Samsung's Galaxy Tab is a 7-inch tablet that looks a lot like an overgrown Galaxy S phone, without the phone functionality. It debuted in the U.S. this month and will be available from all four major U.S. wireless carriers. (Note: Versions of the device sold outside the U.S. do have phone functionality; this is a limitation imposed by the U.S. carriers.) Reviews ranged from glowing ("It's a Tablet. It's Gorgeous. It's Costly") to scathing ("A Pocketable Train Wreck").
I bought an iPad for one simple reason: I wanted a light, thin tablet I could easily use out on the patio, while riding as a passenger in a car, while lying in bed, or while sitting on the sofa in front of the TV. All of these are situations where a regular laptop or notebook, or even the bigger and heavier convertible tablets, just didn't work as well. The iPad was the only thing on the market at the time that fit those criteria at a cost of under $1,000.
But I've had a love/hate relationship with the iPad from the beginning. I love the form factor and the ease of connecting to a network and setting up my Exchange email account. But I hate the lack of storage expansion, its frustrating inability to display Flash-based Web sites, and the difficulty of entering text on its keyboard. And it's still just a tad heavier and bulkier than I'd really prefer for the uses to which I put it. Most of all, I hate Apple's ironclad control over what apps I can install.
I've been eagerly awaiting a viable alternative. I'm a Windows loyalist from way back, and I've used Windows Mobile smart phones since I got my first, a Samsung i730 back in 2005. I still have an Omnia II running WinMo 6.5, but recently I was won over to Android, first by testing a Droid X and then by testing a Samsung Fascinate. I fell in love with the Fascinate, which is a Galaxy S phone, so I had a feeling I was going to like its big brother, the Galaxy Tab. And I was right. In fact, despite the Tab's somewhat high price, I've decided to dump the iPad for the Tab. Here are 10 reasons why.
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Yes, I loved the iPad's 9.7-inch form factor when I got it. That's because it was so much smaller and thinner than the tablets (Windows-based convertibles and slates) I'd used in the past. But it still wasn't quite enough. It's just a little too big to slip into my favorite small bag. Want to put it in your pocket? Forget about it. And unless you're a big, burly guy (I'm not), holding it in one hand isn't easy to do.
Steve Jobs pronounced 7-inch tablets "dead on arrival." He might think bigger is better, but I disagree. The Tab's 7.48- by 4.74-inch dimensions (compared to the iPad's 9.56-by-7.47) make it roughly half the size of the iPad. And that means it's easier to hold onto and manipulate, easier to "thumb type" on, and easier to fit into a small bag or even a large jacket pocket.
At 25.6 oz. (a little over a pound and a half), the iPad seems light -- especially if you're comparing it to older style tablets that weighed 3 to 4 pounds. However, if you hold it up for a moderate period of time, you find that it gets tiring. This is especially important if you use your tablet for reading ebooks. And carrying it around adds a noticeable, if not burdensome, weight to your bag.
The Galaxy Tab weighs in at a trim 13.4 oz., less than a pound. The difference might not seem like much, but it makes it far easier to use for longer times without tiring and makes it more likely that I'll bring it along at times when I might not bother to bring the iPad because of its bulk and weight.
3: Expandable storage
One of my biggest complaints about the iPad was the lack of a flash memory slot to allow me to add more storage space. Of course, Apple didn't want me to buy an SD/microSD card from one of many vendors -- they wanted me to buy a higher capacity, more expensive iPad from them. That type of blatant gouging is one of the reasons I hate giving any of my money to Apple.
The Galaxy Tab has a microSD slot that will officially accept cards up to 32 GB in capacity. I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if we can tweak it to use 64 GB cards when they become readily available, just as we could use 8 GB cards in phones that officially only accepted cards up to 4 GB.
Another nice thing about the Tab is that the memory card slot is easily accessible -- unlike on the Galaxy S phones, where you have to remove the back to change out the card (although I give Samsung credit for not making you remove the battery to change the card, as you have to do with many of today's phones). On the Tab, the slot is on the side of the device and you just open the small cover to access it.
4: Choice of 3G carriers
The iPad has finally come to Verizon Wireless -- well, sort of. The problem is that it's the Wi-Fi only version, since Apple doesn't make an iPad with built-in support for CDMA/EVDO (the technology used by Verizon and Sprint). To use it with Verizon's 3G network, you have to buy their MiFi mobile hotspot device and then connect the iPad to that via Wi-Fi. The upside is that you can connect up to five devices to the MiFi -- but it means carrying around yet another (albeit small) component.
The Galaxy Tab is going to be available through all the major wireless carriers and will have 3G capabilities built in, so there is no extra device to carry.
5: Better Bluetooth
The iPad comes with Bluetooth 2.1 support, whereas the Galaxy Tab has Bluetooth 3.0. The later version supports faster speeds, up to 24 megabits per second. (Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR supports a data rate of 3 Mbps.)
