There’s a lot to like about the new Galaxy Tab, Samsung Electronics Co.’s competitor to Apple Inc.’s iPad. So why don’t I like it more?
I mean, it has two cameras, to none on the iPad, so I can use it for video calling. It has a bright color screen, and I’m a known sucker for Samsung screens. It plays nicely with Adobe Systems Inc.’s Flash video format while Apple doesn’t. Though it has fewer apps than the iPad, the difference between 100,000 and 300,000 doesn’t mean much when I use only 100 or so of ‘em.
So why am I just mild about the Galaxy Tab? Maybe because it costs too much and suffers from a general lack of wow. For all its features, it’s much less than the sum of its parts.
The Galaxy Tab, which is being introduced on all four major U.S. wireless carriers, uses Google Inc.’s Android operating system for mobile devices. It’s about as tall and wide as Amazon.com Inc.’s newest Kindle e-reader; its 7-inch backlit color touch screen is less than half the size of the iPad display.
It’s also much lighter -- almost 14 ounces versus about 24 for the iPad -- and a smidgeon thinner. Still, it feels solid and seems rugged enough to stand up to heavy use. The front, for instance, is protected by a sheet of Corning Inc.’s Gorilla Glass, which ought to provide ample protection from any set of keys you might toss into the same pocket.
A Bigger Droid
Using an iPad isn’t like using an iPod Touch. Its larger size and two-hand operation makes it a very different experience. By contrast, using the Galaxy Tab is a lot like using one of the big-screen Android-based smartphones already available, such as Motorola Inc.’s Droid X or HTC Corp.’s EVO.
The Galaxy, which is powered by the same processor used in Samsung’s Galaxy S smartphones, comes with 16 gigabytes of onboard storage for apps and content, the same as the base-level iPad. A slot for an SD memory card lets you expand it by an additional 32 gigabytes. The cameras are nothing special -- the front-facing one is 1.3 megapixels, the rear is 3 megapixels -- but it’s kind of fun to be able to see your photo or video on the 7-inch screen while you’re shooting it.
The screen on the Galaxy is a disappointment. It’s bright enough but lacks the jump-out-at-you pizzazz of the gorgeous Super AMOLED displays that Samsung uses on the Galaxy S phones. The screen also displayed an annoying tendency to dim itself while I was using it, the result of a feature that analyzes the image being displayed and automatically adjusts the brightness. Even with the option disabled, the screen would sometimes dim on its own, though not as often.
Samsung has tailored some of the tablet’s included software, such as the e-mail client and calendar, to take advantage of the larger-than-a-phone screen. Still, few third- party apps are available that have been adapted to its dimensions and capabilities. Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs recently trash-talked the 7-inch size, saying it “isn’t sufficient to create great tablet apps.” I don’t buy that, but for the Galaxy to be a success, Android developers will need to step up and prove him wrong.
Like the iPad’s, the Galaxy Tab’s battery isn’t user- replaceable. Samsung says the Galaxy has a battery life of six to seven hours of continuous video playback, which is less than the iPad but sufficient to keep you entertained on a cross- country flight. Warning: On two separate devices, the charge plunged when Bluetooth connectivity was enabled, so keep it off unless you need it.
Paying a Price
You might be willing to live with the Galaxy Tab’s compromises if you were at least saving a bunch of money over an iPad. You aren’t. Verizon Wireless and Deutsche Telecom’s T- Mobile are pricing the Samsung at $599, plus the cost of a data plan, and AT&T Inc. is charging $649. Direct comparison among the carriers is complicated: AT&T’s cheapest data plan costs $15 a month, for example, while Verizon’s plans start at $20 monthly. T-Mobile allows you to use the tablet as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot at no extra charge. Meanwhile, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel Corp. will sell you a Tab for $399, but only if you sign a two-year, mobile phone-like contract.
By contrast, Wi-Fi-only iPads start at $499, and 3G-enabled models start at $629. That suggests to me that a core market for the Galaxy Tab may be people with an intrinsic, philosophical distaste for Apple’s Jobs and his desire to control every aspect of his customers’ experience. The sentiment is understandable, but it seems a poor reason to buy a lesser product.
There’s no question that Jobs and his iPad need a worthy competitor. The Galaxy Tab just isn’t it.
Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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