Galaxy Tab 8.9 Review

I said in my last post that I would do a better writeup on my new Galaxy Tab 8.9, so here it is. I recently came upon owning this from winning a contest from Android and Me, which was sponsored by Nvidia Tegra. I’ve actually had my eye on this tablet for a while, so this is perfect for me. I was getting kind of tired of my Nook Color and it’s smaller screen and slower processor. Anyway, more after the break.

GTab-7

First of all, let’s look at the specs. It has pretty much identical specs to any other first-generation Honeycomb tablet. It sports Android 3.1, so while it doesn’t have the latest software, it is pretty up-to-date. But it has a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 1GB RAM, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, all that good stuff. And it packs it into a pretty small package, I am able to easily slide it into the back pocket of my camera bag.

GTab

The Galaxy Tab also sports a 8.9″ 1280×800 “PLS” (which I guess is Samsung’s market speak for their IPS-beating technology) display.  And the colors are gorgeous. I can’t tell you how great my photos look on this thing. Though I will complain about the overzelaous “Auto-Brightness”, which keeps the display almost too dark to appreciate. It is a huge improvement in both responsiveness and resolution over the 1024×600 Nook Color, though. I also want to mention that the screen is a huge fingerprint magnet, so I will probably be getting a matte screen protector like I had for my Nook.

As for the size, it is perfect for me. It’s small enough to fit in my camera bag but large enough to enjoy movies on. It’s only about a pound, and the thinness is perfect for me. I’m able to hold it with one hand both landscape and portrait, which is perfect for reading. I guess this is also where I mention the cameras, 2 megapixel front camera and a 3.something megapixel one in the rear. Honestly I doubt I see myself using the back one other than to scan a quick QR code. Though the first one seems likely to see use in Skype and GTalk, it had trouble keeping up in low light.

 

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The homescreen, as customized by me. Android offers a lot of customization options over iOS, due to its many useful widgets.

And now onto the software, I guess. This comes loaded with Android 3.1, with Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface. There are a couple of neat customizations. I enjoy the slate gray of the soft buttons, they seem to be a bit more professional looking than stock Honeycomb’s “neon” look. Also a feature I forgot to screenshot: if you click the little ^ in the middle of the status bar, it pops up with a list of TouchWiz apps. These are different from normal Android apps as they only take up little windows, and not the entire screen. They are handy if you need to kill a task quickly, or do some quick math on a calculator. Also includes a Calendar, World Clock, Pen Memo for takings notes, and a music player.

The home screen is initially loaded with Samsung widgets, which are easily resizable. I, however, decided to remove all the widgets since they weren’t as aesthetically pleasing as I would have liked. There are 5 different pages, each customizable in an eight by seven grid. Some widgets take more, some less. What’s good though is that the included widgets are resizable.  Browsing through the homescreen is smooth enough, however if something is going on in the background, like if you just closed an app, it can get a bit choppy.

Gmail App Image
Gmail's "Split Pane" view

The included apps are designed really well for tablets, something the Nook Color sorely lacked. Gmail’s scrollable widgets has eliminated the need for me to keep a dedicated Gmail icon on the home screen. As for the app itself, the split pane layout is great on the screen. Being able to go through labels on one side while seeing the emails contained within on the other side of the screen is much better than switching screens every time. When you select an email, it turns into another dual pane view of the email and the other emails in that label. Again, much better than non-Honeycomb tablets like the Nook Color where you would have to switch back and forth between the views each time you wanted to see another email.

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Google Maps, in its "3D Mode"

Another included program is Google Maps. It works pretty well, though I don’t see myself using it for routing, as I usually just do that on my phone so I can keep the directions with me. The 3D mode is need though, as you can see the actual shapes of the buildings to help you get your bearings.

 

Honeycomb Browser
The browser, with its quick controls enabled.

And now for what people will probably spend most their time using. The browser. It is a great, speedy browser, and the quick controls seen above are great to use. However, I found it very lacking in GIF performance, often playing frames out of sequence and at a much slower rate than usual. I now use Opera, which has great performance and the GIFs play flawlessly on it. Has a great interface too, but I do miss the quick controls from the stock browser.

Android Keyboard, "SwiftKey"
SwiftKey, an alternate keyboard

The Tab comes with 3 default keyboards installed. The default Honeycomb keyboard, Samsung’s own keyboard, and Swype. All of these are decent keyboards and can get the job done. However, one of my favorite parts about Android is the ability to download custom keyboards. My favorite of these is SwiftKey Tablet X Keyboard. It has a great predictive engine, and options for a split-key layout in portrait, which is great for typing with thumbs.

The Honeycomb market is lacking on Tablet specific apps, much more so than the iPad App Store, however I feel that this gap will narrow with time, especially considering the imminent release of Ice Cream Sandwich, which is Google’s combined phone and tablet version of Android. A couple of great tablet apps I would recommend are IM+, an instant messaging client, and the Google Reader app is great. See Tablified.com for a good selection of Honeycomb enabled apps.

A small note: gaming performance is excellent. The Tegra II really flies with the games designed for it, which can be found in an app called Tegra Zone. One such game is Galaxy of (or on?) Fire II, which has amazing 3D visuals. Not quite Xbox 360 class, but still great looking. I also run an N64 emulator, which runs flawlessly.

And now for the other side: the “not so great” stuff. For one, while TouchWiz’s interface can be useful sometime, I have had to restart more than once due to the system locking up. I’m not sure if this is due to Samsung’s own code or Google’s. But it isn’t the most stable OS around. I’ll give it a small pass however, since my iPhone is prone to do the same thing. Another minus is the lack of ports, such as HDMI and a full USB port, which can be found on the more inexpensive Android tablets. Also missing is expandable storage. However, these things seem to be needed to be removed to get the thickness down to what it is.

All in all, I definitely would have ended up feeling justified it in buying this if I had paid for it instead of winning it. An all around great tablet at a decent price. Some may feel that it needs to be a smaller price ($450 as of this post) due to the smaller size, I feel that it is a nearly identical cousin to the 10.1 ($500), in a smaller package. At $50 less for pretty much the same product, it is a deal.

Pros:

  • Great customization options
  • Scrollable widgets are great for email and social feeds
  • Responsive touchscreen
  • Beautiful screen
  • Great gaming performance
  • The Honeycomb-designed apps are really great to use

Cons

  • Software can be a bit unstable
  • Unfortunately, not many apps are designed for tablets

I would definitely recommend this to someone looking for a tablet. I’ve been enjoying it a lot myself, and definitely prefer it over the iPad software. I guess this has been a bit longer than I expected, but I wanted my review to be thorough. So I hope it has helped anyone looking for some feedback on this device!

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