Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 Preview

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Introduction and Design
Introduction:

“We will not be outdone!” - the bold statement made by Samsung execs after announcing the ultra-thin GALAXY Tab 8.9 and 10.1 models, barely a month after unveiling their initial variant for the next GALAXY Tab, which was supposed to come with a thickness of 10.9 mm. At just 8.6 mm though, Samsung's new tablet designs could not only come out on the same stage with the iPad 2, without having embarrassment written on their faces, but as well edge it. But as much as we are impressed by the new GALAXY Tabs' slimness, we're still far from declaring them the next big thing on the tablet market. Samsung will have to do much, much better than what it achieved last time with the first Galaxy Tab, in order to cope with the obviously daunting task of winning over some market share from Apple's pride and joy. We are convinced, however, that if it pulls it right, Samsung does stand a chance, considering that it offers one of the very few things Apple doesn't – choice.

With a duo of two more or less identical tablets, but offering different screen sizes, Samsung hopes to effectively cover both those users who would appreciate a bigger, iPad-like 10” screen, and those who would gladly stick with a more compact and lightweight gadget. Sounds good so far, but whether the company will succeed depends on how these two freshmen will actually perform. This time however, thanks to Google's Android 3 Honeycomb on board, Samsung does seem to be much better positioned from the get go. With that said, let's have a preliminary look at what the more compact Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 has in store!

Design:

The Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 is incredibly thin, though negligibly thinner than the iPad 2. In fact, there seems to be almost no difference to the naked eye.

While the device feels tightly constructed, it is still made entirely of plastic, so do not expect a solid or premium feel out of this one. Thankfully, this does give it one advantage (and a pretty significant one in the tablet world), which is called weight. At just 16.58 oz (470 g), the GALAXY Tab 8.9 is noticeably lighter than the similarly-sized T-Mobile G-Slate (21.87 oz / 620 g), and the Apple iPad 2 (21.20 oz / 601 g). This is something we truly value as far as tablets go.




It's now time to power on that 8.9” TFT screen and see whether or not it's still roomy enough to provide an enjoyable experience. (Powering on ...) It is. As long as you don't absolutely want a screen as big as possible on your tablet, the 8.9 inches of the GALAXY Tab 8.9 should allow for comfortable usage in almost every scenario (browsing, reading, gaming, video watching, etc.).


With its resolution of 1280x800 pixels, the screen even manages to output a pretty decent detail level, beating what the iPad 2 and the bigger GALAXY Tab 10.1 offer. It's just a marginal victory for the Tab 8.9 when it's placed next to its direct competitor in terms of size – the G-Slate (Optimus Pad), which sports a resolution of 1280x768 pixels.



Naturally, being a Honeycomb-powered device, the Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 doesn't have any physical buttons on its front. Actually, the only physical keys on the device – power and volume rocker - can be found on its top side, delivering good, but not great tactile feedback. The device continues to utilize the proprietary charging and data connection port we found on the original Galaxy Tab, while an HDMI-out port is missing, so you can put that remote aside now.


Summarizing the “physical” part of our preview, we can say we are quite content with the device's slim profile and lightweight construction. It doesn't feel premium in any case, but it shouldn't cause you any troubles as long as you handle it with care. On another note, the 8.9” screen proves to be just big enough for most everyday tasks, meanwhile keeping the bulk of the device at bay.



Interface and Functionality:

One of the most important things that makes the Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 competitive is the fact it runs an OS that is actually conceived as a tablet OS, instead of the phone-centric Android 2.*, found on the original Galaxy Tab. Android 3 on the Tab 8.9 is a totally different story, as it grants the user with comfortable UI and apps that just feel natural on a tablet. That said, Samsung has yet again decided to leave a mark of its own in the software department, in the form of its so-called TouchWiz UX – a tablet-optimized version of its custom interface. We've never really been such big fans of this UI, so we aren't thrilled to find it here. Thankfully, the company has kept it simple for the most part and hasn't gone too far.

TouchWiz UX comes with a Live Panel menu for customizing the home screens on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 with pictures, bookmarks and social network feeds. It also includes a “Mini Apps” tray for commonly used features such as task manager, calendar and music player. Not much added value here, but as long as it doesn't bog down the interface speed, we can live with it. Of course, Samsung's Social and Music Hubs, as well as the Samsung Apps store are also here.


Apps like Contacts and Calendar have also been customized, but we can't really say it's for the better. As far as the typing experience on the Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 goes, the device is not exactly a breakthrough. It is okay to type on the landscape QWERTY, but you'll definitely need to have the tablet rested on a table, for example. On the other hand, it is almost narrow enough in portrait to allow smartphone-like typing, but we found the letters in the middle to be a bit hard to reach with our average-sized hands.



The internet browser of the Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 delivers an overall awesome web experience. Double-tap zooming is still not as useful as in iOS, but pinch-to-zoom works great, and scrolling is very smooth. The biggest treat here of course is the full Flash Player 10.3 support, which opens the door to all those sites that rely on Flash for some or most of their functionality. Thankfully, we're delighted to see that Flash elements are not hindering the smooth overall performance of the browser.


The GALAXY Tab 8.9 has the same camera interface that's also available on the Galaxy S II, with minimalistic fonts and plenty of options to play around with the 3MP camera on the back, and the front-facing one for video chat. Feel free to check out the images and 720p video we took below, but keep in mind that these are made with a prototype unit, so quality might be different with the retail one.





Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 Sample Video 1:



Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 Sample Video 2:



Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 Indoor Sample Video:



In terms of multimedia capabilities, the Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9 features the above-mentioned Music Hub that allows you to make music purchases, as well as Samsung's own music player app, which is clearly worse than the stock Honeycomb one. We sincerely hope the manufacturer will reconsider these “enhancements” in the final version of the product.


With its dual-core Tegra 2 chipset though, the GALAXY Tab 8.9 is capable of flawlessly running 1080p videos, and as we mentioned, the near 9-inch screen is pretty good to watch movies on.

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Expectations:

We won't hide it, we're mostly positive about the Samsung GALAXY Tab 8.9. It shapes up as being a very respectful offering for users who want a relatively more compact tablet, but at the same time do not wish to sacrifice too much on the screen's part. Indeed, coming right in between the significantly smaller 7” and noticeably bigger 10” categories, the GALAXY Tab 8.9 seems to hit the sweet spot in terms of size/usability. When you factor in its pretty bearable weight of 16.58 oz (470 g), the kind of mobility it enables really makes it stand out.

Judging by what we saw, we expect this tablet to be perfectly competitive against its direct opponent in the T-Mobile G-Slate (Optimus Pad), at least when it comes to everything else but 3D video capture, which the GALAXY Tab 8.9 obviously lacks. What we're a bit hesitant though is the TouchWiz UX interface that, at least in our opinion, hampers the Android 3 experience. So if Samsung thinks that it must really be there, we'd be very grateful if they at least include an option to turn it off. Nothing is certain yet, however, so the manufacturer might as well surprise us in a good way with the final unit, which is currently expected to hit U.S. shores sometime in the summer. The 16GB Wi-Fi-only model should have a price tag of $469, while a 32-gig one will set you back $569. Doesn't sound like a bad deal, but we're not all that impressed, as some 10-inch Honeycomb tablets like the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer and Acer Iconia Tab A500 are now coming at sub $450 price-points.

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