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First Impressions Of Samsung's Galaxy Tab

Samsung Galaxy Tab
(click image for larger view)
Samsung Galaxy Tab

When Apple introduced the iPad, many were probably disappointed to learn that it would run the same operating system found on Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch devices. "Isn't the iPad just a big iPhone?" people wondered. More than 3 million people have decided that the iPad is compelling enough as it is to shell out more than $500 for one.

Samsung has a similar problem to overcome with the Galaxy Tab. Isn't the Tab, which runs Google's Android 2.2 Froyo operating system (the same one found on nearly a dozen smartphones), really just a big Android phone? The answer is yes and no.

I had the opportunity to use the Tab for a while. Even though Samsung used Thursday's event to announce major distribution deals with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, it had only the international version available at the event. That means no one was able to look at the exact models that will be available from the four major U.S. network operators. You can be assured that each version will be slightly different, though Samsung wasn't able to say how they would differ.

Rather than use high-quality metals, the Tab is made mostly of plastic. The size and weight feel good, though the materials definitely don't match those of Apple's iPad. The seven-inch display may only be 2.7 inches smaller than the iPad's, but that makes a world of difference for the overall dimensions of the Tab. It is much smaller than the iPad, and more comfortable to hold.

The screen looks good, and the capacitive touch controls on the front of the Tab work without fuss. It comes with the usual accoutrements for controlling the Tab's behavior, and there are plenty of ports for connecting it to other devices.

When it comes to the user interface of the Tab, it is very difficult to tell it apart from Samsung's Galaxy S smartphones. It uses the same version of TouchWiz on top of Android, and looks and feels the same. The latest version of TouchWiz makes minimal changes to the stock version of Android and is very easy to use.

Some of the biggest changes are found in MediaHub and the Android Market. The Tab will ship with MediaHub, which is Samsung's version of the iTunes Music Store. Tab users can download movies and television shows from MediaHub for viewing on the Tab. I watched a trailer for Iron Man on the Tab. It looked great. The MediaHub software itself was a basic discovery tool for content.

As for the Android Market, Samsung says that any app that can scale to the 1024 x 600 pixels of the Tab will automatically fill the entire screen. True enough, they do, though some look "fuzzier" than others. If the app doesn't support 1024 x 600, the app will appear centered on the Tab's display at 800 x 400 resolution. This leaves a black frame around the application, which isn't very appealing.

I did like using the Tab, but because it is so much smaller than the iPad, it feels more like a giant Android phone than it does a tablet. While the seven-inch screen looks great, I missed the real estate that is available on the iPad's larger display. Obviously, that is a trade-off for individual users to chose between.

Will the Samsung Galaxy Tab sell well? Sure. Will it beat the iPad? No. Pricing details and availability of the Tab weren't announced, but since it is being offered by the carriers, it will likely cost between $200 and $300 as implied. The carriers haven't announced data plan pricing yet.

Make no mistake, the data plan pricing will be a key component of this device's success or failure. If the carriers are greedy and force users into $60/month data plans, the Tab will fail miserably. If the carriers are reasonable and offer several data plan options, the Tab has a much better chance of being an iPad competitor.

Is the Tab an iPad killer? No. Not at all.