updated 11:50 pm EDT, Thu September 16, 2010
Tablet aims its sights on the iPad
Following Samsung's official Galaxy Tab unveiling for the US market, Electronista took advantage of an opportunity to handle the new device ahead of public availability. The North American device appears to match the same set of features as the European counterpart, which was introduced earlier this month.
The high-profile launch exemplifies Samsung's commitment to establish itself as the first large company to truly engage the Android tablet market. While many companies are rumored to be waiting for Android 3.0 before releasing additional devices, Samsung pushed forward with the v2.2 OS while Google continues to develop the next update.
Although the Tab appears to be aimed directly at the iPad, it is almost too small to be viewed as an apples-to-apples alternative. With a seven-inch display, the Tab screen is closer in size to Dell's five-inch Streak LCD than the 9.7-inch iPad display. That said, the overall dimensions are still too bulky to be consider a smartphone variant. Samsung touts this as a positive feature, rather than a drawback, as the Tab can fit inside some pockets. We still think that the tablet is a bit too large to comfortably fit in most pockets except for suit coats. For users that will carry the Tab in the same manner as an iPad, the latter option offers a significant jump in screen area. On the other hand, the Tab is easier to handle for longer periods of time.
We expected Samsung to make significant changes to the Android 2.2 interface, in an attempt to differentiate the experience from a smartphone. After exploring the interface, we were surprised to find that the core OS has been left mostly unchanged. The minor customizations, such as a Social Hub and large widgets, seem to be appropriate additions without cluttering the interface or overcomplicating the experience.
When the Tab is turned from portrait to landscape orientation, the virtual keyboard retains its same dimensions. The small keyboard moves to the center of the screen, leaving a blank space on each flank. Some users may benefit from the layout, which necessitates thumb typing in either orientation, while others will find the tiny keyboard a hinderance when the Tab is placed flat on a desk. Unlike the iPad, the Tab does replicate a netbook typing experience when switched to landscape orientation. Swype integration helps to make up for the lack of a standard keyboard layout, while a keyboard dock can be purchased if a full-size keyboard is required.
The Tab integrates two cameras, a three-megapixel primary sensor paired with a 1.3-megapixel camera on the front side. Video calling works as expected, although the feature is not an absolute deal-maker. The system does work with a wide range of video chat services, such as Qik and Fring, rather than limiting communication to other Samsung devices.
We liked viewing Google Maps content on the larger screen size. The feature is not any different than other Android 2.2 implementations, but the display would be easier to see in a vehicle. The Tab is also a practical consideration for in-vehicle applications, as the iPad can be too large for anything but custom installations. The Tab is not too large for a standard dashboard or windshield mount, which the company offers as an accessory.
After fondling the Tab for a short period of time, we were generally impressed with Samsung's new offering in the tablet arena. Company representatives indicated that Android 3.0 will be available after Google launches the OS. We are curious to see if the intended experience will be further improved, as v3.0 is widely expected to offer features geared specifically for tablets.
The Galaxy Tab will be on its way to all four major carriers in the US, although pricing has yet to be announced. Each of the companies will also provide their own additional customizations to the Android interface. Samsung representatives suggested a carrier-free version will be released in the US, but the specifics remain undisclosed.