Samsung Galaxy Tab £529.99
26th Oct 2010 | 15:10
The first major Android tablet release arrives to challenge the iPad
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Overview
The Samsung Galaxy Tab is the first major tablet release since the Apple iPad launched about five months ago.
It's been a long time coming, too. The Galaxy Tab was one of the all-time worst kept secrets in tech until it was finally unveiled at Berlin's IFA show back in September, and as the first major Android tablet release, it holds a weight of responsibility on its shoulders.
With a tidal wave of Android tablets about to sweep through the tech world, it's possible that if the Galaxy Tab were to disappoint, it could damage the perception that Android tablets will be able to top the iPad on features and performance.
The price certainly indicates that Samsung believes the Galaxy Tab can topple the Apple iPad from its tablet tower. The 16GB model costs £530, which is £100 more than the Wi-Fi only version of the iPad. It is, however, exactly the same price as the cheapest 3G iPad, which is clearly no accident.
That price doesn't include any 3G access either, so if you want web connectivity on the go, it's going to cost you a monthly fee from one of the mobile networks. Prices will likely start at around £10 a month for 1GB of data.
Once the Tab has gone on sale, you should be able to pick up a subsidised model from one of the mobile networks, in return for signing a contract. However, currently we're not sure how much these deals are likely to cost.
This pricing strategy is slightly surprising - the Android tablet would be a lot more appealing if it was a bit cheaper than the iPad.
Samsung's decision no doubt also has something to do with it not wanting to undercut the cost of its own Android smartphones, but it's a big risk.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab has a lot to live up to, then. Especially when you consider it's a lot smaller than Apple's tablet - its 7-inch screen is dwarfed by the iPad's 9.7-incher.
Keeping up appearances
With a slick black and white-styled body and a bright and shiny TFT touchscreen, the Samsung Galaxy Tab gets off to a good start in that it looks absolutely fabulous.
It looks every bit the iPad killer that Samsung wants it to be. And while it may look lot like the iPad in pictures, it's quite a bit smaller and feels a lot different in the hand.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab sitting between the Apple iPad and iPod touch 4G
At 12mm it's quite thick, only fractionally thinner than the 9.7-inch iPad. As such it feels proportionately more chunky than the Apple device; not necessarily a bad thing.
The body is entirely made of plastic, so it feels less solid than the aluminium-backed iPad but it still feels adequately sturdy and tough. The plastic case enables it to stay pretty light at only 380g.
On the front of the device there are four touch buttons, similar to to those found on your average Android phone – one for home, one for options, a back button and one for search.
On the top of the device sits a 3.5mm headphone jack. The on/off button sits on the right hand side next to the volume controls and further down that left hand side you'll also find slots for a SIM card and a microSD expansion card.
The underside of the device is adorned by a charging and docking connector which looks identical to that of the iPad and iPhone. This will come into play when all the planned Galaxy Tab accessories start to spill out onto the market. The only external feature on the left side is a small microphone.
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Features
The Samsung Galaxy Tab is powered by the Cortex A8 1Ghz processor which, in terms of sheer oomph, is a comparative match for the 1Ghz A4 processor found in the iPad and iPhone 4.
As such, we were expecting the Galaxy Tab to be at least as responsive, slick and speedy as the iPad. However, in many instances this just wasn't the case. More on that a little later.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab was orignally rumoured to have an AMOLED screen which would have been fantastic and undeniably iPad-beating.
However, the 7-inch display we have here is just a fairly standard TFT LCD. It's bright and colourful enough, and the WSVGA screen resolution (1024x600) is only slightly lower than that of the 9.7-inch iPad (so that's 260ppi versus 132ppi) which means that the display on the Galaxy Tab is a lot sharper.
The Tab comes with two built-in cameras: one 3MP rear-facing camera with LED flash and also a 1.3MP front-facing camera for video conferencing. This is an area that Samsung beats Apple by default – the iPad has no cameras at all and so for anyone who considers rear and front-facing cameras to be essential features, the Galaxy Tab is already a front-runner.
Unlike the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is not available in non-3G guise. This is intended to be an on-the-go device - an essential bag-stored companion for those long journeys – which means 3G connectivity is central to its functionality.
