Android devices -- both smartphones and tablets -- are getting increasingly affordable. With its new Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) tablet, which goes on sale on April 22nd for $250, Samsung is obviously hoping to claim its piece of the budget-price pie.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0)
However, while the price is new and noteworthy, there's not much else about the tablet that's fresh or exciting.
Don't get me wrong: The Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) is a perfectly fine device. It has an attractive form and solid performance. The problem is that it seems like a sideways step -- or in some ways, a backwards one -- from the 7-in. tablets Samsung already has available. And by simply recycling and remixing an existing concept, Samsung has doomed the product to be quickly outpaced.
The many faces of Samsung's 7-inch Tab
Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) stands alongside two other current 7-in. Samsung Galaxy tablets: the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, available for $350, and the Galaxy Tab 7.7, which comes with LTE connectivity and sells for $500 with a two-year Verizon data contract (or for $700 off-contract). Generally speaking, choice is a good thing -- but lined up next to Samsung's other 7-inch offerings, the only significant distinguishing feature the new Tab can claim is its price tag.
To be fair, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) does look a little different from its predecessors. The tablet has a gray plastic back and is slightly thicker than Samsung's other 7-in. devices, measuring in at 0.41 in. compared to the 7.0 Plus model's 0.39-in. size and the 7.7 model's even svelter 0.31-in. waistline. It weighs 12.2 oz., the same as the 7.0 Plus tablet and 0.2 oz more than the 7.7.
The tablet feels good in your hands; it's not at all slippery and is comfortable to hold, at least in the horizontal position. Because of its size, I found the tablet a bit awkward to use vertically; in that orientation, it's slightly too big to hold in one hand and slightly too small to hold naturally with two.
The display itself is good but not breathtaking. The Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) has a 1024 x 600 PLS TFT screen -- the same kind as the Tab 7.0 Plus. It's easy on the eyes and certainly nothing to complain about, but it's also far less impressive than the high-quality screens we've seen on other recent devices -- including Samsung's own Galaxy Tab 7.7, which uses one of the company's newer Super AMOLED Plus (1280 x 800) displays.
Hardware and performance
Under the hood, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) has a 1GHz dual-core processor along with 1GB of RAM. Curiously, Samsung won't divulge exactly what type of processor the tablet uses -- a spokesperson told me he couldn't comment on the matter -- but I independently confirmed that the chip is not Nvidia's Tegra 2 processor, which powers many of the current dual-core Android tablets.
Compared to Samsung's more expensive 7-in. tablets, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) is a bit of a downgrade in terms of pure processing power: The Tab 7.0 Plus runs on a 1.2GHz dual-core processor with 1GB of RAM, while the Tab 7.7 uses a 1.4GHz dual-core processor with 1GB of RAM.
Regardless, the difference is fairly minor and the tablet performed well in my hands-on tests. Apps loaded quickly, Web browsing and page-zooming were fast, and the system generally felt speedy and responsive. My only issue was with swiping through the five home screens, which felt far less fluid and snappy than I've come to expect from using similarly powered devices.
Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) comes with 8GB of internal storage, though my device showed only about 4.3GB free immediately after initialization (with no non-system apps installed). Samsung originally said the Tab 2 (7.0) would be available in three storage options -- 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB -- and its consumer website still reflected that multi-tiered structure as of this writing. A spokesperson told me, however, that the 8GB model I tested is the only version that will be available at launch.
At a Glance
SamsungPrice: $249.99Pros: Affordable price; comfortable to hold; ships with Android 4.0; microSD card slotCons: Underwhelming display; some lagginess in home screen swiping; limited internal storage space
Fortunately, the Tab 2 (7.0) has plenty of supplementary storage options. The device has a microSD slot that supports cards up to 32GB (no cards are included with the tablet at purchase). It also comes with a one-year subscription for 50GB of cloud-based storage from Dropbox, but take note: If you want to keep that subscription beyond your first year, it'll cost you $10 a month or $100 a year. Without extending the subscription, you'll be defaulted back to Dropbox's free storage level, which gives you 2GB of space.
In terms of cameras, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) has an adequate but not exemplary 3-megapixel rear-facing camera and a VGA-quality front-facing camera -- the latter of which is a drop-down in quality from the 2-megapixel front-facing camera found on the other two 7-in. Galaxy Tab models. The Tab 2 (7.0) also has a built-in IR port that, combined with the preloaded Smart Remote app, allows you to use the tablet as a remote control for your TV. I found the function to be easy to configure and novel to use.
A new flavor of Ice Cream Sandwich
The Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) ships with Android 4.0, a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich -- the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. Samsung did modify the OS with its proprietary TouchWiz skin, as it typically does, but the changes here are far less severe and regressive than what we saw recently on Samsung's Galaxy S II smartphones.
Samsung added a "Mini Apps" button in the bottom-center of the screen that brings up a menu of applications.
With the Tab 2 (7.0), for the most part, you're getting the actual ICS-level interface with some arbitrarily changed colors and fonts that make it look a little less classy and polished. Samsung added a handful of features, too, such as a "Mini Apps" button in the bottom-center of the screen that brings up a menu of applications, all of which can be loaded in small overlay windows from anywhere in the system.
Samsung replaced the stock ICS Camera app with its own, too -- a cosmetic change, more than anything -- and added a somewhat intrusive screen-capture icon to the main system navigation area. (Ice Cream Sandwich has a native screen-capture command that can be activated by pressing the volume-down and power buttons together, making Samsung's addition rather redundant.)
The Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) has Samsung's usual sets of Hubs (interfaces for buying and managing music, games, multimedia and news/magazine content) and bloatware as well, but Ice Cream Sandwich gives you an easy way to disable and hide most of these if you don't plan on using them and want them out of your way.
All considered, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) is a pretty good tablet at a really good price. However, I find myself wondering why Samsung bothered creating it. The tablet bears no real improvements over its eerily similar predecessors; the few changes that it does have are either lateral or marginally regressive.
If the company's goal was to offer a respectable 7-in. tablet at a lowered cost, I think a far more customer-centric approach would have been to deliver an ICS upgrade and a hundred dollar price drop to its existing 7.0 Plus model (which is still awaiting Android 4.0, with a vague promise but no specific time frame for delivery). As it stands, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) lacks any "wow" factor and leaves Samsung's existing Tab users looking like second-class citizens in a waiting game with no end in sight.
(A similar situation may unfold with the company's upcoming Galaxy Tab 2 10.1-inch model, which is slated to be released on May 13 at a price of $400. Although review units weren't available at press time, it appears that, like the 7-in. model, the Tab 2 (10.1) will offer few significant changes over its predecessor -- which has also yet to be upgraded to Android 4.0.)
In addition, Google's I/O developers' convention is just over two months away. Asus has already discussed plans to release a $250 quad-core 7-in. tablet between now and the end of June, and Google is rumored to be working on a next-gen 7-in. tablet that'll be in the $150 to $200 range for this summer.
In short, anyone in immediate need of a low-cost 7-in. tablet would do well with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0). But with tomorrow's technology almost upon us at budget-level prices, it's hard to recommend dropping that cash on yesterday's technology today.
Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.