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It could have been so much more.
on 21 December 2010
The Galaxy Tab is a 7" touchscreen/tablet device supporting internet connectivity via WiFi or a 3G SIM card, which you will either have to purchase separately or may come as a deal if you get the Galaxy Tab from a phone operator. The TAB runs the Android OS (version 2.2 at this time), which is written by a company owned by Google. Android can be found on a number of devices and smartphones that compete directly with Apple. Most notably in my experience Android is found on the HTC Desire. It was in using this that I got to thinking what a great idea Android on a big screened tablet would be.
So when I saw the Galaxy TAB I practically jumped on it. And I have to say almost a month down the line I love using it more with each day. It is now the multimedia device I use more than any I own. I read Kindle on the TAB, I read Epub on the TAB, its great having both ebook formats together on the same device. It's my alarm clock, my master contacts list and diary synced via Google Sync, a toy for watching movies on the train or listening to music, for playing games. The Asphalt racing game that comes with it is great fun. I use the TAB to check live train times from a shortcut on the home screen, I commute daily and over christmas this saved me so often. I read all the news, weather, sports and entertainment feeds I would ordinarily by squinting at my Blackberry or using the vulcan nerve pinch zoom on the screen of the HTC desire. The TAB comes with 512Mb internal memory, 16Gb internal storage to which you can add another 32Gb with a microSD card of your own. The 1024 x 600 resolution of this screen is superb for movies, the sound without headphones is good and clear, excellent with headphones. Browsing the web is a real pleasure to be appreciated by anyone who has tried to view full internet pages on a phone screen. Full Amazon displays perfectly on it. Android is an excellent and very featured OS that is well supported with lots of good Apps. The apps are largely professionally written with a great mix between productivity, fun and outright usefulness. My favourites being a slingbox viewer (paid for) and Ignition (logmein - also paid for). In fact almost everything that is good with the Galaxy TAB derives from Android and its very wide support.
And sadly almost everything that doesn't work comes from the belief it would seem, that Samsung thought they only had to put Android onto good hardware and the result would be an excellent product. It is great, but it could have been soo much more.
So what's wrong? First and foremost the USB connector. It has been over a year since almost all mobile companies standardised on the MicroUSB connection for charging and PC connectivity via USB. Apple did not, but they have a unique position in the market that no other company has. So why oh why did Samsung decide on a propriety USB connector? It is only a matter of time before I lose this cable or forget it or both. The logic behind a standard microUSB was you could literally pick up the same cable you use for any other device and it would be good to go. At a tenner for additional Samsung TAB USB cables, this 'feature' alone knocked one star from my rating. This in the extra thought processes I have to put into knowing I have the cable to hand wherever I go. Hugely disappointing when these gadgets are all geared around making our lives easier, to then deliberately introduce a proprietary USB cable that will almost certainly trip me up repeatedly in the future.
While the TAB does have this amazing 1024 x 600 screen, there has been almost no customisation of the Android OS to take advantage of this outside of internet browsing. Which lost it the other star. Screens don't fit, graphics sometimes disappear or don't refresh properly. This is not an all the time thing but takes an edge off the polish. There is a real lack of interesting widgets. Sound trivial? Widgets implemented properly really add to the Android experience and provide accessibility to information you will not find on contemporary Apple devices. Despite the sleek Android interface the hardware still lags quite badly sometimes. This is unnecessary given the hardware specification of the TAB, quite simply little time was spent tailoring android for the hardware it would be running on. The default keyboard setting on mine was the Swype mode, in landscape it is barely bigger than in portrait mode, a tiny cluster of keys grouped in the centre of the screen bookended by lots of white space. Even when Swyping where you drag your finger between keys I struggled to see the keyboard beneath my Swyping finger. It took me a while to figure how to turn off swype as it was not obvious. Properly integrated, switching input modes would have been a button, not having to hold your finger on the text box for four seconds, which had to be sourced from the manual. Very frustrating.
Additionally in positioning the Apps and widgets on the home screens no attempt has been made to make them work within the higher resolution. So basically nothing sits central or symmetrically, making the screens look left justified or right justified, if that makes sense. I could go on, the lack of customisation is apparent at almost every level.
In summary, the Galaxy TAB is a great bit of technology that brings together the functionality of multiple devices into one. I use it all the time and love doing so. It only gets three stars because I paid a lot of money for this and there are some fundamental flaws out of the box. The awful proprietry cable is a real show stopper for me, it's one of the things that I dislike so much in Apple's world view. The Galaxy Tab software out of the box is rough around the edges, rushed is the word that keeps springing to mind. Some of these issues are and will be fixed, but for something this expensive we should expect more. Bottom line - if you're considering the Apple iPad and the Galaxy Tab, I think the iPad is still your choice. For those seeking a tablet solution that is not iPad I think Samsung is the best product right now. Get one of these considering all I said above, and I doubt you will be disappointed.
03 March 2011. An update from questions I got in comments for this review: The touch screen works very well. You will get glare in some lighting conditions including outside but this is solved by adjusting the angle you view the device as you would a laptop screen. The TAB also has excellent brightness control. The proprietary cable has repeatedly tripped me up as leaving WiFi on will drain the battery in half a day, especially when there is no WiFI to connect to, so you need to carry a cable with you. Turning off WiFi when you don't need it will give you a couple days of battery. Of course you will forget. The cable is a real sore point that gets me winging every time someone asks about the TAB. A very big mistake in my eyes to have a proprietary cable and I think that everyday having used it now for nearly 4 months. The Android OS is brilliant, I find new uses for it the longer I use it. I still think Samsung should have worked harder at integrating their hardware with Android although you do get used to the 'features'.
I hope this has been helpful to you.