In part one of our three-part detailed Samsung Galaxy Tab Review we detailed the ins and outs of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the first impressions, user interface and led into some words about the applications. In Part two we will cover those applications.
In part three of the review (now available) we will take a look at performance, other features and round-up with a summary including issues and target customers.
Due to the number of images in this part we’ve kept them small. Click through to larger versions in the UMPCPortal gallery. Screenshots were taken live (Not internal screenshots) so colors may vary.
Samsung Galaxy Tab Detailed Review Part 2 – Applications
There are ‘value add’ features all over the Galaxy Tab. Video support, docking, screen and one that’s more important than anything else – applications.
Samsung have obviously spent a lot of time and money developing a suite of apps for the Galaxy Tab and it lifts the device above most Android experiences. This is not Open source Android + Google, this is AOS, Google,Samsung and other third parties working together to deliver one of the best application suites we’ve seen on Android.
In this video I go over all of Samsungs Tab-specific apps and one feature you’ll see a lot is multiple windows panes within applications when they are used in landscape mode. When the screen is this big you reach the stage where even multiple apps could run side by side in landscape mode. As it currently stands that’s not possible with the Tab but the ‘extended’ apps show the way forward for Android on large-screen devices. The work that’s been done here is clearly an investment that has been made for more than one type of Tab from Samsung.
In summary, the Samsung apps add a lot to the device but there’s a few areas that need improvement. The Contacts and Calendar app work well but could do with a bit of spice and style. In the sections below we go through all the applications on the device.
E-Mail. The E-Mail application supports IMAP, POP3 and Exchange protocols and does it in an efficient way, so much so that for the first time on an Android device, we’ve switched away from the default Gmail application. It’s not perfect (why no cut-and-paste? Some delete actions are a little slow.) but it’s HTML-capable and in landscape-mode, quick to scan and attack a backlog of emails.
Multiple select options for deletion and folder moves, long-press for more actions, conversation threading, HTML support and a ‘phone’ button that uses the contacts number and starts the dialer. Accounts can be set for separate update timescales. We haven’t fully tested Exchange support.
The Calendar is also modified to offer dual-panes in various landscape screens although there’s a look and feel to the Calendar application that doesn’t feel quite right. The wood effect background and tabs that take a chunk of real estate could have been more stylish and efficient we feel. Having said that, it’s good to use. In month-view mode you get the calendar and a list of events for the selected day. The calendar auto-syncs with your Google account(s.)
The Contacts application is combined with the Dialer, Log, Groups and Favorites. Again the tabs and wood affect don’t give us the feeling of a stylish application but it’s a functional one. At first we had trouble scrolling through our 400+ contacts from Google, Facebook and Skype but after time (we assume caching, sync and image retrieval) everything has speeded up nicely. Tapping on a contacts icon brings up all the possible contact methods giving access to SMS, Phone, E-Mail, Google Talk, Facebook and other applications that link-in. Joining contacts (where multiple contacts from different networks show the same person) is possible from the application. If you haven’t used a unified contact list before, we recommend it. Update: We added a Twitter account with 2500 followers and 1200 follows. It doesn’t appear to have sync’d for us.
The Phone ‘tab’ is a fairly basic dialer application. As you select the keys, a list of matching contacts are shown making it easier to enter the number and confirm the right contact is being called. SMS and UMTS video calling (Europe, UMTS standard and reasonable quality) is also possible. Also within this application are the logs, contacts (mentioned above) groups and favorites.
My Files is a basic local file browser which works well and has the advantage of dual-view windows in landscape mode allowing easy drag and drop. Multiple select allows easy housekeeping and there’s a search function. The search button on the frame starts the search function (as in most of the Samsung-modified apps.)
Memo apps on smartphones are ten-a-penny but we like this one because again, there’s that landscape mode enhancement again. Search, share and wireless printing are available. (More about Wireless Printing in Part 3)
Messaging – Threaded SMS application with dual-pane window in landscape orientation. MMS capability is included [Note: In previous reports we may have suggested that the feature is not available. It is ‘triggered’ by adding an attachment to an SMS] and simple emails can also be sent. Messages sent appear in the contact history for each person.
Daily Briefing – Is an application that pulls together content from AccuWeather, Yahoo Finance, AP news content and the Calendar in 4 swipe-able screens. Configuration for shares and weather location is possible but not for the news content.
News and Weather – Similar to Daily Briefing above but with weather from the Weather Channel and news from Google (configurable for multiple tabs including search terms.)
Note: A combination of the two applications above makes perhaps too much sense? Clearly this is a content deal for Samsung.
