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First impressions: Samsung Galaxy Tab

So, we went down to the Maxis Samsung Galaxy Tab roadshow at Sg Wang today to get our hands on the device and we have to say that we expected more for this 7in tablet.

First, a few updates. If you’re heading down to Sg wang to check out the Galaxy Tab and purchase one, you’ll be sorely disappointed. You cant purchase one at the roadshow. Actual sale of the Galaxy Tab only starts on Monday and even then it will be at selected outlets only — KLCC, Pavilion, Taman Tun and Pyramid. Nationwide sale will start on the October 29.

If you’re planning to get the Galaxy Tab with a contract, you’ll want to know that if your line is already on a contract with Maxis then you’re out of luck. You can’t add another contract plan on your line. You’ll need to get another line.

On outright purchase for the Galaxy Tab the information is not clear. We were told that outright purchase of the Galaxy Tab is possible but it’s not clear if you’ll need to be a Maxis subscriber to make the purchase. We believe you’ll still have to subscribe to a data plan to be able to purchase the device outright.

Alright, now that’s over and done with let’s talk more about the device itself.

The Hardware

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is a 7in tablet running on Android 2.2. Unlike the iPad where there are separate WiFi and 3G versions with various storage size options too choose from, the Samsung Galaxy Tab in Malaysia comes in only one variant — 16GB with both WiFi and 3G built in (FYI, a 32GB variant is also available but not here). In addition, the Galaxy Tab packs two cameras, a 3MP back-facing camera and a 1.3MP froward-facing camera for video calling. Oddly enough, you can’t use the secondary camera to take pictures, it’s only for video calling.

The Galaxy Tab measures 190.1mm tall, 120.5mm and 12mm thick, by comparison the iPad measures 242.8mm tall, 189.7mm wide and 13.4mm thick while the Dell Streak measures 152.9×79.1×9.98mm respectively. So in terms of size and thickness, the Galaxy Tab is within the range of its competitors and more importantly it’s a form factor that you can get used to very quickly. In our opinion, a 7in tablet is a nice form factor and the Galaxy Tab represents one of the best execution of this form factor at the moment.

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Other than that, the Galaxy Tab takes in MicroSD up to 32GB giving you a storage potential of up to 48GB but still a whole 16GB short of the highest storage capacity on an iPad. In terms of connectivity the Galaxy Tab supports HSPA with 7.2Mbps download and 5.76Mbps upload where network permits. There’s also WiFi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP and a-GPS.

Processor wise, the Galaxy Tab runs a 1Ghz processor with 512MB RAM and a dedicated PowerVR SGX 540 GPU which is also installed in Apple’s A4 processor that’s running the iPhone 4, iPad, iPod Touch G4 and Apple TV G2.

We like to point out, like the iPad, the battery on the Galaxy Tab is not removable. The 4000mAh battery is rated at 1,000mins talk time and 1,500hrs standby time (on 3G).

The Good

We’ll focus on the things we like about the Galaxy Tab first. We like the form factor and the built quality of the Galaxy Tab. Quality is really top notch. It’s very nice to hold and the size is just nice for you to use it as an e-Reader, web browser or digital photo album. It feels very good in the hand and the 7in screen provide enough screen real-estate for you to get a lot of reading and picture viewing done.

With 600×1024 pixel (in comparison, the 10in iPad runs 768×1024), the 7in screen on the Galaxy Tab is good too offering high enough resolution to make reading for extended periods easy on the eyes. Although the resolution is not full 1080p, the Galaxy Tab is still capable of playing 1080p videos and videos on the Galaxy Tab look nice with rich colour reproduction and sharp images.

Having said that however, the Super AMOLED on the Galaxy S and Wave made our jaw drop at first sight. The TFT LCD on the Galaxy tab didn’t produce the same affect.

And that’s about all we liked about the Galaxy Tab.

The Bad

We expected the Galaxy Tab to be just as good or even better than the Samsung Galaxy S but the short time we had fiddling with the Galaxy Tab left us wanting more.