6: Two cameras
The iPad lacks a camera of any kind. I don't really mind not having a rear-facing camera, since my phone has a camera and is much better suited for taking photos. Holding the big almost 10-inch iPad up to snap a picture would be awkward anyway. But I always thought the tablet form factor would have been perfect for video conferencing -- if only the device had a front-facing camera.
The Galaxy Tab has two cameras, a 3.2 MP rear-facing and a 1.3 MP front-facing one. And the device itself is small enough so that the rear camera will be a lot less awkward to use.
Steve Jobs has made it clear that he hates Adobe Flash and doesn't want it on the iPhone or iPad. I'm not a big fan of Adobe myself, but there are just too many Web sites out there that rely on Flash, and the lack of support for it can make browsing the Web with an iPad a frustrating experience.
The Galaxy Tab includes Flash Player 10.1, so you can access those Flash-enabled sites. This does slow things down a bit, but it's far better than not being able to access them at all.
The iPad is too big for thumb typing, and although you can (sort of) touch type on it, that's likely to result in a lot of errors, in my experience. That leaves me doing a modified version of touch typing, in which I have to look at the keyboard while I'm typing, and it slows me down. Worse, it's uncomfortable to try to do it for any length of time. Thus, I use the iPad for consumption but try to avoid creating text content on it.
The Tab, like the Galaxy S phones (and other Android phones I've tried) comes with Swype. It's a different way to enter text, by sliding your finger from key to key, and at first you can't believe it would really work, but it does. I first became acquainted with Swype when I got my Omnia II Windows Mobile phone, and within a week was able to enter text at over 50 wpm -- on a phone! I swore I'd never have another phone that didn't use Swype. After you get used to the longer distance your finger has to travel, it works fine on the Tab, and it's far less tiring than typing on the virtual keyboard.
We keep hearing rumors of Swype coming to the iPhone/iPad, but so far, it hasn't happened.
Even if you prefer to tap the keys instead of Swyping, the Tab has a feature that makes text entry much better than on the iPad: You can tap and hold a key to get a secondary character. On the iPad, if you want to type a number, you have to switch to the alternate symbol keyboard. On the Tab, you can simply hold down the appropriate alphabetic key to type the number displayed above the letter. Switching back and forth between the alpha and numeric/symbol keyboards on the iPad drives me nuts, so I love this feature.
9: Comparable battery life
One thing I really did love about my iPad was the battery life. Compared to just about every other portable computing device (other than a simple MP3 player), its stamina was amazing. I easily got close to 10 hours of fairly heavy usage out of it, and since I don't normally use it that heavily, I could go a week sometimes between charges.
This was the deal breaker on most of the alternative tablets I saw. Many of them sounded great -- until you got to the part that said "Battery life: 4 hours." I wanted something that was comparable to the iPad, that would at least let me use it heavily for a full workday without recharging. The Galaxy Tab doesn't quite measure up to the iPad in this respect -- but it's good enough. It's rated at seven hours for video playback, and longer for less intensive tasks. That stacks up well against the iPad, with which I got about eight hours when streaming video constantly.
Another plus is that you can charge the Tab from your computer's USB port, although you have to use the cable that comes with the device to do it since Unfortunately, Samsung used a proprietary connector on the Tab's side. This was a strange decision, given that the Galaxy S phones have a standard mini USB port.
For those who chafe at being under Apple's thumb when it comes to software, the Tab offers something that's priceless -- the freedom to install apps that don't have to be "approved" by the phone's maker. The Android Market is a convenient and easy way to download apps, but you aren't limited to its offerings.
Of course, the carriers do lock down their devices to an extent, and depending on where you buy it, the Tab may have vendor-installed crapware on it that you can't easily remove. However, rooting the Tab is easy; there is a one-click app for that called z4root. And it's likely that custom ROMs for the Tab will emerge in the near future, as they have for Android-based phones .(Just remember that rooting -- similar to jailbreaking an iPhone/iPad -- voids your warranty.)
The iPad is slick and pretty and does some things well. I had fun with mine, even though at times I felt like throwing it into the lake. But it lacked a lot of the things I want and value most, such as the ability to expand storage, to "type" at a decent speed,and to carry and hold it comfortably for long periods of time without it becoming burdensome. I also need to be able to view Flash content and do video conferencing. The Tab offers all that, and more.
Sure, the next generation of the iPad will probably include some of these features. But there are some that the iPad is likely to never give us, such as expandable storage and freedom of choice when it comes to our apps. Those things might not be important to everyone, but they're important to me. So important that I'm dumping my iPad in favor of the Tab.
- Samsung Galaxy Tab review: Everything you need to know
- Samsung Galaxy Tab: The ultimate slide show of photos and screenshots
- Samsung Galaxy Tab gets an enterprise assist from Polycom
- Samsung Galaxy Tab Teardown (Sprint)
- 10 things to look for in a tablet computer
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.