Alongside this 3G connectivity sits 802.11n Wi-Fi which means streaming videos and the like when you're connected to a wireless network should be easy, and you've also got Bluetooth 3.0 in there as well for transferring files and streaming to external devices like headphones and speakers.
Despite the lack of a Wi-Fi only version, the Galaxy Tab does come in two different flavours according to how much storage space you think you're going to need. There's a 16GB version and also a 32GB version - it's the 16GB unit which costs £529.99, and we haven't got a price yet for the 32GB version.
The microSD slot can add up to another 32GB of additional storage so technically you'd be able to match the iPad's 64GB version if you really needed to.
There's 512MB of RAM, too, which is the de facto amount for these kind of portable devices at the moment.
And of course, the rest of the features on the Galaxy Tab come courtesy of the inclusion of Android 2.2, or 'Froyo'. It's the most up-to-date version of Android currently available which means no software features get left on the table.
Check out our in-depth look at Android 2.2 for a closer look at specific software features.
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Performance and battery life
Let's face it, we're all expecting big things from the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and what we really want to know is whether it's a star-performer or a dead dog.
So let's get this out of the way right off the bat – the Galaxy Tab is not as slick as we were hoping it would be.
Despite the 1Ghz processor, there are some significant performance issues here and in many cases they hamper the usability and performance of the Tab to treacherous levels.
The problems are most evident when browsing the web. Scrolling down your average website can be quite juddery. The smoothness of the iPad is nowhere to be seen, and our fingers had often swiped and left the screen before the device responded and began to scroll.
Pinch-to-zoom is also a laggy affair, with the zoom often arriving an uncomfortable pause after the pinch – if at all. It's all just a bit too slow. Clunky, even. We handed the Tab around the office for various editors to have a play with and the reaction was universally negative.
We tried a number of different browsers and they all experienced the same issues, albeit with some performing slightly better than others. Opera Mini seemed to do the best job, but even that didn't offer the slick experience we were after.
The next major issue we encountered with performance is the hyper-sensitive accelerometer.
Unlike on some other leading Android devices such as the HTC Desire, there is no way to either calibrate the accelerometer or even turn it off. And that's a problem because we found it constantly tilting the screen in ways we didn't want it to.
It leads to an increasingly frustrating experience and so the complete lack of a calibration tool – or at the very least, some way of turning the accelerometer feature off completely – is a major frustration.
Some apps have their own options regarding this, such as a 'landscape view only' mode, but this doesn't really make up for it in our book.
Multitasking on the Samsung Galaxy Tab is pretty good, though. The device was able to handle having multiple apps open at the same time, and switching between them, without too much slow down.
There were some instances where the browser took a few seconds to pop up on screen after we'd left it running in the background and then selected to switch to it again, but on the whole, the Galaxy Tab did not suffer too much in this department.
Google Maps works a treat on the Galaxy Tab, and the added screen space over a smartphone improves usability a lot. Maps load quickly, although scrolling and zooming again doesn't feel as slick as the Google Maps app on the Apple iPad. There's obvious lag, which is disappointing.
While the iPad surprised us with it's economical use of battery life, the Samsung Galaxy Tab did the opposite. We charged it to full capacity, and it was begging for more juice after about four hours of sporadic testing.
Admittedly we did have screen brightness at maximum, and we took a few photos and recorded a few videos, but you only have to hold the device after an hour of solid use to identify one obvious problem - heat.
The device gets extremely hot after watching videos or browsing the web for an hour. This will be a major drain on battery life and indicates that either the Coretex 1Ghz processor isn't efficient enough, or the Galaxy Tab doesn't do a good enough job of harnessing its power in an efficient manor.
Either way, it's a drain on power and it's a problem the iPad just doesn't have. With screen brightness on max, you can actually see the battery life falling away in front of your eyes. This is despite Samsung claiming 7-hours' continuous movie play.
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Interface
The interface on the Galaxy Tab is basically Android 2.2 with a few minor tweaks here and there.
You start at the lock screen which you move past with a quick finger-swipe to the left. You can customise this by adding either password protection, a PIN or a pattern lock.
Once you've unlocked the device, you're through to the five homescreens which you can load up with as many or as few icons as you desire.
