By >Akihabara News Team
[Review] DoCoMo SC-01C Galaxy Tab by Samsung (Video)
Thanks to the kind folks at NTT Docomo, I was lucky enough to test the Galaxy Tab at the office and even bring it home with me for a few days.
-First impression: Wicked cool.
-After 5 days: it’s great, but it’s no iPad.
I. Look and feel (9/10) :
Straight out of the box, the Galaxy tab impressed all of us at the office. The screen has a glossy feel to it, and the body of the tab fits comfortably in your hand. The weight is noticeable but not so much as to be a problem: rather, it serves as a reminder that you’re handling a highly-sophisticated piece of technology and should definitely not drop it! That said, the grip is comfortably slip-resistant so I felt totally confident handling it even on the train home.
One small complaint: I have dry hands and wash them often, but still the screen became quickly smudged after a mere day’s use. Comes with a glossy screen I guess, but this is something has always bothered me a bit with touch screens.
At 190mm in height for 120mm in width, in landscape mode the Galaxy is barely as big as the iPad’s smallest side. In fact, an iPad equals roughly two Galaxy tabs side by side in landscape mode. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends greatly on what you expect from your tablet. I found the Galaxy tab remarkably handy on the move, fitting perfectly in my (small) bag and easy to draw out at a moment’s notice.
It is most comfortably handled with two-hands in landscape mode in my opinion, but one-handed browsing and typing is also quite acceptable for short stretches of time. Have to mention, though, that after standing up and handling the tablet one-handed for 35 minutes my wrist was aching.
II. Interface (8/10):
Once the tablet is turned on, the amazing quality of the screen steals the shows. Lifelike vivid colors, impressive brightness and highly-responsive touch interface make for an overall breath-taking experience. Of course, the Galaxy tab packs nearly the same resolution as the iPad in a device half its size, so the better image quality isn’t that surprising. Still, the Galaxy exceeded all my expectations on that front. In comparison, the iPad’s screen looked blurry and drab (I’m not even kidding!).
The Galaxy runs Android 2.2 so those of you already familiar with the OS won’t be surprised to hear how much I loved it. Admittedly the interface is less intuitive and less polished than iOS, but it’s incredibly more customizable and after a short adaptation time I felt surprisingly at ease. That said, users wholly unfamiliar with touch interface staples (like multi touch) will need a little time to adjust. Don’t worry, the learning curve isn’t steep and you’ll get around in no time. (There’s even a phone tutorial included.)
The virtual keyboard feels roomy in landscape mode, but some keys are difficult to reach if like me you’ve got small hands. In portrait mode, the keyboard was more cramped but on the bright side, one-handed typing becomes possible (if not always comfortable). (Also, if you’re bored with traditional keyboard input, you can always switch to Swype. )
The tablet is organized in home screens (9 at most) that give you plenty of real estate to add widgets, drag and drop icons to gain easy access to certain apps, etc. There is also a three-icon mini-dock, which by default hosts the Browser and Email apps as well as the Applications tabs; but can be customized (much like everything else in Android) to fit the user’s needs and taste.
There are four touch buttons at the bottom of the device: the “More” button lets you access different settings while browsing (add bookmark, change privacy settings, download manager, etc) or using an app; the “Home” button sends you back to the home screen; the “Back” button functions much like the “back” icon of a browser; and the “Search”, unsurprisingly, helps you makes searches, either on the web or among your apps.
Samsung even included a phone app, which technically makes the Galaxy a cross between a smartphone and a tablet. We don’t recommend making calls without headphones, though, lest you end up looking rather silly holding an over-sized phone to your ear! I don’t know how many people will want to use the Galaxy tab as their primary phone, but all the same it’s a useful feature to have. And there’s video calling too!
III. Video (5/10):
I had no trouble playing videos using the dedicated Youtube player. Video quality is acceptable, but much inferior to the iPad, I’m sorry to say. I was watching the same HD video on both devices at the same time, and frankly, while the result was mind-blowing on the iPad, I wasn’t impressed by the Galaxy on that account. It’s okay and nothing more. On a more technical note, the Galaxy tab natively supports DivX, XviD, MPEG4, H.263, and H.264 formats.
IV. Audio (3/10):
While sufficient for watching Youtube and even the occasional TV series episode, sound quality is barely adequate otherwise. For one thing, the built-in speakers are located at the bottom of the device, which shouldn’t be a problem but is. It feels like listening to music in mono.
Since the iPad’s speakers are also built on the bottom, I decided to experiment. I played a song on the iPad, excellent sound — so far so good. Listening to the exact same song on the Galaxy was like a slap in the face. The headphones that come with the tablet only marginally improved quality. Music lovers be warned: sound on the Galaxy tab is utilitarian at best.
V. Connectivity (7/10):
With both WiFi, Bluetooth and EDGE/3G out of the box, the Galaxy tab is better equipped than the iPad. A drop-down menu (strongly reminiscent of SBSettings on a jailbroken iPhone) allows you to quickly toggle everything on and off, lock the tablet’s orientation, switch to silent mode, and even change the device’s brightness settings on the go. This is a very good point for Android over iOS, as this missing feature in Apple products is one of the things leading people to jailbreak their iPhones.
