Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review Of Samsung's compact Galaxy Tab 8.9 Android tablet

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 review unit that I tested only features Wi-Fi connectivity. An LTE-equipped version has been announced by Samsung, but the company has not revealed when that will be available for purchase. Wi-Fi performance was good, and I was able to maintain a signal outside on my porch, a good distance from my Wi-Fi access point. The Galaxy Tab 8.9 also supports Bluetooth and GPS, unlike the Wi-Fi-only models of the iPad 2.

Messaging messaging: 4 of 5 score

The Galaxy Tab 8.9 has pretty solid support for messaging needs. It includes the Honeycomb Gmail app, which has scrollable widgets and offers the best Gmail experience for any tablet device. It also comes with Samsung's own email client that features a split-screen view and rich text formatting, along with multiple account support, multiple message management, and pinch-to-zoom. It lacks conversation view and support for IMAP IDLE (push services for IMAP email accounts), so those are two things that I would like to see improved for the next version. Samsung's email app also features a scrollable home screen widget for a quick look at your inbox.
For instant messaging, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 comes with the Honeycomb Google Talk app with voice and video calling features. It works as well as ever, and makes good use of the 8.9's 2 megapixel front-facing camera. Other instant messaging protocols require a trip to the Android Market, as the 8.9 does not support them out of the box.

Apps / App Store apps: 3 of 5 score

It is no secret that tablet-optimized apps have been a weak point for Honeycomb ever since it was released, and things are no different on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9. Though the tablet has access to the Android Market, there are so few apps that take advantage of the larger screen offered by a tablet, that one quickly runs out of options and is forced to use the smartphone apps instead. Like a mobile webpage, the smartphone apps will stretch to fit the display of the tablet, but they look a bit ridiculous, since the apps are usually designed for a screen that is half that size. This leaves a lot of empty space and an ugly user experience.
As part of its TouchWiz interface, Samsung has pre-installed a number of apps on the Tab 8.9, including a photo editor, document viewer, and its own app store. The Readers Hub offers access to newspapers, books, and magazine content, but after a short free trial, you generally have to pay for any content that you access in it. The Pulse newsreader is available for accessing web feeds, and there are two different memo apps for taking notes. The quick access tray offers a calender, calculator, memo app, world clock, music player, and task manager accessible from any app, which is probably the most useful part of Samsung's customizations.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9

Browser browser: 4 of 5 score

The Galaxy Tab 8.9 offers a commendable web browsing experience, complete with Adobe Flash Player support and tabbed pages. Web sites load fairly quickly, and scrolling and pinch-to-zoom are smoothly executed most of the time. The only hiccup the browser has is when playing full-screen video, as the video quickly degrades into a choppy mess and will frequently crash the browser. The browser also represents itself to web servers as a smartphone rather than a tablet most of the time, so you are presented with the mobile versions of pages more often than desktop editions. Nobody will argue that mobile versions of websites look downright ridiculous when stretched to fit an 8.9-inch screen.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9

Camera camera: 2 of 5 score

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 offers two cameras: a 3 megapixel rear unit with autofocus, flash, and 720p HD (1280 x 720 pixel) video capture, and a front 2 megapixel unit that does none of those. The rear camera leaves quite a bit to be desired, as it requires a lot of light for a decent image and it is a bit slow to focus. Unlike the images captured by most of Samsung's smartphone cameras, the 8.9's camera offers flat images with lots of noise and little punch to their color. Video is slightly better, but I just can't get over the concept of recording video with a tablet, as I find it very unwieldy and impractical.
The front camera serves its purpose well. It works for the occasional self portraits and works well will the Google Talk video calling app.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9

Music music: 4 of 5 score

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 offers the standard Google Music app for Honeycomb tablets, as well as Samsung's Music Hub, where you can purchase and download tracks from the 7digital music store. The standard music app works well, and automatically syncs with a Google Music account, so you can access thousands of your tunes on the go. The 3D carousel of album art looks cool and is fun way to browse your collection. The Music Hub provides an option to buy music, but its selection is limited compared to Apple's iTunes Music Store or the Amazon MP3 Store. Still, it's convenient to have the ability to purchase music right on the tablet itself.
As far as speaker performance goes, the thin speakers along the bottom edge of the Galaxy Tab 8.9 get surprisingly loud, though they tend to lack depth and have little bass response. The loudest 80's hair metal tunes could not get them to distort though, so that's a plus. The Galaxy Tab 8.9 also supports standard 3.5mm headphones and A2DP stereo Bluetooth streaming.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9
Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9

Battery battery: 5 of 5 score

Samsung equipped the Galaxy Tab 8.9 with a 6,100mAh battery, which is slightly smaller than the 7,000mAh unit that powers the Galaxy Tab 10.1. No worries about that though, as the 8.9 is a champ when it comes to battery life. During my review period, I found that I could easily go days between charges, even with numerous accounts constantly syncing/updating and fairly regular usage of the tablet. In fact, trying to get the tablet to tap out to zero battery life with standard usage is more of a chore than anything else. The heaviest users should be able to go a full day on a single charge and still have juice left over at the end of it.

Reviewer Spin spin: 2 of 5 score

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 had a lot of promise when it was shown off next to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 at Samsung's official unveiling earlier this year. Many thought it would be the tablet for them, as it strikes a nice balance in size between the 10-inch class of tablets and today's large 4-inch or more smartphones. Unfortunately, while the hardware of the tablet lives up to that promise, the software that powers it really lets the user down. The choppy performance and all-too-frequent crashes make using the Galaxy Tab 8.9 a chore more than an enjoyable experience. Samsung is asking $469 for the 16GB version (and $569 for the 32GB model), and at that price, I can't see how someone could justify buying this when there are other, better options on the market. If Samsung were to update the software on the 8.9 to something that has less bugs and offers a better experience (like say, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich), it might be more of a contender. Unless that happens, though, it is not.
You will find sample images and video captured with the Galaxy Tab 8.9 on the following page.


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