Intro and Packaging
Every other week there seems to be a new tablet in the market, vying for attention. Better apps, brighter screens, lighter materials – there are so many tricks that can be pulled off that I simply don’t know where I would begin.
The latest contender to head my way is the sleek new Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7. Clearly Samsung can’t make up their minds on what the ‘ideal’ tablet size should be, so they decided to flood the market with different sized tablets in the hope that consumers will be able to decide what they want. And don’t forget the hybrid phone and tablet that is the Galaxy Note.
But I don’t want to talk ill of the Galaxy Tab 7.7, for it actually is a decent tablet with a few saving graces. Will it be your next tablet of choice? Read on to find out more.
Build quality & Design
The first thing that struck me after unboxing the Tab 7.7 is just how sexy it is. The last time I handled a Galaxy Tab I was met with shiny black plastic for the body, but the Tab 7.7 sports a wonderful brushed-metal backing that makes it easy to hold and doesn’t register any unsightly smudges. The back is also where you’ll find the 3 megapixel rear camera and LED flash. Despite its sleek look, the Tab 7.7 generally feels well build and is light enough to slip into your backpack or handbag. For anyone who feels that an iPad is too big to carry around, then this is the tablet for you.
Moving around the device we have the headphone jack at the top, with the power/sleep button on the right along with the volume rocker. At the bottom are two inconspicuous speakers and a slot for connecting the charging cable. On the left hand side are two small covers than house slots for a full-sized SIM card and microSD cards. Unfortunately the Tab 7.7 doesn’t have a micro-USB port for connectivity or charging, and lacks any kind of video output such as a micro-HDMI, which really is a bit of a disappointment. Like the iPad, you will need to buy additional hardware to connect to the bottom to enable HDMI out. Just near the top of the device is the front-facing 2 megapixel camera and a tiny slot for the tablet’s earpiece if you’re not using a headset when making calls. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that – as with previous Tab models, the Tab 7.7 supports phone calls and text messaging with a valid SIM card inserted (more on call quality later).
The Galaxy Tab 7.7 is powered by a dual-core 1.4GHz processor and comes with either 16 or 32GB of internal storage and 1GB of RAM. The tablet weighs in at around 335g, and measures 196.7 x 133 x 7.9 mm. It also features a gorgeous 7.7 Super AMOLED Plus display at a resolution of 1280x800, which I drool over later. And as I previously mentioned, the Tab’s size and weight makes it extremely desirable for anyone who hasn’t snapped up a tablet yet. Unfortunately the Tab 7.7 runs Android Honeycomb 3.2, which is now becoming unacceptable given that Android 4.0 has been out for months now. While Honeycomb was once the preferred Android OS for tablets, Android 4.0 could certainly bring along some much needed flair that 3.2 seems to lack.
UI and Apps
The tablet’s interface is powered by Samsung’s own TouchWiz interface, which at times can be a bit of a mess. The surplus apps that are on the screen the first time you start it up are a bit of an information overload. They also tend to drag the interface a bit, so I highly recommend binning any unnecessary widgets like YouTube or Email and just keeping your screens clutter-free. Having said that, TouchWiz does have a few hand tricks to boast – there’s a clever screenshot button near the bottom left which you can tap at any time to take a screenshot. The image is then displayed for you to edit or draw upon, after which you can then save it or email it across. There is also a handy little bar at the bottom which you can tap to bring up a selection of useful apps, such as Calculator, Memo, Phone, Messaging, and a basic Task Manager which is great for closing unnecessary background apps.
Samsung has also included its own app store, called ‘Samsung App’ – the content available here depends on the region read from your SIM card, so if there is no SIM installed then the app will not launch. It’s a bit weird that Samsung would want its own app store when Google’s Play Store is already available, but who am I to question their rationale? There are also a variety of ‘Hubs’ that you can access – Game Hub will let you download games, Reader Hub gives you subscriptions to newspapers and books, while Social Hub lets you view your social media feeds and messages. There's a few other apps such as a file browser and Polaris Office, and Pulse for linking up news feeds.
Screen and Touch Interface
The biggest win for the Tab 7.7 has to be its screen. Even though there’s so much of buzz around the new iPad’s Retina display, I have to say that the Tab’s 7.7 screen really blew me away. Videos and pictures were phenomenal, with colors and blacks being displayed beautifully. The Tab had no problems playing a full 1048p clip of “The Day After Tomorrow” from my network, and scrubbing to various parts of the clip just produced a 5 second pause as the clip re-buffered. The Tab’s screen also allows for a much better range of viewing angles – I was able to watch a clip with two friends sitting with me, and none of us notice any loss in contrast or peculiar shading.
Navigating around the Tab is for the most part responsive, as long as the widgets are kept to a minimum. But there are still plenty of occasions where apps take a few seconds to minimize or launch, or bringing up and dismissing the on-screen keyboard doesn’t happen at first. And this all boils down to the fact that Android 3.2 is running the show – I’ve noticed these blips occur in other Honeycomb tablets as well, which is why I wish Samsung really puts and effort into getting Android 4.0 onto their tablets. I ran Quadrant Standard Edition on the Tab, which benchmarks CPU, Memory, I/O, and 2D/3D graphics. The final score was a respectable 3,398 with 3D video tests clocking in a smooth 57fps.
Unlike the ones on smartphones, cameras on tablets tend to be quite awful, and sadly this is the case here as well. The rear-facing 3 megapixel camera is decent for taking outdoor shots in the sunshine, but when you turn on the flash for some night-time photography, images get very saturated and washed out. The front-facing camera has a permanent noise effect applied to it, so no matter what kind of lighting you’re in, you will always look like you have a million ants crawling across your face. Here are three sample images taken with the Tab:
Sound and Call quality
The two speakers at the bottom of the Tab are surprisingly loud, and are able to provide a nice deep bass for music and videos. The Tab can also emulate 5.1 surround on some videos, which didn’t make much of a difference except making the sound appear a little hollow at times. The one downside I noticed is that if you use the Tab in landscape view, your right hand will at most times cover up at least one speaker if you’re holding the Tab with both hands.
Since the Tab 7.7 can make and receive phone calls, I decided to give it a spin. Unfortunately, the results were absolutely tragic. The Tab does have an earpiece which will let you hold the tablet up to your ear like a jumo-sized cell phone, but I highly recommend plugging in a headset or pairing with a Bluetooth kit. When used with a wired headset, callers complained that I sounded faint and I had to often repeat what I had said. With a Bluetooth headset the call quality improved a bit, but then I had difficulty understanding what people were saying. There is an option for speakerphone, but this proved to be the worst experience of the lot – clearly the speakers on the Tab were designed for pumping out Tiesto remixes than trying to attend a conference call. So if you cheekily thought that you could use the Tab as your cellphone replacement, think again.
Battery life for the Tab was quite good – with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth always on, the occasional phone call and plenty of surfing on the web and YouTube, I was able to squeeze out a decent eight hours before being warned to plug in my charger. Given that’s roughly the length of a working day, I think that’s quite good. The device only got slightly warm when it was about 40 minutes through playing an HD movie, but otherwise remains cool to the touch.
If you’ve not yet splurged for a tablet of your own and you aren’t quite sure if the iPad is for you, then this tablet might just fill that little space in your heart. While it does suffer from some sluggishness due to Android 3.2, it’s still a gorgeous little tablet that is ultra-portable and gets the job done. While there are similar-sized Android tablets out already, the screen on the Tab 7.7 just has to be seen to be appreciated. While I don’t recommend using the call features of this tablet, it will work well for just about anything else you can throw at it.