Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus £160
12th Sep 2012 | 00:11
How does Ice Cream Sandwich affect the last gen's tiny Tab?
Introduction and design
First released at the tail end of 2011, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus marked a notable improvement over the original Galaxy Tab, thanks to the slimmer build, addition of Android 3.0: Honeycomb, and significantly lower entry price of $400.
In the time since, Samsung has pushed its smaller tablet offerings forward another notch with the introduction of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, which offers some modest enhancements over the Plus and Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich installed out of the box, and does so at a much more appealing rate of just $249.
As such, paying anything near the starting price for the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus at this point would be a mistake, though refurbished models are still out in the open for much less. And with Ice Cream Sandwich just (finally) released for the tablet within the last week, we decided to take a fresh look at this still-capable option.
Looking much like a squeezed-down iPad with a Samsung logo in place of a home button, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus (Wi-Fi) is a slim seven-inch tablet that feels pretty good in the hand, and features a slightly wider bezel on the sides than the Nexus 7, offering a little more holding room for one-handed reading.
All told, the tablet measures 7.62 inches tall and 4.81 inches wide, with a thickness of just 0.39 inches, making it just a hair slimmer than the Nexus 7. At a weight of 12.1 ounces, it's on par with the Nexus 7 but lighter than the new Kindle Fire, and has both the right shape and heft to enable lengthy media or play sessions.
Beyond the aggressively placed Samsung logo, the front of the tablet includes the 1024x600 7-inch display and a 2.0 megapixel front-facing camera for video chats. The back side offers a metal-like silver plastic backing with a 3.0MP lens and flash for photos and video recording, as well as another Samsung logo (lest you forget the manufacturer).
On the left side of the tablet is a micro-SD slot for up to 32GB of expandable storage, while the right side houses a power/standby switch, a volume rocker, and a small infrared blaster for use with the Smart Remote app. Atop the tablet is a 3.5mm headphone jack, while the bottom contains the dock connector for USB connections and charging, as well as tiny speaker grates.
We managed to make a couple of small nicks on the display over the course of a couple weeks of use. Unfortunately, the screen seems a little scratch-prone if you're not keeping it covered up between use.
Inside the tablet, you'll find 16GB of internal storage for apps, movies, music, and more, and it's all powered by a dual-core 1.2 Ghz processor, with performance (as detailed later) highly dependent on the Android version installed.
If you're considering the Plus, you'll absolutely want Ice Cream Sandwich running on it from day one. And if you already own the Wi-Fi tablet, download the free over-the-air update immediately!
Display and interface
The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus features a 1024x600 display, which at those dimensions puts the PPI (pixels per inch) at just 170 – which makes for a solid image essentially on par with the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 and standard Kindle Fire model.
It's not nearly crisp enough to hide its pixels, though, and you'll see some oddly jagged app icons or blurry images along the way. The fuzzy background images included for the lock screen are an uninviting head-scratcher, to say the least.
Were it not for the Nexus 7 spoiling us with its 1280x800 (216 ppi) display, which the coming Kindle Fire HD matches, we'd consider it just fine for an affordable seven-incher. But by this point, it falls a little short considering the similar price points and feature sets.
While a fair TFT display for everyday use, much like its successor (the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0), the screen lacks pop for things like movies and games. Again, the Nexus 7 shows it up in that regard, as do ritzier tablets like the iPad, but it's a muted effect well worth noting for those who intend to use the Plus for heavy video viewing.
Unfortunately, as with the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus also suffers from some odd responsiveness issues, with small icons requiring multiple taps at times to register. It wasn't particularly clear why some buttons or selections didn't respond, and while the issue didn't sink the overall experience, it's an unfortunate slight.
Thanks to an update issued just days ago for the Wi-Fi version, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus now runs Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich, which delivers a slicker-looking interface whether you use the tablet in portrait or landscape orientation. As is the case with other Samsung devices, ICS is overlaid with its own TouchWiz skin.
At the bottom of the screen, you'll find a permanent control bar that includes virtual back and home buttons, as well as an icon that brings up a list of open apps, which can be closed with a swipe to the right. A handy screenshot button is also shown, while an upwards arrow delivers easy (and customizable) access to core apps like Alarm, Calculator, and the Task Manager.
Meanwhile, tapping the lower right part of the screen (with the clock, Wi-Fi, and battery indicators) brings up the notifications box, which includes quick controls for turning on/off Wi-Fi, GPS, and screen rotation lock, among other features, plus you can access the brightness setting on the fly and tap into the full Settings menu.
