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.

Some examples:

  • 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.

Mountains and glaciers in Alaska, taken with the Galaxy Tab

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.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Hub (Sep 11 2010, at 22:37)

Eh ! The TV Listing bookmark is on my iPad homescreen... and has been since forever, only competing with the NHL scores on outside of golf season.

:-)

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From: Robert Cooper (Sep 11 2010, at 22:51)

Still waiting to hear final pricing on unsubsidized models, but I might pick one up if the price is right. Honestly for my Android Tablet needs, I am still holding out for the Notion Ink.

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From: Ted Han (Sep 11 2010, at 23:08)

Incidentally Tim, i am absolutely convinced that one of the reasons that the Nexus One failed as a social/business proposition is the exact problem you've displayed.

Nobody understand wireless network technology, so no one can make an informed choice. This plays into the networks' hands, and they can use the information asymmetry to keep consumers confused. Instead they fight battles over who's got apps for what, rather than how much you're being bled dry for your service.

I hope someone tries and succeeds with an experiment like the Nexus One. I bought mine and i've been quite happy with it. But Google failed to break the wireless carriers hold on users, and that i fear will make us all weaker in the future.

tl;dr: The wireless carriers beat google, and the Nexus One experiment failed because nobody understands Mobile phone network technology, since it's needlessly confusing.

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From: Stephen Shankland (Sep 12 2010, at 00:26)

In my testing of the Galaxy Tab (see http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-20015576-264.html) I noticed one curiosity that I think separates it from other Android devices, at least ones I've used: hold down the home button, and up pops a link to a task manager along with the usual list of recently used apps. You can then open the task manager to shut down open apps. How does this jibe with Reto Meier's advice that Android apps shouldn't have a quit command?

http://blog.radioactiveyak.com/2010/05/when-to-include-exit-button-in-android.html

(Personally, with Twitter apps, I want a quit command, so they'll stop burning through my API limits and, at times, just shut up with the notifications already. And maybe I just need more training than eight months of Android use, but I still haven't internalized the idea of "back means exit." In fact, I still don't know when back will take me up to some sort of higher-level or previous mode in an app and when it will exit the app and put me where I used to be. I find the back button behavior pretty squishy all around. Maybe I need to just pay more attention.)

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From: Nico (Sep 12 2010, at 01:01)

So, how about ipad vs tab?

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From: Dave Pawson (Sep 12 2010, at 01:02)

"I typically wear a vest;"

Translation, for this side of the Atlantic, a waistcoat.

DaveP

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From: Andrei (Sep 12 2010, at 01:11)

@ Ted Han (http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/201x/2010/09/10/Galaxy-Tab-in-my-Pocket#c1284271730.632951): Is it not more of the matter of how cell network tariff plans are working in US though? Had Google been selling NexusOne in many of European countries (my homeland included), there would not be a big of an issue with this whole network nonsense.

It certainly is great that an new phone model from either Samsung, or Apple, or HTC can be had for mere $200 or less, but you loose flexibility and do need to be concerned with whether a phone you picked is going to work on your network of choice…

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From: Chris Puttick (Sep 12 2010, at 01:40)

Well, the product sounds ok, but the naming must have been lost in translation to British English, where reference to "my tab" is more likely to bring responses along the line of "I didn't know you smoked" than helpful tips on where you might have left your latest gadget.

Tabs do of course fit quite well into pockets, but it's probably better to keep them in a packet rather than individually.

But not in a vest pocket. A vest with pockets? Seems odd. Might be useful at the gymnasium I suppose, although you shouldn't really be smoking at the gym, but the rest of the time how would you reach the pockets through your shirt?

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From: Morten Liebach (Sep 12 2010, at 01:45)

I'd like to hear your opinoin on the Tab as an ebook reader. Both ePub and PDF files.

To me it seems the Tab, iPad and other similar devices would be really useful for long form reading more than anything else. After I got my first smart phone in the shape of an iPhone 4 three weeks ago (had a Nokia N82 before) I've found Instapaper to be a killer app for me, but I really could use some more screen real estate.

