that contract does have the advantage of making the (after rebate) take-home price of the device rather appealing. It's $70 less than a Xoom and $200 less than a 3G iPad 2 with 32GB of storage. But, you only get that price if you already have or sign up for a T-Mobile voice plan. No voice plan? No rebate, so you're looking at a price of $630. Want to opt out of the data plan, too? Now you're looking at an unsubsidized price of $750.
So, if you have a T-Mobile voice plan and if you don't mind another data plan, this is a Honeycomb tablet we can recommend without caveat. But, if you can't answer the affirmative to both of those questions, price becomes much more of a factor. It's still a great tablet, though, and if you're into it you can get yours when it ships on April 20th.