As with most Android phones, you can move an App onto the homescreen by pressing and holding its icon. The device will instantly take you and the chosen icon back to the homescreen where there is ample space for you to pile up your favourite Apps while leaving the others to lounge around inside the Applications menu.
Software not optimised?
In general, Android 2.2 works well enough, although Google itself admits that the OS is not optimised for tablets yet. You can read Google's full confession elsewhere on TechRadar, but the main quote from Hugo Barra, Google's director of products for mobile, goes like this:
"…the way Android Market works is it's not going to be available on devices that don't allow applications to run correctly.
"Which devices do, and which don't will be unit specific, but Froyo is not optimised for use on tablets.
"If you want Android market on that platform, the apps just wouldn't run, [Froyo] is just not designed for that form factor."
So there you have it from the horse's mouth, despite the Samsung shipping the Galaxy Tab with Android 2.2, it's just not a finished piece of software in terms of tablet optimisation.
This is blatantly clear when using the device, as most apps and even the Android Market refer to the Tab as a phone instead of a tablet.
What this ultimately amounts to is that most applications you download from the Android Market are intended for use on smaller, often lower-resolution screens.
And that means a lot of the graphics and text within them can look a bit blurry on the Galaxy Tab's 7-inch display. It's not a massive problem, but it certainly doesn't have the polish of the iPad, which has its own section on the Apple App Store.
This could also certainly explain the laggy nature of the device's performance when browsing the web, for example.
And talking of Apps, there's more confusion to be found in the form of three separate places to download them on the Tab.
There's the standard Android Market option, along with separate stores for Samsung's own apps and games. It's a bit of a hassle, if you ask us, but the promise of Galaxy Tab-specific Apps to download in future does appeal.
It would be easier if it was all done via the Android Store, but you can see why Samsung might want to bypass that particular avenue for some of its content.
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Screen
The quality of the screen is a vital factor when judging a tablet. Due to the almost complete lack of physical buttons, the screen is absolutely everything to the user.
You need to be able to see it in bright conditions, it needs to be responsive, it needs to be clear, it needs to be able to show bright and dark areas at the same time. And the touchscreen needs to respond quickly and accurately. So how does it perform?
The Galaxy Tab's screen is a fairly standard TFT LCD panel, with resolution of 1024 x 600.
As we mentioned earlier, it was hoped by many pre-launch that the Tab would come packing an AMOLED panel. That type of display is thinner, lighter and often better for viewing in direct sunlight. And so the absence of an AMOLED display is a bit of a let-down, particularly at this premium price.
Inside, the Galaxy Tab's screen looks quite majestic. With settings to change the brightness, colour saturation and contrast, you can customise it so it looks great according to your own preferences.
Watching videos with lots of bright colours is also a pleasure. Cartoons and Pixar-style 3D animations look best, while the screen does a less good job at handling darker colours.
Using the Galaxy Tab in bright conditions, however, is a massive pain. In direct sunlight it is literally impossible to see anything on it at all, and even in outdoor conditions without the sun shining directly on it, you end up seeing a grey, smeary, fingerprinty mess rather than what the device is attempting to display.
The pocket-friendly dimensions of the Tab make it perfect for carrying around with you wherever you go, but the screen makes life pretty difficult.
The iPad suffers in outdoor conditions too, but in our side-by-side test the iPad did a slightly better job of fending off the bright lights.
This is possibly the biggest disappointment of all. A kick-ass screen would have gone a long way towards making the Samsung Galaxy Tab a really fantastic device, but without this awe-factor, the device seems a lot less special.
The Tab was also a bit hit and miss when it comes to responsiveness. At some points the screen responded to touch almost immediately. At other times there were uncomfortable delays.
When sliding through your home screens, the iPad just is slicker, smoother and more responsive. The Galaxy Tab keeps you waiting a split second at a time, and it all adds up. As a result, it's not a fun device to use.
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Usability
In terms of day-to-day use, the Galaxy Tab is a handy device to have around. In some ways it surpasses the iPad in terms of usability, although it falls behind in others.
The onscreen keyboard is functional, and the device does a pretty good job of working out what you meant to type if your fingers are slightly off target, and it autocorrects.