/Morten

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From: Geoffrey Wiseman (Sep 12 2010, at 03:48)

Telus and Bell were CDMA-only 'til Nov 2009 when they opened up their jointly-developed HSPA NETWORK, which I gather is closer to GSM than CDMA. I'm no expert, though.

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From: Janne (Sep 12 2010, at 06:01)

A search button is part of the standard? My X10 doesn't have one - hard or soft - that I am aware of.

Anyway, my big problem with tablets is defining a workable use-case for myself. The killer activity for me would likely be bringing and reading research papers, which mostly is in PDF format. The 4" screen of the X10 is fine for books, but is a bit too cramped to read a double-column paper.

But for a table to work for that task, it needs to have a screen good enough to actually view and read a PDF in reasonable comfort; be light enough that I can hold it in one hand for extended periods; have software available that lets me search a library of PDF's and ideally write notes and sync with my desktop library (in Zotero format); and be small and light enough that I couldn't just bring my notebook instead (that means "coat-pocketable" or thereabouts).

So far I have seen nothing that comes close. The iPad fails pretty much every point above - and that's one of the best devices out there. The Tab does seem to have the size and weight, and the screen might be good enough - though it seems to have that currently popular glossy finish that really makes it hard to use. I have no idea about bibliography software for Android, though, or if it's possible to run Zotero on the upcoming Mozilla for Android.

And I'm not getting a second mobile account so the unsubsidized price would make or break this device for me.

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From: kjaeger (Sep 12 2010, at 09:24)

God can't afford roaming, Gates can't afford to buy one £680.00!!!!

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From: Jarek Piórkowski (Sep 12 2010, at 09:47)

Seconding Geoffrey - Bell and Telus currently operate both CDMA and "GSM"* networks. Apparently roaming fees from foreign visitors (by and large GSM, of course) during the Olympics played a part in the decision to set it up, but it is also thanks to this that they can offer iphones and other GSM phones today.

Incidentally, with those frequencies this device won't work on T-Mobile in the U.S., or Wind here.

* the "GSM" network is 3G-only (HSPA without EDGE or actual GSM) and technically speaking HSPA isn't a GSM subset - but it *is* the "3G" technology used by vast majority if not all GSM carriers.

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From: steve fettig (Sep 12 2010, at 11:07)

HSDPA/HSUPA/HSPA/UMTS are 3G GSM technologies not CDMA - EVDO is CDMA 3G (you were right, they *are* different universes). Telus and Bell brought the HSPA tech on top of CDMA to handle the transition to data. It is rare for that type of overlap to be implemented. None of the CDMA carriers in the US do it (a lot of people don't realize there is more here than Sprint and Verizon operating CDMA networks - there are other regional carriers). 3G GSM can handle voice, which is why I suspect the thing worked for voice. SO, for those reading this from the US, you will be stuck with true GSM carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile and the handful of other regionals. AND, unless Samsung comes out with a version that supports 850MHz 3G, you won't have access to the 3G side of the network in the US. (To make it even more complicated, T-Mo US is running 3G at 1700MHz.) ... This is ridiculous. I can't wait until the convergence to LTE...

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From: Fabian Ritzmann (Sep 12 2010, at 15:29)

HSUPA and HSDPA like most UMTS technologies are W-CDMA and are technically not related to GSM, which is TDMA. Both CDMA and GSM providers are offering HSPA and some CDMA providers are transitioning from CDMA-EVDO. It is widely expected that the HSPA technologies will soon be superseded by LTE.

Looking at the comments, the confusion seems insurmountable and Apple probably is pursuing the one business model that people can understand.

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From: Deepak (Sep 12 2010, at 19:24)

> 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.

I think you should give it a second chance. Different notifications can generate light pulses in different colours - sms in green, tweets in pink, astrid todo alerts in yellow, etc. This provides a useful filter - I can take one look at the light & figure out whether I want to attend to the alert now or not.

I guess the reason you didn't warm up to the trackball is that the Nexus shipped with broken trackball drivers which didn't support different colours. The Froyo update fixed that bug. And that the stock SMS & Gmail apps don't use different colours.

