Another good friend of mine asked for my humble opinion and advice on a problem he’s been having. He has a fairly large video collection and one of his goal is to be able to bring his collection with him on the go. Of course, my first suggestion was to just use his laptop and to use one of his many USB external hard drives. While this was a possible solution, he didn’t like it. He wanted something smaller and more portable. So we looked first at the iPod Touch. He’s already familiar with the iPhone so using the new iPod would be a similar experience. However, due to the limited space on the device, he wouldn’t be able to bring his whole collection with him. Also, the screen was a bit small and he doesn’t care about downloading the latest apps. Oh and the price was too expensive too for what he was going to do with the device. Finally, we decided to just go ahead with a tablet instead.
After looking around, I thought the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 would be the perfect match. Why? The two main reason is due to it’s expanded storage capabilities with micro SD cards and the perfect screen size being at 7 inch. As you may or may not know, the Android tablet and phone market has been really fragmented in that there are new devices being released all the time. Unless you are a tech geek for tablets, it’s really hard keeping track with all of them. Therefore I was quite surprised that this Samsung tablet was only just recently released equipped with Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). Even within Samsung, there is a confusion of devices within the Galaxy Tab 2 namespace from the 7.0 to the 7.0 Plus, 7.7 and the 10.1. Good luck consumers. What we didn’t need is the 10 inch screen version. Oh and earlier above, I mentioned about the main reasons why we picked this device. I left out one very critical decision maker: the price. At just $250, this tablet is an absolute steal. For this price, it will get you the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 tablet version. Phew.Throughout this review, there will be many comparisons to the Kindle Fire mainly because they are of the same form factor and within the same price range. You can purchase the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 here from Amazon.
Unboxing and Physical Features
Unboxing the product will land you the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 tablet, USB cable connector, power adapter and a insanely huge instructional booklet of some kind that I’m sure 9 out of 10 people will throw away.
The Samsung Galaxy 2 7.0 sports a beautiful 7 inch screen with a resolution of 1024×600. This is the same as the Kindle Fire. It weighs in at just 12.2 ounces compared with the 14.6 ounces of the Fire. Let me tell you, this is a pretty big difference especially if you will be using the tablet for heavy duty reading. The other important aspect is that it just feels a lot thinner than the Fire, even though technically it’s not. I guess this is due to the slightly more curved design of the Samsung as compared to the outright rectangular Fire. Other specifications for the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 includes a 1GHz dual-core processor, 8GB of internal memory and 1GB of RAM. Again, for what you’re paying for, this is pretty good and I can tell you right now that the tablet is pretty darn fast.
On the bottom side you’ll have your proprietary USB connector from Samsung. This connector looks eerily similar to that of the Apple devices. Therefore if you lose the included cable, you won’t be able to just whip out another standard micro USB cable. You’ll actually have to order another one from Samsung. To either side of the connector are two tiny speakers. When you watch movies in landscape mode (which you’ll be doing a lot of I’m sure), you have to be careful not to cover up part of the speakers for obvious reasons. One solution is to switch the tablet around so that the speakers are facing to your left instead of right. To the left of the device is the micro-SD card slot, which is expandable up to 32GB for each card. To the right is your standard on/off switch, volume rocker button and a infrared looking port which allows you to use it as a remote control for your HDTVs. Rounding out the top is your 3.5mm headphone jack and microphone. On the back you have your 3 megapixel rear camera and a 640×480 front facing camera in the front, which the Kindle Fire lacks on both end.The tablet reviewed here is the Wi-Fi only version. There is no other network connectivity (Edge, 3G or 4G).
The tablet feels very good in my hands. It doesn’t have the rubbery/matte finish in the back like the Fire but more of the sleek plastic types. One might think it can easily slip out of your hands if you’re not careful but I found the grip to be pretty amazing. Users with sweaty hands I’m not so sure about. Just like with the Kindle Fire, I prefer to hold the device, when in landscape orientation, on the other side of the device as opposed to the side it’s meant to be held. It could just be my mind but holding it by the top bezel makes the device feel more light. This is not as noticeable on the Samsung tablet as it is on the Fire. One possible reason could be that the bulk of the inner parts are placed there.
Setup and Navigation Buttons
The initial setup of the Samsung tablet was a breeze. You just have to enter in some standard settings such as your time and connecting to your wireless connection. You’ll also want to provide your Google email address so that you can sync your settings. A Google account is also required if you want to download apps from their Play store. I did find it a bit odd that the setup wizard referred to my tablet as a “phone”. Nonetheless, the out of box setup experience was fast and painless like how it always should be. Playing around with this tablet is my first introduction to Ice Cream Sandwich, the successor to the Honeycomb Android operating system. I found that the interface and navigational controls were easy to understand and works very well.
