Samsung has released its new tablet, the Galaxy Tab, in the U.K, so we asked our friends at Which?, the UK's independent testing magazine, to buy us one at retail. Here's what I learned when I took the British version for a spin. (When accessing the Web, I used a Wi-Fi connection, though the U.S. versions will have 3G capability and be offered through several U.S. carriers.)
Inevitably, the Galaxy Tab, is being compared to the Apple iPad. Aside from using Google's Android operating system, the Tab's most obvious difference is its size. The Galaxy Tab's display measures 7-inches diagonally, compared with 9.7 inches for the iPad, as shown in our photo, right. (In area, the Galaxy Tab's display is roughly one half the size of the iPad's.)
Size matters. The smaller screen size works both for and against the Galaxy Tab. On the plus side, you can hold it comfortably in one hand, and for a longer time. I did some e-book reading on both devices and found it easier to hold the Galaxy Tab for more than a minute or two than the iPad, which tired my hands and arms after a prolonged period. That's because the Galaxy Tab weighs just 13 ounces, compared with 21 for the iPad. That said, the Galaxy Tab still felt hefty when reading, compared with the 8-ounce Amazon Kindle e-book reader.
On the down side, I'm not sure I'd be satisfied watching a TV show or movie on the Galaxy Tab's smaller screen. I also prefer viewing Web pages on the iPad's larger screen.
As for taking photos with the Galaxy Tab's built-in 3 megapixel rear-facing camera, I found that a 7-inch tablet is a tad large to hold up when trying to compose a shot. There's also a front-facing webcam for videoconferencing, though I haven't used it yet for anything other than viewing my own face.
Video playback. The YouTube and TED Talk videos I watched on the Galaxy Tab played back quite smoothly, and I didn't notice any dropped frames. However, some videos from other sites, including CNN and the Weather Channel, exhibited some pixelation when played back full screen. Also, depending on which site was showing the videos, the method for viewing them required multiple steps, either saving the video to the device or leaving the browser to watch using the included video app.
Slow e-book reader. I found the e-book reader's response slow. There were delays when I turned pages, and even worse delays when I changed the display's orientation from portrait to landscape. In landscape, the built-in book reader app displayed two facing pages.
Built-in filing system. One aspect of the iPad that's often slammed is its lack of a filing and folder system for storing files. Samsung chose to go the opposite route and provide one app for storing documents you create. Videos and other files are stored in a bundled ThinkOffice app. The file app is easy to get to from the Applications page, and it's easy and intuitive to use.
Software glitches. A Google product director recently warned that some apps may not work properly on tablets running Android 2.2 (Froyo), the operating system that the Galaxy Tab uses. Perhaps he was right. I noticed that a few apps seemed to be geared more toward phones than tablets. The browser, for example, took me automatically to mobile versions of the Facebook and the New York Times websites, when I would have preferred the standard versions.
I experienced a few other annoyances running the software. Neither Hulu nor Hulu Plus were available, a shame since the Galaxy Tab will run Adobe Flash videos and the iPad won't. And I was unable to log into my Snapfish account and view a slideshow of my photos, another Flash-based function that's unavailable on the iPad.
The TEDTalks app seemed to lack the ability to save videos for offline viewing, which is found on the iPad version of that app. That's probably an indication that many apps may be updated for iPad and iPhone before they are updated for Android devices. If you buy a Galaxy Tab, don't be surprised if some apps don't have quite the same functionality as their iPad/iPhone siblings.
Finally, I noticed often that the Galaxy Tab felt slower than an iPad when I pinched to zoom in and out of Web pages.
Bottom line. I liked using the Galaxy Tab. I think it will give the iPad a run for its money. Pricing from wireless carriers is similar to the pricing of the iPad, even though the Galaxy Tab is considerably smaller. If you're shopping for a tablet, note that the iPad is due for a major operating system upgrade soon, which will provide multitasking, printing, and other new capabilities.
We're currently testing battery life and display quality, and will be back soon with more test results. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Tab goes on sale in the U.S. from T-Mobile on November 10, Verizon on November 11, and Sprint on November 14.