What's hot: Very portable, high quality Android 2.2 tablet with 3G data.
What's not: Expensive, especially without a contract. And who wants yet another phone contract?
Reviewed December 2, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The Samsung Galaxy Tab is one of the hottest pieces of technology in 2010. It's the first high quality Android tablet with a fast CPU, capacitive display, Android OS 2.2 Froyo, 3G and all the trimmings. The Tab's 7", 1024 x 600 display runs at an even higher resolution than Samsung's Android superphones in the Galaxy S family, and that means you'll see more of documents, web pages and ebooks without scrolling. That said, beyond the increased resolution and display size, the Tab is basically an oversized Galaxy S smartphone minus the cellular calling feature in US versions. That's a good thing and a bad thing: the increased screen real estate really transforms the Galaxy Tab into something that, like the iPad, can stand in for a computer when doing tasks like web browsing, email and reading. That said, it doesn't really do anything your Samsung Fascinate, Vibrant or Captivate can't do (at least not yet). The same can largely be said of the iPad vs. iPhone 4, but that hasn't hurt sales. There are a decent selection of HD optimized iPad apps though, while there are virtually none outside of Samsung's own, for the Tab. Will we see more Android tablet applications that turn the Galaxy Tab and other brands into a killer gadget? It's hard to say; so far there hasn't been a lot of action in the tablet-optimized app arena, but it is a young and fragmented space. Since the Galaxy Tab is selling well in its first month on the market, developers will likely take an interest in supporting the super-sized display.
The Tab is available on all of the big 4 US carriers, and we have the AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint versions in-house for this review. All 4 models have the same specs, hardware (other than CDMA vs. GSM radios and Sprint/Verizon having 2 gigs internal storage plus a 16 gig microSD card and T-Mobile/AT&T having 16 gigs of internal storage with no bundled microSD card) and look the same (Sprint's has a gloss white back while the others are gloss black). The Tab is a good looking piece of electronics, and it goes with the same glossy plastic and attractive angles as the Galaxy S phones. If you hate plastic, sorry but Samsung isn't going to change their design esthetic any time soon.
The Galaxy Tab runs Android OS 2.2 Froyo with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 UI. If you've used any of the Galaxy S phones, you'll feel right at home because the user interface is identical. Samsung has customized the calendar and contacts applications to make much better use of the higher resolution display (check it out in our video review below). As with the Galaxy S phones, the music player and video player have been much improved from their vanilla Android versions and the Tab supports additional video formats including DivX.
The Verizon version has a dot pattern that's visible in good light.
The Tab runs on the same 1GHz Hummingbird ARM Cortex-A8 family CPU as the Galaxy S phones, and it has a hardware GPU and 512 megs of RAM. The Tab is responsive on all 4 carriers and it handles video playback well. The 7" capacitive multi-touch display is sharp, extremely bright and colorful, though it's not Super AMOLED (Super AMOLED isn't yet available in displays this large). The Tab has WiFi 802.11b/g/n, a GPS that works with Google Maps and Navigation and Bluetooth, though headset and handsfree profiles are missing.
The Tab has the same lightly masked capacitive front buttons for menu, home, back and search. The 3.5mm stereo jack is up top, and the proprietary 30 pin dock port is at the bottom. Samsung went with the special connector because, like the iPad and Dell Streak, the Tab can do more than sync and charge via the port (e.g.: HDMI out, TV out and keyboard).
Deals and Shopping:
Comparing the 4 Samsung Galaxy Tab Models
Pricing varies by carrier as do plans and contract requirements, so we'll try to sum things up.
- Both Sprint and T-Mobile offer the Tab with a 2 year contract for $399 (requires a data contract), and $599 if you buy it without a contract. Sprint charges $29.99 for 2 gigs data and $59.99 for 5 gigs of data per month. T-Mobile charges $24.99 for 200 megs and $39.99 for 5 gigs of data per month.
- Verizon and AT&T sell it only without contract, though the device is locked to the respective carrier.
