Next to the Apple iPad, it may be the most anticipated tech product of 2010. You could even claim that a big part of its anticipation is actually due to the iPad. Of course, I'm talking about the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the first major Android slate to give the iPad a run for its money in the touchscreen tablet market.
I've gotten my hands on three different versions of the Galaxy Tab, put them through their paces doing many of the same tasks as the iPad, and looked for some of the unique value that this 7-inch tablet has to offer from a business perspective. I found some pleasant surprises and one big problem.
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- Carrier: Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and others
- OS: Android 2.2 (Froyo)
- Processor: 1.0GHz Samsung Hummingbird Cortex A8 with PowerVR SGX540
- RAM: 512MB
- Storage: 2GB, 16GB, or 32GB + MicroSD slot (up to 32GB)
- Display: 7-inch WSVGA TFT, 169ppi, 1024x600 resolution
- Battery: 4000mAh
- Ports: Headphone jack, MicroSD
- Weight: 13.6 ounces (385g)
- Dimensions: 7.48(h) x 4.74(w) x 0.47(d) inches
- Camera: 3.0MP with autofocus and LED flash; 1.3MP front-facing camera
- Sensors: Accelerometer, A-GPS, geomagnetic, luminance, gyro
- Keyboard: On-screen keyboard; Swype
- Networks: CDMA 800/1900Mhz, EVDO Rev.A; or GSM (HSUPA 5.76Mbps/HSDPA 7.2Mbps at 800/1900/2100MHz; GSM/EDGE/GPRS 850/900/1900/1900MHz)
- Wireless: Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n); Bluetooth 3.0, DLNA
- Tethering: USB and mobile hotspot
- Price: $499-$649
Who is it for?
The Galaxy Tab feels like a big smartphone, without the phone. The 7-inch size makes it feels more similar to a PDA or an iPod Touch than the iPad. As a result, it has the potential to be a PDA replacement for many businesses and workers who have stuck with old school PDAs and never moved to smartphones. And, the open Android development platform will allow businesses to easily build custom software and line-of-business apps that could be used on the Galaxy Tab.
I don't think the 7-inch Galaxy Tab will have as much appeal to executives as the 10-inch iPad has. But, a natural target market for the Galaxy Tab will be those professionals who have been attracted to the iPad but don't want to buy into the Apple ecosystem. They have been waiting for a usable Android tablet to show up, and the Galaxy Tab will appeal to many of them.
What problems does it solve?
The biggest problem the Galaxy Tab solves is being the first viable Android tablet to make it to market from a mainstream technology company. We've been hearing Android tablet promises all year from nearly every big player in the computer industry, but Samsung is the only major vendor that has delivered a viable product (I don't count the 5-inch Dell Streak as viable). While its adaptation of the Android OS to the tablet form factor is imperfect at times, the Samsung Galaxy Tab has broken through the barrier and will likely pave the way for a lot more Android tablets in the months ahead.
- Hardware package - The hardware profile of the Galaxy Tab is one of its strongest attributes. It has a a high-quality WSVGA display, a 1.0 GHz processor and 512MB of RAM, built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi and cellular radios, and all of the latest environmental sensors. It has built-in flash storage plus an easily-accessible microSD slot for expansion (and swapping cards in and out). Unlike the iPad, it has a camera. In fact, it has two cameras, both a rear camera with LED flash and a front-facing camera for video calls. Although the rear camera is only 3.0 megapixels, it takes solid photos and has several advanced software options including a built-in panorama mode that works great.
- Battery life - The Galaxy Tab kept a charge longer than I expected. Since it's a lot smaller than the iPad I knew it would have a much smaller battery (of course, it also doesn't have to power as large of a display). At any rate, I easily made it through a full day of moderate-to-heavy use on the Galaxy Tab. In fact, I didn't charge it for an entire weekend so it also doesn't pull much power when it's on standby. Of course, since it's Android, you'll need to make sure that there isn't anything running in the background that is drawing power.
- 7-inch form factor - One of the main complaints that I've seen from others who have tried both the Galaxy Tab and the iPad is that the Galaxy Tab is so much smaller (see my comparison photos). While the difference in screen size is a drawback for web browsing, I found that the 7-inch form factor does have its advantages. It's much more portable and fits into smaller bags, organizers, and padfolios. It's also lighter and less awkward to hold for longer periods of time than the 10-inch iPad. Again, the 7-inch tablet feels like the rebirth of the PDA, and since many businesses still have plenty of uses for PDAs I think they'll welcome this form factor.
- Software incompleteness - Even Google has admitted that Android 2.2 is not optimized for tablets, but since it's an open platform vendors have been able to move ahead with Android tablets without Google's official blessing. That's one of the primary reasons why Samsung built a 7-inch tablet rather than a 10-inch tablet like the iPad. The Android OS and apps simply aren't ready to handle a big jump in resolution to 10-inches. The 7-inch tablet isn't that big of a jump from the current Android handsets. Some apps such as Amazon Kindle, Twitter, and Google Maps have already made the slight modifications needed to optimize for the 1024x600 resolution on the Galaxy Tab, but many smartphone apps will have black bars around the edges if they haven't been optimized (here's an example).
- Samsung missed the price point - The biggest problem with the Samsung Galaxy Tab is the price. At $500 to $650, it costs the same as the iPad but doesn't offer as much screen space, as many apps, or the same kind of polished user experience. On the other hand, it does feature the greater flexibility and customization that you get with Android, but that won't be enough to balance the equation for most potential buyers. If the Galaxy Tab was $299 (and the wireless plan was pay-as-you-go) then it would make a lot more sense for businesses and professionals to experiment with it.
Bottom line for business
As much as I was pleasantly surprised by the Galaxy Tab and found a number of things to like about it, I still have a hard time recommending it. The price is basically on par with the iPad and you just don't get as much. So, unless you specifically want an Android tablet or a smaller form factor, then the iPad will be a better choice for most professionals and organizations that are interested in a touch-screen tablet.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the next version of Android (codenamed "Gingerbread") will officially support tablets and promote tablet-optimized apps and it will arrive before the end of 2010. As a result, we should expect a deluge of Android tablets from vendors such as ASUS, Acer, Dell, and many more during the first half of 2011. So, if you've got the Android tablet itch, the Galaxy Tab is an intriguing first look at what's possible, but before you pull the trigger you may want to wait until you see what the Gingerbread-powered Android tablets will have to offer. There will be plenty of news on that front during the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in the first week of January.
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Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.