Samsung Apps – This is a potential killer-feature for the Galaxy Tab…if there were some applications available. Samsung (in this region, central Europe, we can’t speak for other regions that may have different content) have provided a channel for Tab-specific apps (free only, no search at this stage) but there’s a distinct lack of content. A few token apps and a Samsung remote-control app for TV’s is hardly a thrilling selection. Auto-notification of new apps is available but any talk about the feature is pointless until more apps (and we mean at least a good 10 or so apps – how about a decent Twitter client that takes advantage of the screen?) appear. Maybe there’s some potential for showcase apps if the Galaxy Tab sells well but a payment system needs to be put in place before any major private projects use this channel.
Basic Android 2.2 applications
We’ll look at the Browser in this section but first, lets address some of the other standard-looking Android 2.2 applications.
Alarm Clock – Multiple Alarms. Vibrate or specific tone. Nothing extra-special here.
World Clock – COnfigurable for multiple cities. Shows daylight zone. We had to specify daylight savings manually which is a disappointment and could be trip people up.
Gmail – Gmail is provided and works just as on a standard phone. Text sizes on the email list look a little large to us on this screen but the applications works well. As mentioned above, we’re currently using the IMAP/POP/Exchange Email application and we suspect others will too.
Gallery – Gallery is quick, smart and shows some nice transitions in slideshow mode. Access to the camera is directly available via a button on the top right but there are no image editing features on this or any other pre-installed application.
Browsing on the Galaxy Tab
A good browser is critical in a mobile internet device who’s features rely so heavily on being able to view web pages through links in applications, back-end stores and for general web browsing. The browser in Android 2.2 is vastly improved over that seen in 2.1. A new ‘just in time’ compiler improves speeds and on this ARMV7-based CPU, it gets a boost from the ARMv7 optimisations included. Android 2.1 doesn’t take advantage of these new CPUs in the same way. In addition to the standard browser, version2.2 combined with the ARMv7-based CPU permits the use of Flash 10.1. We’re happy to have the option to turn it on, off or have ‘click to run’ features wherever Flash content is presented on a page. YouTube videos work but you’ll be wanting use the dedicated application for that – it’s a lot smoother. It comes into its own where sites Flash for presenting products and shop-fronts. It’s also good for viewing non-YouTube embedded video content. There’s a price to pay though. Page loads are 10-20% slower and zooming and panning can be a very poor experience.
Carrypad.com loaded with Flash element running in header.
Don’t expect everything to work on the browser. Complex AJAX websites (‘web applications’) and sites that implement ‘mouse-over’ actions for drop-down menus and other features can be a real problem. Google blocks the Android 2.2 browser from its own Documents application. We’ve had some success with WordPress back-end but it’s a risky experience. There really is no substitute for a mouse and a full desktop browser if you’re looking for web-based productivity. Alas, this isn’t the Full Internet Experience.
Browsing speeds are good, consistent, backed with strong network connectivity options and due to the large screen format, rarely require much zooming to read the main content on a page. Zooming and panning is fast though (with Flash turned off) Pinch-to-zoom works and there’s 360 degree rotation. A ‘phone’ icon provides a shortcut to the dialer although selecting phone numbers on a page is the easier way to do that. There’s a good text selection/share/copy facility and for heavy users, an 8 window limit.
The browser has its own brightness setting and fairly standard set of browser configurations. One thing we’re very disappointed about though is the ability to set a ‘desktop id’ for the browser. Sites are always delivered as mobile versions an we’ve seen many sites that don’t allow you to switch to a full version therefore locking the user into a limited mobile experience. Third party browsers allow you to get round this problem but with this processing power, capability, speed, connectivity and screen size, we feel that browsing as a ‘desktop’ user should have been an option. Seriously, this could cause problems for some.
Here are some examples of website loading times over a wifi hotspot located about 5 meteres away. (16Mbps broadband-connected. Cache cleared.) The numbers indicate the average time to load the full version of the page completely with Flash disabled.
- Amazon.com – 11s
- Cnet.com – 13s
- Engadget – 20s
- news.google.com – 3s
- NYTimes – 15s
- Carrypad – 5s
- Carrypad 12/14
Sites tested with Flash enabled loaded, on average, 10-20% slower. (1-2 seconds)
In summary you have a very fast handheld browser that is probably going to satisfy most users. Those considering the Galaxy Tab (or any Android-based tablet) as a netbook replacement or modular computer for mobile productivity need to think carefully about the speed issues of running Flash and the issues with ‘mouse-over’ and Ajax websites.
[We haven’t tested the Galaxy Tab with a Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse.]
