While we’ve already taken a look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 and offered a full review, the Samsung Tablet has many additional features and apps that we only touched on previously. So, we decided to take an even closer look at the Tab 8.9 to see what makes it different from the Honeycomb pack.
There are now four Galaxy Tabs on the market, each with a different screen size. Two run Android Honeycomb, one runs Android Gingerbread, and at the time of this review, two more Honeycomb Tabs are on the way. Galaxy Tab 8.9 is the latest Samsung tablet that is actually available in certain countries, and it is also the most well-polished and interesting tablet software-wise (at least until Galaxy Tab 7.7 and Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus come along).
The device has an 8.9-inch diagonal and a resolution that is the same as with Galaxy Tab 10.1 (800 x 1280 pixels). Clearly, pixel density is significantly greater on Galaxy Tab 8.9 (170 pixels per inch, compared to 149), and it’s evident when the two are compared. The imaging is sharper on the smaller tablet, even purer, regardless of the fact that the tablets both sport the same display manufacturing technology. As TabletPCReview claimed in the Galaxy Tab 8.9 review, that particular tablet has the best display on any like device to date.
Compared to Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, this tablet is significantly lighter than one would expect, even given the smaller screen size. The Tab 8.9 weighs a bit less than a pound, while the Tab 10.1 weighs a bit more, and after two weeks of everyday use, it’s safe to say that the Tab 8.9 is the largest tablet that can still be used and operated indefinitely with one hand.
This is not the only 8.9-inch Honeycomb tablet (the LG G-Slate also has the same size), but its light and slim design is perfect for everyday use.
The Galaxy Tab 8.9 ships with Android Honeycomb 3.1, while the tablet also includes a user interface upgrade – TouchWiz. Changes to the user interface are not as drastic as found on Samsung smartphones, but there are still several cosmetic touchups that make the Tab 8.9 different from other Honeycomb tablets.
A major noticeable change is the taskbar, which is no longer static on the bottom of the screen. It is activated by an upward finger movement, followed by the appearance of six icons, each representing a mini app. A quick tap launches the mini apps, which Samsung has prepared only for TouchWiz. The apps actually act like a window in Windows, meaning it can be moved anywhere across the display.
The mini apps include a clock with several time zones, an application called PenMemo for creating notes, a calendar, a calculator and a music player. All mini apps except the task manager have a suitable shortcut for full-screen viewing.
The notification bar is upgraded to contain toggles for various tablet antennas (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS etc), which is familiar to smartphones users with TouchWiz. This is quite a practical addition, given the fact that it decreases the time required for turning some of these antennas on or off. It is a shame that it does not include a 3G communications on/off toggle — the Galaxy Tab 8.9 version which I tested comes with the option of Wi-Fi and 3G network data transfer.
The home screen also includes dots which show the amount of available panels and which of these are currently active. This is also a detail familiar from smartphone TouchWiz, and is also seen with certain other Android user interface skins apart from Samsung’s.
A quick glance at the applications windows reveals that it contains a lot that tablets with “pure” Android Honeycomb lack. Among other things, apart from the classic Android Market, Galaxy Tab 8.9 owners have the Samsung Apps store at their disposal, which is Samsung’s own application depot. Only some 50 applications are available that are optimized for tablet screen, but they are all free.
Pre-installed applications include the Pulse reader, All Share, Polaris Office, My Files and Video player. In practice, My Files proved to be quite useful — an application that enables the user to manipulate all files and folders on the tablet in the same manner as on a computer — as did the Polaris Office application, which can read and edit standard Microsoft Office documents. This application can also be used for opening PDF files.
Samsung smartphone users who have TouchWiz 4.0 on their device are familiar with the Social Hub and the Music Hub and they are used to integrate contacts on social networks and for multimedia file manipulation. A music player comes with the Music Hub, which is significantly more advanced than the standard one available with Android 3.1.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 comes with a 3.2 megapixel back-facing camera which can record 720p video clips. The camera control user interface is nearly identical to the one on Samsung smartphones, with available options located along the left edge of the screen and a trigger on the right edge.
Photographs taken with Galaxy Tab 8.9 are of average quality for a tablet, which means they are not sharp enough and have less vivacious colors than the ones taken by the latest Samsung smartphones, like Galaxy S II. Still, we expected above average photos from an above average tablet.
The front also includes a 2-megapixel camera for video calls.
Tracks can be sorted according to album, artist, track, genre, and year. There are, of course, play lists, while lists of most frequently played tracks are automatically generated, same goes for lists of most recently played songs. An equalizer is also available, as well as various sound profiles (for instance, an album can sound as if it were played in a concert hall). Music can be played in the background while the tablet is used for other purposes. In this case, basic player controls will be displayed on the notification bar.
Samsung has prepared its own video playback application for its tablet line. This is an elementary, but a highly functional application, but some common codecs are not supported, like Xvid and DivX, which is a shortcoming. These require a separate application from the Android Market. The good thing is that it is possible to reproduce Full HD video files (1080 p resolution). There is also a Readers Hub, for eBooks, magazines, and newspapers.
Of course, the option of adding widgets to the home screen, something that is characteristic for TouchWiz, is supported. The tablet comes with some 20 common widgets (weather, a multiple time zone clock, photo frames etc.), and many are resizable, which is a rather neat feature that Google incorporated natively into Honeycomb 3.1 (Honeycomb 3.0 did not support resizable widgets).
Samsung has barely touched the web browser that comes with Android OS 3.1 and this is good news, given that one of the best for tablets.
Flash comes preinstalled, and the 1 GHz dual core processor handles it well, though stumbles with sites running more than two or three Flash elements, particularly with scrolling and zooming.
Apart from pinching, Samsung added some motion controls. Websites can be zoomed in if the tablet is held with two hands and lifted, which I find practical. Probably not many users will resort to such a manner of zooming, but every addition to the user interface that does not get in the way of everyday work is more than welcome.
Due to its excellent dimension and mass ratio, a solidly touched up operating system, as well as powerful hardware, Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 is a tablet worth considering. This is one of the best Honeycomb tablets, and it proves that Samsung knows how to build a great Android device. It is no wonder that Apple is causing trouble for this manufacturer with patent lawsuits.