|Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus|
Monday, 28 May 2012 14:00
The seven-inch tablet market is an interesting space. They are the Marmite of the tablet world – you either love them or you hate them.
Too small to be full tablets of the iPad variety, too big to be phones, say detractors. Proponents point to the convenience of a device you can hold comfortably in one hand and slip into a pocket, without compromising on capability.
Apple, so far, has eschewed the smaller tablet market entirely. BlackBerry, conversely, embraced it with only the seven-inch format PlayBook and nothing larger. Samsung, though, has dominated it, with several models of tablets in the smaller size, and large-format phones establishing a further niche in between.
The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is the upgraded version of the original Galaxy Tab. Although it hasn't had a facelift and the screen is the same, most of the internals have had a work-over. The original model didn't impress me – it was underpowered and ran a version of Android more suited to a phone than a tablet. With impressive Android tablets like the Asus Transformer range in play, the Tab had to up its game to win me over.
Upgraded CPU, memory, OS
The key criticisms of the earlier model were that it was underpowered, and the OS (Android 2.2) wasn't really tuned to the device. Scratch those complaints: the Tab Plus has a 1.2GHz dual-core processor (up from the previous 1GHz single-core model), 1GB RAM (up from 512MB), and Android 3.2. The difference is marked – the interface is snappier, apps run and switch better, and multimedia playback runs without a hitch, unless you really push it with fast-moving, compressed high-definition content.
The upgraded Tab runs Android 3.2 (Honeycomb), the version designed for tablets, so the device knows it's a tablet rather than an overinflated phone running 2.2. No word yet on when (or if at all) the device will be upgraded to version 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which would be a nice addition, particularly with its numerous improvements like the battery-life enhancements and native bandwidth usage monitor, which is very handy when you're using cellular data! Still, 3.2 is a big improvement over 2.2, and it shows.
The first thing you notice on any tablet is the screen, and the Galaxy Tab is no exception. With a screen resolution of 1024x600, it's a slightly lower resolution than 10-inch Android tablets, which usually run at 1280x800, but because the screen is quite a bit smaller, the pixel density is higher. The result is a screen that offers lovely, sharp images and high-definition video playback.
The screen itself is a Samsung PLS (plane to line switching) panel, which offers better brightness, contrast, efficiency and viewing angle over other LCD technologies. To be honest, the quality of screens available in most good tables these days is high enough that the specifics don't really matter all that much. Like most LCD screens, it does struggle in bright sunlight.
The Galaxy Tab has a great screen. Is it marginally better or worse than others in the market? I can't tell – they all look about the same to me, so I don't care. It's as good as you're likely to want it to be. High-definition video on a screen this size is lovely. Games are great (I have a secret Angry Birds habit).
It's highly likely Samsung will produce a model with a screen capable of native 1080p video in its next generation – Apple kicked the resolution battle into high gear with the third-generation iPad (2048x1536), and Asus has followed suit with the announcement of the Transformer Infinity (1920x1200), so the bar is rising, but that sort of resolution is really overkill most of the time. I'd rather Samsung keeps the specs realistic and the prices down.
Interface and software
Android phones and tablets tend to blur together after a while – they're all using similar components and the OS is consistent, so manufacturers add their own tweaks to the interface. They'll tell you it's to add value, but mostly it's to make it sticky – you're more likely to stick with a device with a familiar interface when it's time to upgrade. Nokia's feature phone history is a case study of that in action.
Samsung's take on this is an interface layer called TouchWiz, as well as a number of bundled apps. TouchWiz is an inoffensive, light-touch modification to the stock Android experience, and there's really nothing to complain about, and nothing particularly exceptional to write home about either, which I actually chalk up as a positive, too – it's relatively free from gimmicks, which could be exciting at first, but annoying later.
If you're used to a recent Samsung phone, like the Galaxy SII or its brethren, you'll feel right at home. It's a very efficient, responsive, simple interface. If you want something more advanced, you can always try out an alternative launcher – Android allows you to swap between interfaces very easily.
Samsung's apps are pretty good, too. Social Hub, for example, integrates anything that is likely to want to communicate with you – social networks, e-mail, SMS, and so on. You can use the Samsung apps or replace them entirely with other apps – Android's openness resists vendor stickiness – but out-of-the-box, Samsung's apps mostly work well and are a good way for new users to get up to speed on their tablets without fuss.
Kies, the desktop app, is another Marmite experience. Some people despise it, others use it without complaint. It's basically Samsung's take on iTunes as far as managing devices go, and it's...ok. You probably won't need it much except for transferring media – monitoring folders for content and syncing them to the tablet is nice and easy, but then again, you could just swap out microSD cards. And since the tablet is quite capable of checking for system updates and applying them, you don't even need the desktop software for that. I don't dislike Kies, but I don't use it either.
Of course, being Android, there's a flourishing app store. Any comparisons between the Apple app store and the Google Play store are now mostly moot – apps are either available on both platforms or readily replaced by equivalents. There is a lingering dominance of phone apps versus tablet apps, though – not all apps are tablet-friendly, and the store will let you know if an app is unsuited for a particular device.
The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus includes all the usual connectivity: WiFi (up to 802.11n, which is good), Bluetooth, and HSPA+ for fast mobile data. Unfortunately, there's no USB port on the device to connect USB storage or peripherals like keyboards – Samsung sells a separate connector kit for that.
Power is an area where tablets tend to come in for criticism, since they universally sport unique manufacturer power plugs rather than the now-standard micro USB plugs on phones. The Galaxy Tab is no exception, requiring Samsung's proprietary connector on the cable to plug into the charger or a PC USB port. Whatever logic the manufacturers claim to explain these connectors, they're a pain. Just because every manufacturer does it, doesn't make it less of a pain.
Like many tablets, the Galaxy Tab will charge from a PC's USB port, but only if the port is powered (not all are) and only if the tablet is fully powered down. It takes a long time, though, so you'd be better off using the wall charger if at all possible.
The Tab has a 4000mAh Li-on battery, which is good for seven to 10 hours' of heavy use – you'll get a full day's use out of it between charges.
Storage and camera
Models ship with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, and a microSD slot provides for another 64GB. The lack of USB connectivity does bother me – it's a facility I've grown to love on the Asus Transformer I use as my main tablet, mainly for connecting removable drives. But even there the facility is in the keyboard dock, not on the tablet itself.
One thing you likely won't need storage for is pictures. The Tab's camera is pretty weeny for a modern device, just 3MP for the rear-facing camera (there's a 2MP front cam for video chats), and while it takes decent pics, you probably have a better and more convenient camera on your phone.
The seven-inch tablet format is ideal for portable, handheld computing, and the Galaxy Tab is a very good product, and has specifically addressed a number of shortcomings in the previous model. There are a couple of areas where I'd still like to see some improvement, but overall, the product is an excellent package and the price is pretty good, too. At an estimated R5 349, it's only a small increase from the R4 999 of the previous model, and well positioned against other tablets (of both sizes).
Pros: Much improved hardware over previous model; Samsung's TouchWiz interface is snappy and clean without too much bling; the tight Android integration with Google services – hardly unique to Samsung, but always a huge plus for Android devices.
Cons: SA doesn't get Samsung's region-specific Music Hub and Media Hub; no Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) yet; proprietary connector, no USB or HDMI out.
Price: R5 349
Processor: 1.2GHz dual-core
Display: Seven-inch PLS LCD
OS: Android 3.2 (Honeycomb)
Connectivity: 801.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, HSPA+ cellular, Bluetooth
Camera: 3MP (rear), 2MP (front)
Battery: 4 000mAh Li-on
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