Seemingly due to the option for both portrait or landscape use, TouchWiz only gives you the middle of the home screen to use for widgets and apps, leaving wasted empty space on the top and bottom when upright, or left and right when sideways. It's a drag to not have that extra space to really trick out your screens as desired, especially compared to the portrait-only Nexus 7, which has its awesome media collage (but runs Android 4.1: Jelly Bean).
We started using the 7.0 Plus with Android 3.0: Honeycomb installed, and initially found the menus quite sluggish – a classic Android complaint, especially for nearly year-old hardware. But the upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich really smoothed over the laggy movements between home screens and menus, making it feel almost like a brand new tablet.
It's really a huge difference, but considering how long it took for Ice Cream Sandwich to get on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, as well as the fact that it's not one of Samsung's more recent devices, we're not holding our breath for an appearance by Jelly Bean on the device. At least ICS makes it modern enough to stay relevant.
Curiously, though, after upgrading to Ice Cream Sandwich, we encountered a couple of occasions where the tablet hard-locked for no apparent reason, forcing us to hold the power and top volume buttons to restart the tablet. It's unclear whether this is specifically due to the ICS upgrade, but don't be surprised if Samsung issues a patch in the near future.
Internet and connectivity
The web browser included on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus (simply labeled "Internet") is stock Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich and includes some elements from Chrome, with features like Incognito tabs and synced bookmarks with your Google account.
It's a pretty functional browser with support for multiple tabs up top, and it can be used in either landscape or portrait orientation, as desired. Numerous other options are included, such as adding shortcuts to home, saving for offline reading, and sharing pages via email, social networks, and other apps.
Seven-inch tablets aren't hugely ideal for web browsing, as the portrait view shows too much at a tiny font, and landscape focuses on such a small scope of the page, but that's not an issue exclusive to the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. Like most seven-inchers, it's really quite good in a pinch for looking something up, or for light browsing.
The pages rendered well enough for the form factor, but zooming into text with a double-tap seemed to go a step closer than desired, with words on the edges cut off in places. Additionally, using two fingers to custom-resize pages to fit our ideal size tended to cause irritation, as it wouldn't just scale to our exact movements, but continually scaled in or out until we lifted our fingers. That's just not helpful.
The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus model that we reviewed is limited to Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n) with dual-band support, and is the standard model of the device. Additionally, the tablet includes Bluetooth 3.0 support for accessories.
In addition to the Wi-Fi model, 4G-capable versions are available from specific cellular carriers, though be warned that each iteration has its own independent Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade timeline. Be sure to check the status of a carrier's update before committing, as the Honeycomb-equipped version of the Plus feels notably slower than with ICS installed.
Camera and gallery
Tablets aren't meant to be used as everyday cameras, which is part of the reason why most lag behind their smartphone equivalents in lens quality. Of course, snapping photos at a concert or art gallery using a tablet generally looks foolish, but with the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus being potentially pocket-sized, it does offer a back camera for those rare moments you might actually want it.
Unsurprisingly, the resulting photos aren't much to look at. The back lens is merely rated at 3 megapixels, and spits out 2048x1536 images that are generally lacking vibrant colors or impressive detail. It's fine for a quick snapshot of your pet (or child) to casually send to family or pals, but anything worth remembering should be photographed with another device.
The camera app itself does offer a decent array of ways to fiddle with images, though, with options for panoramic shots or a cartoon-like filter, various timer settings, exposure adjustment, and negative, black and white, and sepia effects.
Shooting video utilizes the same app – just flick the virtual button between still shots and video – and expectedly produces similarly mediocre results with the back lens. Expect grainy, but adequate footage with a solid frame rate. Again, it's clearly only meant for quick, on-the-fly clips, not serious shooting.
A 2MP front camera is located on the upper right of the tablet, and as with most front-facing cameras on portable devices, it's really intended only for video chats over Skype or your equivalent favorite app of choice. But if you need a fuzzy self-shot photo, it's more than up to the task there, as well.
Photos, videos, and screenshots alike can be accessed via the Gallery app, which is a straightforward album-based way of viewing and sharing such media. Within the app, you can also crop and rotate images, watch a slideshow, and access the related Photo Editor and Photo Studio apps, which allow more heavy-duty editing.
Battery life and storage
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is equipped with a built-in 4000mAh Lithium Ion battery, which proves pretty capable, offering about eight solid hours of use via a mix of web browsing, apps, and media usage.
Your mileage will no doubt vary based on what you use the tablet for, and variables like high brightness and heavy downloads or streaming will zap the battery a little quicker, but we found it comparable to seven-inch competitors.