The Samsung tablet has no physical navigational buttons on the device itself. The controls are all soft buttons located on what is called the Action bar on the bottom of your screen. Similar to the Kindle Fire, this bar usually does not go away and is ever so present no matter what you do. The main navigational buttons include the Back button, the Home button, the Task Manager button and a screen capture button. The first two are self-explanatory. The Task Manager button is one that I instantly fell in love with. At a touch of this button, it will bring up a sidebar with your most recently opened applications and you are able to switch between them without ever having to head back to your home screen first. As with other tablets, application management is a bit different. Although you can technically open a lot of applications, they won’t all remain open while in the background. Some apps will eventually close so that the device can reuse the memory for other more recently opened applications. So with the Task Manager, although you may scroll up the sidebar to find a app you opened some time ago, switching to it might “re-open” that application and not dump you right back to where you left off of from last time. App management was a complete no show on the Kindle Fire without adding third-party applications. The screenshot button is also very handy when you need to quickly take a snapshot of what is onscreen. This makes taking screenshot of the device for product reviews like this one a breeze. Other users might not have a need for it, however.
In the middle of the Action bar you’ll find a little “Up” arrow. Activating this will allow you to open a small collection of “mini-apps”. This is true multi-tasking on a tablet because you are able to launch an app within the original app. For example, lets say you’re working on a spreadsheet file and need to do some calculations. You normally would need to head back to your home screen, launch the calculator app, do your thing, and then head back to your spreadsheet. With this multi-tasking feature in ICS, you can bring up the calculator mini-app while you are still in your spreadsheet app. The calculator pops up and you can even move the app or “widget” around the screen. Once you are done with it, simply close it out and you’re back to your spreadsheet. Some included mini-apps with the tablet includes a calculator, email, task manager, music player and an alarm.
To the far right of the Action bar is the notification and settings menu. A quick tap here allows you to configure the bulk of your device. If you love the awesome SBSetting app of a jailbroken iPhone, then you’ll be glad to know that there is a similar interface here that allows you to quickly toggle on/off some of the most important settings such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, locking screen rotation and adjusting the brightness level. The settings interface has gone over a major re-design and everything is much more streamlined and easy to find. It resembles a lot to the settings interface on the iPad devices. Under the Settings menu you have your Notifications area. App and email alerts will be thrown under here for a quick overview.
Home Screen and App Management
On the top left corner, you have a Google icon where you can easily search the web or your phone. On the opposite corner, you have a gray looking 3×2 grid looking icon. This icon allows you to head directly into applications main home page where you’ll see all of your download applications. Long holding an icon here allows you to place a shortcut anywhere on your home screen page, just as long as that page has room. Besides your apps, you can also head into the Widget category to dock them on your home screen as well. In the top right corner, you can access the menu to do a whole lot more with your applications. Within this menu, you can choose to hide some of your app icons, perform a mass uninstall, re-arrange the icons to your liking and even share your apps. Hiding your apps is very useful as Samsung includes a plethora of bundled apps with the tablet, such as Netflix. The bad news is I couldn’t find a way to uninstall these bundled apps. The good news is you can simply hide them so that you won’t be reminded of them.
The built-in browser of the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is your standard affair. It supports tabbed browsing, incognito mode, page sharing and the likes. Page load and pinch and zooming features is fast and fluid as well. Two pretty neat features is being able to save a webpage for offline viewing and quickly being able to switch a website to the full desktop version. With the former, it seems that all the browser is doing is taking a quick snapshot of the webpage and saving it in your offline bookmarks list. With the latter feature, you can easily switch the site you are on to the full desktop view. Many sites will load the mobile version of a site for easier navigation on devices with a smaller screen but sometimes you’ll want to load the full site and you can do that here in the options menu. One feature I am missing a lot on the Fire’s Silk Browser is the Reading Mode feature. With a touch of an icon, every extra element on a website (sidebars, widgets, advertisements) gets stripped away and you’re only left with the main article. This is a very handy feature to have and one I’m hoping every browser will incorporate in the future.The browser is able to handle flash objects on websites but you have to first download the Adobe Flash player from Google’s Play store first. If you’re not satisfied with the built-in ICS browser, simply download either the Dolphin Browser or Opera Mobile from Google’s Play store. Both are free and should offer many more advance features.
Another lacking aspect of the Kindle Fire is its sometimes struggling effort to play HD videos. Sometimes, it can handle 720p videos but other times it lags. With the Samsung tablet, 720p high definition videos play back without much hiccups and it looks absolutely brilliant. Also, the Samsung tablet supports many more video codecs and formats by default than the Kindle Fire. Screen brightness is not lacking as well. However, I never found myself ever having to crank the brightness to max levels no matter what device I’m using. For 1080p videos, I found the tablet could handle them as well but it depended on how the video was encoded. Either way, I’m not sure why one would waste watching a beautifully recorded 1080p video on such a small screen but it is possible. 720p videos is the way to go on such a small screen. With the tablet being able to handle more video formats by default, that means you also have less converting to do. If you really don’t like converting things, then I suggest you download the MX Player app from the Play store. This baby can play back many video formats natively without any conversion necessary. Below is a sample screenshot I took while playing a movie trailer at full 1080p resolution in MP4 format. There was no screen lag, tearing or audio sync issues.