The Tab gives you haptic feedback as you type, too, which means you get a small vibration with every keypress. Because the screen is smaller than that on the iPad, the virtual keys are also smaller and thus haptic feedback is a helpful feature - it helps you guide your fingers more accurately.
Having said that, the keyboard is not exactly what you'd call 'comfortable' to use. Typing quickly is not easy at all - and this leads us to the belief that 7-inches is probably a little bit too small.
Anyone who abstains from buying an iPad on the grounds of Apple's refusal to include Flash support, will find the Galaxy Tab a heavenly joy to use.
Flash is supported from the off, which means you can watch pretty much any web video content from within a browser.
It's all quite painless too, with YouTube clips loading and playing without any teething problems. There's no noticeable performance issues here, it just works.
Android 2.2 supports multitasking, and thus so does the Samsung Galaxy Tab. If you hit the Home button while you're in an app, you'll be taken back to your homescreen while the App stays running in the background.
This means you can play music while browsing the web and checking your emails. It also means you can have frequently used Apps all open at the same time without having to repeatedly load and close them.
On the homescreen there's a very useful 'Active applications' button which, when pressed, gives you information about all the apps which are currently running on the device.
You can view how much memory they're using, the percentage of CPU usage and you can even close Apps from here if you decide they're probably using too much battery juice.
There are also tabs at the top of this screen which enable you to monitor how much storage you have left, how much RAM you're using, and all the apps you've been downloading.
It's an excellent management tool which enables you to see with crystal clarity exactly what your Samsung Galaxy Tab is doing at any time.
Copy and paste
Copy and paste features are included, so for those who consider this feature an absolute must-have, there are no problems. Just like other Android 2.2 devices, you need only tap a word and you're able to select and copy text from there.
Email and extras
We heart Android here at TechRadar. It's got so many features, and they're all here to play with on the Galaxy Tab. Whether that be excellent email integration, free satellite navigation using Google Maps, or the ability to make and receive telephone calls. It's all there.
If you want to use the Galaxy Tab as a phone, you can. But unless you want to look a bit silly, we absolutely recommend sticking with your current phone for telephoney purposes. It's just too big to hold up to your face - you'd look like an idiot, and an uncomfortable idiot at that. Unless you've got the world's biggest head and hands to match, obviously.
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Camera
To say the Samsung Galaxy Tab's camera is mediocre would be to put it bluntly. This is no star-performer when it comes to taking photographs, that's for sure.
Because the device is so large, it's actually quite awkward to take snaps with. And due to it being so slim in comparison to most digital cameras, it's pretty hard to get a proper grip on the device and to then hold it still. We were constantly worried that we'd drop it.
Images lack detail in all areas, with most photographs looking quite washed out. Colours look faded rather than vivid.
The camera struggled to deal with both bright and dark conditions, and in areas with a lot of contrast – with bright and dark in the same shot – the results were particularly poor.
Again, this is a bit of a disappointment. Clearly, this kind of device is not meant to be used as a primary camera, we understand that. But for a device that costs £530 – £100 more than the cheapest iPad – we were just expecting a little bit more in this department. It's a weak effort.
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Video recording
The Galaxy Tab's rear-facing lens can also record video, which is a big positive, although unfortunately that's pretty much where the good news ends.
There's no HD recording - the resolution of your recordings is fixed at 720x480, and you're given the option to choose either 'fine' or 'normal' as far as recording quality goes. We recorded our sample using the highest setting, but the results were still mostly disappointing.
In comparison to most of the top smartphones out there, as well as HD video-shooting gadgets like the iPod touch 4G, footage is decidedly average.
The Tab records at 30fps and so the handling of motion isn't too bad. But like our stills shots, quality isn't great. Colours are washed out, and contrast is quite poor indeed. Even compared to something like the iPod touch 4G, the Galaxy Tab's video quality is not great.
We also found that while the Galaxy Tab's microphone is actually very good at recording sound, it's located in a pretty inconvenient place. When holding the Tab for shooting video, we preferred to grip it on either side with the thumb and index fingers of our left and right hand...
However, this resulted in us covering up the microphone with our left thumb - we had to keep reminding ourselves not to do it.