Samsung’s proprietary skin (that’s very similar to the TouchWiz UI) sits atop the Android 2.2 interface and although it looks good we can’t help but feel that the UI skin is bogging the device down. Swiping through the interface we quickly noticed that the experience is not as smooth as the iPad or even the Galaxy S. In fact, other similarly specced Android devices like the HTC Desire (which is skinned with HTC’s own Sense UI) delivered a buttery smooth experience better than the Galaxy Tab.

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The lag is even more evident when you start browsing websites on the Galaxy Tab. The native Android WebKit browser loads fast and supports both HTML5 and Flash. This are good points but once pages are fully loaded things start taking a turn for the worse. Scrolling within the browser becomes extremely jerky to the point where it gets annoying. We are very disappointed with this considering the processing power of the galalxy Tab. Having said that, we noted that within the same browser, pinch zooming is extremely smooth, to the extent that we feel it’s much better executed here than the on the iPad or iPhone 4.

We found that Swype — pre-instaled on the Galaxy Tab — is also something of an issue with the Galaxy Tab. On a smaller screen like the Galaxy S, Swype makes perfect sense as the distance your finger has to travel from one key to another is minimal but on a larger screen like on the Galaxy Tab, Swype’s innovative input method gets weird. The keyboard is large and there’s a fair amount that your finger has to travel to hit keys and if you want to key in texts quickly this starts being an issue.

But by far the biggest disappointment we have with the Galaxy Tab is the camera. We don’t mind that the main camera only has 3MP (as opposed to the Galaxy S and iPhone 4 with 5MP). We reason that Samsung probably wanted to produce better quality pictures by optimizing the use of the image sensor — less pixel count on an image sensor means bigger pixels, bigger pixels generally means better pictures. Unfortunately on the Galaxy Tab, this notion didn’t hold true. Picture quality was bellow average, sub-par from the current crop of camera phones in the market today. To add to that, the camera doesn’t record in HD and there’s no tap to focus (although the sales material says that there is).

We’re left perplexed. The camera on the Samsung Wave and Galaxy S produced stellar pictures and videos, we expected the Galaxy Tab to follow and improve on this but it didn’t. Pictures turn out grainy and colour reproduction is washed out. We didn’t believe what we saw. Pictures this bad shouldn’t come from a Samsung of this calibre but it did.

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In addition, the camera options appears to have been reduced compared to the Galaxy S. The camera settings on the Galaxy Tab looks basic when put next to the Galaxy S. Again, this is something we don’t understand. Why would Samsung do it this way? We have no answer.

At the end of the day
First let’s get things straight, we had very little alone time with the device so we were not able to go deeper into its functions. Having said that however, from our first impressions, the Galaxy Tab left us slightly disappointed.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s not to say that the Galaxy Tab is a bad device, its very capable. It’s got a very good picture viewer, the browser — although laggy when scrolling — load pages up in a jiff. We like the form factor and the display makes using the device for long periods a joy To add to that, playing games on the Galaxy Tab is a joy too.

But that’s if you’re just looking at the Galaxy Tab all by itself. The problem is the iPad. It is, in certain versions, cheaper than that Galaxy Tab and the iOS interface delivers a more integrated and polished user experience. When you want to get things done quickly, iOS never lets you down, at least in our experience.

If we had to choose, we’ll have to go for the iPad but the Galaxy Tab can and does hold its own. There will be people who will find that the Galaxy Tab is a perfectly fine device and we can’t and won’t argue with that, it is by its own right a good device. It has more features that the iPad, it’s smaller, lighter and it’s pocketable. These are some very strong points but the iPad feels just that bit better to convince us that it’s a better choice.

Perhaps a longer playtime with the Galaxy Tab might change our minds but on the sales floor at Sg Wang today, playing with the Galaxy Tab, we were not convinced.

More on the Samsung Galaxy Tab:
Samsung Galaxy Tab videos
More updates: Samsung Galaxy Tab with Maxis
Samsung Galaxy Tab roadshow
Samsung Galaxy Tab launched in Malaysia with Maxis