- Verizon sells the Tab for the same $599 retail price as do Sprint and T-Mobile while AT&T charges $649. AT&T does throw in a $50 Media Hub credit for the $50 price hike, and their data plans are a bit more affordable-- they're the same $14.99 for 250MB and $25 for 2 gigs plans offered with the iPad. Verizon has data plans that are priced at 1 gig for $20 and 3 gigs for $35 as well as their iPad + MiFi 5 gigs for $50 and 10 gigs for $80 plans. Though the Verizon plans are no-contract, Verizon will charge activation fees if you stop using their data service for a month or two, then start it back up.
The short story: Sprint charges the most for data and AT&T charges the most for the hardware. T-Mobile's 200 megs for $24.99 is absurdly overpriced but their 5 gig plan pricing is very good considering WiFi tethering is included. All carriers offer 5 gig plans (Verizon goes even higher) except AT&T where you're limited to 2 gigs/month (though that's more than enough for most folks). Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon's Tab can act as a 3G to WiFi hotspot to share the 3G connection with laptops and other devices. AT&T's version doesn't have this feature, though the 2 gig cap would be problematic for heavy tether users. Verizon offers the highest package at 10 gigs for you crazy-heavy users (T-Mobile doesn't charge overages so you could go to 10 gigs but they throttle you back to EDGE if you exceed your monthly allowance).
3G reception is solid on all 4 models. There's plenty of room for an antenna and lots of power for the cellular radio thanks to the 4,000 mAh Lithium Ion battery.
AT&T, as always, blocks installation of non-market apps. That means you can only install apps from the Android Market on the device (or hack your AT&T Tab to install non-market apps).
Herein the problem begins and ends: the various options are enough to keep you busy with a calculator for a long while, and the Galaxy Tab is expensive, no matter how you slice it. That hurts in a recession. You can get a netbook for lots less, but then everyone's been there and done that with netbooks, and tablets are the new hot tech. And the Galaxy Tab is a very nice piece of hardware with Android's strong appeal, even if Android isn't particularly optimized for tablets.
Identifies as a mobile browser?
$14.99 for 250 megs, $25 for 2 gigs
16 gigs internal
$29.99 for 2 gigs, $59.99 for 5 gigs
2 gigs internal, 16 microSD card also included
$24.99 for 200 megs, $39.99 for 5 gigs, no overage charge but T-Mo will throttle speeds if you exceed 5 gigs
Yes, no extra charge with 5 gig plan
16 gigs internal
$20 for 1 gig, $35 for 3 gigs, $50 for 5 gigs and $80 for 10 gigs
2 gigs internal, 16 microSD card also included
No, can access full versions of sites like NY Times.
The microSD card slot and mechanical volume and power controls are on the right side.
Here's our 15 minute video review and demo of the Samsung Galaxy Tab:
Android as a Tablet
I confess that I wasn't the least bit annoyed at the lack of tablet-oriented features in Android OS 2.2 Froyo (the most recent OS version available from Google at press time). Everything works just fine, thank you, and I found most 3rd party apps scaled to fill the screen without looking grainy or blocky. Yes, Angry Birds runs full screen and works well. Since Android superphones run at 800 x 480, it's not that much of a stretch to 1024 x 600 resolution (the standard netbook resolution, FYI). For a 10" tablet with even higher resolution, I'd want to see more tablet-aware applications, but at 7" the Tab doesn't beg for specialized applications.
What I don't like about Samsung's customization of Android on the Galaxy Tab, much like what they did with some Galaxy S phone models, is they've hardwired the web browser to identify as a mobile browser. There's no stable way to override this, and it's done at the system level. That means if you install a 3rd party web browser like Dolphin HD, you'll still see the mobile versions of sites like the New York Times, even if you change Dolphin's setting to identify as a desktop browser rather than Android. We applaud Verizon: they're the only US carrier with the Tab that identifies as a desktop when using the built-in web browser (and 3rd party browsers can work in desktop mode too). Heck, if my 5" Dell Streak defaults to desktop browsing mode, why shouldn't an even higher resolution 7" tablet with Flash? It's positively silly.
None of the Tabs are terribly bloated, and though you may be shocked, the AT&T version is very clean. No Mobile Banking, no YP Mobile, not even AT&T Navigator is on board. There are just utilities to find AT&T Hotspots and an account management application.
Sprint adds Sprint Hotspot, Sprint Zone, Qik video chat and a Free Games app that links to Gameloft's page of demo Android games (err, these aren't exactly free games, they're demos and games for sale).