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Media performance
The Galaxy Tab is compatible with lots of different file formats for both audio and video. As a device running normal Android 2.2, it's limited to which codecs and support Google has added to the OS.
You've got all your standard must-haves in there, including DivX, Xvid, MPEG4, WMV and H.264. Audio compatibility extends to MP3, WAV, eAAC+, AC3 and FLAC files.
There's no direct support for MKV files, but some of our files worked while others didn't.
The Galaxy Tab has its own YouTube app where you can search and view the latest vids from the main site. The only quality setting here is 'HQ' though which means it only goes up to 480p.
The app doesn't want you to watch proper HD video and browsers will always try to take you away from the 720p versions of videos even if you use the direct URL.
But even so, 480p vids look pretty good and they stream and play flawlessly. Motion is handled competently and the screen is ideally suited to viewing web video clips.
Music playing comes again courtesy of standard Android app. The file support is excellent, and the quality of the audio is pretty decent too. We tested with 320kbps MP3 files and were happy with the output.
Samsung claims that a single charge will withstand seven hours of continuous video-watching. We think that sounds rather optimistic. To us, the battery seems to run down a lot quicker than that and as we mentioned earlier, the device also gets very warm.
One thing that didn't work as expected was BBC iPlayer. In some browsers, we were told that our 'phone' does not support iPlayer yet and that new devices will be supported in future.
The main browser did get iPlayer working, but videos are not optimised for this kind of device and so the it's a bit tricky to get videos playing well. If you click 'play video fullscreen' the video is unwatchable, jumping around all over the place. However, if you click the normal 'play' button and then press the fullscreen button once the video is playing, it loads a lower res version which runs more smoothly.
It's a fiddly experience, and an official BBC iPlayer app is badly needed. There is currently one unofficial one out there which does work - but it's fairly basic.
Samsung Galaxy Tab: Verdict
We like the Galaxy Tab, we really do. But the fact is that Samsung has launched a device with a massive identity problem.
Is it a phone? No - it makes phone calls, sure, but it's too big to use as a primary mobile phone.
Is it a tablet? Again, no we don't think it is one. It's too small and fiddly and lacking in optimisations. Tablets need to distinguish themselves from smartphones by being bigger, better, more powerful, feature rich and interesting.
Essentially, they need a reason to exist. And this is where we're struggling with the Galaxy Tab.
The pricing is all wrong, too. Clearly, Samsung needs to avoid undercutting the prices of its own Android smartphones like the Galaxy S. But in doing so, it's made the Galaxy Tab £100 more expensive than the cheapest iPad - a class-leading product.
It may be the same price as the 3G iPad, but we can't help feeling that this product would be much more appealing were it slightly cheaper. A better-value, non-3G model would have a much better chance of success. There are rumours that such a device is on the way, but Samsung is yet to confirm.
The Android interface is fantastic, and in indoor conditions everything works pretty well. The screen is bright and colourful. Watching videos and listening to music is easy, as is transferring content to and from the device.
The Android Market enables you to customise the device beyond recognition, and so you'll never get bored of it.
The size has its benefits, too. It's a lot more pocket and bag friendly than the iPad, but it's still a pretty hefty object to have to lug round with you everywhere.
Flash support is a major advantage over the iPad, and the ability to surf online video is very well received.
The sluggish web browsing is very frustrating. As Google readily admits, Android 2.2 is in no way optimised for tablets, and so we can't help feeling that the Galaxy Tab has come along a bit too early.
The screen is also quite disappointing. It's not terrible, but it's in no way a class-leading piece of glass. With the 7-inch screen, it's an incredibly portable device, and so an AMOLED screen would have gone down a treat.
The camera, too, is fairly poor. Again, it's nice to have this feature, but remember this is a £530 gadget. It's expensive, and so you expect all the features to be top-notch... But they're not.
We can't hide our disappointment in the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It had the potential to deliver a serious blow to Apple's iPad sales. But in truth, the Galaxy Tab is no match for the iPad. It's nowhere near as smooth, it's not as polished and remarkably, it's not even a match when it comes to value for money.
If portability and Android are your main concern, the Galaxy Tab is certainly a handy gadget to have in your geeky arsenal. But for £530, we were expecting a hell of a lot more.