Android Phone Holiday Buying Guide: Samsung Galaxy Tab

As part of our Android phone holiday buying guide, we’re going to take a look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab, a new Android tablet that’s out now from all four major US carriers. The Galaxy Tab with 3G+WiFi goes for $600 without a contract, and the on-contract price depends on the carrier. This is slightly cheaper than a 3G iPad, but there are inevitable comparisons to be made between the devices. So, does the Galaxy Tab hold up to the already well-established iPad? Let’s take a look at some reviews around the web.

The Galaxy Tab is a 7" tablet from Samsung that's out to steal some market share from Apple

First, the specs. The Tab is a 7″ tablet running Android 2.2 with a 1 GHz processor, dual cameras and *gasp* FLASH support. It uses these features to set itself apart from the iPad, but it’s also running Android, unproven at this point as a viable solution for tablets. iOS has a special iPad version, but the Tab is just running a customized Android 2.2, which isn’t necessarily tablet-optimized.
Most reviews were pleased with the hardware of the tab, especially Endaget:

It’s getting increasingly hard for manufacturers to differentiate the look of these all-screen gadgets, but Samsung’s done a commendable job distinguishing the Tab from the others with its contrasting front and back surfaces…The overall build of the device is top-notch, and though it may appear to some like an enlarged Captivate or Fascinate, it feels more solid than those plasticy phones…

It seems that the 7″ could be a sweet spot for tablet size, as some have complained about the iPad being a little bit too large and heavy. However, the issue that arises with the Tab is with its software, where Android just isn’t developed as a tablet OS. The problem that it runs into is that while the Samsung-provided apps on the Tab take advantage of the extra screen real-estate, most apps on the Android market were designed to be used on 3″-4″ screens. On the Tab they just look aukward and blown-up, reinforcing the idea that the Tab is just a huge Galaxy S even more than an iPad is just a big iPod touch.

The e-Mail client on the Galaxy Tab

Gizmodo’s review goes more in-depth about the software problem. Calling the device a “pocketable trainwreck,” they railed on the software experience:

the Galaxy Tab is small enough that apps simply blown up a little bit still fundamentally work. Which means, conversely, that there’s almost no added benefit to using the Tab over a phone. It’s not big enough. Web browsing doesn’t have greater fidelity. I don’t get more out of Twitter. A magazine app would be cramped…It’s like a tablet drunkenly hooked up with a phone, and then took the fetus swimming in a Superfund cleanup site. The browser is miserable, at least when Flash is enabled. It goes catatonic, scrolling is laggy, and it can get laughably bad. When better browsing is half the reason to go for a larger screen, that’s insanity.

While the Galaxy Tab might do a job of getting the idea of Android tablets out into the mainstream, it doesn’t look like the software is at the point where it can be all that great on a bigger screen. Google has even acknowledged this, saying that Android 2.2 Froyo is simply “not made” for tablets. Future versions of the OS will work to make this experience better, but with Samsung’s record of updating their hardware, will the Tab even see Android 3.0? That’s not a risk I’m willing to take.
It’s going to be hard to justify the $599 price of the Tab when you can get a WiFi iPad for $500 or a 3G iPad for $630. At this point, an iPad is going to be better supported, receive faster updates, and have a software experience much closely tailored to the device’s form factor. It’s a good effort from Samsung, but Android tablets look to be just not ready.