The long rumored US availability of the Samsung Galaxy Tab will soon become reality, and I was there at the rollout event in New York City to gain some early gleanings about the Tab’s long-term prospects as an Apple iPad killer. But while I got a lot of potentially useful hands-on knowledge, certain questions still hang in the air.
Essentially the forthcoming Tab will be a larger version of the Galaxy S phone launched in June, although you’ll probably need to use VoIP over WiFi for phone calling in the US. Aside from a bigger 7-inch enhanced TFT display screen, providing 1024-by-400 SWVGA resolution, the Tab adds a 1.3 megapixel front- and 3.1 megapixel rear-facing cameras to the basic design.
When released by the four major US carriers at various points later this year, it will come pre-loaded with Android 2.2 Froyo and Adobe Flash Player 10.1, so you won’t require the same kind of firmware upgrade from Android 2.1 that you’ve needed with the Galaxy S phone.
The Galaxy Tab will also sport a speedy 1GHz Hummingbird processor and expandable memory of up to 32GB. Weighing in at just 13 ounces, it will be much lighter than the iPad, which tips the scales at 1.6 pounds for the 3G model or 1.5 pounds for the WiFi-only device. Samsung’s tablet will be 12 millimeters thin.
As with the Galaxy S, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have all separately announced plans to sell their own versions of the Galaxy Tab. Yet while all four carriers showed up for the smartphone launch, also held in New York, none were on hand for the Tab rollout.
At the New York City launch event on Thursday, though, Samsung let some US journalists (including me) play around with the GSM-enabled “European Union (EU) edition” of the phone unveiled two weeks ago at IFA.
Samsung officials told me at the launch that exact hardware specs and preloaded software apps might vary among carriers, and so might any intentions by them to outfit the tablets with 3G or 4G mobile connectivity.
There’s surely a precedent here, since specs and apps do differ among the various renditions of the Samsung Galaxy S offered by US wireless carriers. Most notably, Sprint’s edition, the Epic 4G, is the only one to be equipped with a built-in hard keyboard and front- and rear-facing cameras. But editions of the smartphone also vary among carriers somewhat in terms of onboard and expandable memory capabilities.
As for the Galaxy Tab, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint have all announced built-in WiFi with hotspot capabilities, whereas T-Mobile hasn’t. Verizon and Sprint have also stated their intentions for 2GB of internal memory, with 16GB pre-installed microSD, expandable to 32GB.
What follows is a basically an early look at the “EU” GSM version available at the launch event, which might or might not turn out to be practically identical to whatever edition of the Tab you could end up buying from your favorite US carrier.
Samsung has made it crystal clear that all US editions of the Galaxy Tab will offer the same 7-inch screen as the EU version. But why is Samsung using a 7-inch display instead of the roomier 9-inch screen that graces the iPad, for instance?
“We are providing a truly mobile tablet that you can take with you anywhere,” replied Nick DiCarlo, Samsung’s director of product planning, as he tucked the Tab into an inside pocket in his suit jacket to prove its portability. “A 7-inch tablet is also better for thumbing,” DiCarlo told me at the event.
While the 7-inch form factor might be eminently thumbable, though, the screen size seemed more than a bit cramped when I tried to do a little touch-typing on the software keypad.
However, Samsung has announced a wireless keyboard for the Galaxy Tab, along with other accessories that include a Keyboard Dock ($99.99), Desktop Dock ($49.99), and Car/GPS Dock ($99.99). Doubling as a power charger, the Keyboard Dock is a full-sized hard keyboard for the Tab. It also contains a stereo audio output back.
Whether or not you consider a 7-inch device to be all that portable depends on your point of view. You’d be kind of hard-pressed to slip it into the back pocket of your jeans, for instance.
On the other hand, I found the 7-inch screen on the Galaxy Tab to be just as crisp, bright, and responsive as the smaller display on the Galaxy S, while affording a lot more screen real estate for Web browsing, messaging, and interacting with software apps, for example.
Many Android apps, although not all of them, will open at full screen on the Tab. Those that won’t will be framed and centered on the screen.
Yet the Galaxy Tab isn’t really available through any carrier yet, in the US or elsewhere, and it appeared to me as though some of its features might not really be ready for primetime yet.
I found that the Tab’s built-in WiFi worked fine for connecting to the Internet, playing back videos on YouTube, and conducting a video chat with another journalist involving use of both the front- and rear-facing cameras.
But when I tried to do a Google search for coffee shops in the local area, the GPS on the unit wouldn’t work, even after a Samsung tech guy went into the settings to make sure GPS was “enabled.”
An onboard accelerometer turned out to be balky, working some of the time, but not always.
Theoretically, at least, the EU edition of the Tab also supports Swype, a feature introduced with the Galaxy S aimed at letting you form words by using your fingertip to trace between letters on the screen.
Also on YouTube, I decided to do a Swype-driven search for a Twitter parody video I first accessed from my home PC a few weeks ago. But when I Swyped in “Twi,” the search box came up with “Yes” instead. (I’m not sure I can place the blame for that entirely on the Tab here, however. Admittedly, my Swype skills are still emerging.)
Meanwhile, Samsung has officially announced that the US editions will include a 4,000 mAh battery and AllShare DLNA technology for wireless display of pictures and video on HDTVs, laptops, and other bigger devices.
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