Friday afternoon, September 9th, Fedex brought me my Samsung Galaxy Tab, and from here on in let’s just say “Tab”, which I predict everyone will too, and may represent mad product-naming skillz from Samsung. Since then it’s been in my pocket and living room.
[Last update:] I’ve had this puppy for a month so I’m going to declare this complete, with an update to the Screen section, new prose on the browser & apps & games & music, and some Conclusions right up here at the top.
I suspect this currently qualifies as the most exhaustive Tab review on the planet; probably needs to be balanced by an equally-exhaustive drill-down from someone who hates the product.
[Disclosure: I didn’t pay for this. Samsung sent us a boxload, which was probably a smart move on their part, because we get in front of a lot of people and it’s a totally-great demo device.]
Conclusion · This is an excellent product. It’s fast, beautiful, useful, responsive, and convenient. If Samsung picks the right price point and channels, they’ll sell a ton.
It has one really irritating design flaw: the four standard Android “buttons” are touch-sensitive areas on glass which, in dim light, you can’t see unless they’re back-lit, which too often they’re not. A month in, my fingers know where they are, but it shouldn’t take multiple days to learn to use basic controls when there are only four of them.
A secondary flaw is intrinsic: It’s kind of big, compared to a phone. Deal with it — or not — as you choose.
Compatible · To make one thing perfectly clear: This is a compatible device; Android Market is there and you can download apps and they run.
Did You Say “Pocket”? · Yes, but. I typically wear a vest; I find them stylish and, with a plethora of pockets, geek-practical. Two of my three everyday vests have a pocket big enough for the Tab. Plus, I suspect that it will be perfectly happy in the confines of a large majority of women’s purses. But for your typical jeans-and-T-shirt geek, either gender, this is not a pocketable device.
I’m leading with size because, obviously, it matters. “Fits in a pocket” is a hugely important feature, and the trade-off between that and screen real-estate is a complex function that clearly doesn’t have just one solution. I have some inklings about where the sweet spots might be, but it’s such early days yet that I’m not going out on that limb. I will, however, suggest you read Charles Arthur’s excellent In search of tablet computers’ sweet spot: screen size and battery life, also my own Ten Theses on Tablets, which consider a cluster of related issues at length.
It’s a Phone, Too · And a good one. There’s a microphone and speaker, but not the kind you hold up to your ear. If you don’t mind people in the room hearing both halves of the conversation, it works just fine. Don’t currently have a Bluetooth headset, but it’s just fine with the cheapo wired one that came with my Nexus One.
Video Player · I’ll tell you one thing the Tab is, for sure: A lean, mean, YouTube machine. My children, eleven and four, embedded with it in a sofa, howling in laughter at Cat Bloopers, Gymnastics Bloopers, Cooking Bloopers, and something else that they hastily switched off when I came over to look.
After watching them, I was provoked to comedy on Twitter: “I guess the online equivalent of a couch potato would be a You-tuber.” This somehow failed to find an adoring audience. Philistines.
Hear The Music · The sound coming out of this thing is remarkably balanced. That struck me when I made a phone call, then with the kids’ blooper soundtracks too. So I headed over to YouTube myself for some high-quality musical entertainment from Deep Purple and Blondie, and hey, it’s really better than it has a right to be. Gotta watch how you hold it, though, it’s easy to cover up the speakers.
Fast? · The consensus seems to be that this is essentially a Galaxy S only bigger, so I’d expect it to be faster than my Nexus One, which is a year older. And it feels snappy all right, but not obviously faster. Clearly, more computation is happening when you swipe a 1024x600 screen sideways, as opposed to 800x480, so maybe it washes out there.
Someone will have to do a side-by-side with an iPad, which everyone agrees sets a high standard for speed in the places that matter.
Control Freak · The four Android standards (Search, Back, Home, Menu) are soft-touch built-ins in the glass front. By default, they’re not lit up until you press one of them. This seems massively stupid in theory, and yep, it’s massively stupid in practice. I imagine that in a few days my hindbrain will have learned where they are and I won’t be irritated all the time.
Once you’ve actually found the buttons, the touch, with superb haptic feedback, is excellent.
There’s no trackball. Most people thought the Nexus One trackball was dorky, but I liked it and used it. Having said that, there’s so much more screen real estate that the kind of text-selection and so on I used the trackball for seems to be finger-accessible. I totally don’t miss the stupid pulsating light behind the trackball, which for any reasonably-busy person will be continuously on and thus not provide any useful information.
The Screen · It’s TFT not AMOLED, which I think most people will welcome. Me, I liked those groovy oversaturated colors so I’m unhappy. If you put it and the Nexus One side by side, both with the screen brightness up, the Tab looks dim by comparison. Having said that, I think it reproduces my own photos more accurately. Truth is beauty, right?
[Update, after a month’s use]: Yep, truth is beauty. Now that I’ve gotten used to looking at my pix on the Tab, it’s not just that the Nexus One looks overexcited, it’s that my everyday MacBook looks kind of dingy and inaccurate.
1024x600, well, that’s big. It changes the experience qualitatively, but in a way that’s going to take some time to internalize and reason about. A trivial example: I can pull up the TV schedule on tvlistings.zap2it.com, so much better than the stupid listing the cable box gives me. Already bookmarked.