T-Mobile adds a 3G Hotspot app, Slacker Radio, Qik video chat, Kindle, a demo version of the Asphalt 5 racing game (it looks great and plays well), T-Mobile My Account and Startup (gets you going with a data package if you don't already have one).
Verizon adds 3G Hotspot, VZ Navigator, Backup Assistant, Blockbuster, Kindle, Let's Golf (demo Gameloft game), My Verizon Mobile, Slacker Radio, N.O.V.A. (another demo Gameloft game), V Cast Apps, V Cast Music and V Cast Song ID. Yep, Verizon adds the most apps among US Galaxy Tab carriers.
All Galaxy Tab models have the staples of Android 2.2 goodness: the Webkit web browser, Gmail, email (POP3, IMAP and MS Exchange), YouTube, the Android Market, Messaging (you can SMS and MMS using the Tab except the AT&T version), Flash Player 10.1 (full Flash, take that iPad), Gtalk, Google Maps with navigation and Places, Voice Search, Contacts, Calendar and News & Weather.
Samsung adds their customizations to the Google PIM apps, a file manager, Memo, Daily Briefing, ThinkFree Office (view and edit MS Office documents and view PDFs, Task Manager and Samsung Media Hub where you can buy and rent movies and TV shows for viewing on the Tab and other authorized devices.
As an eReader
Personally, if my chief use of the device was reading ebooks and PDFs, I'd go with Barnes & Noble's excellent and much more affordable Nook Color. It's optimized for reading applications, has a warmer display that's a bit more soothing to the eyes, it has less screen glare and more granular brightness adjustments. The Nook Color requires no contract; it has WiFi but no 3G. However, the Nook Color, though it runs Android and shares the same 1024 x 600 capacitive display, is no full-service Android tablet (unless you root it, or hack it for those who don't know what root means).
If you want a full-duty tablet with the Android Market and the full power of Android and aren't into rooting your device, the Galaxy Tab is the better choice. Likewise, if you're an Amazon Kindle person and have a large library of books with Amazon, the Nook Color won't cut it for you since it doesn't have a Kindle app (duh, B&N doesn't want you shopping with Amazon). The Nook Color is compatible with B&N Books, Sony Reader books, Borders Books, Kobo books and public library books; it's just Kindle books that are off limits.
As an In-Car Navigation System
The Galaxy Tab's GPS worked very well on all US carrier versions. We had no problem with location accuracy or fix times, and the large display is wonderful for in- car navigation. The bigger challenge is finding a mount or suitable place for a 13.5 ounce, 7.5" x 4.76" device on your dash or center console. The Tab has adequate volume to combat loud road noise, but the gloss display can be difficult to see in shafts of direct sunlight. If you're using Google's applications, you'll need 3G data to download maps and navigation data real time.
All 4 versions come with Google Maps, Google Navigation and Places. Only Verizon includes their pay-for solution, VZ Navigator as an additional option (no TeleNav on the other models as of this writing).
The Samsung Galaxy Tab vs. Other Android Tablets
The Galaxy Tab sits at the top of the heap in terms of features, quality and price. There are cheaper tablets like the Huawei S7 but they have grainy resistive displays (not capacitive multi-touch), or slower CPUs and fewer features. Most inexpensive tablets without 3G lack access to the Android Market (Cruz Tablet, Archos 7) since Google requires a cellular radio among other things to qualify for the Android Market. If you're on a serious budget and just want to play around with an Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab is a stretch. But if you're got the money and want the best money currently can buy, the Tab is it.
The T-Mobile Galaxy Tab has a subtly sparkly black finish.
The Sprint Galaxy Tab is currently the only one with a white back.
The Galaxy Tab on top of the iPad. The Tab is half the size and almost half the weight of the iPad.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab vs. the iPad
Android vs. iOS verges on a religious war. Suffice to say that platform preference is your business and both are vibrant and enjoyable. If you really are a blank slate, then the real considerations are screen size vs. portability, Flash Player and gaming.
The iPad has a much larger 9.7" display, though its resolution isn't hugely higher than the Tab's. The large display is particularly enjoyable when watching movies and viewing desktop-oriented web sites.
