Quick Look - Samsung Galaxy Tab
Unfortunately, Samsung's hardware and the Android ecosystem still leaves a lot to be desired. Read on to get a better detail of why I'm so critical of the hardware I look at, and why you might want to hang on to your netbook purchase just that much longer.
PROS: perfect form factor, vast selection of apps, long battery life
CONS: price, data plans, multimedia performance, first-generation device
As much as I'm a fan of tech gadgets, it's very rare that I make an impulse purchase without doing extensive research. But the Samsung Galaxy Tab looked so good in the store, and knowing the advanced state of the Android OS with it's growing app selection, it seemed a no-brainer to pick the tab up and try it out. It's impressive 7" display would make video watching far more enjoyable versus a smartphone, and a lot more manageable versus a larger/heavier 10" netbook
Indeed, my objective with the Galaxy Tab was to enjoy Flash video playback from my favorite websites, as I enjoy on my netbook, alongside standard wma/wmv/mp3 playback. Sadly, it seems to be a combination of factors that hinder the performance of the slate.
1. Android OS
It's no secret that Android is and always was an operating system designed for smartphones, and those limitations sorely show themselves when dealing with slates. Just the larger resolution of the bigger screen makes many smartphone apps blow up to ugly proportions, or in some cases, occupy a small rectangle in the middle of the screen. App availability for Android smartphones is one thing, but unless an app is designed to cater to the higher resolution screen, slates won't really offer any better advantages. It's something app designers AND slate manufacturers should be taking a closer look at, especially since the success of any device is heavily dependent on it's application support base.
2. Web browser
Web surfing is only as good as the browser you use, and I've noticed much lag when scrolling through websites. This issue compounds itself when trying to navigate sites that use heavy video, background images and Flash. For a slate to be successful as a web surfing device, the browsing experience needs to be as flawless as using a Windows-based netbook. Sadly, the Android browser on the Galaxy Tab doesn't quite live up to the experience netbooks offer, despite it's very useful touch screen interface. I need more than just a fancy e-reader.
3. Flash video support
The biggest hurdle preventing me from recommending slates is poor flash video support. Of the numerous websites I frequent, as many as five were incapable of playing back video on the Galaxy Tab. That's a big deal-breaker, especially for novices who expect to punch in a URL (as they do on their PC) and simply watch video when they click on a link. Sure, I could point fingers at Adobe, Google and/or Samsung, but the bottom line is the Galaxy Tab failed to work out of the box in this important function, making me pick up my Windows netbook to watch the content I wanted.
Sticker shock aside, the $650 price tag is a tough pill to swallow for a device that does less than either a smartphone or a netbook. It's especially hard considering all the issues mentioned so far. To put it another way, if it worked as expected, I'd accept the price given it's novelty and first-generation nature. But the fact that it is so crippled leaves me to think that slates such as the Galaxy Tab are worth no more than an import smartphone, and should be priced closer to $400. $525 already buys me a full-featured Nile netbook that would blow this device, and any other slate, clean out of the water.
5. Data plans
T-Mobile's data offering for the Galaxy Tab is a 5GB plan that throttles speed from 3G to EDGE once you exceed your 5GB quota. It's ironic that carriers choke users for data in such a way when devices like these live on a constant internet feed. Heavy Facebook, Skype, and Twitter users might want to invest in a 4G hotspot device in lieu of using a SIM card with the Galaxy Tab, the same if you're a YouTube junkie or use a webcam on the go. Of course, the most ideal solution would be to have 4G built-in, with carriers providing an unlimited data plan. I guess consumers can keep on dreaming!
6. Most-needed apps missing
I had to manually download Skype, Twitter and Facebook on the Galaxy Tab as they were for some reason totally missing, yet pretty much everybody I know uses one or the other daily! More concerning was the lack of apps in the Android marketplace for things that would really show off the Galaxy Tab's potential - Netflix and Hulu in particular. Yes, there's a Netflix app available, but all it does is allow me to manage my queue and a few other mundane tasks - things that I can already do with a smartphone. With a 7" screen, streaming video should be the definitive "killer feature". Instead it is just glaringly absent. Wake up developers!!!
I've echoed often my remarks concerning the terrible productivity slates provide compared to netbooks, and the Galaxy Tab is no different. Lack of a physical keyboard aside, I proceeded to write this blog post on the slate, only to realize that the Android browser fails to recognize the composer window used by Blogger for text input, in turn refusing to display the on-screen keyboard!!! It's this total failure of such elementary tasks that frustrates me to the point that nothing else matters any more. Should I rely on some unknown 3rd party developer and pay for an app to do what should be free? Forget it!
Great form-factor and superior battery life do nothing when I have a device sitting in front of me turned off, all because it doesn't do what I demand of it. What good is a 7" screen if I cannot watch my favorite on-line videos? What good is a web browser if I cannot use it to interact with my blog? What good is a front-facing camera if Skype for Android offers no camera support? Why offer a data plan that effectively constrains the use of a device designed to openly consume web content? And why price the device higher than netbooks that are clearly more capable?
Windows 7 may not have been designed with slates in mind, but it does a hell of a lot better job interacting with the web, using ANY browser, than purely relying on "apps" to provide content/functionality - such is the Achilles Heel of a smartphone OS. Would a Windows 7 slate better serve my needs? Maybe so, except that today's first-generation slate offerings are just too immature. Yet until Intel gets off it's laurels with Atom, or AMD shows a capable Brazos alternative, I don't see a slate in my hardware arsenal in 2010 at all, or 2011 for that matter.