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From: Tkil (Sep 12 2010, at 20:29)

'“I guess the online equivalent of a couch potato would be a You-tuber.”'

Groan. Nicely played.

(And your little one is 4 already? Wow. Where does the time go?)

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From: Ed Davies (Sep 13 2010, at 11:57)

Is there any SVG support?

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From: Daniele Gobbetti (Sep 13 2010, at 12:11)

I wonder how the tab performs with augmented reality. It would be wonderful if you could try mixare (which is a free and open source augmented reality engine) on the device and tell us how it works! It's in the market, all pointers are here: http://www.mixare.org/download/

Thanks in advance!

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From: James Li (Sep 13 2010, at 17:43)

Hi Tim, did you try how Flash performs on this pad?

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From: Henri Sivonen (Sep 14 2010, at 10:40)

Will it run non-Market apps? (I'm thinking of Firefox develoment builds.)

Or is the whole Market-only lock a North American carrier thing? Are carrier-unlocked Android devices sold in Europe always Market-unlocked, too?

Like an earlier commenter, I'm also interest in how it works as a PDF or epub reader.

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From: Tim Bray (Sep 14 2010, at 15:01)

Henri - yes, no prob, I've side-loaded apps from email and via adb.

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From: Len Lynch (Sep 14 2010, at 20:06)

Since you're asking, here's my wishlist for feedback and impressions in order of importance:

- Gmail hosted comunications (it is becoming our universal inbox, isn't it?)

especially GChat with video and GoogleVoice in Gmail

- Communicator ringer volume sufficient when device is backpacked ?

- Headset hosted communications interrupting media being played

- Durability expectations

How many times can I drop it from the couch? Getting in and out of the car?

- Book reader, especially for technical materials

I am planning to move off paper books for all technical, but these can be the most challenging works for readers

Kindle and Audible app performance

Comparison/contrast with iPad here would be of high value

- Battery life and charging behavior

- Integration with GoogleTV (a remote and a keyboard app?)

- Fit and finish of the hardware

- 3rd party insurance for the device to cover wear and tear?

- Video Media consumption device review (of course YouTube works...)

Flash based sites: Hulu and the rest

Silverlight based sites: Netflix and the Olympics

What are the biggest challenges?

Thanks for asking!

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From: Mike (Oct 13 2010, at 13:58)

Really? Fast? Hrm.

I had the opportunity to play with a Tab at the FITC Mobile conference in Toronto recently ... and while it seemed like a nice enough device overall, I was disappointed with how it seems to "stutter" while browsing the web.

Maybe it was just the device I was using, but there was noticeable lag while scrolling around inside a web page, opening a new page, etc. Could be that it was in a weird state due to all the mobile developers tinkering with it.

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From: Mister Snitch (Oct 13 2010, at 14:20)

It's rare these days to find an Android review that's not Droid-boy gushing or reflexively Apple-bashing. Yours is neither - you appear to be talking about the actual product (instead of 'what the product represents' or 'the product without the flaws I've chosen to ignore'). Good job.

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From: Phaze0085 (Oct 13 2010, at 23:16)

Hey man.

I was hoping you could tell me something. On which cellular provider did you use the Tab on? I have ATT and I want that tab as a replacement for my phone and other media devices. So if you have an unlocked UK version could you let me know who you used it on?

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From: Tony Fisk (Oct 16 2010, at 16:51)

I hate to be a Cassandra about a product that's clearly lots of fun to use, but sharing a touch tab is a potential health risk.

The warning comes from the director of infectious diseases and microbiology at the Australian National University, so it's worth bearing in mind.

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From: d.w. (Oct 18 2010, at 08:03)

Tony -- we touch hundreds of things per day between hand washings. An alarmist story about touch screens probably generates a lot of hits, but we’ve evolved immune systems for a reason. There are some practical things you can do during flu season: wash your hands when practical, avoid touching eyes/mouth/nose with your hands, increase consumption of hot liquids, etc., but the proliferation of hand sanitizers and overuse of anti-bacterial products probably does more harm than good.

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author · Dad · software · colophon · rights

September 10, 2010
· Technology (77 fragments)
· · Android (56 more)
· · Mobile (84 more)

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