On April 11th, Samsung released a wifi only version of the 7” Galaxy Tab. It wasn’t covered very well in the news so it took me a while to find out. For things like that, Samsung, you need to make a little bit bigger announcement. Seriously. Anyway, I like to write initial reviews for products I get. So here we go. This review became so long that I split it into two parts! This first one will cover the Hardware and second section will come later focused on the Software.
The Galaxy Tab with Wifi (GTW). It has that same 7” screen that the 3G models do. It has the same look and feel without carrier branding. It has the same kind of glossy plastic body. It’s the same. Except for Wifi. That’s it. You’ll want to checkout the spec-sheet here.
First, let’s start out with the body of the GTW. It’s heavy. It’s allegedly 13.8 ounces. Imagine a full can of soda and then a little more. Of course, it’s different than that because it’s spread out of 7.5 inches. So it’s probably a little lighter in apparent weight than a can of soda. Compared to the Kindle, it is much heavier but then, the Kindle does not have a glass screen and the GTW is much thicker. The depth is listed on the spec-sheet so there’s no reason to repeat that here. Without looking it up, I’m going to venture that it is thicker by a few millimeters than the iPad 2. It could by thiner than the first iPad. Since the iPad 2 is huge with it’s printer paper size screen, the weight will be clearly be more. The texture is nice. The back is plastic but it’s glossy smooth so it’s like glass anyway. The rims are almost a smooth-matte but not quite glossy and not quite matte. That’s probably for the best. Unfortunately, the front-panel screen part and the rims aren’t seamless so it could accumulate dust so a case is probably a good idea.
The screen is expansive compared to the LG Optimus V I have. Yes, it is glossy. It’s not a bad thing. I’ve used it in day light for a morning and it was tricky without standing in a shadow or facing towards the sun and using its own shadow. One of my obsessions with the iPhone stems from the way Apple made the screen and the bezel. The iPhone’s screen is perceptually at the bezel’s height. In other words, there does not appear to be a gap between the screen and the bezel. From my experience, there is no difference major difference between the screen and the bezel on the Galaxy Tab. On the other hand, when the screen is off on the GTW, it appears to be a dark-gray-blue color, maybe, and the bezel is black. You can always tell there is a screen. I can’t remember what the iPhone and iPad look like their off states, but I doubt they’ll do much better to meet my ideal: black bezel and black off-state screen. It’s the perfect black monolith. With that said, the screen is bright. Although this is a little software-y, the screen has this ability to auto-adjust the brightness based on the content you are viewing and probably based on the ambient light sensor. This is designed to save battery life but it could also be used to set different light settings – in the dark, brighter, in the light, dimmer. Something like that but in practice I don’t know the pattern.
Moving along from the screen to other features. The speakers on the bottom of the Galaxy Tab are really great. I don’t know what speakers, if at all, the original iPad had. I don’t know further what speakers the iPad 2 has. These speakers are compared to what I can get with my Google laptop and that’s from 2007 and really cheap. The two speakers are located on either side the charging port. You know, you’re getting tablet-quality sound and it’s nothing to write home about. The audio-jack is actually yet again on the top but in this case I think it makes sense. I wouldn’t put the tab upside-down in my bag, I would put it normally. On phones, you should put your phone in your pocket upside down so when you withdraw it, it comes out right-side-up.
From there, there are the buttons. There aren’t enough. Why is there no orientation lock and no mute button? Well, you get a volume rocker and it works well enough, just hold it a while and it’ll go all the way up or down. The power button isn’t on top like my phone’s power button is so it’s a little confusing, it’s on the right side instead.The left side is devoid of any buttons except the not-quite-a-button memory card slot. Oh, it can hold up to an extra 32gb microSD card in addition to that huge 16gb internal memory. What else? The charging port. Didn’t Apple sue Samsung for some scary intellectual property theft? Well, clearly, Samsung is using some very Apple-like power connector? Does micro-usb now provide enough power? Does regular USB not provide enough power? Or was it to capitalize on the massive number of pre-made and already well-established Apple dock products? I think so.
More on buttons. Did I mention there are not enough? The normal interaction buttons like, options, home and back are not physical but instead that pseudo-button. They could be haptic-style buttons but I didn’t keep haptic-feedback on since I hate vibrations. Anyway, that is annoying because you cannot easily tell what to push, you have to guess and remember or you have to just see buttons before you can press them. What if it’s dark? And then the problem of having to turn the screen back on with only the power button instead of using any front button. I guess if it’s in your pocket, this could be great because your jeans won’t mangle your buttons but then, why are you putting a 7” tablet in your pocket? You should just hold it.
Now, my father’s favorite. Those cameras. We have matching LG Optimus V phones. We love them. Their camera is decent at 3.2MP. The Galaxy Tab has two cameras though. The back is a 3MP which is a tad lower than our comparison phone but the difference is so tiny. The front facing camera is a weak 1.3MP but compared to .739MP of the iPad 2 and the iPod touch 4G, it’s a certain upgrade. So. Cutting to the chase: the cameras are great. I’m really taking my father’s opinion here. He loves the interface for taking the pictures. He likes how crisp pictures come out on the device itself. On our phones, with their relatively low resolution display, they aren’t as nice as they would appear on a computer screen. I’m not sure what what resolution those pictures are taken as. It probably doesn’t matter since they look great on Facebook and that’s where they all end up anyway for normal people. Video taken with the Galaxy Tab is decent too at 720p and a decent framerate, but again, I don’t know nor care about the specific details.
Now, finally, let’s talk about Wifi. My comparison stems from my phone and my previous iPod touch 4G. It was my impression at the time that the iPod had a better antenna than the phone because pages would load faster on the iPod than on the phone. Maybe that was case but then a study came out stating Android was faster at display webpages. I smell definition obscuring there (rendering speed is faster, not the actual download speed). With the Galaxy Tab, because of its size, it has a huge antenna. With that still-drafty wireless-n standard card, it reaches farther than my other devices. For instance, Windows reports 2-bar of wifi on an wireless-n based laptop (dv6), while the tab reports 2-bars of wifi. The phone reports 1-bar. The wireless-n dual band modem is situated at the other end of the house, where the house is between me and it along with a garage and maybe four walls. So that’s pretty good, 40 feet away with obstacles in the way.
And that concludes my hardware review. The Galaxy Tab is impressive. For the modest price of $350 to boot. I’ll release my software review, that will in fact end up being much shorter, soon.