Hardware Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab (7″ model)

Posted by on August 20, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Tablets, tablets, tablets! We live in a renaissance age for slate computers, ushered in by Apple’s iPad and followed up by… well, miles and miles of desolate wasteland. The New York Times recently did a study amongst current and potential tablet owners with nearly 95% of respondents hopping excited to own an iPad. The next closest option, the HP TouchPad, held out at a mere 10%. But why is there such a disparity, even when Android trounces Apple in smartphone marketshare? The answer is plainly obvious with Samsung’s original 7″ Galaxy Tab, a lazily-upscaled version of their original, and crazy popular, Galaxy S phones.


As an Android/Galaxy S owner, it was super easy to set up the Galaxy Tab. The tablet was released right as their phone was spreading across the carriers, largely as a response to the iPad. Running vanilla Android (Froyo, if you must know) with Samsung’s TouchWiz “skin”, it feels very familiar, but honestly, a throwback. It literally felt like my phone, but on a 7″ screen instead of a 4″ one. There are some quirks in the presentation between the two devices, though:

  • While the S sports a DroidSans typeface as standard, the Tab uses Helvetica, the same used on the iOS. Given that Apple is currently suing the bejeezus out of Samsung for ripping virtually every design cue from them, would it have hurt to just put another font on there? That issue aside, Helvetica is also a far more generic typeface for what’s supposed to be a cutting edge device, making the whole venture feel far more like a boring upgrade than a genuinely exciting standalone device.
  • The dedicated home screen buttons are give and take. On the S, there are four (including the obligatory Applications button), but they’re permanent residents. On the Tab, there are three (including the obligatory…) and two are customizable. The only problem is that the visual real estate could handle five, but for some bizarre reason, they decided against it, leaving you with less dedicated options across your home screens. And, of course, there’s absolutely nothing filling those spots anyway to compensate for it. Why, Samsung, Why?!
  • Most Android phones use the “middle” page as the starting home screen, but this one oddly decides to use the first page as a starting point, meaning if you utilize a lot of widgets, you don’t have an easy ‘left’ page to access. It sounds like a strange complaint, but having less accessibility from the get go is never a plus.
  • The larger screen gives you an extra column to put icons/widgets/whatever in, but virtually all Android app widgets are optimized for 4-wide spaces, not 5. On top of that many assets, like the new Android Market, sprawl off the screen on the tablet.
For many, these would probably be non-issues, but it highlights a greater truth here: Froyo just wasn’t designed for a tablet, despite how much Samsung has stretched it. The most glaring example is probably the on-screen keyboard. When you’re holding the tablet in Portrait view, it feels a little too big and the single-thumb-friendly Swype keyboard is difficult to use. In Landscape view, it’s a nightmare as the keyboard sits just out of range of any of your digits. (Microsoft figured this out by demonstrating a ‘split keyboard’ variant in Windows 8.) UPDATE: Only the Swype keyboard looked like this, the stock Android ‘board stretched out just fine. Still not ideal.

The Tab also utilizes a ‘black on white’ theme, that’s probably in place to hide much of the backlight bleed common on TFT LCD displays (more on that in a bit). But you also can’t change it to the ‘white on black’ theme common to the phone version, so be prepared to look at a lot of bright fields, (unless you crank down the brightness, natch).

The larger screen also allows for some interesting applications, but not many. This thing was obviously marketed as an e-reader killer, so it comes bundled with Amazon Kindle, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times apps from the get-go. Maps also works much better with a larger screen as well. In my case, reading mostly as I’m falling asleep, I found it uncomfortable to have to crane my head to read the page instead of just turning my eyes. On the flip side, there’s something really cool about being to manipulate the tablet while it resides on the corner of your desk, rather than pulling it up to your face.

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  • Brandon Kessler

    The Galaxy Tab is $369 at Amazon, whilst the iPad 2 is 419 for the WiFi 16GB model.  The audience that Samsung is shooting for is a very niche group, usually those who want something larger than a phone to read on, but not an e-reader, and they want it cheap.
      If you are going to make comparisons, then the the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is more akin to an iPad than this is.  The Galaxy Tab 10.1 features a Dual Core Processor, 1GB of DDR3 RAM, Android 3.1 (with a complete UI reworking for Tablets).  The Tab 10.1 also features an AMOLED display, which is probably one of the best out of all the Android Tablets.
      As far as your UI concerns go, you can replace the stock launcher with GoLauncher EX, ADW Launcher, or LauncherPro, and increase the dedicated buttons from 3 to 5, or even 3 sets of 5 (GoLauncher EX and Launcher Pro).  That would also allow you to customize which screen is the “Home” screen.  Those also allow you to change how many Columns are available for use.  GoLauncher EX and ADW Launcher are both free, so there’s no added spending to improve upon the UI.  And, generally speaking, ADW or GoLauncher are a much smoother experience the Froyo.  Gingerbread stock launcher was the first to really use Hardware Acceleration.

    • Anonymous

      I totally get that the 10.1 is an ideal match for the iPad 2, but this was supposed to be a match for the original iPad and still can’t get it done.

      The unit was lent to us by Samsung, so I didn’t mess with root, just the out-of-the-box experience.

      • Brandon Kessler

        There’s no need to root, for GoLauncher and ADW, but rooting and throwing on CyanogenMod would have been interesting.  I’d also clarify that you were talking about the Original iPad.  iPad pretty much encompasses the whole, sort of like how Playstation or Xbox is understood to mean either the originals, or the current gens.  Good article, other than that.