One thing that quite irritated me a bit is the inability to hide the Action bar on the tablet. This most irritates me because of the wasted screen space. Like most people, I like to watch my movie in absolute full screen. This means no black bars on any sides of the video and certainly not any navigational interface bar on the bottom as well! Sadly, I don’t think you can hide this bar.
The Samsung tablet comes bundled with the Polaris Office app and in my opinion, it’s absolutely amazing. It can handle your Microsoft Office files such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Not only are you able to view them but your editing options is very expansive as well. While you normally wouldn’t want to edit documents on such a small screen, there are times when you just have no choice. Browsing through some of the documents I’ve downloaded online is very fast and snappy. There are obviously going to be some slowdowns on heavy duty files but for the most part, it works pretty good. Plus, you didn’t have to spend a penny getting this awesome application so that’s a good deal in my opinion. While Polaris Office can display PDF files as well, I would still recommend one of the best PDF reading applications I’ve come across, ezPDF. Polaris Office crashed the majority of the time I tried to load a 900+ page technical PDF file. Trust me, for only $2, ezPDF will be the best PDF reading applications you’ll ever use!
Overall Speed and Responsiveness
The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 tablet overall is very fluid. Again, you have to think of the price you paid for this tablet in relations to what you should be getting. For $50 more than the Kindle Fire, this tablet absolutely rocks. Instead of getting only a half-baked tablet OS, you get the full Android 4.0 experience with little compromise. Of course, playing typical tablet games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope will present no problems whatsoever. However, I also found games that demand more graphical power like Frontline Commando and Deer Hunter Reloaded also plays without much problems. As for navigating around the tablet itself, swiping past app screens never presents any hiccups even with widgets doing their thing in the background. Most of the tasks I’ve performed on this device worked without any hitch. There’s not much really to add other than that! As a basic all around tablet, this device gets the job done. As for battery life, you should be able to get your standard 6-8 hours. But again, this all depends on how you use your device. What I did notice is that the USB connector head does get pretty hot while charging via the wall adapter.
Comparing to the Kindle Fire
Without a doubt, this device blows the Kindle Fire out of the water or wherever you’re suppose to blow things out from. I just can’t help thinking the fact that if I’ve spent $50 more, I would have gotten this device instead. Here are other things that I prefer this tablet over the Kindle Fire (in no particular order):
- Power Button. With both tablets, you have no idea if they are on or not. There is no indication. With the Fire, even a single push of the power button will turn the device on. If I wanted to make sure the tablet was switched off, I’ve now turned it back on instead. With the Samsung Galaxy tab, you actually have to hold the power button down for a second or two to turn it on, which is how its suppose to be.
- Google Play Store. With full access to Android 4.0, I also have full access to Google’s Play store which is where you can download Android applications. With the Fire, you’re stuck with the Amazon App store. You can sideload apps but they can be a hassle. Amazon even offers other users to sideload their own app store to the device. App purchases I’ve made from the Amazon store (even free titles I’ve downloaded) can easily be transported to my Samsung. For example, I’ve purchased the ezPDF reader from Amazon to use on my Fire. I am also able to load that application to my Samsung for no additional charge.
- Camera. While I personally don’t really care for cameras on a tablet, it can be a decision making factor for some. While both rear and front-facing camera on the Samsung Tablet is horrible (very grainy), it is nonetheless a feature I can choose to use if I need it.
- Bluetooth and GPS. With Bluetooth, one could load Skype onto the tablet and make calls that way. With GPS, one could use it for navigation provided that the maps you need is already loaded ahead of time (Wi-Fi only version). This is not possible with the Kindle Fire although it might be possible to use a external microphone on a 3.5mm headset. However, it might not work as expected.
- Storage Expansion. The ability to use micro-SD cards is a big benefactor. Not much more to say.
- Multi-Tasking. Ice Cream Sandwich makes it extremely easy for me to switch between different applications. This function is non-existent on the Kindle Fire without help from other third party apps.
In the End…
This little tablet is really hard to beat considering the starting price point. Google might launch their own tablet in the future for around the same price (according to rumors) but as of right now, its really hard to find a better budget-friendly tablet than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0. Not only does it look nice but it also has a load of features as well when compared to lesser tablets. From my friends perspective, he can load his movies onto the micro-SD cards to his heart content and never worry about running out of space, ever. I’ll admit that I’m one of the biggest Amazon fanboys in my group but I can see a good deal when I spot one and I’m saying right now that this tablet beats the Kindle Fire in almost every way. Of course, the competition is only beginning to heat up as I write this review for the 7″ tablet form factor market. It will be interesting to see how future devices will hold up.
Here is an excellent video review of this tablet by Mobile Tech Review. Lisa, the reviewer, is an awesome and unbiased gadget reviewer I’ve come across from time to time again on Youtube. Please check them out: