Samsung Galaxy Tab: review, with video
If you're looking for a reason not to buy an iPad, Samsung's Galaxy Tab can do the job. But if you just want a good, general-purpose tablet computer, you might as well join the line at the nearest Apple Store.
The Galaxy Tab, introduced in September and shipped earlier this month by the four nationwide wireless carriers, looks like a paperback to the iPad's hardcover, with its seven-inch, 600-by-1024-pixel screen and 13-ounce weight. Unfortunately, it's not priced like one.
Where Apple sells the 3G version of the iPad for $629 with no wireless-data contract required, the Tab costs $599.99 without a contract from Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon Wireless. But the last carrier's "month-to-month" data service carries enough restrictions to resemble a contract. AT&T, meanwhile, charges $649.99 for a no-contract Tab.
T-Mobile charges the most for wireless data service: $10 for a week-long, 100-megabyte quota, $30 for 300 MB over 30 days or $50 for 1 gigabyte over 30 days. AT&T offers cheaper entry-level monthly options, at $14.99 for 250 MB and $25 for 2 GB, but nothing higher. Sprint's plans start at $29.99 for 2 GB a month and escalate to $59.99 for 5 GB. WiFi access is free on all these models.
Verizon's offerings occupy a special category of bureaucratic baroqueness. Its monthly rates -- $20 for 1 GB, $35 for 3 GB, $50 for 5 GB and $80 for 10 GB -- each come with a $35 activation fee. That fee will be charged a second time if you take more than 60 days to reactivate service after dropping it. You can "suspend" service at no cost, but for no longer than 60 days. And if you call Verizon to suspend your account instead of doing so online, that will cost an extra $15.
If you know you'll be using the Tab over mobile broadband every month, you'd do better to take up Sprint or T-Mobile on their subscription-subsidized offers. Both sell their version of the Tab for $399.99. Sprint's rates match their pre-paid offers. T-Mobile charges $24.99 for 200 MB and $39.99 for an "overage free" service (after 5 GB of usage in a month, it warns that "data speeds may be reduced").
If you don't need mobile broadband at all, you'll have to wait -- a WiFi-only, $499.99 version of the Tab has been delayed, most likely until next year.
To judge from a loaner Galaxy Tab provided by Sprint, those prices get you a competent Web device and a sometimes awkward app gadget. The Tab's browser includes Adobe Flash, so you can watch almost any Web video out there, sometimes with a notable delay for it to load and for Flash to start up. But each time you scroll up or down or zoom in or out, it takes a distracting moment to sharpen onscreen text from jagged bitmaps to clear type.
Android applications look like smoothly enlarged versions of themselves on the Tab's bigger screen, unless they've been rewritten for the device (for example, some of the preinstalled programs) or, like OpenTable's app, they appear surrounded by black borders instead.
The Tab does a few things that the iPad can't, but not all of them well. It offers easily expandable storage, with a microSD Card slot on the side that doesn't require removing the battery to get at it. (Sprint and Verizon include a 16 GB card on top of 2 GB of internal memory; AT&T and T-Mobile leave the slot empty but ship with 16 GB of internal storage.) But the Tab's front and back cameras are saddled with a video-calling and sharing program, Qik, that falls woefully short of the usability of Apple's FaceTime.
The Tab's battery life isn't iPad great, but it's pretty good overall. Figure on having to recharge this every few days of regular coffee-table use. At worst, with Pandora's Web-radio application active and the screen illuminated constantly, it expired in just under 2 1/2 hours.
(8:05 p.m. That time may have been shortened by the Tab using only Sprint's 3G. At some point, the review model seems to have decided not to connect to a garden-variety Actiontec router that came with my Fios service, set up with "WPA" encryption. I don't know if that happened before I did the battery-life test. I do know that any device that refuses to log on to my wireless network, even after reboots of the device and the router, doesn't have much of a future in this house.)
When you plug in the Tab for a recharge, you'll notice another unnecessary and unforgivable design flaw: Now that every other mobile-device maker but Apple has standardized on micro-USB cables, Samsung chose a proprietary USB connector.
But set aside all those details, and the price alone sinks this. You look at the Tab next to an iPad and think, "This would be a great $300 or $400 tablet." Instead, it costs as much as or more than an iPad with a bigger screen and more elegantly integrated software bundle.
Click after the jump to watch a video tour of Sprint's version of the Tab--this week's video episode. Or, if you've already picked up a Tab, you can skip to the comments to post your own review of this device.
For earlier episodes, such as last week's explanation of how you can use smartphone apps to route around traffic, see our video channel.
| November 30, 2010; 2:37 PM ET
Categories: Gadgets, Mobile, Weekly video
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