First impressions: Samsung Galaxy Tab

| September 17, 2010

Last night, I got to see the Samsung Galaxy Tab up close. On my travels back home to New England from the New York City media event, I was thinking about everything I’d seen, trying to collect my thoughts about it.

In a nutshell, here’s what it boiled down to: It seemed like the Galaxy Tab was going after the iPad in a pretty huge way. That much was obvious. At the press briefing, it was made abundantly clear that the GTab does much of what the iPad does, all while filling in some pretty specific gaps that the Apple tablet omits. If this was a military offensive, it could have been considered a “surgical strike.” There’s been a lot of press surrounding the iPad, and in a market that has yet to be dominated by anything else, it makes a lot of sense for Samsung to target the offerings — or failings — of the Apple gadget. It was like the pink elephant in the room, on the mind of pretty much everyone there.

So, since Samsung sort of went into this territory, I’m going to follow this line. But better than try to explain what this tablet is in a nutshell, it might be easier to talk about what it’s not:

  • It’s (obviously) not from Apple: This tablet is powered by iOS’ number 1 rival right now, the Android platform (version 2.2, or “Froyo”). And even though comparisons have been made about Samsung’s proprietary user interface, TouchWiz, looking like iOS to some degree, there are some distinct differences — like custom widgets and features, such as Daily Briefing and Social Hub. (These put news, weather and social networking updates right on the homescreen. No iOS device does that.)
  • It is not too big for your pocket, unlike the iPad: The GTab has a 7-inch display (vs. the Apple tablet’s 9.7 inches), and the TFT technology renders colors beautifully. The gadget’s form factor is also roughly half the size and weight of the Apple tablet. (The Samsung tablet’s 12-mm thickness may feel thicker, but it’s actually slightly skinnier than the 13.5-mm depth of the iPad. I think this is a trick of design, since the iOS device domes out on the back and gets slimmer at the edges, to make it feel really thin in the hands.) The tablet is 13 ounces, or about the weight of a can of soda, vs. the iPad’s 1.6 pounds (Wifi+3G model).
  • It doesn’t overlook the camera; there are two, in fact: The rear cam is 3.2 MP and the front-facing one is 1.6 MP. Although the rear camera isn’t exactly a powerhouse, it’s still better than none at all (as with the iPad). The big intention with dual cams is clearly video chat. The Galaxy Tab does not have its own native version of FaceTime, but it does work well with Qik, a third-party vid chat app that made huge news for being featured on the HTC Evo 4G and Samsung Epic 4G.
  • It’s certainly not any slower than the iOS tablet: It boasts a 1GHz A8 cortex Hummingbird application processor. In addition to 16 GB of storage space, which is on par with the base model iPad, the Tab also has 512 MB of RAM — twice what the Apple gadget offers.
  • It doesn’t block Adobe Flash: The Galaxy tablet fully supports Adobe Flash 10.1 for games and videos, which is a point that was mentioned several times at the media presentation. The Samsung tablet actually seems to run Flash pretty well. It wasn’t seamless (the video was a little choppy), but it was far better than those glitchy, laggy usage scenarios we’ve seen of it running on a Nexus One. (Is it that Flash 10.1 is just not a great experience yet on any mobile platform? Or was it the overwhelmed Wifi signal at the press briefing that impacted streaming? Hard to say. We’ll have to keep an eye on this one.)
  • It won’t make you wait to load/buffer vids: The Galaxy Tab has an instant streaming feature that lets users start watching a video, even if it’s not finished loading.
  • It doesn’t require manually loading multimedia: It hooks into Samsung’s new Media Hub, a cloud-based entertainment resource for renting/buying TV shows and movies. (And, of course, if you’ve got an Amazon account, you can still use that.) So iOS users may have iTunes rentals and purchases, but it looks like GTab users won’t be lacking either.
  • It doesn’t limit your memory: 16GB pre-installed microSD storage via a slot that supports up to 32 GB. (Do I need to say it? Apple iPad has no microSD card slots at all.)
  • It doesn’t drain too readily: Samsung says its tablet can offer 7 hours of video playback. (Apple, however, claims the iPad can offer up to 10 hours.)
  • It won’t stop you from using the latest software: Android 2.2, or “Froyo,” will arrive on Samsung Tab. Apple’s iPad, however, will have been waiting for more than 6 months to get the latest software (iOS 4) by the time it finally becomes available to them in November.
  • It isn’t going to tie you down to one carrier: The Galaxy Tab will be offered by all four major carriers: T-mobile, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. (No exclusivities here, unlike other Apple offerings.) However, there won't be a Wifi-only model (at launch, at least), so for the time being, it seems that a carrier-supported tablet may very well be the only way to go. 

Pricing hasn’t yet been announced, though that will be at the cellular providers' discretion. (Will there be subsidies? Contracts? Or will it be similar to the iPad/AT&T deal, with monthly á la carte options? These details aren’t yet known.) So far, the numbers that have been tossed around are in the $200 to $300 range.

The one thing that hasn’t been talked about a lot yet is the issue of “fragmentation,” meaning that Android devs have so far been pretty challenged to create apps for all the various smartphones and screen sizes. And now they have a whole new, larger size to contend with? Samsung is confident that devs only need to see the Galaxy Tab before jumping to tweak their wares for this. And those in the bigger dev houses probably will, but all those cool applications put out by the smaller devs — will they be able to jump aboard this train?

Samsung noted that many Android apps, even some that aren’t optimized for this screen, still run fine on the tablet. But admittedly, not all of them do. So now I’m wondering how limited the app selection might really wind up being for this community of would-be users.

I’ll be honest — I really liked this device, at least hardware-wise. But I’m a little concerned about the software side of this. Apps, and all the functionality they bring, are a driving factor of success for mobile platforms. If there are plenty of applications for would-be GTab users, I think this device has a real chance of making a big mark on the tablet industry. But if not, this could be a serious Achilles’ heel, at least from a consumer standpoint.

What are your thoughts on this? Would you take an awesome piece of hardware, and hope that the applications will follow suit? Or would you hold off, in a “wait and see” game? And if you're considering a tablet, definitely weigh in: Which one are you leaning toward? A more pocketable, Flash-running, camera-equipped Android device or the Apple iPad, with its multitudes of proven apps? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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