Unlike the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, which offers only 8GB of storage in order to maintain its slim price point, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus ships with either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. We reviewed the former configuration.
Additionally, the device includes a micro SD port on the left side that accommodates cards of up to 32GB, letting you expand out the storage as desired.
It's a key feature missing from the likes of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, making this a friendlier option for those with large media libraries, as well as folks who want to tote around quite a bit of content when not in range of Wi-Fi.
Apps and Play
The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus ships with a handful of non-essential apps that may well pique your interest, such as Amazon's Kindle, the Next Issue magazine subscription service, and news reader Pulse. Some can be deleted wholesale, while others (Moviefone?) must simply be deactivated, and will linger quietly in the backdrop.
Samsung has its own set of built-in apps, as well, such as AllShare for streaming media from DLNA servers, its Media Hub digital storefront for movies and TV series, a Social Hub app that cobbles together feeds from Facebook, Twitter, and more, and the Smart Remote, which connects wirelessly with home entertainment systems and uses the tablet's IR port.
The built-in Samsung Apps program supposedly acts like a curated selection of recommended apps and games, and makes it easy to find some standout options. But when one of the suggested apps is a clear knock-off of Duck Hunt on NES, it's hard to believe that very much thought went into the selections.
Otherwise, the Plus utilizes standard Google Play for apps, games, books, magazines, and other media, and you're sure to get well acquainted with the rebranded version of the former Android Marketplace as you dig around for fresh experiences.
While not quite on par with the offerings of Apple's App Store, iTunes, iBooks, and Newsstand on the whole, Google Play is gradually expanding and offers a pretty wide array of options in most categories, whether you're seeking the latest apps and games or streaming/downloaded media to enjoy.
Plenty of free and paid apps and games alike are featured, with familiar options like Netflix and Flipboard on the apps side, as well as Angry Birds Space and N.O.V.A. 3 amongst the games – but there are plenty more popular and niche options in the mix.
The selections of movies, TV shows, music, books, and magazines are notably smaller than what's seen in the Apple or Amazon ecosystems, though the ability to either stream or save video files locally is a nice touch that allows for on-the-fly library management with the tap of a virtual push-pin
Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus (Wi-Fi) isn't anywhere near the top of the line for seven-inch tablets these days, with the company's own Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 offering a notable upgrade in some regards (and a lower starting price point), while the Nexus 7 handily bests both options and the new Kindle Fire HD looks rather appealing.
But the recent upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich gives this aging Android tablet new legs, significantly boosting moment-to-moment performance and adding a sleek edge to the interface. At the listed price, it's far too expensive to warrant a pick over newer and cheaper options, but if you can find a refurbished or otherwise majorly discounted one, the Tab 7.0 Plus can be a pretty good option in many respects.
Ice Cream Sandwich is available as an over-the-air upgrade, and it immediately clears much of the lag that we saw while first using the tablet with Honeycomb installed. It's not quite as smooth or powerful as newer seven-inchers, but it can hold its own in everyday use.
With a dual-core processor and solid build, it's capable of fitting in well with your daily life, whether you're looking to surf the web and check email, use various apps, or play games or media. It's versatile and easy to use.
Expandable storage via micro-SD cards means you're not bound by the 16GB of internal storage in this model (a 32GB option is also available), which is more than we can say for the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire. For heavy media consumers, that's a big perk.
Following the launch of the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, the original $400 price on the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus seems utterly laughable. If you can find it for a bargain (say, half that price or less), though, it can be a very good option.
Even with Ice Cream Sandwich, the TouchWiz-overlaid interface doesn't come close to the aesthetic bliss of the Nexus 7's Jelly Bean-based setup. It's disappointing to be limited to only the middle of the display for placing widgets and apps.
We encountered occasional issues with the responsiveness of the touch screen, especially when trying to tap small buttons or icons. It's not something we faced on a regular enough basis to kill the experience, but it's annoying all the same. The tablet also randomly crashed a couple times with ICS installed.
The display isn't terribly vibrant, while the wimpy back camera produces bland photos and grainy video. We know, tablet cameras aren't highlight features, but even this one feels like it's on the low end of the pack.
Without Ice Cream Sandwich, we'd completely shrug off the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus in favor of newer and cheaper options. But the upgrade works wonders for last year's model, and makes it a suitable bargain-basement option.
If you're seeking a capable Android tablet with expandable storage, and happen to find a refurbished or otherwise discounted model for $200 or less, we can solidly recommend the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. But that's a window that's shrinking by the day as manufacturers continually top themselves with better and cheaper seven-inch options.