Now that I’ve put a lot of hours into using the Galaxy Tab, here’s what I think: Samsung is very much on to something with this form factor and the build quality of the Tab, but they need to work out the bugs and get the price down by at least a couple hundred dollars. If the Galaxy Tab were, say, $300, I would recommend it without hesitation to almost everyone I know. At $600, however, I would still recommend it to gadget lovers, but to the proverbial mom, I would say wait for the next generation which should be more polished, and hopefully significantly cheaper.
But just to be clear: I really love this device, and have found myself completely attached to it. Although it doesn’t have the fit and finish (from a software perspective) of an iPad, it’s definitely much closer to what I’ve been looking for in a tablet: very portable, great battery life, and a data plan that I can mostly live with.
What I like about the Samsung Galaxy Tab
- The size is perfect, in my opinion. There’s definitely a place for 10″ tablets, but the 7″ screen is the right size for me. It’s small enough that I can easily carry it around (I’ve had the Galaxy Tab with me since the moment I bought it), but big enough that I almost always reach for it rather than my phone now. In fact, if it had real voice capabilities, I could see it actually replacing a phone in some circumstances (with a headset, naturally — and only because the thing I do least on my phone is make voice calls). I’m also looking forward to getting a car dock which will give me the absolute best GPS in the world, and nice big controls which are easy to read and tap on while driving.
- The keyboard. This is really a function of the device’s size, but it’s important enough that I wanted it to have its own bullet point. If you like thumb typing (as you BlackBerry and old Sidekick users out there invariably do), you’ll love typing on the Galaxy Tab. Although I can touch type on the virtual keyboard on my iPad, I find it far less accurate and far more annoying than thumb typing on some devices. Since I’ve been using the Tab, my email responses have gotten prompter, and my text messages have gotten longer.
- The hardware. The build quality of the Galaxy Tab seems to be very high. It’s definitely not nicer than my iPad, but I would say that it’s not in any way obviously inferior (which, to be honest, I was kind of expecting). The screen is bright and apparently tough enough to shoot BBs at, and the case feels well-made. I would say the buttons are a tad on the soft side, and the power button should have been placed on the top rather than the side since it’s easy to inadvertently turn on or off while picking up by the edges. And power buttons on the top have become the standard for phones and devices, so it was an odd decision not to follow the trend for seemingly no good reason.
- Battery life. The battery life this thing gets is amazing, and if you check out the iFixit tear down, you’ll see why. The majority of the bulk and weight of this Galaxy Tab is battery. With moderate use, you can easily go two days without charging it — maybe even three.
- The data plan. First, let it be known that I basically unequivocally dislike mobile phone carriers. If you read my post entitled The Free Market Paradox, you’ll get a pretty good idea of how I think mobile phone carriers victimize customers and essentially collude in order to provide the worst service they can get away with at the highest prices. In most cases, I prefer the experience of buying a new car to buying a new mobile phone. But for the first time ever, I feel like I’m actually paying something close to a fair price for a service from a mobile phone carrier. I’m paying $20 per month for 1GB of data with no contract which means I can cancel anytime, and I can use the device for tethering. Now, to be clear, I really should be paying $9.99 for 1GB, or $19.99 for unlimited, but considering the fact that I bought the plan without muttering curses under my breath, I guess I feel like I’m finally getting something almost approaching a reasonable value out of my carrier.
What I Don’t Like About the Samsung Galaxy Tab
- It’s buggy. Although the Tab is certainly usable, it does have several bugs which, if I’d been the Product Manager, I would have not shipped without fixing. For instance, the fact that the screen dims whenever I go to the browser is inexcusable. And things like the occasional (temporary) freezes, and the tendency for taps to sometimes be interpreted as swipe gestures is annoying. And my least favorite bug: I uninstalled the “Let’s Golf!” game that shipped with the device only to find that it’s only partially uninstalled; the icon is still there, and the app still seems to be taking up space, but it doesn’t launch, and the uninstall option is now disabled. Looks like I’ll have to root the device to remove the application entirely which is pretty sad. The bugginess of the Tab is really evident whenever I put it down and pick up my Droid X which feels much faster and more robust — kind of like a finished product.
- Bloatware. This is one of the things I really love about Apple products, and I may find that I love about Microsoft’s new phones, as well. The bloatware on the last couple of Android devices I’ve gotten has been extremely disappointing. I can deal with a few pre-installed apps shipping on a device. Fine. But to disable uninstalling those apps is positively unforgiveable. This is something that Apple really got right in their dealings with AT&T, and something that has gone terribly wrong with Android. The fact that you can buy an Android phone with the default search configured to be Bing is an indication that there is something seriously wrong with the world. (Note that the search option on the Galaxy Tab is Google, not Bing. Note also that I don’t have anything against Bing — it’s just the irony that I’m pointing out.) I can only hope that market pressure from the iPhone and eventually Windows Mobile Phone 7 will eventually help to reduce this horrendous practice.
- No notification light. I can’t believe the Galaxy Tab doesn’t have a notification light like every other Android device I’ve used. The little green light that blinks indicating that you have unread messages is hugely valuable, and one of the things I like about Android over the iPhone. Very strange that it was left off the Galaxy Tab, and another example of the lack of standards around Android devices.
- No voice capabilities. Of course, mobile phone carriers don’t have plans that would really have supported adding a voice-capable device to your plan at a reasonable rate, but it would be great if the Galaxy Tab should share your mobile phone’s number (which it could with Google Voice), and you could occasionally carry just your Tab and leave your phone at home. It certainly isn’t a replacement for a phone, but with voice capabilities, I could see attending a conference with nothing more than a Tab. No laptop, and no phone. Just your Tab, a bluetooth headset, and a big cup of coffee.
- Non-USB cable. The last thing in the world I need is another type of cable to worry about. Now I need iOS device cables, USB cables for Android devices, and this third kind of cable which seems to be an inversion of the iPhone cable. Why didn’t they just use USB? Perhaps it would have been too slow the charge the battery (which is already pretty slow)? I don’t know, but it was a bad decision.
- Price. Although I really like this device and plan on taking it everywhere, $600 is still a significant investment. $399 is the right price for the Galaxy Tab at this point, and $299 makes it a complete no-brainer impulse buy. I’m hoping we’ll see the prices come down on 7″ Android tablets as we see more competition, and as components become cheaper.
The overall feeling I get from the Samsung Galaxy Tab is that it’s a really good indication of things to come. It feels very much like the original iPhone to me: a breath of fresh air, but destined to be quickly replaced with more refined models at much more realistic prices. Although I’m very attached to the Galaxy Tab, something tells me that in 6 to 12 months — and certainly no more than 18 — I’ll look back on the Tab as nothing more than a gateway into real 7″ Android tablets. Until then, however, I’m going to enjoy it.