Sunday, July 3, 2011

Samsung Galaxy Tablet Review

I have been playing with a few tablets lately, trying to figure out where they fit in my bag-o-tricks.  At work we got a Samsung Galaxy (7") and a Motorola Xoom (10"), both through Verizon, our carrier.  My boss gravitated to the Galaxy and me to the Xoom almost immediately.

I don't care how much of an old wives' tale it is, size matters.  Upon first glance, there was simply not enough screen real estate happening for me on the Galaxy.

Fast forward some time and a change of carrier (T-Mobile).  I am loving my HTG Sensation 4G.  The phone is full of features and a real speed demon.  Unfortunately 4G is nowhere near as easy to pick up as top speed on the Verizon network, but we were expecting this.

I also received a Samsung Galaxy.  I would have preferred the upcoming 10" model but that's not what I got.  The Galaxy is a 7" model and only does 3G.  I can summarize the review thusly: it's a very large Android Phone.

I am intimately familiar with Android, which is a good thing.  I had the first Droid, which I mostly liked.  With reference to the Galaxy being a large phone, the one really weird thing about it is that a few of the programs from the marketplace (it uses all the stock Android apps) are sized for cell phones and thus don't take up the entire screen.  I guess the programmers have to put in an option for a larger screen (don't ask me - I can't program), which wasn't available when the phones first came out.

The device came with all the expected goodies: headphones, charger, and the obligatory special cable that converts the Galaxy to regular old USB.  I hate proprietary cables.  When looking for accessories, remember that there is also a Galaxy phone, so don't get them confused.  Your first purchase should be one of the shell cases with a kickstand.  You might also want some screen protectors and a spare proprietary cable.

Very important to me is performance and the Galaxy performs decently.  This is a slightly older device so it does not perform as well as the Xoom or my Sensation dual-processor phone, which is a little disappointing.  The manufacturers also need to get their stuff together with button placement: the Sensation and Galaxy have the Android buttons in different orders at the bottom of the screen.

The  audio is decent, although it could be louder.   The screen is very nice and, as usual, rotates.  It is not too heavy, although it probably could be slimmer.  None of these are deal-breakers.

There are five default screens, which seems to be a good number.  You can obviously make all sorts of changes to wallpaper and appearance, as you could with any Android device.  Remember that live wallpapers eat processor and battery more than static wallpaper.

It plays nicely with linux, which the Xoom didn't.  Just plug in and the device asks whether you just want to charge or appear to be a storage device..  Nicely done.

The wife and internal kids went nuts over the game selection.  She recently got a Crackberry Torch [the first was bad out of the box and the second seems to be headed in that direction too].  Although she enjoys the Crackberry, she really seems to be an Android girl, preferring the selection and instantly understanding the controls.


Like any other cell phone, it has all of the regular privacy-eating features, like GPS tracking, credential-remembering, and general tracking.  Some people find this convenient: I do not.  Do not be fooled by requests to divulge your location for 911 purposes: you can be tracked quite well by cell tower triangulation as it stands.


No matter how many Android devices I have, here are my favorite apps:

  • Timeriffic: set up profiles to control the device's functions by time of day and day of week - saves battery life by shutting off phone in the wee hours.
  • Scanner Radio: listen to police and fire scanners, locally and across the world
  • Xiia lite: listen to streaming radio stations
  • Wifi Widget: turn wifi on or off with one button
  • Opera: a great, fast browser
  • World News: read news and feeds from all over
  • Reason/Drudgereport/BBC News apps
  • gStrings Free: my favorite guitar tuner
  • Sparse RSS: no frills rss feed reader, imports .opml files from your main rss reader
  • AndFTP/AndVNC/ConnectBot: ftp, vnc and ssh connectivity tools, cross-platform
  • Maildroid: a decent email client which doesn't start by itself, like K-9.


The Galaxy 7" tablet is pretty cool.  As I mentioned before, it's just a very large cell phone.  What you can do with a very large cell phone is up to you.  I am experimenting with taking it to meetings for notes, although I prefer my Ubuntu-powered 12" netbook.  It definitely gets a lot of use at home, where the cell phone is too small and a laptop isn't handy.   You save a lot of time over devices that have to boot.  And everyone seems to love Angry Birds.

While I do like the tablet, I miss the Xoom's performance, OS, and extra screen real estate.  I do not miss the Xoom's not-ready-for-prime-time experience though...

Here's a minor niggle: every Android device I have used cannot tolerate recording at above voice levels.  Even acoustic guitar tends to distort the inputs.  I'd like to record my band but the sound is completely distorted.  As a coworker beamingly pointed out, his iDevice made a great sounding video - no distortion at all.

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