Tablets optimize

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 feels like an iPad, but smaller

Find out why Donovan Colbert believes that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 offers the most iPad-like Android experience thus far.

It's been almost a year since Samsung shocked everyone when they declared that their Galaxy Tab 10.1 was “inadequate” compared to the iPad 2. Since then, Apple and Samsung have been in a global legal battle.

I spent a week with the 4G LTE Samsung Galaxy 7.7 tablet, and it's clear why Apple has targeted Samsung with such ferocity. The similarities between the Galaxy 7.7 and the iPad start with the box the device comes in, and they don't end there.

Specs:

  • Verizon 4G LTE
  • 7.7" super AMOLED display
  • Dual-core 1.4Ghz Processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 3.2MP rear / 2MP front camera
  • 16GB internal storage / MicroSD supports up to 32GB
  • Android 3.2 Honeycomb OS
  • Full specs at Verizon Wireless

What I like

The build quality of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 is probably the most iPad-like Android experience so far. If you're put off by cheap plastic and the bulkiness of other Android tablets, and you really wish Apple had a 7" iPad, this may be the best solution on the market. It's Kindle-thin and dripping with quality construction.

Size matters, and I've known this since I gave up my Coby Kryos for an ASUS Transformer. 7" is an ideal size for many roles, including watching a movie or reading a paperback. This form factor also makes the tablet much easier to slip into a smaller bag or purse.

Like the Galaxy Nexus smartphone, the Galaxy 7.7 tablet features an AMOLED display. Even with auto-dimming set aggressively, the display makes the Transformer look washed out and lifeless. AMOLED displays are often called "gorgeous," and battery life doesn't seem to suffer because of this beautiful screen.

This display truly shows off the quality photographs that you can take with the 3MP back-facing camera. The focus and clarity of the camera is superior to the 8MP camera on my Droid 4. I took the same picture with my Droid 4, the Galaxy Tab, and an iPhone 4. For a 3MP camera, the Galaxy had the best overall performance. Device makers aren't focusing enough (groan) on cameras. Samsung has also incorporated a screenshot feature, which is a value-add if you need a device to create Android documentation for corporate users.

The virtual keyboard features haptic feedback and a unique long-press approach to produce shifted characters. When you press a key, the tablet makes an audible click and vibrates once. When you continue to hold the key down, there's another click and vibration, and then the shift character is printed. It takes some getting used to, but it works better than hitting a virtual shift key. Once I joined my corporate network, the keyboard at login is the default for Android. This is somewhat confusing, and it's too bad that the keyboard presentation isn't consistent.

If you don't already have a universal remote, the Galaxy 7.7 has built-in Infrared and bundled Peel universal-remote software. This is a novel idea that has promise, but it didn't work perfectly for me. It syncs with your local listings -- click a show, and it will change your TV to the right channel. Unfortunately, it didn't recognize all of my devices. It controlled all of the features, except for turning off my Motorola DVR.

What I don't like

The 4G LTE connection wasn't as reliable or consistent on the Galaxy 7.7 as it is on my Droid 4. It also had slower speeds and timeouts.

At a retail price of $499 with a two-year contract, and $699 without, the Galaxy 7.7 is expensive. This may indicate one reason why Apple is reluctant to enter this smaller tablet market. Samsung wants to compete on features and price, but this price suggests that the manufacturing expense isn't much different from a 10" tablet. A device like this needs to be less than $300 unsubsidized, and Samsung is missing that goal. The fact that this is only a 16GB device further emphasizes that iPad-like build quality comes at a premium price.

Lastly, the screen is as glossy and smudge-prone as an iPad. It looks pretty until you use it. You'll probably want to purchase a low-glare, fingerprint resistant screen protector, which will help on this front.

Summary

If you demand iPad-like build quality and performance, and you want a 7" device, the Galaxy 7.7 should be on your short list. Android offers a lot more freedom than the Apple ecosystem, and the overall experience of the Galaxy 7.7 feels very much like an iPad -- but it will cost you. The question is, will consumers accept these features on a non-iOS device? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

6 comments
Mary1010
Mary1010

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 delivers a beautiful screen and fast performance but my enthusiasm is ultimately tempered when the price is taken into account.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I've put up two more images on my Stream at Google+, http://plus.google.com including an image of the Samsung Tab 7.7 box side by side with an iPad box, and the iPad 1, Kindle DX, and Samsung Tab 7.7 stacked one on top of the other to illustrate the relative thickness of the Samsung 7.7.

svenglezz
svenglezz

I've never used a "screen only" computer and was wondering if you can get an "add-on" keyboard for these? This would make me consider getting one in the near future as I don't think I could work long hours without a keyboard and mouse (and/or have half the screen taken due to a keyboard on the screen). Thanx in advance.

jfuller05
jfuller05

I've been a fan of the galaxy tab since 10.1 :) Now that it's in 7.7, I'm sure I'll like it even more. I don't know if it's because I service iPad's for people or if it truly is the UI, but anytime I pickup an iPad and use it I'm not wowed, instead I'm annoyed. I'm looking forward to this new tablet from Samsung.

dcolbert
dcolbert

But I think the problem isn't the price. It is the value that people have assigned to a non-Apple device in their heads. Here is the thing. If they're equal in every way, or if Android is *superior* - then why should it HAVE to cost equal to or *less* than an iPad in order to be a good value? This isn't rational. I know that makes no difference - that the emotional response is what makes people sit it out or buy the product, and this means that it is an uphill fight for this device. That is unfortunate, because if an Apple iPad is worth every penny, then this device is too. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the iPad on every feature that the latter offers. I think it is simply not possible to offer a device of this quality, finish and features profitably for any less than Samsung has priced their product. They're going to have to find a loss-leader pricing model where they can make it up somewhere else if they subsidize the cost of the hardware - if they're going to be effective in competing with Apple, or find some other way to bring the price down by a pretty significant margin. But if an Android tablet doesn't move fast in establishing itself in that space, it may end up being too late for Android tablets to have the same kind of impact against the iPad as Android phones had against the iPhone.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I didn't try hooking one up to this one - but there are generally multiple physical keyboard solutions for almost every tablet out there. I'm *assuming* that a regular HID compliant Bluetooth keyboard, including the Apple one, would pair up with this tablet and achieve your goals. But if you're concerned in this sense - I'd recommend you look at the ASUS Transformer, Transformer Prime, or Eee-Pad Slider line of Android tablets. You sound like you want a 10" screen, not a 7.7" device - and the ASUS devices are made to be oriented toward buyers who might otherwise consider a netbook or notebook.