USB 2.0 connectivity is also included, though I regret that Samsung chose a proprietary port. Hooking the tablet to a computer isn’t as easy as it should be. For some reason, the Galaxy tab has 3 USB modes: the Samsung Kies mode, the mass storage mode, and the media player mode.
By default, the tablet is set to Samsung Kies mode, which prompts an error message on the computer unless you’ve thought ahead and searched Samsung’s website for the elusive Kies software. Much like iTunes, Kies lets you sync the tablet’s calendar, backup/restore the OS, upgrade the phone’s firmware, download apps… but unlike Apple’s software, Kies also lets users drag and drop files freely from the PC, among other things. It’s not very stable (crashed twice in 5 minutes – I predict a few headaches on that front), but the interface is pleasant and user-friendly.
The mass-storage mode, as the name indicates, lets you use the tablet as an external hard drive, access the phone’s folders, drag and drop files… There’s also a media player mode whose interest is debatable.
Worth mentioning is the micro-SD reader that lets add up to 32GB to your tablet, though as watching videos and listening to music on this device is far from a pleasant experience, I can’t help but I wonder if extra storage will be necessary.
VI. Performance (7/10):
By performance, I mean speed, stability and usability. As mentioned before, the Galaxy is surprisingly fast and pleasantly responsive, with one major exception: when browsing, Flash videos on a webpage inevitably herald a major loss of speed, and even cause the browser to crash on occasion (as you’ll see in the video review).
In my opinion, Flash support is a mixed blessing. It’s kind of like candy: you want it, but it’s not good for you. Being able to watch Flash videos on the go is very sweet, I admit. But at the same time, there’s no denying Flash has a tendency to increase loading times and browser instability. That said, in our tests Youtube (both the website and the dedicated app) work just fine and loaded rapidly. It was mostly the embedded videos on other webpages that caused issues.
Android 2.2 is otherwise very fast and fairly stable, with only occasional crashes that simply kick you back to the home screen. Geeks everywhere will love how flexible and customizable Android can be. With 512MB of RAM (twice as much as the iPad), the Galaxy is very adept at multitasking, and as mentioned previously the device is very fast.
VII. Battery life (6/10):
Not that good for a 7” tablet you’re supposed to take everywhere with you. I pushed it to its limits (full brightness, WiFi/3G/GPS on, intermittent browsing and handling) and the battery didn’t last a day. Samsung announced 7 hours of battery, and that’s about right – bonus point for honesty but considering the iPad’s 10 hours of battery, and the respective sizes of the two devices, I’m a tad disappointed.
That said, after checking out a nifty little Android feature that lets you see what’s been using power, I found that (unsurprisingly) the display drained between 80 and 90% of the battery. In comparison, Android system used 5-6%, web browsing 2-3%, live wallpapers 2% and WiFi 2-3%. Which means that the Galaxy tab will probably last a while longer with brightness turned down a notch (if you can bear it!). Also, charging the device (even via the included AC adapter) takes a long, long, long, long, long time. In fairness, it’s the same for the iPad. Still, considering the Galaxy needs to be plugged in every day, I’d have appreciated faster charging times.
IIX. Camera and vid recorder (3/10):
It’s bad. No, really. I’m sorry to say, because I love the Galaxy tab, but the camera on the Galaxy tab is a joke. Picture quality is dubious at best, even for a 3M pixel camera: the image is often blurry, the colors washed out, the contrast ratio disappointing… You can also record videos with the Galaxy, but trust me, you won’t want to.
Only reason I gave it a 3 instead of a 1: the 1.3MP front-facing camera that allows video calling. Pretty neat, even if the quality leaves to be desired. Also, uninspiring camera is still better than no camera, I guess (yes, I’m looking at you, iPad).
- Kick-ass screen
- Lightweight and portable
- Flexibly and customizable OS
- Great connectivity
- Phone/video calls
- Flash support.
- Sound quality
- Poor battery life
- Screen smudges too easily (like the iPad)
- Poor Camera performances
- Android not as polished and intuitive as iOS
- Still missing Kick ass Apps.
The Galaxy Tab is a sleek piece of technology and a serious contender for the iPad. The screen quality is exceptional, and the intuitive interface makes for a very pleasant user experience. With its relatively compact size it can be an excellent hi-tech companion on the go, and I truly enjoyed taking it everywhere with me. However, the Galaxy Tab has some serious flaws in its design that can’t be easily overlooked.
When using the Galaxy tab, one can’t help but wonder: is this a tablet? Is this a smartphone? Some will say the distinction doesn’t matter; but while Apple has clearly chosen the tablet edge for the iPad, Samsung seems to be hesitating, and this indecision could explain some of the Galaxy’s major failings. In some ways, the Galaxy feels closer to an iPhone 4 or an Android smartphone than to the iPad, only without the twin advantages of compact size and excellent media playback. You can make calls and send text messages, yes, but does that make up for poor audio quality or an unimpressive battery life?
All in all, the Galaxy Tab feels like a high-quality compromise between a smartphone and a tablet; whether that’s the best or the worst of both worlds if for you to decide.