And another; the onscreen keyboard, especially in portrait mode, is so much easier to use that, 24 hours or so in, I’m already faster than on my long-practiced Nexus One. This is true in both traditional and Swype modes. The size here is a big win; the Tab is dead easy to hold in one hand and tap away on with the other.
Networks and Data · The specs, on Samsung’s awful Flash-only Tab site so I can’t link to them, say “HSUPA 5.76/HSDPA 7.2Mbps 900/1900/2100 EDGE/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900” and [blush] I don’t really understand that stuff. I thought CDMA and GSM were different universes, but here in Vancouver, this thing locked onto Telus, which is a CDMA network, and said it was doing HSDPA, and holy crap was that ever fast. This is with my Google-supplied US T-Mobile SIM in.
Then I started getting popups along the lines of “You realize that you just sucked in 15MB and you’re probably paying $15 per on data roaming.” Now, Google has a lot of money, but even God can’t afford data roaming. So, I stuck my Rogers SIM in, which in the US can do 3G on AT&T. It works, but only at Edge/GPRS speeds. Anyhow, I have the Google SIM back in but data turned off, am relying on WiFi.
The real lesson is: I don’t understand this stuff.
Battery Life · Here’s what I want from a mobile-device battery: Confidence that I can absolutely, positively, get through a single day, start to end, without worrying much about it.
Rather than opine, I’ll offer raw random data.
I got the machine on Friday with about one-third power, in the afternoon. At bedtime there was still plenty there, so I plugged it in overnight.
It was at 100% charge on Saturday morning. I used it sporadically over the course of the weekend, reading the news doing some Twitter, checking the TV schedule, email here and there, installing some apps and seeing how they ran. Oh, and I listened to a couple hours music; speakers not headphone. No cellular data, just WiFi.
On Monday it pretty well just sat on the desk being ignored, picking up gmails and tweets, while I did my actual job using my actual computer.
Just now, on Monday evening when I plugged it in to do some debugging, it was claiming 19% remaining charge.
It can get through a day for me; even game-playing doesn’t seem to wear it down that much. What does wear it down is reading e-books; an hour or two of having a continuous all-white background I suppose.
UI Polish · The review and gadgetry sites tend to pour scorn on the user-interface extras that the Android device makers like to “enhance” their products with. I suspect that’s not going to happen here. I’m not the only person here in the Android World HQ building going “Hey, look at that: Cool!” and it’s a pretty damn fussy audience.
You can drag things on and off of the mini-launcher at the bottom of each screen.
There’s a way-cool text-selection control.
The browser has a rotation animation.
The scrolling of the app-tray screens is sideways (who cares) and circular; get to the end and you’re back to the start.
The notifications pulldown, which has tons of room, has used some of it for WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Silencer, and Rotation-lock toggles, and a brightness slider.
This open-source thing, you know, it might catch on.
As a Camera · It’s a pretty good Internet/phone thingie. Seriously, in the era in which interesting high-end cameras are shrinking, this is about five times as large as camera should be. Try to take a picture of someone and they’re going to get this alarmed look wondering why a crazy person is waving a big black/white slab at them.
The pictures it takes are OK, I guess, for a phone. Here is my first-ever shot, and below is somewhere in Alaska, taken from the plane to Tokyo.
The Browser · First, there’s the mobile-or-not issue. Any website that has a mobile version will notice the string “Android” somewhere in the Tab’s User-Agent string and that’s what you’ll see. This is usually a good thing, because most mobile web sites omit advertising, Flash, and many other distractions.
On the other hand, if you’re surfing Bolivian Dwarf Porn and discover that the mobile version of the site doesn’t include the tentacle-porn variants, it can be a real issue. Just for example.
There are a few other little issues, but they all have the same workaround. It’s like this: On my Nexus One, when I hit a web-site and it’s too small to read, I double-tap the part I want to read, and the Android browser does a really good job of figuring out which part to fill the screen with, and how much to balloon the text to make it nicely readable.
The Tab version isn’t quite as good at this; there are occasional little irritants, such as margins-too-wide or too-narrow, text-too-small, and so on. I assume they’ll patch these up, but in the meantime, just turn the Tab sideways into landscape mode and everything suddenly works fine. Maybe the text is occasionally a little on the big side, but there’s enough screen real-estate that the cost is bearable.
Also, you’re removing one level of tension, that between the years of Web-design experience based on the assumption that the window is landscape-shaped, and the fact that most mobile-device screens aren’t.
Apps & Games · In general, it’s amazingly good. Most apps work fine, and pretty well all of them look better on the bigger screen. There are still some here and there that drop into shoeboxed compatibility mode, but fewer every day.
There are also a few, notably Gmail, that could make better use of the big screen by dividing it into multiple panes like every other email client on the planet. I’m actually not in touch with whoever it is at Google builds mobile-Gmail, but I’m sure they’re on it.
It’s bittersweet, because while I still find my Nexus One a perfectly OK everyday business tool — email, blog wrangling, Twitter, and so on — the time with the Tab has made it feel really inadequate as a gaming platform.
In that iPad moment that tablets became a reality, I was on the record that these things were going to be great game platforms and yep, there’s no doubt about it.
Music · I really don’t like the music player that Samsung ships; I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m weird or because the player’s lousy. I’ve been using doubleTwist and it makes me happy.