Galaxy Tab – Been there, done that, returned it

I “rented” a 7” Galaxy Tab for a couple weeks recently.  As most people probably already know, it’s a small Android-based tablet.  After all was said and done, I was kinda disappointed.  After testing it with everything I could throw at it, I realized that it wasn’t up to the job.  Sure, it had a ton more memory than my phone does, and that kept me from running out of space (until I tried to stop using the “App2SD” option and move every app back to the main memory—then it fill up quick and the errors began coming), but that wasn’t the main issue.  The main problem, I came to realize, is that it’s just plain slow.  It probably has a faster processor than my phone, and that’s what I expected, except it’s just barely enough to get by, it seems.  With a larger display, of course it’s going to take more processor to run just as smoothly as a small device like a smartphone, but that’s what it runs like—a scaled-up smartphone.  It was still pretty sluggish when you wanted to move between apps or homescreens quickly, and if you try to multitask, forget it.

One saving grace was a launcher I found while testing it—GO Launcher EX.  This thing is awesome, and completely blows away HTC Sense, ADW, and even Launcher Pro.  It’s fast and smooth, has almost all of the features of both those other launchers plus a ton more, including the ability to create as many or as few homescreens as you want!  There doesn’t seem to be a limit to it, except what your actual phone itself can handle.  On top of that, it’s FREE, while Launcher Pro and ADW both cost a few dollars.  Why I hadn’t found this one sooner is beyond me, but it did make playing with the Galaxy Tab very fun indeed.  I also discovered that GO Launcher is also the only Launcher for Android that scales well for tablets.  The modified launcher that comes with the Tab is nice, and it’s better than ADW or Launcher Pro, but it’s nowhere near as nice as GO Launcher.  In the end, I realized I can use GO Launcher on my phone too, so I now have it on there as well, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to either of the other two launchers or the stock HTC Sense.

But back to the Tab.  Asphalt 5 and 6 were the best-running games I played on the Tab, and they worked pretty good, actually.  For some reason though, some of the “basic” games (Angry Birds for example) would freeze up from time to time, with no hope of ever coming back.  It would completely freeze and nothing would respond, none of the buttons, nothing on the touchscreen.  On these occasions I have to hold the power button in until the power turned off, then restart it.  Starting the Tab from a power-off was also pretty frustrating.  After about 30 seconds it would appear to be ready, but many icons (those installed to SD) would still be missing and I guess it was still loading things in the background.  I could go into the app drawer and see only a few preinstalled apps, then site there another several minutes as the drawer populated with the missing apps one-by-one. Loading anything prior to this completion just bogged it down even more and slowed everything to a crawl.  It was best to wait about 5 minutes before using the Tab after a powerup.  Not something I looked forward to doing every time I needed to restart it.

The Tab has a single smartphone-like processor and runs Android 2.2.  They say 2.2 wasn’t designed to run on a large-screen device though, and I can see that now.  Since returning the Tab, I’ve been looking at Android 3 devices and watching a lot of review videos and there’s quite a difference.  Android 3 was designed specifically for tablets, and it shows.  All of these Android 3 tablets run on a dual-core 1GHz nvidia processor, and it seems to work wonders.  Most reviews says it’s definitely an iPad 2 contender.  This alone says a lot.

After much more thought about it, I realized the 7” Tab probably wouldn’t be getting an upgrade any time soon either.  It’s big brother—the Galaxy Tab 10.1—is already using Android 3 and the nvidia Tegra chip, and is supposedly a pretty nice tablet, so this, most likely IS the upgrade you’d get when you move off of the 7” Tab.  Don’t get me wrong, I was liking the 7” size—it makes the device much more portable that a 10”, I’m sure.  It’s like carrying a small notebook around with you (though it would be nicer if it even fit into a pocket somewhere, but it’s just a tiny bit too large for that).  So, for a couple weeks there I was saying “size doesn’t matter”, and “it’s the perfect tablet”.  Size-wise I still think it’s pretty nice, but size isn’t everything .  If it performed great I would still have it.

I was given a 30-day unconditional “trial” period when I got it.  I could return it for a full refund within the 30 days and only pay for the data usage if I wanted to, otherwise it would have cost me $299 up-front with a $100 rebate after 3 months on a 2-year contract.  The contract requires a data plan to be added to the device.  The first 3 months must be at the top data plan, which is about $55/month for 5GB, but after that you can change to a $15/month plan that gives you 200MB of data.  That was what I planned to do if I had kept the device, so in the end it would have costed me the least over the 2-year plan.  That ends up costing a total of $679 over 2 years, which is quite a bit for an Android 2.2 tablet actually.

So I decided instead to do my research as thoroughly and possibly attack the tablet market later on when I have enough money to purchase one up-front and plan-free.  A wi-fi only tablet would be fine, since I can tether it to my phone anyway.  I’d still be able to have internet on it any time I needed to.  Right now I’m heavily comparing these 4 models: Morotola Xoom, Galaxy Tab 10.1, Asus Eee Transformer, and the Toshiba Thrive.  I’m looking at all of these in their 32GB configuration.  So far, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 has no ports on it—a big negative for me, and it also costs $599, the same price as a 32GB iPad 2, another bad point.  The Toshiba Thrive is almost as bad at $579, but has a better front camera (5 MP) compared to the Tab 10.1’s 3MP camera.  The Thrive also adds a USB jack but nothing more.  The Xoom and The Asus, on the other hand, offer some interesting options.  The Xoom is Google’s official development device, for one thing.  This means when they release anything for tablets, it’ll work first on the Xoom.  This, in turn, means Google fully supports the device and trusts Motorola.  It also has HDMI, USB and microSD slots, and is only $499!  Last, but not least, is the Asus Eee Transformer.  It’s called the transformer because there’s an optional $149 keyboard you can get, and when you attach the tablet to the keyboard, it basically transforms it into a notebook!  It looks and acts just like a notebook, complete with a touchpad in front of the keyboard, along with all the ports like the Xoom, and additional extra ports on the keyboard half.  So NOW I guess I’m only seriously looking at the Xoom and the Transformer.

Well, I guess I’ve waited too long to publish this article.  Now it’s Sunday, August 7th, 2011, and I’ve done some more research since the above paragraph.  When I get right down to it, we’re talking $499 for a bottom-line decent Android (or even iPad 2) tablet.  A bottom-line laptop is pretty much exactly the same price, but gives you a ton more processing power, dual or QUAD core, 3 or 4x the RAM, and 10x or more storage space, and a much larger display.  The negatives, compared to a tablet, are that it’s heavier, the battery doesn’t last anywhere near as long, and it’s not touch-screen controllable.  Neither a tablet nor a laptop would have cellular connectivity (unless you go with a contract), but I don’t have a problem with that — both can tether to my phone.  What to do?  I’m not sure right now, so I’m staying tablet- and laptopless for now, as I save up.  By the time I’m ready (probably early next year after the holidays, at this point) I’m sure the entire landscape will have changed dramatically and I’ll have to start researching all over again.