Think Free Office 2.0
Having mentioned the problems of using the browser for web-based applications we now come to a native application focused on productivity. Specifically word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Think Free Office Mobile is included for free (normally a paid-for application) and gives the user the ability to read and write documents and syncronise them into an online ThinkFree storage area.
The applications provide a simple way to do simple thing with words, numbers and graphics. Basic formatting is possible and saving to the Think Free Online storage (1GB free) is integrated. The package is also able to display basic PDFs. Two PDFs we downloaded failed to display however. A feature list is provided on the ThinkFree website but try as we did, we couldn’t find Google Docs integration. Maybe this is a tailored version for Samsung without the Google Docs features.
Having a Microsoft compatible office suite available is obviously an advantage but we advise doing some test work with it before relying on it when in the field. Again, we weren’t able to test this application with a keyboard.
At 380gm and one-hand-holdable, the Galaxy Tab is one of the nicest designs we’ve seen for long-duration ebook reading (dedicated reader hardware excepted.) There’s a good argument, however, that being paperback book sized is not the best for reading. Having used the Dell Streak we might, just might, give that the advantage but there’s no doubt that the high screen resolution and pre-installed applications make a compelling argument to use the Tab for everyday reading.
There are two pre-installed eBook applications on the Tab. The first is an ePub compatible reader with a two-page landscape mode. Books can be added to the filesystem and then imported into the application. Opening a book takes 5-10 seconds. Settings for fonts and 6 different color schemes are possible as is bookmarking, highlighting, copying, search and dictionary lookup via a long screen press which brings up a selection tool. Annotation is not possible. Screen brightness can be set separately for this app (as with email, calendar, contacts.) Screen color settings are shown below in a daylight-lit room. (Auto-white balance was used on the camera hence slightly different coloring on the paperback view. Look for the view that matches the paperback for the best daylight equivalent.)
Click to enlarge.
Readers Hub – Readers hub is a front-end to three e-book content providers. Unfortunately, Kobo, which is focused on books is the only one of the three applications that is currently live here on our German-version. Magazine content will be enabled through Zinio and newspaper content will be enabled through Press Display. We have no hints about when these services will become live but we suspect that the delay is related to our region.
The Kobo reader has the advantage over eBooks (above) by having commercial content available although clearly this is a relatively new venture because there aren’t many user ratings in the system yet. Pricing is in dollars, payment is via credit card (we used a German credit card successfully) and the content is English-language. Unfortunately, the book we downloaded (published by Random House eBooks) was badly formatted with words being concatenated on average every paragraph. Frankly, quite a waste of our $8. Other, free content we downloaded, didn’t have the same problem and downloading the same content on another Android device via the Kobo reader application wasn’t a problem. Maybe we’re dealing with a screen size bug here. No highlighting, annotations, dictionary or in-book search is available. Landscape mode formatting seems somewhat wasteful of the available space too. Our preference, having used Kobo, is for the Amazon Kindle application, an easy download from the Market. (A sample of the same book at Amazon was free of formatting errors.)
No, the Kindle app isn’t included pre-installed on the Galaxy Tab but if you’re interested in eBooks at all this is likely to be an early download for you. We’ve seen a couple of formatting errors in the application and one book that had uneven left and right borders but the reading experience is still fine.
One of the outstanding features of the Galaxy Tab is it’s media handling capability. From the outset we’ll say we’re impressed and that media features on the Tab are a high level above most other Android experiences and challenge dedicated media players such as the Archos 5 Internet Tablet although any form of digital output in terms of audio or video is sadly missing without the help of optional accessories.
Lets start with the cameras. The Tab has a 3.2MP auto-focus camera at the rear and a 1.2mp fixed-focus camera at the front. The rear camera is available to Android apps but it’s the built-in Samsung software that you’ll likely be using the most. Samsung have included a variant of the software you see on their phones and it’s good, quick to operate and feature-rich although some of the features are slightly dumbed down. There’s no dedicated two-stage camera button but a long press-and-hold on the on-screen shutter button enables pre-focus. There is no touch-focus/shutter release feature and only a single focusing style. Focusing off-center requires using the press-and-hold pre-focus feature, re-framing and then removing the finger for the shot.
The user interface can only be used in landscape mode.
The shooting modes are: Single Shot, Continuous (at a vastly reduced 0.4MP –800×600 resolution – dissapointing) Panorama (each shot at 0.4MP resolution) smile-shot (at full resolution) and self-shot which uses the front facing camera. There are 5 scene modes. None, Portrait, Landscape (infinity focus priority) , Night (no flash, long exposure) and Sports (quick exposure priority). The flash can be set to on/off or auto and is used for low-light focusing before the shutter is released. Exposure compensation reaches -/+ 2 f-stops and under ‘settings’ you get to control the ISO, resolution (a Wide, 2.4MP mode is possible,) white balance, JPEG compression level, Geo-tagging, shutter sound (or off) and the storage used for photos. There are four effects available; Normal, Negative, Black and White and Sepia. Note that there are no contrast or color settings.
The camera is quick to focus and operate and the huge viewfinder makes composition something totally different to what you might be used to. It enhances the need for good composition – a good thing.
In this gallery you’ll find the best of a set of photos we took. In general we’re quite pleased with the results in daylight. As with most phone cameras, low-light work is not easy although we did find the LED flash to be quite powerful.
See more, originals, including EXIF information, in the Gallery.
The 3.2MP rear facing camera can also be used as a video camera at 720×480 resolution. Quality is surprisingly good with few ‘jigglies’ and good sound quality. See this article for more details and a downloadable source file. The YouTube video that resulted from a direct upload from the camera is show below.
We’ve done extensive testing on the Galaxy Tab video features and find it to be excelent. In general you’ll get 1080p playback support out of the box for H.264 and, probably, Divx/Xvid but there are limits. Only 2-track audio is supported. AC3 or DTS is out of the question as far as our test results are concerned which, given the HDMI-out docking port, is a real shame. DVD-quality content should have been supported and I’m sure many would have been happy with just 720p if it meant getting AC3 support.
Click for larger versions.
From our video review article:
In terms of video file format support I’ve had success with AVI and MKV containers and WMV, H.264, Xvid and Divx encoded video files. AAC and MP3 is supported (2-channel only.) In terms of bitrates, i’ve tested H/264 up to an average 13Mbps which is a very heavy load. The Tab handled it well with no visible dropped frames and no tearing. The screen quality is just amazing!
Imagine this: When sitting on my sofa and holding the Tab about half arms-length from my eyes, it’s the equivalent of a 100cm diagonal screen where my TV is on the other side of the room!
The player software is good and you can adjust screen brightness, (brightness, contrast and saturation is also available in system settings) to suit your preferences. There’s easy access to video size ratio changes, favourites and volume. Fast forwarding and skipping is very quick and there’s a great ‘Mosaic’ preview feature that allows you to preview various parts of a video using snapshots.
The stereo speakers are really good although both are on the base of the device in portrait mode which means that when holding the device in landscape, the speakers are too easy to cover. The supplied headset quality is fine although not super high-quality. Portrait usage doesn’t seem to be supported but you can rotate the device through 180 degrees to put the headset port in a better position.
Check out the video performance in this video, below. Apologies for the 480p quality on this but there’s good information in the dialogue.
Video playback performance is all very good if you’ve got content. Ripping DVD’s isn’t a problem for many but what about just downloading pre-prepared content? Believe it or not, there are people prepared to pay for it, the author included! Unfortunately, the Galaxy Tab fails us here. In Germany there are some online flash-based content portals but there’s nothing easily available for download. We really expected the a ‘video hub’ to accompany the ‘music hub’ covered below but alas, it seems that European distribution rights are very hard to come by. You have to ask yourself why people resort to downloading other peoples content via ‘back doors.’
The story with audio is a strange one. While there’s a ton of storage (3000 songs we estimate) , who is going to be using the Galaxy Tab as an MP3 player? The answer lies in the docking station and the built-in speakers. As a round-the-house music device the Tab delivers a great performance. We love the built-in speakers quality and volume and have been happily using the device for background music.
The audio library software is good, fast although a little dis-jointed in places. Search is unavailable from the application for example and we only found it via a hint from another Tab user. Press the capacitive search button! Playlist capability was also a little tricky to find. The application supports dual-pane windowing in landscape mode in some tabs.
Don’t expect album art fetching or dynamic playlists and there are no built-in streaming sources in the application.
The media library has a component running in the background that detects valid media being added to internal or SD storage and adds to the media libraries automatically.
Audio can be adjusted through EQ presets, a custom EQ setup and effects such as ‘Wide’ and ‘Bass Enhancement.’ Some setups are available in earphone mode only.
A2DP via Bluetooth is easy to set up and we’ve had this running over our HiFi system without problems. It’s probably the only way to enjoy the music capabilities of the Tab while mobile and without wires running from backpacks!
7digital have teamed up with Samsung to provide music content in DRM-free MP3 (mostly 320kbps) format through a dedicated 1024×600 resolution application on the Tab and we’re pleased to see it finding some of our more obscure choices. The application will be pre-installed on devices in 30 different countries and will provide access to 11 million tracks in all.
We can’t help thinking again at this stage that there should be some form of video hub.
While streaming music applications aren’t part of the pre-installed suite, there’s no problem pulling some out of the Market. Last.Fm, Google Listen, TuneIn Radio, XiiaLive (only in 800×480) all work.
Accessing DNLA and UPnP content is supposed to be relatively easy but we had problems. While the application picks up servers and clients and in theory, allows you to direct content (music, video and images) from one device to another (using the Tab simply as a director in some scenarios) we haven’t been able to get it to work. Our 150GB+ collection on our Windows Media Center seems to be too big for the Tab to index and even sending content from the Tab to the Xbox fails. We suspect the Xbox doesnt support being a client despite appearing as one. With the right devices, this could work well but if you’re buying the Tab with DNLA in mind, you’ll need to do a lot more research.
Although the Galaxy Tab is technically capable of providing analogue and digital video outputs, it’s not something that is possible out of the box. For analogue output (composite) the TV-Out cable is required. (€19.90) for digital output you’ll need the docking port which provides HDMI out. (RRP €49.90, Street price around €37.) Neither of these items were available at the time of this review but we’ve pre-ordered the docking station for a later review.
Audio output is via a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. To our ears it was very clean. The supplied headset (with audio playback pause button) was also of good quality build and acceptable audio quality.
With our Tab unable to offer any video stores we headed for the YouTube application. Phew! It satisfied our eyes for a testing session that ran over 2hrs late one night. It only supports HQ streaming but 480p can still look great on the Tab. Response is quick (we tested over Wifi) and the newer YouTube application (available in the market) scales well in portrait mode to offer the running video and a list of related content.
Click to see the new YouTube player in portrait mode.
Should we start with Angry Birds? We intend to add more gaming content to this review but at this stage we can say that the device has the technical capability but few titles that really take advantage of the capability of the device. Angry Birds works well though and we’ve again wasted hours of testing time with this app. It was so much fun that we made a video…
We’ve tested a few other applications and there’s a recurring problem that many won’t scale up past 800×480. It makes sense because all of these applications were built before the Galaxy Tab pushed the limits on Android screen resolutions.
- Angry Birds: Perfect
- Raging Thunder 2 Lite: 800×480 windowed
- Labrynth Lite: Perfect. Amazingly lifelike accelerometer reactions and haptic feedback
At this stage we need to be honest with you; We’re not gaming experts but it does appear that there are less high-quality games in the Android market compared to the iPad market. Maybe we’re not looking hard enough so we’re happy to take your suggestions for a future gaming review.
We don’t have time to review a huge number of Market-sourced applications in this review but here’s a list of what’s working so far. All of these are currently installed on our Galaxy Tab and are working without problems unless mentioned below.
- Flickr Uploader (Pixelpipe) – There’s no native Flickr sharing
- Speed Test
- Adobe Reader
- TuneIn Radio
- Gesture Search – Very responsive
- Google Goggles – Crashed after standby
- Countdown Timer
- Remote RDP Lite – Works!
- Firefox (Slow, but working)
- Google Sky Map (Wow!)
- Google Earth (again, Wow!)
- Opera Mini
- Google Listen
- RailNavigator (Deutsche Bahn)
- Blinx Beat (from Samsung Store)
- XiiaLive Lite
Summary – Samsung Galaxy Tab Applications
It seems silly to be saying that applications are critical because without them, a device would be worthless but the Galaxy Tab highlights how applications that are written for a specific device can elevate it above others in its class. While we don’t care for some of the styling and colour schemes on the apps we can not deny that Samsung have done a great job in adding a huge amount of functionality and ease-of-use. The next time you compare tablets, just do a quick check on video codec support for example. Even Windows 7 on many netbooks can’t match what the Galaxy Tab can offer in terms of video playback flexibility and it’s something you won’t find on a standard ‘AOS’ Tablet. [AOS=Android Open Source.] In summary, we’re incredibly impressed with the Samsung Galaxy Tab applications suite and hope it inspires other OEDs and developers to think about the Android Tablet space. The shear length of this application review gives you a good idea of how much the Galaxy Tab can achieve. We hope you find it useful (and if so, please tell the world!)
In the next part of the review [available here] we’ll be looking at the performance of the Galaxy Tab, some of the other features such as network sharing, checking out the battery life and summarising our thoughts. Stay tuned to Carrypad.com for Part 3. Part 1 – (Overview, hardware, screen, keyboard) is available here. Our Galaxy Tab tracking page (with external links) is here. Our Galaxy Tab forum is very active and available here.