The downside is that the iPad is quite large and heavy-- it's twice the size and nearly twice the weight of the Tab. If you want something you can easily stow in your gear bag, the Galaxy Tab is the more portable choice. It's also easier to hold without cramping hand and arm muscles when reading ebooks for an hour or 3.
Want Flash Player in your web browser? Not gonna happen on the iPad, according to the seemingly bitter Steve Jobs. The Galaxy Tab has Flash Player and performance is decent.
Are you into gaming? So far Apple's iOS platform has a vast lead. Android gaming, especially 3D gaming and tier 1 titles? Not so much.
Want a contract discount on that pricey hardware? The Galaxy Tab on T-Mobile and Sprint are there to tempt you with less up-front spend. Of course, it's the gift that will keep on costing for 2 years. Apple's iPad? No contract and no discounts, just like the AT&T and Verizon versions of the Tab.
The Galaxy Tab has a 4,000 mAh battery that's sealed inside the unit (and it's not easy cracking open the Tab on your own). That's a lot of capacity and the Tabs on all carriers surprised us with their stamina. With moderate use, I charged every 2-3 days. That's much better battery life than we get with Samsung's Galaxy S Android Smartphones, but the phones have much smaller batteries.
Samsung includes a gloss black (of course) wall charger and a USB to 30 pin connector cable in the box.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab is one sexy gadget. To play with it is to want it. That said, it's not cheap, and the Sprint and T-Mobile versions add yet another contract to your life. Is the Tab worth it? If you want the best Android tablet on the market, then it is.
The display is excellent, speed is very good and 3G anywhere means the Tab can be your road warrior go-to gadget for the web, email, social networking and light MS Office work (the on-screen keyboard is quite good but I wouldn't want to write the next American novel on it or even on the iPad). If your Samsung Vibrant, Captivate, Fascinate or other big-screen Android phones do it all for you, but you find their 4" displays too small for long bouts of use, the Tab could rock your world.
Apple's iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab? They're both great devices with solid ecosystems behind them, but I'd choose the Tab since it fits in a bag or huge pocket and I can go with any major US carrier. That said, I don't play a lot of games nor do I have a large library of iTunes video that would tie me to iOS.
Price: Varies, $399 $249-$299 with contract if available, $599 to $649 $499 to $549 retail with no contract (prices have dropped since release).
Display:7" capacitive multi-touch display. Resolution:
1024 x 600, supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer. Has ambient light sensor, compass and gyroscopic sensor.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is not replaceable.
Performance:Samsung Hummingbird (ARM Cortex-A8 family) 1GHz CPU with hardware graphics acceleration. 512 megs RAM. 2 gigs internal storage on Verizon and Sprint versions. 16 gigs internal storage on the AT&T and T-Mobile versions.
GPS: Has GPS and comes with Google Maps and Navigation. The Verizon version works with VZ Navigator as well.
Size:7.48 x 4.76 x 0.47 inches. Weight: 13.5 ounces.
Phone:AT&T: GSM quad band with 3G HSDPA on the 850/1900/2100MHz bands. T-Mobile: quad band GSM with 3G on the 1700/2100MHz bands. Sprint and Verizon: CDMA dual band digital with 3G EV-DO Rev. A.
Camera:Rear (main) 3.0 MP autofocus camera with LED flash. Front-facing 1.3MP video conferencing camera.
Audio and Video:Built
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Enhanced music player, video player that supports DivX, XviD, MPEG4, H.263 and H.264 formats, YouTube and Gallery applications for music and video. All come with Samsung's Media Hub application where you can rent and buy movies and TV shows for a fee.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth3.0 (has A2DP but no headset or handsfree profiles).
Software:Android OS 2.2 Froyo with Samsung TouchWiz 3.0 UI. Flash Player 10.1, Samsung's Galaxy platform Android software (Daily Briefing, social networking, Digital Frame, AllShare DLNA, Media Hub and more). ThinkFree Office MS Office viewer/editor suite included (also views PDFs).
SDHC microSD card slot. A 16 gig card is included with the Verizon and Sprint version since they have 2 gigs internal memory vs. 16 gigs internal memory on the AT&T and T-Mobile versions.